Mark Weiner’s peice in this month’s Cato Unbound is important and insightful. Basically, he points out that the project of modern society is, in essence, the escape from tribalism (what he calls “the rule of the clan”). From that emerges all of the social progress, by which I mostly mean increased individual autonomy (including the establishment of rights for women and minorities)) that Western liberal societies have achieved since the Dark Ages.
The crucial context for that idea is that the strong nation-state is a necessary replacement for the clan as a source of social organization and cohesion. A key quote from the end of the piece:
“Equally, to maintain its legitimacy, government must seek to address the needs that the rule of the clan meets far more directly. It must pursue policies that moderate economic inequality; it must provide a space for the flourishing of voluntary civil society organizations that provide opportunities for solidarity; and it must ensure that individuals have fair opportunities to exercise their autonomy within the marketplace and that they can effectively navigate the host of bureaucratic state institutions that provide the conditions of modern life.”
It’s good to hear from a libertarian who recognizes that maintaining the basic structure of modern society is far more fundamental to human welfare and human freedom than protecting low marginal tax rates and the freedom to not bake wedding cakes for gays. There’s a certain baseline level of agreement about “yes, we should have a society” that’s useful for carrying on meaningful policy conversations, and remembering the real alternative to modern liberal democracy is a good way to maintain that agreement.
Finally, this piece interacts interestingly with two posts by Noah Smith – one from a while ago on libertarianism and the “liberty of local bullies,” and one from today that notes the importance of firearms in creating precisely the centralized nation-states that backstopped the development of individualistic societies.