Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The 21st Century: Libertarianism and the rise of the individual

For a measly $1, I was lured into buying a collection of old science fiction books for my Kindle (I guess the Long Tail really works). A collection that spans more than a century and half of popular SciFi and fantasy fiction.

As I read through the 22 books, a curious pattern emerged: Prior to 1920, the heroes, movers and shakers that the worlds turned to in times of crisis were inevitably strong individuals and entrepreneurs. These industry scions harnessed and focused capital and resources in the defense of earth from evil invaders.

Then, somehow, in the popular psyche government was handed that job: they became our protectors, the fountainhead of power and resources. The individual faded into the background to become a small part of a larger machine. This world view persisted throughout the 20th century: Big government and big business took center stage as the need for scale drove the concentration of capital and power.

More recently, in curious way, the pendulum shifted. Government and institution formed the first line of defense. The protagonist/hero, however, almost always was an individual that bucked the system and, singlehandedly achieved what a whole country couldn’t.

As we close the first decade of the 21st century, recent events, and there are so many, have shown how impotent government is at dealing with systemic problems. After a century of placing our full trust in them, we are now reevaluating our options.

The rise of the Tea Party in America, the lurch to the right in Europe are all signs that the populace understand the choice at hand: double down on Big and move towards a more centralized, command and control government, or we can go the other way and allow the individual to flourish again.

As Gen-X start to replace baby boomers in positions of power and influence, they bring with them a different, more individualistic world-view. I won’t be around to see it, but I’m betting historians will label 21st as the Libertarian Century.

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