A Thin Line Between Libertarian And Libertine

Note:  This entry has been cross-posted at Edge Induced Cohesion [1].

I do not consider myself a libertarian. This is not to say that there are not some definitions of libertarian that would not apply to me (there are), but rather when I look at what passes for “mainstream” libertarian I want nothing to do with whatsoever unless I am wearing a hazmat suit. As someone who is deeply interested in political philosophy, I have noted, and found it highly intriguing that in most of the world (apart from the United States), libertarian is considered one of the many types of socialist worldviews, on the anarchic socialistic side. This is not endearing whatsoever to me, though its American equivalent is often scarcely less appealing.

Only a moral people deserves (and receives) freedom. Where libertarian arguments fail is in assuming that morality is merely optional when it comes to freedom. This is not so. Self-government is a prerequisite for liberty. If someone cannot restrain themselves then others will restrain them, and that is something that our world is witnessing in all of its concern over civility and dignity and respect. Liberty without morality is anarchy, and most people have a very low tolerance for anarchy. The moment social order is lost, a lot of people clamor for the first law and order candidate who is willing to use the power of the state to enforce the rule of law. And that usually means a lot of brown shirts or #occupy types complaining about police brutality and occupying a jail cell without a lot of sympathy from the general public.

Even someone like myself who dislikes authoritarian crackdowns on principle (being someone who is deeply concerned about rotting in jail cells for being a bit to free to mouth very strong opinions) has very little sympathy for those who ruin and threaten the loss of liberty for the rest of us. The problem is that it is very difficult to avoid the extremes of anarchy and tyranny when society at large has lost the ability or inclination of self-government. No free society is possible where people do not discipline their own conduct and show respect for others, and clearly that respect and moral conduct is breaking down, and has been for decades now.

It is not an accident that times of crisis threaten the social order. A loss of respect for authority, especially among the young (who don’t remember how this turned out the last few dozen times and are not inclined to examine the bloody history), often leads to revolts and uprisings that alienate defenders of moderate social order. In the face of unwashed philistine anarchists, most people (myself included) prefer a crackdown, as ominous a precedent as that is. Such actions as disrupting the social order are usually counter-productive, therefore, in defending liberty or in trying to reverse a societal trend away from liberty. It also would tend to harden divisions within a society by making some people appear beyond the pale of political acceptability, therefore removing peaceful ways of dealing with real and serious societal problems.

At its core, libertarianism (at least as it is defined in the United States) desires freedom from government restrictions. And in a burdensome regulatory climate as we have, that is not unacceptable on its face. The devil is always in the details, though. If one desires freedom for the wrong reasons, it discredits freedom for others by making you a threat that has to be protected against. If a thief desires there to be less government regulations so they can embezzle or steal with impunity, such a person is a threat to the preservation of a free market order. For a free market to work, there are conditions that must be met, including a society that is morally upright enough not to steal or cheat its customers and local communities and families that are willing to take care of and support the interests of the population at large, especially when creative destruction destroys companies and eliminates jobs for people.

All too often, libertarian arguments appear to belong to support one of a small set of illegitimate social goals. One goal is the supposed elimination of the imaginary problem of legislating morality. Every law and every legal order legislates morality, because every law exists on a moral and ethical worldview. A law that says “thou shalt not steal” is a law that defends the right of people to their personal property. A law that says “thou shalt not commit adultery” recognizes the gross immorality of those who betray their covenantal vows as traitors. Likewise, a law that permits any sort of activity recognizes that as “permissible” and “allowable,” and therefore morally acceptable. If that is not the case according to the whole biblical standard, such a legal order is corrupt and ungodly by definition. And likewise, it would follow that anyone who supports an ungodly and overly permissive legal order therefore is not a genuine Christian by definition because one would be a political antinomian.

And that is why I do not consider myself a libertarian, because I am opposed to antinomian heresies wherever they might pop up, whether that is in politics where someone says that the sins of someone else are no concern to me, especially when there are societal blessings for obedience to (God’s) law and societal punishments for disobedience. In such circumstances the morality of other people is very much a matter of deep concern for any godly individual. After all, let us not forget that in Romans 1:28-32, a lengthy list of sins (which are very prevalent in Western society) is condemned with eternal destruction, not only for those who commit such sins but for those who are tolerant and indulgent about them.

And that is a serious matter. After all, to desire liberty from government taxation so that one can avoid one’s responsibility for Christian charity is itself ungodly. Desiring liberty from laws that prevent the exploitation of children so that one can exploit them is similarly ungodly. The reason for a great deal of government restrictions is the inability of people (especially businesses) to govern themselves. I too would like to be free of burdensome regulations, if I could trust people to be self-disciplined and not in need of (more inefficient and costly) external discipline. I do not have such trust in others, though.

A major reason for the screwed up and overly large leviathan state we struggle with in the Western world (including the United States) is the fact that other institutions have fallen down on the job. The responsibility for education is first and foremost a responsibility of parents. But if parents take no interest and responsibility in the education and upbringing of their children, their lack of responsibility will create a gap that allows others (first local communities and then higher levels of government) increased power to fill what is lacking, at increased costs and decreased effectiveness.

The same is true for charity–it is first the responsibility of families to help their own, and for local communities and congregations to help their own people, whose circumstances they should be aware of, and who may provide encouragement on how to avoid remaining a “burden,” and opportunities to do so, if possible. The more such responsibilities are left to others, the less knowledge and help and greater corruption and inefficiency are part of the necessary provision for those who are without. If you want government out of such business, it means taking responsibility for such business yourself on a lower level.

And very rarely, if ever, do I see libertarians making such arguments about the need to bolster families and local communities. I do see federalists making those arguments, and I support them, but I do not see libertarians doing so. Instead, I see libertarians foaming at the mouth for the opportunity to get rid of laws that protect the poor or the common folk or children from exploitation for others. Child labor laws–struck down. Laws that restrict immorality–done away with. The end goal of such behavior is not a virtuous republic, but rather an anarchial state of bellum omnium contra omnes. That’s not a state many of us, myself included, want any part of.

And that is the conundrum that libertarians find themselves in–being seen as anarchists and moral antinomians who desire to exploit and take advantage of others by force or fraud without any recourse to courts of law or the protection of government. If such people truly desired the well being of our republic, or any other, they would seek to rebuild institutions at the lower level that have atrophied and failed to fulfill their God-given responsibilities. Then they would have the credibility to speak out against the tyrannies of government, knowing that necessary tasks would not be left undone by attacking our leviathan state. Such libertarians appear to be entirely absent, however. All we have are pro-pot smoking isolationist libertines who are unworthy of the slightest support or legitimacy, fiddling and diddling while our republic burns. Such people, rather than being praiseworthy defenders of liberty, are a national disgrace, and an invitation to divine judgment if we do not judge our own house first.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/a-thin-line-between-libertarian-and-libertine/