Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Libertardian Nation

(From Urban Dictionary): Libertard (lib-er-tard): Mix of libertarian and retard. Used to denote a libertarian who is idealistic and has unrealistic expectations for a hypothetical libertarian society (see Libertopia).

I've noted before that I'm a fan of counterfactual, or alternate, histories. I happened by accident to come across an alternate history world created by the author L. Neil Smith. It is a world which attempts to celebrate a libertarian utopia. 

An extremely valid and cogent historical question should be: Given that practically every form of government allowed by political theory has, at one time or another, been made manifest, why is it that no form of libertarian government has never materialized? Could it be that human nature disallows it, and that libertarians are either willfully ignorant or genuinely naive as to the realities of human greed and altruism? 

True, some have suggested eras and lands which might approximate Libertopia. Iceland during the Viking age, for example - provided you ignore slavery, clan and community social programs, the existence of communal resources (commons). Hmm. Not very libertopian at all, I'm afraid. A little too commie, in point of fact. All right then, how about 19th century America, after the Civil War and prior to the trustbusting and muckraking era of Teddy Roosevelt and the damned progressives? No regulation, free trade, open competition, (relatively) limited and small government. Things were pretty good, provided you were not black, or American Indian, or a in-general-non-white, or a woman, or part of the working class, or someone who needed medical attention. Okay, so maybe the latter part of 19th America was not so great after all.

Well, then... oh, I know! America under the Articles of Confederation! Can't complain about that? Right? (Again, ignoring that you are not black, or Indian, or a woman, etc.). Well, that's what L. Neil Smith attempts to do, starting with a novel called "The Probability Broach". (I'll not savage the book here, there are any number of critics who have blasted it as wooden, stilted, filled with cartoon characters, and simply awful preachy dialogue).

Smith creates a alternate universe libertopian paradise, which, in 1986, is called the North American Confederacy (the NAC).  Because for some reason a strong federal government discourages scientific advances, the NAC is far ahead of us in technology. They have colonies on the Moon, Mars and various asteroids. They can talk to chimps, apes, and dolphins. And everyone is extremely well-armed - including the chimps, apes, and dolphins, which, somehow, discourages major wars. Or something hand-wavy like that.

And how did this come about, you may ask? Why, the Whiskey Rebellion!

The what? Oh come ON, now! Recall your shoddy public grade school indoctrinations, comrades! 

The Whiskey Rebellion  was a tax protest that erupted in western Pennsylvania in the 1790s. Given the primitive transportation conditions of the time (no roads, no canals - no federal funds for same), farmers on the frontier could not get their corn to market without it spoiling. Their only alternative was to ferment, and then distill it into a less perishable form. 

The newly created federal government, in order to pay down the debt from the Revolutionary War and the disastrous policies of the incompetent competing state legislatures under the Articles of Confederation, created an excise tax on corn. The farmers argued they were exempt. Tax authorities disagreed. This resulted in a series of protests, violent encounters, and intimidation to discourage tax collectors which culminated in an armed uprising  in july 1794. The Washington administration collected an armed militia to counter the rebels, with Washington himself leading the army. However the protest collapsed before any hostilities.

This is one turning point in history where Smith's libertopian world diverges. Albert Gallatin intercedes to the benefit of the rebels. This, through a series of improbabilities, leads to the overthrow and execution of George Washington (enemy of freedom), the abrogation of the United States Constitution, and a reestablishment of the government under a revised Articles of Confederation.

And, then, of course, everyone lives happily ever after. Peace and prosperity, rational good behavior, efficient markets, and rapid scientific advances radiate outwards to bathe everyone in golden rainbow cheery brightness!

I, uh, have a few problems with this. You see, for starters, you've got the Northwest Indian War going on. The Old Northwest? The Ohio Territory? 

This is a big problem. As part of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the British Crown had ceded territory north of the Ohio river to the fledgling US of A. The Congress of Confederation (the real one), under the Northwest Ordinance Act of 1783, made formal claim over the region designated the Northwest Territory, inviting settlers to invade and hoping to generate much needed revenue through land grants. 

Responding to Indian raids in 1790, President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox, ordered a major offensive into Shawnee and Miami territory in Ohio and Indiana. After one disastrous US defeat after another, Washington in late 1793 finally ordered General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to assemble a well-trained "Legion of the United States" to end the Indian problem once and for all. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794, the Wabash Confederacy of the Indians was soundly defeated. The next year, with the Treaty of Greenville, Ohio and a slice of Indiana are given over to the US of A. It is the beginning of the end for the Indian nations.

Ah, but note. In the alternate history, Washington is dead in August 1794. "Mad" Anthony Wayne, being supplied out of Pittsburgh, cannot possibly be uninformed as to the circumstances of the Whiskey Rebellion. There is little chance he would embark upon an expedition with conditions being what they are back in the colonies States. 

Then you've got Little Turtle, the amazing military tactician, and Tecumseh, the brilliant genius organizer and visionary, to deal with. By this point, both recognize the need to unite the tribes. Both recognize the juggernaut in the form of western settlers waiting to extinguish them. Both recognize a fight for survival. With the destruction of the infant federal government, they get some breathing room. And with the British forts still strung out on the Great Lakes, and the Brits more than willing, given a severely weakened federal government, to arm and supply the Indians (not to mention seed dissension among the states as to "proper" ownership), we are set up with the chance for a real power in the Midwest - an Indian Confederacy, armed, determined, and ready to thwart the advance of the white people. And, I suspect, they would have succeeded. 

Think. No strong federal government. No central bank. No federal funds for canals. No federal funds for roads. No federal funds for railroads. No Erie Canal. No federal militia. No standing armies. No navy. No Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury. Therefore, no national debt. With no debt, no inability to obtain international credit. With no credit, no Louisiana purchase. Do I really need to go on?

The Empire of Democracy, stretching from sea to sea? The Dream Ends. Sorry, Smith. 

No continental United States. The Confederation reduced again to east of Appalachia, bottled up, states squabbling among themselves, walls of tariffs of goods and services built up between states, with a consequential stifling of specialization of production, with price increases. With no Navy, shipping costs skyrocket as merchants must see to their own security. With no standing Army, a constant call to arms from raids. Once you have a strong Indian Confederacy, with little resistance on the frontier, why wouldn't they want to rid the continent of White people. 

And what of Napoleon? With a weak US, he is more likely to cast an avaricious glance at the New World. And what happens when 1812 rolls around? What of the British?

I suspect conditions would have become intolerable. Either the US is extinguished, or greatly diminished, and all thanks to limited government.

Sorry, Smith, you are just so way, way off, you are not even wrong. 

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