Posted by: captainfalcon | March 29, 2010

Not the point

Rick Hills has a good post about why federalism and libertarianism make an unlikely pair. Be sure to read his second, clarifying, comment: “purely positivist defenses of federalism will do…libertarianism no harm. But, [venturing] outside of technical legal considerations to defend federalism as a normative goal, then I think that there is tension between the “values of federalism” and the values of liberty.”

I don’t think Hill is arguing just that there is a tension between federalism qua “end in itself” and libertarianism. Though there is a tension there, I can’t imagine who’d accept federalism as an end in itself. Instead, I think he’s saying that libertarians can never accept that federalism is the ideal system because it is instrumental to achieving certain results, while others can accept that federalism – because it allows more or less government in different areas to meet different conditions – really is the best possible system.* (Strikes me we’re in a similar position vis-a-vis democracy.)

More importantly, though, he coins a nice phrase: “slalom between the precedents.” A vivid image for distinguishing. Worth co-opting.

* Another way of putting the point is that libertarians have to be cynical towards federalism. Federalism’s purpose is to allow different localities to adopt different policies. Libertarians cannot accept that as a legitimate purpose (all localities should be night watchman states). So, if libertarians endorse federalism, it is because a side-effect of it is to bring things closer to the night-watchman state. Those who acknowledge the legitimacy of different localities implementing different (more or less invasive) policies, can endorse federalism because its purpose is good.


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