The “Thin” State and the “Thick State”

A reader summarize very well what I think are some of the problems with orthodox or mainstream libertarianism:

As I see it, the two major failures are:

1. Despite nominal recognition that state and corporate power are intertwined, too often libertarians will go to bat to defend the honor of said corporations as the victims in the equation. Hence the caricature of libertarians as uber-Republicans who only care about the problems of the rich, and want to leave the sick and poor to die in the streets. While there are elitist types among libertarians who actually do think that would be fine, I think most just get so caught in the “state bad, market good” mentality as you describe it, that they lose sight of the lived context around them. It’s like philosophical autism.

2. “no particular order” libertarianism — whatever its philosophical soundness — in practice ends up meaning “the path of least resistance” (which of course ends up being defined by those already holding power). And so what “libertarian” bits are adopted? Tax cuts for the wealthiest and the scaling back of welfare for the poorest, and nothing else.

A few years back there was an argument in libertarian circles about “thin” and “thick” libertarianism. I think that question should be inverted, to “thin” and “thick” definitions of the state. In other words, the state proper, and the larger ruling class apparatus as you’ve described it, which at the very least includes the largest corporations who partner with the state in various ways (Google, Amazon, military arms companies, the energy sector, etc.), big media, the education-industrial complex with its debtor serfdom, etc.

If libertarians only pay attention to the “thin” state, they will always end up looking like they have a superficial understanding of power and harm, even if the brightest among them do indeed grok that the picture is bigger and uglier than their quippy little slogans would suggest.


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