Is libertarianism or authoritarianism a better government model to build a strong community?

…as answered on Quora….

Three terms here are easily disputable: libertarianism, authoritarianism, and community.

I shall stipulate, at the beginning, “libertarianism” to be the body of individualist thought running from classical liberalism to private property “voluntaryism” (panarchism, or anarcho-capitalism); “authoritarianism” is either (a) statism in some form that makes no pretense for democratic/republican control or (b) any system of governance in which command dominates over rational deliberation, general rule-following (rather than command-following) and compromise; and “community” I take to be society above the family/clan level based on propinquity or regular interaction, but not society at large, and certainly not either the “open society” or “the nation.”

In tribal life, all there was, basically, was family and community — and other families and communities, and individuals wandering among them, trading, gambling, and fighting.

In chiefdoms we see a coalescence of a kind of political governance, and in the early conquering states and watercourse empires we see vast populations with many communities integrated under authoritarian political and ecclesiastical governance.

Were they “strong communities” way back when? To some extent they had to be. But as military organization gave way to industrial institutions, with extensive scope for trade, the nature of both family and community shifted. Liberal ideas came to dominate, becoming quite explicit. In the 1830s, the most advanced form of “democracy” was in the new United States, and Alexis de Tocqueville was most interested in community in that egalitarian context. They were astoundingly vibrant, he found. People set up committees to make community projects when business activity could not fill the perceived need and where government was not even thought of to provide it. I used the word “egalitarian,” for it was “equality of conditions” in America that most astounded Tocqueville. But by this he did not mean equality of wealth, or even opportunity. He meant openness to social movement, a lack of class stratification (as in Europe), a leveling of ceremonial expectations and a lack of pretentiousness in the rich over the poor. What he meant was an amazing degree of liberty, which was his chief interest. What he saw in America was remarkably libertarian, in the sense I stipulated above, for the heyday of classical liberalism was about to dawn with the rise of the LocoFocos and the advance of both free trade and abolitionism.

Community then was voluntary community. You could leave, you had exit rights, and many options to participate at many levels. If you want to see how liberty and community work together for the strengthening of community, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America makes a good case.

But though political liberty increased mightily after that, in some ways — especially in reduction of the tariffs in Britain and France, and the democratization of corporate licensure in America — a number of factors led to a move to statism by the end of the century. Slavery’s suppression in America came at the cost of the old decentralist order, and the rise of nationalism. And everywhere socialist agitation and the labor movement advanced. By the fin de siècle the U.S. was well on the way to progressive statism, starting with a frank imperialism and warfare. We can quibble about the dates and epochal moments, but a turn occurred. The rise of an administrative state in America and Britain made a huge difference; vast bureaus decreasingly controlled by democratic processes meant that a new form of authoritarianism emerged, and also the popularity of wealth transfer programs.

And though authoritarianism is in the question, it was bureaucracies and transfer programs that led to the major hits on community life. Increasingly families were atomized, and individuals, too: free radicals with little to cling onto but the Leviathan State and the political parties that squabble over its control. Nowadays community has withered under the folkways of “bowling alone,” and the scope of statist control of everyday life has greatly increased.

I would call modern society as dominated by statism, with a veneer of democratic control and the actual controls held by the unionized public employee sector, the “Deep State” intelligence agencies, the plutocracy, and the academic/newsmedia/entertainment complex. It strikes me as the opposite of a libertarian system, despite extensive markets (much of it is dirigisme, anyway, and transfer programs completely re-orient society in several anti-social ways). The scope for community has atrophied.

Right now we witness two completely different cultures fighting politically and socially: the explicitly nationalist conservative-progressives against the woke-socialist corporatist progressives. Both of these groups try to get around the tragedy of the commons inherent in a state providing extensive public goods each by finding a way to undermine the scramble for resources by competing ethnic groups. (Pluralistic societies have great trouble finding stability with a maximum state.) The nationalists attempt to build a pan-community melting pot around doctrines of national ideals, symbols, and purpose; the woke folk insist on using ideology to create solidarity among the “ethnic identities” of perceived or defined “out-groups” largely with a goal of unseating in-group people and their traditional hierarchies.

Both of these are fake communities. Both use ideology to promote the solidarity necessary to prevent the tragedy of the commons (overuse of conscript resources, mostly taxes). And the woke-socialist progressives have a revolutionary agenda as well: replacing traditional in-group hierarchies with their own ideological hierarchy.

De-politicized, communities can grow naturally, to meet group needs and express shared values. Politicized, they fight against each other for state resources.

This is necessarily violent, and war has been a necessary component to keep the nationalism going, as should be obvious, while the woke-revolutionary modus is violent by nature, as can be seen in the tyranny of political correctness and in protests that quickly morph into riot and anarchy.

The liberty that libertarians prefer would be much more conducive to peaceful and vibrant community, but that requires reducing the number of public goods provided by state fiat.

And that’s something at which both nationalists and socialists balk.