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What Libertarianism Isn't
Lew Rockwell.com ^ | December 22nd 2001 | Edward Feser

Posted on 12/22/2001 8:53:08 AM PST by rob777

The notion that the political alliance between libertarians and conservatives is contingent and inherently unstable has become a cliché, and a tiresome one at that, usually made by persons who have little understanding of either libertarianism or conservatism. And despite appearances, the recent testy exchanges between the conservative National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and the libertarian Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie and Virginia Postrel do nothing to confirm the cliché.

It is not that the idea of a fusion of libertarianism and conservatism does not raise important and difficult philosophical issues; it does. The emphasis within traditional conservative thinking on authority, including the authority of a strong (though limited) state,on an organic conception of society, and on obligations between human beings that do not rest on contract, do appear at least on the surface to sit uneasily with the individualism usually taken to be essential to libertarianism. Those of us sympathetic to “fusionism” Frank Meyer’s well known label for libertarian conservatism) believe that this appearance is misleading, but we wouldn’t deny that it takes some doing to show that it is.

The recent debate barely begins to address these substantial questions, though, and focuses instead on the status of another essential, and far less problematic, feature of conservative thinking: the preservation of traditional morality – particularly traditional sexual morality, with its idealization of marriage and its insistence that sexual activity be confined within the bounds of that institution, but also a general emphasis on dignity and temperance over self-indulgence and dissolute living. The scorn for these values (or at least for those who speak up for them) shown by the likes of Gillespie and Postrel has led Goldberg to denounce what he calls their “cultural libertarianism.”

The trouble is, there just is nothing particularly “libertarian” about this cultural libertarianism. There is, in particular, nothing in libertarianism that entails that one ought to be in the least bit hostile to or even suspicious of traditional morality or traditional moralists. There is thus no reason whatsoever why libertarians and onservatives ought to be divided over the question of traditional morality. And ironically enough, while Goldberg himself realizes this – he does qualify his attack as one on “cultural libertarianism,” not “libertarianism” full stop – the libertarians Gillespie and Postrel seem not to. For them, it appears, traditionalists constitute a force on the political Right that libertarians ought to oppose as staunchly as they do the socialists to their Left. This, at least, is the inference one naturally draws from their tendency to bifurcate between (on the one hand) those who want to impose, through force of law, their moral views on others, and (on the other hand) those, like themselves, who refuse to offer the faintest criticism of anything and everything done between “consenting adults” – as if there were no third position, viz. that of those who reject the use of state power to enforce traditional morality, but are nevertheless critical of those who flaunt it. (It is also the inference one naturally draws from Gillespie’s preoccupation with drugs and pornography, not only as political issues, but cultural ones. Why waste precious space in a libertarian magazine waxing rhapsodic about the freedom to read dirty magazines, or regale readers with tales of personal drug use, if such things were not seen somehow to be relevant to libertarianism? Why not merely say “Don’t criminalize these practices” and be done with it? After all, Gillespie would presumably never tax his audience’s patience with effusive descriptions of automotive repair manuals or accounts of his personal experiences with Tylenol, even if these products were in imminent danger of being banned by the state.)

Gillespie and Postrel are, of course, not alone in failing clearly to understand, or at least clearly to articulate, the position they represent. One hears constantly in the popular media of self-styled “libertarian” celebrities whose libertarianism amounts to little more than an enthusiasm for legalized abortion and homosexual chic – think Bill Maher, Camille Paglia, or William Weld. But as one soon realizes upon learning of some of the other enthusiasms of such people – gun control, the Clinton health care plan, the extension of anti-discrimination laws to homosexuals, etc. – their understanding of libertarianism (and that of the media types who propagate this abuse of the label) is pretty shallow in the first place. Gillespie and Postrel are another story though, being, as they are, representatives of one of the most important and influential journals of libertarian opinion. It matters when they mischaracterize (even if, as we can charitably assume, inadvertently) the libertarian position. It is worthwhile, then, to set the record straight and understand why, Gillespie and Postrel notwithstanding, libertarianism is by no means hostile to traditional morality – and indeed, why it ought to be solidly supportive of it.

There are, to my knowledge, five sorts of argument for libertarianism. They are:

1.The utilitarian argument, the suggestion that a free market and free society best fulfill the goals – prosperity, alleviation of poverty, technological innovation, and so forth – which libertarians and their opponents share in common. This is the sort of argument free market economists like Milton Friedman put the most stress on.

2.The natural rights argument, which emphasizes the idea that individuals have inviolable rights to life, liberty, and property that it is morally wrong for anyone, including the state, to violate even for allegedly good reasons (such as taxation for the sake of helping the needy). This approach has been favored by libertarian philosophers from John Locke to Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard, and also has an intuitive appeal to the “libertarian in the street” who resents the suggestion that the government has any business telling him what to do in his personal life, or with his money or personal property.

3.The argument from cultural evolution, associated with F.A. Hayek, who held that societies embody cultural traditions which compete with one another in a kind of evolutionary process, the most “fit” traditions – those most conducive to human well-being – being the ones that survive and thrive, driving their rivals into extinction, or at least onto the historical sidelines: hence capitalism’s victory over communism, a culture which respects private property, contract, and the rule of law being superior in cultural evolutionary terms to one which does not.

4.The contractarian argument, which (greatly to oversimplify) argues in general that all moral claims rest on a (hypothetical) “social contract” between the individuals comprising society, and in particular that a libertarian society is what rational individuals would contract for. This sort of argument is represented by such libertarian theorists as Jan Narveson and James Buchanan.

5.The argument from liberty, which claims that freedom per se is intrinsically valuable – valuable for its own sake – and that the best political system is therefore the one that maximizes freedom.

None of these arguments plausibly supports the idea that libertarianism is incompatible with a strongly traditionalist moral outlook.

One might find this a surprising claim to make about argument 5 – an argument one might assume to be the paradigmatic libertarian argument, and one that frequently crops up in popular discussions of libertarianism. But in fact the “argument from liberty” (as I’ve called it) is, paradoxically, probably the worst argument anyone has ever given for libertarianism – and is, in any case, not the sort of argument given by the best known libertarian writers. The reason why is not hard to see: “Freedom” is a notoriously vague term, and all sorts of things libertarians would reject can be, and have been, defended in the name of freedom – redistribution of wealth (to give the poor and middle class greater “freedom from want”), an interventionist foreign policy (to help increase the “freedom from fear” of oppressed peoples throughout the globe), public education (to maximize “freedom from ignorance”), etc. Libertarians are indeed interested in freedom, but when one examines their arguments – especially when those arguments try to show that libertarianism does not entail maximizing a quasi-socialist “freedom from want” etc. – it is clear that what is fundamental to libertarian thinking is not freedom per se, but something else, such as natural rights: I ought to have the freedom to use my earnings as I see fit, the libertarian says, but not because freedom per se is a good thing – after all, the thief would also benefit from the freedom to use my earnings – but rather because they are my earnings, because I have a moral right to them.

It is thus really irrelevant whether the “argument from liberty” is one that would support a rejection of traditional morality – which it undoubtedly would on some interpretations (just as it would also support an embrace of traditional morality: “freedom from sin”). For the argument isn’t a good argument for libertarianism in the first place.

Argument 4 (the contractarian argument) is a much better argument for libertarianism. But radically different political philosophies have also been defended in contractarian terms – the philosopher John Rawls, famous for his liberal egalitarian theory of justice, is a contractarian of sorts – and while defenders of this approach would (plausibly) argue that a libertarian social contract is the most rationally defensible one, most libertarian theorists have vied away from this approach in favor of one of the remaining three alternatives. In any case, there is nothing about this sort of libertarianism that requires hostility to traditional morality. Whether or not traditional morality can be defended on a “social contract” approach is an interesting and important question, but it is an entirely distinct question from that of whether libertarianism can be so defended.

The same is true of argument 1, the utilitarian argument. Whether or not one thinks the free market best “delivers the goods” that libertarians and non-libertarians alike value is an entirely distinct question from whether one thinks that traditional morality is also justifiable in such utilitarian terms. Some utilitarian libertarians might think it is, others that it isn’t; in either case, their libertarianism per se is irrelevant.

The natural rights argument (argument 2) gives us the same result, though it is a little easier to see why some libertarians might think this one stands in tension with traditional morality. If I have an absolute right to my property and to my own body, it follows that the government cannot stop me, say, from fornicating or using drugs – thus says the libertarian, and thus the appearance of tension between libertarianism and conservatism. But as (almost) all libertarians know, the tension is only apparent, and only to those not used to making rather obvious distinctions (journalists, political hacks, television personalities who’ve just discovered the word “libertarian,” etc.). Libertarianism entails that the state must not impose traditional scruples through force of law; it does not entail that that such scruples are not valid. What is not legally binding on us may nevertheless be morally binding on us. Some libertarians may, of course, dislike and disagree with traditional moral rules; but others might believe strongly in them, even though they would not advocate imposing them on others through the power of the state, and they do not cease being libertarians for that.

That, as I say, is obvious. It is nevertheless not surprising that so many people seem not to see it. With some people – the celebrity “libertarians,” television commentators and other journalists – garden variety muddle-headedness is no doubt the primary culprit. With journalists (most of whom are on the Left), there is the extra element of a political motive, viz. scaring unwary voters into thinking that anyone who disapproves of homosexuality (or whatever) simply must be in favor of sending the police into your bedroom (and perhaps scaring unwary and untutored libertarians into believing the same nonsense, thus hoping to splinter the Right).

It is, however, surprising that high-profile libertarians like Gillespie and Postrel do not see it, or at least do not seem too much in a hurry to acknowledge it. And it is even more surprising that they seem to see some justification for their reticence in argument 5, Hayek’s defense of the free society in terms of cultural evolution. Both writers have appealed to Hayek in support of their advocacy of openness to the cultural changes decried by traditionalists, Postrel in her book The Future and Its Enemies, Gillespie in defending himself against Goldberg; and they have, in particular, made much of Hayek’s famous claim not to have been a “conservative.” But such an appeal evinces a rather tendentious and selective reading of Hayek.

For starters, it cuts no ice breathlessly to refer to Hayek’s essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative” and wave it like a talisman against the embrace of the dreaded traditionalists. For (as Goldberg has wearily had to point out again and again) Hayek’s target in that essay was essentially the statist conservatism of the European tradition, not the Whiggish and liberty-oriented conservatism of the Anglo-American tradition; and his attack had more to do with the use of the state to prop up decaying social institutions than with the question of the value of those institutions themselves. More to the point though, is the substance of Hayek’s position, not the label he wanted to give it; and it is a commonplace among Hayek scholars that, no sooner had Hayek rejected the “conservative” label than his thought took a turn in a decidedly conservative direction. (In scouring Holy Writ for proof-texts they can use against their opponents, without regard for context or the niceties of sophisticated exegesis, Gillespie and Postrel thus rather resemble the Fundamentalists they wouldn’t be caught dead in the same political movement with.)

Hayek’s theory of cultural evolution – spelled out in The Fatal Conceit and elsewhere – was a defense of tradition, rather than an attack upon it, a defense inspired by the father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, himself. (Hayek took to describing himself late in life as a “Burkean Whig.”) Hayek’s view was that those fundamental moral and cultural institutions which have survived through the centuries are, for the very reason that they have survived, very likely to serve some important social function, so that we ought to be wary of tampering with them even if we do not always know precisely what function they serve. Changes to such institutions are not to be ruled out absolutely, but they are always to be carried out tentatively and carefully, in piecemeal fashion; and the burden of proof is in any case always on the innovator, not on the conservers of tradition. Some changes may indeed turn out to be beneficial, and the society in which they take place will thrive as a result and outdo its competitors; but others may well be harmful and dysfunctional, with the result that the society which abandons the old ways may suffer damaging effects and even, in the worst case, ultimate dissolution or collapse.

Hayek applied this defense of tradition not only to the institutions of private property and contract which underlie market society, but also to the family and religion, which he as much as Burke considered bulwarks against the power of the state over the individual, and sources of the moral education without which the individual cannot develop the fortitude and self-reliance to resist the lure of state dependency. And he condemned the notion that liberty ought to be conceived of as freedom from moral restraints – as (in Bertrand Russell’s words) “the absence of obstacles to the realization of our desires” – as a naïve and dangerous rationalist fantasy, an instance of what he called “the abuse and decline of reason” in modern intellectual life. (And, we might now be tempted sadly to add, an instance of the abuse and decline of Reason.)

It is baffling, then, why anyone should think Hayek’s philosophy a club with which to beat off traditionalism. Indeed, where traditional moral scruples are concerned, the Hayekian libertarian ought to regard change with as much caution as he would changes to the institutions of property and contract. Nor is it hard to see why this is so, not just at the level of abstract theory, but at the level of everyday social and political reality. The family, as we’ve said, is one of the main barriers standing between the individual and the state, for it (rather than the state) is the primary focus of a person’s sense of allegiance to something beyond himself, and is also the arena within which a person learns (or should learn) how to become a responsible and self - supporting citizen of the community. When the family is absent in the life of the individual, the state – especially if such other “intermediate institutions” as the church are themselves weakened – tends inevitably to fill the void. Hence the tendency of single mothers, seeking in government assistance a surrogate to absent husbands and fathers, to be among the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters; hence the listlessness and waywardness of so many of the children of those mothers, giving rise to further social problems to which the same party is only too willing to offer state-empowering “solutions”; and hence the self-accelerating cycle of moral decline leading to state intervention leading to dependency and further moral decline which has characterized social life in the Western world since at least the sixties. For such reasons, maintaining the stability and health of the family must be a chief concern of libertarians as much as of conservatives.

But a libertine ethos is manifestly incompatible with this concern. For the health of the family depends essentially on the willingness of its members to make sacrifices for its sake, and this means, first and foremost, a subordination of the fulfillment of parents’ immediate desires to the long-term project of building a stable and loving home for their children. That, of course, calls for marriage, and also for precisely the opposite of the frivolous attitude with which marriage is currently treated in the Western world – as primarily a vehicle for “personal fulfillment” which one can enter and exit at will. A society in which the family is strong is thus a society in which adultery is abominated (even in presidents) and in which divorce, even if occasionally permitted, is frowned upon. Since so “stringent” (to the modern mind, anyway) a conception of marriage might make it less likely that men especially will enter into it if (as our mothers used to say) they can “get the milk for free without buying the cow,” it follows that taboos against pre-marital sexual relations, pornography, etc. will be almost as strong as the taboos against adultery and divorce in a society in which the family is taken seriously.

Of course, there’s nothing terribly original in this mini-defense of traditional sexual morality; but then, the sociological case for that morality is not very difficult to make. Moreover, I would dare say that everyone knows this (except perhaps Postrel, who absurdly challenges Goldberg to “prove” that pornography is more damaging to society than religious literature); and everyone knows it whether or not he happens to live in accordance with that morality. But it is no doubt because so very many today do not live in accordance with it that certain libertarians are loath to associate themselves with its defense. Such an association is, they fear, a political loser – a chaining of oneself to the sinking ship of social conservatism, certain doom if one seeks to appeal to hipsters and the hormonally-unchallenged college crowd.

Now one might have hoped that anyone serious about the long-term fortunes of our civilization would want to aim at something higher than what immediate political expediency and magazine marketing strategies might call for – higher, that is, than an alliance of those who want freedom from high taxation and regulation with those who demand, say, the “freedom” to fornicate and abort the consequences. To be sure, aiming higher is a very tall order for any citizen of the “society” of foul-mouthed, oversexed, and thuggish louts that is now slowly but relentlessly displacing Western Civilization. But it must be done, nonetheless, if the free society is to survive, and libertarians who think otherwise are deluded.

As deluded, it should be added, as those conservatives who think there can be such a thing as a “conservative welfare state” or that the state ought to involve itself in funding “faith-based organizations”; for I by no means would suggest that so-called “cultural libertarians” alone are to blame for any rift that exists between libertarians and conservatives. It is understandable why some conservatives might fear that the war against Big Government is lost, and that they thus ought to turn their efforts to taming the beast rather than slaying it. But they’re fooling themselves if they think they will succeed, and badly need a refresher course in Public Choice economics. If the war against Big Government really is lost, then everything else conservatives hope to preserve is lost as well, for the apparatus of the modern secular state is, and for structural reasons inevitably will be, in the hands of those hostile to traditional morality. If it is in the state’s self-interest continually to increase its citizens’ dependence on it, it follows that it is in its self-interest to undermine any obstacles to that dependence – and thus if, as all conservatives believe, the independence of the individual depends on the sanctity and stability of the family and on a strong and substantial religious belief, it follows that it is in the state’s self-interest to undermine the family and religion. So it is no surprise that, as conservatives have so often argued, state policy has in fact had precisely this result. Ergo, expanding the state’s tendrils into private schools (via vouchers) and religious organizations (via federal funding) will hardly reverse these effects – in fact in the long run this is liable only to exacerbate them, as the state gradually imposes its will and the Leftism that is its operational ideology on those private institutions.

But most conservatives who delude themselves into making peace with the legacy of Leftism at least have the good taste to do so reluctantly; Gillespie, on the other hand, seems positively giddy over the prospect of a libertarian political alliance with the Left. Yet it is, I would suggest, no less a delusion to suppose that there is even any short-term political gain to be had by making an appeal to the “socially liberal” segment of the electorate. Part of the reason this is a dubious strategy is that the vast majority of politicians and voters with any free-market sympathies at all also tend to be culturally and morally conservative, and are thus likely to be put off by a movement that thumbs its nose at the things they hold most dear, leaving the pro-market house unnecessarily divided against itself. But another reason is that those who are not morally and culturally conservative are, generally speaking, resolutely hostile to the ideals of the free market and limited government, and are thus simply poor recruits for any non-conservative libertarian “third way.” For the most part, Hollywood producers and starlets are not both pro-gay rights and pro-growth, lesbian Wiccans are not yearning for a pro-choice but anti-affirmative action candidate, and college students were not drawn to the anarchist barricades in Seattle merely because they thought it might be a good place to get high and get “laid.”

This, as the Marxists would say, is no accident. Nor is it an accident that there is a strong correlation between a society’s level of secularization and libertinism on the one hand, and the size and scope of its welfare state on the other. (Compare the USA, which may be going to hell in a hand basket on both counts – but still has a ways to go – to Sweden, which has been there for decades.) For the truth is that it is libertarianism and conservatism that naturally go together, just like… well, just like love and marriage (if you’ll pardon so quaint a notion) – and that libertinism and Leftism also go together (like illegitimacy and state dependency, you might say). This is clear not only from the Burkean-Hayekian considerations adduced earlier, but also from the facts that so many libertarian natural rights theorists ground those rights in concepts drawn from the Aristotelian and Natural Law traditions in moral philosophy – traditions famously conservative in their moral implications – and that, from Friedrich Engels to Betty Friedan, the chief proponents of socialism and chief opponents of the family have tended to be the same people. For the same fundamental moral vision and the same sorts of arguments ultimately underlie respect for both the free society and traditional morality; and hostility toward both also has the same psychological and philosophical roots.

If I had to sum up the common moral vision of libertarians and conservatives, I would say it is a commitment to the idea of the the dignity of man. On this vision, a human being is not a mere animal, but a rational being with the power of free moral choice, a person – a creature made, as religious conservatives would put it, in the image of God. And because he is this, he (a) cannot legitimately be used as a resource for others, a source of labor and property which may be appropriated by the state for its purposes without his consent, and (b) is subject to the demands of a moral law which require him to live in a way which accords with his unique dignity, rather than in thrall to his every fleeting inclination. Libertarians stress (a) and conservatives (b), but both are united in their insistence that a man ought not to be a slave, either to another’s desires or to his own. And it is this insistence that separates them from the Left, which in its various factions tends to portray human beings in dehumanizing terms, as little more than clever animals, or as cogs in a vast social machine, helpless victims of forces beyond their control – and thus neither fit to rule themselves nor capable of living up to any morality that would require putting chains on their appetites.

Spelling out the common moral vision of libertarianism and conservatism in a complete and philosophically adequate way is not something I pretend to have accomplished here. But hopefully I have said enough to indicate why libertarians and conservatives ought to make the articulation and development of this common vision a chief concern, and why they must shore up the alliance between them that flows naturally from this vision but has been needlessly under strain of late. Libertarians in particular ought to stop chasing the mirage of a third way “between Left and Right” and recognize in traditionalist conservatives their natural allies. True libertarianism isn’t “cultural libertarianism.” It is instead a profound vision of human beings as free, not properly subject to the arbitrary will of any man or any government – and if it is to succeed, and deserve to succeed, it ought to be committed also to the promotion of an ennobling and inspiring use of that freedom.

December 22, 2001

Edward Feser teaches philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Editorial
KEYWORDS: edwardfeser; paleolist
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The author seems to be well versed in the historical background of the libertarian movement. I am another who leans towards Frank Meyer's fusionism. (A traditionalist cultural/moral vision coupled with a libertarian political expression)
1 posted on 12/22/2001 8:53:08 AM PST by rob777
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To: Hugh Akston
Here's one for you toots...waiting for you to opine!!!!
2 posted on 12/22/2001 8:55:32 AM PST by Neets
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To: rob777
If I had to sum up the common moral vision of libertarians and conservatives, I would say it is a commitment to the idea of the the dignity of man.

And this is precisely where the difference lies, a conservative who comes from a Judeo/Christian worldview believes that mankind is born spiritually dead in sin and that the laws of civilized societies are necessary to contain that sinful nature. That is diametrically opposed to the libertarian view of the "dignity" of man which is much closer to liberalism that sees man as being perfectable.

3 posted on 12/22/2001 9:07:49 AM PST by Mahone
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To: rob777
Great article. Surprisingly good for lewrockwell.com, and kinder to Jonah than he deserves.

The problem is that you can't patent or copyright an idea. In an age of liberal dominance, the radical suburban kids of the Sixties took the left to places that Wilsonians, Wobblies and Stalinists didn't go, and may not have dreamed of. Today, in a more conservative or free market era, a later generation of suburban kids will take the prevailing ideologies and use them to get what they want or express their rebellion.

Where you come from in intellectual history may be as important as where you are trying to go. Libertarian ideas arising in an era of "character-building" scarcity are bound to develop differently from those which take root in an age of affluence, self-expression and "autonomy." That relationship between circumstances and ideas is one reason why lewrockwell's interpretations of history so often fall flat: the same concept or value will not have the same consequences in every age.

But withal, a good and necessary blast against Postrel and the odious Gillespie. Thanks for this.

4 posted on 12/22/2001 9:16:03 AM PST by x
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To: rob777; Free the USA; GovernmentShrinker; *Libertarian; *Paleo_list
Very good article

Libertarianize the GOP

5 posted on 12/22/2001 9:18:00 AM PST by Libertarianize the GOP
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To: rob777
Great post.
6 posted on 12/22/2001 9:19:21 AM PST by OWK
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To: rob777
Good one. Thanks.
7 posted on 12/22/2001 9:20:03 AM PST by MadameAxe
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To: rob777
As a Libertarian, I want to over-throw the two party system that has constrained America about our Constitution.
8 posted on 12/22/2001 9:22:53 AM PST by Buckeroo
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To: rob777
Libertarianism = (conservatism - bs) + (liberalism - bs) + lunacy.

Einstein said, "Make things as simple as possible but no simpler." Libertarians (at least the few self-appointed elite loudmouths like Virginia Postrel) make a vice out of the virtue of liberty. They oversimplify liberty in the same grossly dumb way some Republicans oversimplify free markets and some Democrats oversimplify social justice.

Proof: Consider the size of the Libertarian Party. QED.

9 posted on 12/22/2001 9:42:56 AM PST by gulliver
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To: Mahone
"And this is precisely where the difference lies, a conservative who comes from a Judeo/Christian worldview believes that mankind is born spiritually dead in sin and that the laws of civilized societies are necessary to contain that sinful nature. That is diametrically opposed to the libertarian view of the "dignity" of man which is much closer to liberalism that sees man as being perfectable."



The Judeo/Christian worldview is much more profound than you give it credit for. It simultaneously recognizes that man is both created in the image of God and thus, has a divine dignity, and posesses a sinful nature. Liberalism has an image of upholding the dignity of man, but this is only superficially so. They view man in a general, collective sense with no consideration of the actual "individual" human. Their worldview is deterministic and sees the individual as a cog in a social machine. It is society that they see as perfectiable, NOT the individual. The Christian worldview sees the individual soul, with it personal relationship to God, as far more important than some social construct. As for human perfection, "with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible".

One final point: The libertarian worldview DOES recognize the sinfull part of human nature. That is why it is under no illusions that centralized political power in a society would be used to "contain that sinful nature". History has proven that centralized political power is more likely to be a vehicle for the expression of that sinful nature, rather than its restraint. There is only ONE full proof way to restrain sinful nature and that is a personal, one on one relationship with God. The state, at most, can only play the role of preventing that sinful nature from expressing itself in the form of engaging in force or fraud against our fellow citizens. To expect the state to play a role any further than this is to engage in the kind of idolotrous hubris that is the halmark of modern liberalism and its cult of state worship.
10 posted on 12/22/2001 9:55:13 AM PST by rob777
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To: rob777
2. ---- The natural rights argument, which emphasizes the idea that individuals have inviolable rights to life, liberty, and property that it is morally wrong for anyone, including the state, to violate even for allegedly good reasons (such as taxation for the sake of helping the needy). This approach has been favored by libertarian philosophers from John Locke to Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard, and also has an intuitive appeal to the "libertarian in the street" who resents the suggestion that the government has any business telling him what to do in his personal life, or with his money or personal property .

The natural rights argument (argument 2,):

If I have an absolute right to my property and to my own body, it follows that the government cannot stop me, say, from fornicating or using drugs – thus says the libertarian, and thus the appearance of tension between libertarianism and conservatism. But as (almost) all libertarians know, the tension is only apparent, and only to those not used to making rather obvious distinctions (journalists, political hacks, television personalities who've just discovered the word "libertarian," etc.). Libertarianism entails that the state must not impose traditional scruples through force of law; it does not entail that that such scruples are not valid.

What is not legally binding on us may nevertheless be morally binding on us.

Some libertarians may, of course, dislike and disagree with traditional moral rules; but others might believe strongly in them, even though they would not advocate imposing them on others through the power of the state, and they do not cease being libertarians for that.

-------------------------------------------

The author lost me somewhere in his, imo, overly complex defense of argument 3, - particularily when he had already made a perfectly logical defence of 2, as I underlined.

11 posted on 12/22/2001 10:11:00 AM PST by tpaine
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To: gulliver
And, in the same vein, consider how much God loves the Red Chinese, having made so many of them.
12 posted on 12/22/2001 10:11:51 AM PST by Erasmus
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To: Libertarianize the GOP;rob777;tpaine;OWK;FreeTally
Libertarianism = Objectivism = Psuedointellectualized Liberalism
13 posted on 12/22/2001 10:17:25 AM PST by Christian_Egalitarian
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To: rob777
This article is definite bookmark material.

I do want to comment on the following minor point, because to me it doesn't make sense as written and may lead to confusion or difficulty in getting the author's later points:

This, at least, is the inference one naturally draws from their tendency to bifurcate between (on the one hand) those who want to impose, through force of law, their moral views on others, and (on the other hand) those, like themselves, who refuse to offer the faintest criticism of anything and everything done between “consenting adults” – as if there were no third position, viz. that of those who reject the use of state power to enforce traditional morality, but are nevertheless critical of those who flaunt it.
I think the author intended the word "flout" instead of "flaunt."
14 posted on 12/22/2001 10:17:27 AM PST by Erasmus
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To: Mahone
And this is precisely where the difference lies, a conservative who comes from a Judeo/Christian worldview believes that mankind is born spiritually dead in sin and that the laws of civilized societies are necessary to contain that sinful nature. That is diametrically opposed to the libertarian view of the "dignity" of man which is much closer to liberalism that sees man as being perfectible.

While it's true that many libertarians do not have a Judeo-Christian worldview, the libertarian political philosophy does not believe that man is self-perfectible, which is what I think you really mean by "perfectible." But neither is man perfectible by means of the state, and most informed libertarians would, in stark contrast to your claim, remind you that it is the very "sinful nature" of man which makes a concentration of power so dangerous. A typical libertarian would hold that the amount of force necessary to protect individuals from direct threats to their persons and possessions should be held and exercised by the state, whereas conservatives generally go a step further and attempt to impose their social norms on a culture.
15 posted on 12/22/2001 10:23:42 AM PST by Hemlock
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To: gulliver
Einstein said, "Make things as simple as possible but no simpler."

Good quote.

16 posted on 12/22/2001 10:24:04 AM PST by Roscoe
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To: Christian_Egalitarian
Libertarianism = Objectivism = Psuedointellectualized Liberalism

Just because you make it statement does not make it true.
Please prove your equation or it shall rightly be ignored.

17 posted on 12/22/2001 10:25:47 AM PST by Libertarianize the GOP
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.
18 posted on 12/22/2001 10:26:28 AM PST by VinnyTex
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To: Christian_Egalitarian
"Libertarianism = Objectivism = Psuedointellectualized Liberalism"



Libertarianism predated Objectivism, in fact, it is a label that Ayn Rand rejected. When she first came to America, a large number of libertarians were Christian.
19 posted on 12/22/2001 10:29:31 AM PST by rob777
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To: Christian_Egalitarian
Psuedointellectual = Christian_Egalitarian
20 posted on 12/22/2001 10:36:47 AM PST by tpaine
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To: rob777
Libertarianism predated Objectivism

True. See http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/libcom.html

21 posted on 12/22/2001 10:37:00 AM PST by Roscoe
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To: Roscoe
Psuedointellectual = Roscoe
22 posted on 12/22/2001 10:39:24 AM PST by tpaine
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To: x
There is, in particular, nothing in libertarianism that entails that one ought to be in the least bit hostile to or even suspicious of traditional morality or traditional moralists. There is thus no reason whatsoever why libertarians and onservatives ought to be divided over the question of traditional morality

Sorry, but there's a big conflict between libertarian principles and people who want to enforce religiously-based "morality" on who people who don't share their religious beliefs, and to use the power of the state to do this via legal discrimination against the non-"traditionalists". And how do you suppose those "traditions" came to be traditional? Via the imposition of force by government authorities and by ecclesiastical authorities who had obtained government-like authority in theocratic societies. Nope, can't support that. If the social practices they advocate don't remain predominant without government coercion, then they weren't "traditional" in the first place, just vestiges of tyranny.

preoccupation with drugs and pornography

Pornography, to the extent that its production does not involve coercion of real people, should be protected by the First Amendment, though subject to the same sort of "time, place, and manner" test as other types of speech (I don't think libertarians are advocating highway billboard displays of hard-core porn). Of course, most of the situations in which conservatives get upset about pornography would go away if half the country wasn't being run by the government. Blocking access to Internet porn in public schools and public libraries? Sure it's wrong when those institutions are run with taxpayer funds, but why are they being run with taxpayer funds?

As for drugs, I part company with the extremist libertarians on this subject. Obviously, many aspects of the "War on Drugs" have been ill-advised and infringed on basic liberties, but I don't think this is a reason to make all drugs legal -- just rein in the War where it steps over the line.

Now I have no problem with making marijuana legal (simply makes no sense to have alcohol legal and marijuana not, and Prohibition was already tried and is just inneffective when it lacks widespread support and the substance in question is easily produced in any home or dorm room).

However, most "hard" drugs have an extraordinary capacity to do harm, not just to the user, but also to innocent bystanders. Just imagine if it were perfectly legal to walk around with a pocket full of OxyContin or Rohypnol. Rapes of unconscious women would be epidemic, and no one would be safe from having these substances surreptitiously dropped in their food or drink in any public place. For the highly addictive substances, dealers would have plenty of incentive to involuntarily addict people by means of repeated surreptitious placement of the drug in food or drink, and would then profit handsomely when the new addicts exercised their "freedom" to purchase and use these drugs. I disagree with the premise that the high cost of drugs, and crime induced by addicts trying to get money for drugs, are products of illegality. They are products of addiction, which is very severe for many street drugs. As long as the users are inherently desperate for the drugs, the normal supply and demand effect on pricing is inoperative. Dealers have huge incentive to undertake violent, illegal measures to prevent the market from being flooded with inexpensive drugs, because the users will buy them no matter how high the cost. This is not the case with non-drug commodities or with non-addictive or very mildly addictive drugs like marijuana -- note how still-illegal marijuana is not expensive and is not associated with high crime rates.

Bottom line: hard drugs fall into the same category as plutonium. Principles need to have exceptions made to them, where there would otherwise be tremendous harm to innocent people. Libertarians don't support people's right to buy/sell/use personal supplies of plutonium, and there's nothing wrong with treating hard drugs the same way.

The other big argument against legalizing hard drugs at the present time is that, under our current legal/political system, which is far from libertarian or conservative, it is utterly impossible to let nature take its course, and leave the addicts to die of starvation or freezing or being shot by the intended victims of their robberies, etc. The growing numbers of them would all be entitled to taxpayer-funded treatment and living expenses. Nor are employers free to randomly screen employees for hard drug use, and even when an employer manages to confirm that an employee has become a heroin or crack addict, it would be virtually impossible to fire the employee, who will claim the "disability" of addiction, and be entitled to treatment, accommodation, etc. At least now, the employer can usually make sure that the offender gets in legal trouble, and then fire them for that.

23 posted on 12/22/2001 10:41:02 AM PST by GovernmentShrinker
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To: Roscoe
Your study of 'Libertaran Communism' has rotted your brain.
24 posted on 12/22/2001 10:48:53 AM PST by tpaine
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To: rob777
. . . that of those who reject the use of state power to enforce traditional morality, but are nevertheless critical of those who flaunt it.

I'm shocked I tell ya! Shocked! This describes me almost to the letter! Yet somehow, speaking highly of traditionalist values (authoritatively, even) raises the ire of some of the most vocal libertarians here at FR. It is as if they believe my disapproval, say, of the homosexual lifestyle is somehow an endorsement of the state outlawing these activities.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If a man desires to have sex with another consenting adult man, they have the right to engage in their desire. However, I will voice my belief in the immorality of that desire and practice.

The same goes for drug use. I've witnessed the absolute destruction that hard drug use brings within both a family and a community as a whole. But this is another subject.

From reading this column about what libertarianism "isn't," the most glaring theme within the libertarian sector appears to be a failure to properly pin down just what libertarianism truly means. It apparently means different things to different people. And if this is the case, the lack of a truly unifying theme hurts the libertarian movement severely.

25 posted on 12/22/2001 10:52:12 AM PST by rdb3
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To: gulliver
"Proof: Consider the size of the Libertarian Party. QED." -- gulliver

Yup ... we are pretty damned small as a contemporary political party. But keep in mind, way back in America's beginning, whicj created the Revolution: there were few patriots, as well.

26 posted on 12/22/2001 10:58:24 AM PST by Buckeroo
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To: rdb3
As a libertarian- a enjoy taking criticism from modern liberals and conservatives. One of the popular ad hominem attacks they will make is that the philosophy is "simplistic". This is especially the case when legislators are proposing public policy.

As I will discuss in my upcoming health care commentary- libertarianism is a philosophical foundation. For example, when both sides of Congress have differing education bills- the libertarian will say "Government should not be involved in education". Simplistic, yes, when compared to the hundreds of pages in each competing proposal.

It is important to point out the invalid comparison. Because the legislation is simply a product of a Marx, collective, and utilitarian philosophy- which is itself "simplistic". THe proper comparison on would be the neverending pages of education law from the Dem-Reps and the regulations, standards, and operating procedures from a body of private schools.

27 posted on 12/22/2001 11:04:49 AM PST by Fast 1975
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To: GovernmentShrinker
"Sorry, but there's a big conflict between libertarian principles and people who want to enforce religiously-based "morality" on who people who don't share their religious beliefs, and to use the power of the state to do this via legal discrimination against the non-"traditionalists"."



The author makes it quite clear that he is referring to moralists who do not seek to enforce their views on the public via state coercion. In fact, both Christian libertarians and early 20th Century "Old Right" conservatives, recognized that religiously based morality presupposes Free Will and can not be imposed. The very idea of "imposing" morality is itself an oxymoron. This is an argument that a large number of social conservatives understand and the notion that all social conservatives want to "enforce religiously-based "morality" on people who don't share their religious beliefs" is as falacious as the one which assumes that all libertarians are completely unconcerned with moral issues.

A case in point, the non initiation of force principle is a moral principle that originally had its roots in a religious understanding of human nature and dignity. This is a principle that those libertarians, who accept the legitimacy of the state, wish to see imposed on the public. If we are to absolutely insist that no moral principles can be inforced by the state, we arrive at an anarchist position of denying the legitimacy of the state entirely. Why should the state enforce laws against force of fraud? They are, afterall, moral principles that have a religious origin. Why not accept the ancient Sophist and Pagan notion that "Justice is the benefit of the stronger"? The truth of the matter is that minarchist libertarians DO expect the state to impose morality on the public. The differnence is that it is in a VERY limited framework, that of protecting the rights of individuals against force or fraud.
28 posted on 12/22/2001 11:07:51 AM PST by rob777
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To: Buckeroo
How come the libertarians don't have a symbol...the unicorn would be nice---something out of disney---the lion king?
29 posted on 12/22/2001 11:08:48 AM PST by f.Christian
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To: f.Christian
The LP has a penguin.
30 posted on 12/22/2001 11:13:51 AM PST by MadameAxe
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To: GovernmentShrinker
, under our current legal/political system, which is far from libertarian or conservative, it is utterly impossible to let nature take its course, and leave the addicts to die of starvation or freezing or being shot by the intended victims of their robberies, etc.

Yes I think that's the problem. Taxpayers are forced to pay the costs of hospitalizations and feeding their families. Once that happens, then they feel they should be able to control their drug use too. If the government would get completely out of it all, it would be better. The government shouldn't make laws against homosexuals but it shouldn't pay for their AIDS medicines either or force businesses to hire them.

31 posted on 12/22/2001 11:16:50 AM PST by FITZ
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To: f.Christian
How come the libertarians don't have a symbol

They do. It's the stars and bars. 50 white stars on a field of blue in the upper left corner with 13 red and white bars running horizontally.

32 posted on 12/22/2001 11:17:02 AM PST by Jolly Rodgers
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To: GovernmentShrinker
You agree that prohibitions are useless, yet you go on to say:

Bottom line: hard drugs fall into the same category as plutonium. Principles need to have exceptions made to them, where there would otherwise be tremendous harm to innocent people. Libertarians don't support people's right to buy/sell/use personal supplies of plutonium, and there's nothing wrong with treating hard drugs the same way.

The world is full of inherently dangerous substances & objects. We have decided, in the constitution, to give states the power to regulate [with due process] public use/possession of such property - and - to criminalize their misuse.

We cannot allow the state to have the absolute power to prohibit, as it is absolutely corrupting.

33 posted on 12/22/2001 11:18:41 AM PST by tpaine
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To: MadameAxe
The penguin is a noble--amazing creature...a giraffe would be better---more distinctive up there in the treetops!
34 posted on 12/22/2001 11:20:10 AM PST by f.Christian
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To: rob777
Libertarianism predated Objectivism, in fact, it is a label that Ayn Rand rejected. When she first came to America, a large number of libertarians were Christian.

The problem conservatives fail to see in the Moral Questions left unresolved by libertarians- is how big government has made these political issues.

School prayer is the biggest example, since tax dollars forced to pay for education, everyone wants their agenda in the curriculum. In privitization, Christians can support their schools, without the support of non-christians. And those few who are offended by religion in education- can support their own school- or school themselves at home.

35 posted on 12/22/2001 11:24:10 AM PST by Fast 1975
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To: Jolly Rodgers
for you---OWK...YETI!!
36 posted on 12/22/2001 11:24:14 AM PST by f.Christian
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To: rob777
Sounds like me to a tee.

I'm a Christian, but I don't want the government enforcing my version of my lifestyle on everyone else. I respect their right to decide what is right for them, so long as it doesn't interfere with my right (or the right of anyone else) to do the same.

It's not the place of the government to engineer society. That's up to us, through our personal power of persuasion and the truths of our messages.

37 posted on 12/22/2001 11:27:07 AM PST by John R. (Bob) Locke
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To: rdb3
"From reading this column about what libertarianism "isn't," the most glaring theme within the libertarian sector appears to be a failure to properly pin down just what libertarianism truly means. It apparently means different things to different people. And if this is the case, the lack of a truly unifying theme hurts the libertarian movement severely."



This problem came about in the late 1960's and the 1970's when a large number of people came to march under the libertarian banner who had no ties to the tradtional western heritage from which libertarianism arose. The result was to cause the movement to drift philosophically. There is also the celebrity factor that the author mentions. Libertarianism has its origins in Classical Liberalism, which was originally rooted in the Natural Law philosophical tradition. At it core was the recognition of natural rights that stem from the reality of human Free Will.
38 posted on 12/22/2001 11:27:23 AM PST by rob777
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To: f.Christian
for you---OWK...YETI!!

I'm sure you find yourself quite hillarious.

39 posted on 12/22/2001 11:29:01 AM PST by Jolly Rodgers
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To: Jolly Rodgers
Bleached to remove the borders?
40 posted on 12/22/2001 11:29:24 AM PST by Roscoe
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To: rob777
If we are to absolutely insist that no moral principles can be inforced by the state, we arrive at an anarchist position of denying the legitimacy of the state entirely. Why should the state enforce laws against force of fraud? They are, afterall, moral principles that have a religious origin.

Definitely not the same thing. No one wants to be the victim of robbery, fraud, assault, murder, etc. Thus if it is taken as a given that the state must treat all citizens equally, there is unanimous support for legal prohibition of, and punishment for these offenses. While the prohibitions are incorporated into virtually all religion's teachings, that is because they really are universal principles. They arise spontaneously in isolated communities, even absent any religious or governmental influence -- do away with the formal prohibitions and they pop up again almost immediately due to near-universal demand. Sure there are people who want to COMMIT these offenses, but even they don't want to be victims of them. Current conservative efforts to legislate their brand of morality, for example by campaigning for "defense of marriage" legislation and/or against same-sex marriage legislation, while preserving special legal privileges for people who organize their personal lives according to the religious precepts, are totally different. There, they ARE trying to impose religiously based moral precepts on unwilling people. They frequently make claims like "the institution of marriage would be threatened" if other people were allowed to marry differently, and then demand that government use its power to support this religiously based institution by decreeing that "you will marry this way or not at all, and the government will confer certain privileges on those who marry". The obvious corollary to this is that the institution does not have the overwhelming support of the people, and can only be maintained by government intervention (which I don't happen to believe -- only a handful of the flimsiest opposite-sex marriages would actually be weakened or ended by the advent of legal same-sex marriage).

41 posted on 12/22/2001 11:34:29 AM PST by GovernmentShrinker
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To: gulliver
"Proof: Consider the size of the Libertarian Party. "

That is the most illogical statement I have read since reading liberal trash. Size is a matter of being right? Maybe might is right?

42 posted on 12/22/2001 11:34:59 AM PST by PatrioticAmerican
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To: Roscoe
Bleached to remove the borders?

Nope. Stitched to prevent them from fraying.

Truth be told, I'm not quite sure if my position on "open borders" is entirely consistent with the Libertarian Party's position. I would like to see quotaless immigration, but not without specific criteria. Most of all, I want a simultaneous rollback of government welfare so that those who come to America do so with the understanding that they will be responsible for making their own life according to their own effort and abilities.

43 posted on 12/22/2001 11:35:06 AM PST by Jolly Rodgers
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To: Fast 1975
"The problem conservatives fail to see in the Moral Questions left unresolved by libertarians- is how big government has made these political issues."



You are right and most "Old Right" conservatives, as well as libertarians, understood this. The merging of former liberals, dubbed Neo-conservatives, into the conservative movement somewhat confused this understanding. Fortunately, some still understand this point. We need to continueously point this out, so that those numbers will grow.
44 posted on 12/22/2001 11:36:00 AM PST by rob777
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To: Christian_Egalitarian
Egalitarianism = dehumanizing slavery
45 posted on 12/22/2001 11:36:58 AM PST by OWK
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To: rob777
What a bunch of gobbly-gook. It seems Republicans are all for controlling personal behavior and Democraps are for controlling evything else. Perhaps Republicans are simply afraid to admit to their desire to dominate in ther own way, while Libertarians desire less control by everyone. Now, go ahead and show your fear and ignorance and claim that Libertarians are just anarchists.
46 posted on 12/22/2001 11:37:27 AM PST by PatrioticAmerican
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To: PatrioticAmerican
The product has failed in the marketplace of ideas.
47 posted on 12/22/2001 11:37:44 AM PST by Roscoe
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To: Jolly Rodgers
Most of all, I want a simultaneous rollback of government welfare so that those who come to America do so with the understanding that they will be responsible for making their own life according to their own effort and abilities.

Sure wish we could convince republicans and democrats of this. They give away OUR money like it was candy. And they think they're doing something noble.

48 posted on 12/22/2001 11:39:58 AM PST by OWK
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To: Roscoe
The product has failed in the marketplace of ideas.

So by your standard then, communism and socialism have passed the test of the "marketplace of ideas"?

49 posted on 12/22/2001 11:42:07 AM PST by OWK
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To: Roscoe
The product has failed in the marketplace of ideas.

Currently out of fashion in the mass market perhaps, but far from failed. Liberty and personal sovereignty is one of those timeless values that always manages to burst forth with a flourish when times seem the darkest.

50 posted on 12/22/2001 11:43:25 AM PST by Jolly Rodgers
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