That said, I don’t see any contradiction between the libertarian positions that John identifies. The idea that “big government” is in certain people’s rational self-interest is hardly novel. As far back as the Federalist Papers people understood that libertarian goals could only be achieved by not allowing personal self-interests to direct government policy.
In fact, for John’s argument to succeed, we must assume that libertarianism requires a clear majority of people–welfare dependent and rugged individualist alike–to ultimately ratify a libertarian order. But while such majority acceptance would indeed be a good thing, I don’t know of anyone who believes it to be an absolute necessity.
Constitutions, limited powers, states’ rights, nullification, secession, and privatization are all more or less successful tools of cordoning off certain realms of human existence as not subject to the numerical majority’s will. For instance, if constitutions function as they are supposed to, it doesn’t matter whether libertarians can convince enough people to forego welfare benefits, because a welfare state might not even be permissible in the first place.
Only in absolute democracies, where nothing is off limits as long as the majority wills it, does John’s argument hold. It may be that libertarians will be never be able to convince a majority of voters to join against the state. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have other, non-majoritarian means at their disposal, just as the 1960s civil rights activists did not have to convince every Klansman of their cause in order to be successful. And it certainly doesn’t mean that people aren’t driven by rational self-interest, which is a fact of existence to be proven or disproven by empirical analysis, and not by simply claiming that it leads to bad political outcomes.