Many people criticize libertarians (and anarchists) for being too idealistic. “Sure, that all sounds great,” the argument goes, “but it can’t work in practice.” Greedy capitalists will exploit honest, hard-working everymen. People without health insurance will die quick deaths. Roads!—there won’t be any. The world will be chaos!
Government, then, is a pragmatic, realistic way to keep society in check. It must exist and should be rather large. We must be content to deal with its occasional missteps. This is reality; indeed, this is our only possible reality.
There is a problem with the conventional idealist/realist dichotomy, however. The supposed “realists”—those who believe in the practical necessity of a large government—fail to recognize that the argument they use against libertarianism more immediately applies to their own views.
Human beings have destructive tendencies within their nature and are prone to making mistakes. There are limitations to our knowledge, to our rationality, to our sanity. But then why do we trust human beings to rule wisely and justly over other human beings?
Ludwig von Mises, the great Austrian economist and social philosopher, once said, “If one rejects laissez faire on account of mans fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.”
It is in fact statists who are the great idealists. They posit that a person or group of people can possess the knowledge and wisdom necessary to plan economies and control the lives of others. Libertarians and anarchists are the true realists. We accept that each individual is imperfect, and therefore, should have no involuntary control over anyone else. We recognize undesirable things do and always will happen.