THE MASTER SWITCH was written to be readable and hopefully entertaining. But its real goal is to urge readers to examine our relationship with all forms of centralized power. There are deep contradictions between a fully centralized society and a free one; indeed I am not sure the two can co-exist. Its message to libertarians is this: if human freedom is truly the value that matters most, we need pay attention to the size of the institutions that govern the most important human functions.
As this suggests, while my book is designed to be relatively easy reading, at deeper levels it is a meditation on human freedom. And while this may be unkind, I will respond to Thierer’s review to show how I think that contemporary libertarianism has begun to lose its way and betray its own creed. Instead of a philosophy of freedom, it is at risk of becoming a theory of villanization, where every single wrong must be traced, somehow, to “government;” to say otherwise is to betray the movement. To my mind that’s not true libertarianism in the tradition of John Stuart Mill, but just another theology of blame.
(N.B. I am grateful for Adam for inviting me to post a response. Why we disagree in profound ways, I am flattered by his engagement with the book, and his readiness to give me space to respond).
Let’s get to the basics. I define a libertarian as someone who is, at the deepest levels, prioritizes freedom over other values. He is willing to forgo a preferred substantive outcome he might prefer, in exchange for a system that gives him freedom. The classic example, of course, is the speech system: many of us might prefer that certain people to shut up forever (pick your favorite), but nonetheless still support a system of free speech.
Anyone deeply interested in freedom as a value should, by implication, be interested any non-chosen limits on that freedom, no matter what the source. Continue reading →