At its limits, the libertarian ideal will no doubt face practical problems of its own. But it will be a long time before we need to worry that our government is too small, and our people too free.
While Hess was optimistic, writing:
A laissez-faire world would liberate men. And it is in that sort of liberation that the most profound revolution of all may be just beginning to stir. It will not happen overnight, just as the lamps of rationalism were not quickly lighted and have not yet burned brightly. But it will happen — because it must happen.
The author is less so, finding it “hard to see a path to Hess’s utopia” and suggesting we are heading in the other direction, but I see a path. No doubt the contemporary Conservative Party still contains many well-intentioned authoritarians, many interventionists, but David Cameron is clear that we are heading towards a “post-bureaucratic age” in which people have more authority over their own lives and more responsibility too.
His recent conference speech repays close reading. Consider for example:
Don’t they see? It is more government that got us into this mess.
Why is our economy broken? Not just because Labour wrongly thought they’d abolished boom and bust. But because government got too big, spent too much and doubled the national debt.
Why is our society broken? Because government got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility.
Why are our politics broken? Because government got too big, promised too much and pretended it had all the answers.
But this idea that for every problem there’s a government solution for every issue an initiative, for every situation a czar….
It ends with them making you register with the government to help out your child’s football team. With police officers punished for babysitting each other’s children. With laws so bureaucratic and complicated even their own Attorney General can’t obey them.
Do you know the worst thing about their big government? It’s not the cost, though that’s bad enough. It is the steady erosion of responsibility. Our task is to lead Britain in a completely different direction.
So, I am more optimistic. Look at Conservative Party policy today and you find a central commitment to opportunity, responsibility and security, to “freedom from” and the space to make your own way. As Cameron said:
In Britain today, there are entrepreneurs everywhere – they just don’t know it yet. Success stories everywhere – they just haven’t been written yet. We must be the people who release that potential.
Yes, we are subject to failed institutions and, yes, we do have a maze of bureaucracy and wrong-headed ideas to defeat and sweep away, but we can build a society of free and responsible people cooperating to achieve mutually-beneficial ends. David Cameron plans to do it: we should help.