There are many reasons why I don’t consider myself a libertarian. Yet on the political spectrum, I’m probably closer to them than I am the average Republican. I’ve already explained why I’m not a libertarian on specific issues, but in this piece, I want to look at the main philosophical differences between conservatives, libertarians, and liberals.
Although I want as little dependence on gov’t as possible, I do believe the gov’t should have a role in helping the less fortunate among us, the people who aren’t able to make it on their own. Libertarians say for those people, we don’t need the gov’t to step in because they could get help from family, friends, and charities. But therein lies the problem. Due to the high rates of divorce, drug addiction, mental and physical disability, and overall dysfunction in our country, many of these people’s friends and family have their own struggles to deal with, and either aren’t willing, or aren’t able to help them.
But that’s only half of the problem. The other half is that people are more selfish now than they’ve ever been. Due to isolation, reliance on technology instead of each other, the breakdown of the family, and the loss of faith, among other things, the average American tends to put himself or herself first. If they’re not extremely selfish, they’ll also care about their family, but that’s as far as their compassion goes. They don’t care about anyone outside the small niche they’ve created for themselves in this world. I’m not saying all Americans are like this, but I am saying there are more than in previous generations.
So where does that leave the drug addicts, mentally ill, homeless, poor, and disabled people, who need help, and who simply aren’t capable of making it on their own? If the gov’t benefits they currently rely on are taken away, where will they turn? Charities and non-profit organizations can help a certain percentage of them, but many of these people aren’t even aware of such organizations, and wouldn’t have any idea where they could go for help.
Many of these people have no family and friends to rely on, that’s often why they developed the problems they have in the first place. For a society to survive with a very small federal gov’t, it needs to have a strong foundation to replace it. One of the reasons our gov’t got so big in the first place is because that foundation has been eroded for decades, starting with the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, and continuing with the breakdown of our institutions that followed. If you completely take away the safety net of gov’t programs that help the people I mentioned above, and don’t have a societal safety net to replace it, these people will fall through the cracks of society.
Being a libertarian requires a certain level of trust in the generosity of your fellow man, and when I look around at my fellow Americans, I don’t have that trust, particularly after seeing the results of this election. I know libertarians, and even some conservatives might read this and think I’m making a case for big gov’t, but that’s simply not the case. I’m making the case for having the smallest level of gov’t possible that is still capable of taking care of the people in our society who can’t take care of themselves.
In my ideal world, we would have almost no gov’t at all, because our fellow citizens would be full of virtue and kindness, and our society would have strong communities. In this world, everyone would know everyone else in their communities, and social support systems would be like superglue in the lives of the people who are currently forgotten by society. We have examples of such communities with Mormons in certain areas, as well as in various small towns across the country. But there are far fewer of these communities than there used to be, as families have broken up and many young people have left to live in big cities. Thus, this ideal world I’ve envisioned is not the world in which we live.
This is a fundamental difference between conservatives and libertarians. The latter refuse to acknowledge the reality of what it means to rely on their fellow man, while the former are willing to see man as the fallen creature He is. No doubt faith in God plays a role in this difference, with conservatives tending to have that faith, while libertarians are more likely to be atheists or agnostics. Conservatives recognize natural law, which reveals to us that while every person has a conscience, we often give into our animal instincts and act in opposition to it. We believe that a certain level of gov’t can act as a buffer against the excesses of greed, hate, dishonesty, sloth, and other vices that can consume a society, as they did the ancient Romans. The gov’t can’t always protect us from the vices of our fellow man, but it can help the people who have been neglected as a result of their fellow citizens giving into such vices.
I can see the thought bubbles coming out of libertarians’ heads already: “In a free society, people do stupid things and make bad decisions, and we can’t help everyone.” They also might say: “So, you don’t trust your fellow American, but you trust the gov’t?” My answer is “Of course I don’t trust the gov’t either, because it’s made up of my fellow Americans as well, just ones who are typically more arrogant and incompetent”. It’s not an either-or proposition. One can believe our culture has been so degraded that most Americans can’t be trusted to help their fellow man, while also believing that gov’t should remain as limited as possible, because it too can’t be trusted.
Reasonable people can disagree about what policies are most effective in achieving the goal of making this country a better place to live, but that would require a separate article. The point of this article was to explain why we need those policies in general. This is why I consider myself to be a conservatarian. I want the gov’t to stay out of business it was never meant to be involved in, and to have the smallest possible size, because otherwise it’s just wasting our hard-earned money. Where I part ways with libertarians is in my belief that the gov’t should do more than simply protect our liberties.
I believe a gov’t should help “the least of these” in society, in part because in certain areas of the country, and for people with certain problems, it appears civil society has broken down to the point where nothing is left to help them but gov’t. Furthermore, I believe that people who are so bad off that they could die without some form of gov’t assistance no longer have the ability to pursue happiness on their own, and their liberty is already restricted by their situation in life.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying these people have a right to gov’t services. That’s what separates me from liberals. Liberals believe everyone has a right to certain services and resources, and that we should have a gov’t that’s as big as possible in order to make sure we all have those things. They replace the family and God with the idea of a cultural utopia created by their progressive gov’t.
Also, I’m not saying we don’t have a responsibility to help people who are less fortunate than us. We do. In fact, I believe we should make sure we do everything we can to help them, so that they don’t have to rely on the gov’t. Only when they’re beyond our reach, or don’t have anyone to help them, should the gov’t step in, in my opinion.
These services and resources aren’t our rights, which come from God alone. I agree with the Founders that our only rights are to life (at all stages), liberty (in all its forms), and the pursuit of happiness. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t collectively decide as a people that the gov’t should have some role in helping the less fortunate among us. Once we’ve decided that, the only question becomes how much of our money do we want to give to the gov’t to make sure this happens.
A gov’t can try to help these people, while still getting out of things that I believe are none of its business, like marriage(I’m pro-traditional marriage) and the “war on drugs”. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, though it seems both conservatives and libertarians would have us believe they are.
Ultimately, I want to help people, primarily by helping them have maximum liberty. Politics is just a means to that end for me. People aren’t just slaves to the gov’t these days, they’re slaves to their addictions. I want to help free them from those chains as well by helping them find God, who is the source of all true freedom and happiness. But I do believe our gov’t should help people have their basic needs met.
Ideally I want this to be done by the states rather than the federal gov’t, which is why I’ve always been a proponent of federalism. The people of each state have unique needs that are best met by the gov’t of that state. Even better is if the governor spreads out his or her resources to the local gov’ts of each town and city. This is what the Catholic principle of subsidiarity is all about. The gov’t that’s closest to the people it represents knows them best, and is more likely to at least have some concern for their well-being. It can be held more accountable, can respond quicker to feedback, and thus should have the most resources to help them, not a far away centralized gov’t filled with bureaucrats who only care about their careers and their next paycheck.
I believe we can help the worst off among us without taking away our fundamental liberties, and without placing an undue burden on the rest of us. As we try to create policies that strike this balance, we should make it a goal of ours not to question the motives of the people who have a different philosophy of gov’t than ours. We shouldn’t demonize them either. It’s such demonization that created the bitter political divide in this country, and this was one thing that caused more people to be cynical and look for a charismatic demagogue to follow, like Trump. Let’s instead try to find allies to work with who share our principles and values, even if they don’t agree with us on all of the same policies or ideas.
Even though I’m not a libertarian, I value liberty just as much as they do. I hope we can work together to defeat the opponents of liberty, while creating the economic conditions that lift as many people out of poverty as possible. But let’s not forget the people who’ve already fallen through the cracks, and who are so destitute and alone that they have nowhere to turn for help but the government.