Thursday, August 27, 2009

What’s So Libertarian about Epstein’s Bergen?

Take a look at this piece by Richard Epstein:

It's an intriguing discussion of how mediæval residents of Bergen addressed a range of specific problems.

Here's what puzzles me: Epstein (well, maybe not: maybe this is Forbes’s title; but, if so, Forbes has a lot to answer for) calls the piece “Mediaeval Libertarians.” I'm confused. The end of the article—which focuses on the mischief done by modern zoning regulations—is certainly libertarian in spirit. But maybe Forbes On-Line inadvertently omitted the libertarian part of the discussion about mediæval Bergen. Because that discussion, as it appears on-line, feels more like an argument for Leviathan.

Yes, of course, Epstein is a small-government libertarian rather than an anarchist. But no matter how you stretch the meaning of “libertarian,” there seems to be nothing libertarian about the community Epstein describes. Is the word “libertarian” in the title just because Epstein thinks any argument that references people's flexible and realistic responses to social problems counts as a libertarian argument?

Am I missing something?

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