I argue that the state should be minimal, and financial contributions to it should be voluntary as far as possible. To this, a social democrat reacts with disdain, and suggests the libertarian solution is unworkable as (1) it is not in people’s nature to be altruistic and (2) such services would go unfunded unless citizens were compelled to pay for them through taxation. Thus, the argument goes, the state is right to compel them.
I find this reasoning unconvincing, but the frequency with which it is encountered merits discussion. This common view is evidence of a deep distrust of the forces of production, and an affinity for common control of them, that has been written into British and European cultural consciousness gradually over the past two hundred years. Generations of intellectuals have regarded free-market or libertarian beliefs as malicious, oppressive and delusional, bound to “so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests” (Marx, 1848), or as simple “selfishness” and “one and the same thing [as animality]” (Badiou, 2010).
To be sure, under the conditions in which socialism first arose — a harsher time with pronounced class divisions, child labour, and other unpleasantness — socialist ideas may have had a stronger case. However, these conditions do not prevail today….
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