Michael Lind’s recent article accusing libertarianism of being inherently pro-autocracy conflates two different issues. He notes that libertarians have often been skeptical of majoritarian democracy; he also notes that libertarians have sometimes said nice things about certain autocracies. Both of these claims are true, but they are much less closely related than Lind supposes.
One reason for Lind’s conflation is that he automatically translates being anti-democracy into being pro-autocracy — because he assumes that the only alternative to democracy is autocracy. But in fact there is a third option; rather than the many dictating to the few or the few dictating to the many, what libertarians seek is a world where nobody is in a position to dictate to anybody — or at least to get as close to that situation as possible. (It might be argued that such a system actually has a better claim to the term “democracy” than those regimes that typically receive that label.) For anarchist libertarians, this means replacing the state entirely with networks of voluntary association; for minarchist libertarians, it means structuring the machinery of government in such a way as to make it as difficult as possible to abuse.
In other words, libertarians don’t oppose democracy (in the conventional sense) because they hanker after autocracy; they oppose democracy because it is too much like autocracy.
And even this point assumes, generously, that existing democracies really are majoritarian. As many libertarians have argued, the logic of monopoly government and special-interest capture explains why real-life “democracies” tend to be plutocratic oligarchies in democratic trappings.
In a related conflation, Lind repeatedly refers to “conservatives and libertarians” as though these two groups can be lumped together. But libertarianism at its most consistent is fundamentally opposed to conservatism; indeed it has often been argued that libertarianism is best understood as a form of radical leftism. (Certainly there are prominent figures who combine aspects of both libertarian and conservative rhetoric, but the same could be said of virtually any two ideologies.)
What muddies the waters here is that individual libertarians have indeed, unfortunately, sometimes succumbed to the temptation to let their opposition to democracy befuddle them into whitewashing the evils of certain existing autocracies.
Lind is certainly right to condemn this lunatic tendency; but he grossly overestimates its extent, because of his conflation of anti-democracy with pro-autocracy. The actual extent of libertarian rhetorical support for autocracies pales in comparison to the extent of the similarly motivated and similarly disastrous progressive rhetorical support for communist regimes.
I should also note, in closing, that Lind’s claim that libertarians have been silent about “abuses by police and the military” is particularly ludicrous. If he could write that claim with a straight face, clearly his familiarity with libertarian literature and the libertarian blogosphere is laughably inadequate.