I was going to let this past, but it has been nagging at me. Over at DiA a post on the new MLK memorial reminds me of why I disagree with libertarians so vehemently. They simply don't have any well developed theory of the state, how humans groups form or act, or really about the very concepts of identity and culture and the role these play in human societies and the economy. Their perspective is simply grossly inadequate for exploring political economy questions generally since they stick so closely to a fundamentalist definition of individualism without considering its historical evolution or role. While a very minor issue, I think the MLK memorial post exhibits the very worst aspects of libertarian ideology and exposes why it is so ill equipped for understanding human action.
That King's monumental likeness was chiseled from stone by an ace aesthetic hype man for Mao, a dictator responsible for " one of the most deadly mass killings of human history", suggests a couple things. First, and most obviously, it suggests that monuments like this one are pieces of propaganda, attempts to manipulate a state's citizens (or subjects, as the case may be) into parcelling out honour, reverence and esteem according to an "official" account of the country's history. This is a line of business most states are in, but it is not a line of business I think liberal states ought to be in, even if from time to time they happen to exalt worthy heroes, such as Martin Luther King. Second, not only is propaganda morally dubious, but it is almost always aesthetically repugnant. The "worker's-paradise seriousness" Mr Page rightly detects in Mr Lei's new work is a sign that the artist has no notable interest in his subjects, but is instead a master of achieving a certain cheap effect, a vacuous sublimity easily mistaken for awed reverence, by means of a formulaic, emotionally rote approach to monumentality. Mr Lei is not hired to offer his interpretation of a subject—to create a portrait of a real, complicated man which reflects the insight and judgment of his personal artistic genius. On the contrary, he is hired not to interpret, to apply the same psychologically dead and mendaciously indifferent treatment to all his subjects. Mr Lei is a political bullshit artist, and it shows. That Chinese white granite is especially durable is a stupid reason to get stuck with this kind of soulless stone agitprop.
The first thing I'll deal with is the factual nature of these statements, though this is just to illustrate how ideologically biased this post it, it has little bearing on my critiques of the libertarian point of view. First of all, the state played only an indirect role in developing this monument, only $10 million of the projects roughly $120 million cost was paid by the state as matching funds. Most of the funds were raised by a foundation originating with King's fraternity and donations by private charities.
While the government did have to prove the design, they were not the motivating force behind suggesting what was chosen. In fact, at least one government agency overseeing the design objected to it initially, though their objections were (obviously) overcome.