Libertarianism's Libertine Underbelly -- A Risk for America in the Current Populist Surge

The current populist surge, evidenced most dramatically in the Tea Party movement, is building to a crest and is likely to sweep many incumbents from office in this election cycle.  While many are characterizing the political philosophy of the movement as strongly Conservative, there is as strong a whiff of Libertarian tendency in the movement.  While there are many overlaps in the particulars of Conservative and Libertarian policy positions, there is a fundamental incompatibility between the two societal philosophies that is unlikely to be reconciled.

While I am not prone to be as acerbically dismissive of Libertarianism as Russell Kirk (see Libertarins: the Chirping Sectaries—http://www.mmisi.org/ma/25_04/kirk.pdf), I think there is a philosophical weakness in the Libertarian creed that I would call the Libertine Underbelly, probably best illustrated by the consistent arguments for blanket drug legalization often touted by Libertarians.  A good analysis of one aspect of this issue can be found at http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=19205.  While this analysis shows the weakness of the decriminalization aspect of the Libertarian drug position, I think there is a stronger underlying weakness in the entire Libertarian premise that, essentially, all men are islands (apologies to John Donne).

I believe it is fair to portray as a core Conservative belief that the purpose of civil society is to provide the most benign environment for families and societal institutions to bring new generations of free individuals into such a society, nurturing them until they are self-sufficient and able to assume responsibility for constructively participating in that society, freely and independently.  A fundamental aspect of this process is the total dependence on society of the newly born person for the good will and resources of contributing members of that society.  This dependence lasts decades and involves many members of society and considerable amounts of their resources.  Thus, a thirty year old has an accumulated “debt” to society that I contend creates an obligation to spend the rest of their life returning, with interest.  The method of that repayment differs dramatically between Conservative and Radical philosophies, but Libertarianism would seem to object to the entire premise, stating rather “as long as one’s actions hurt no one else, individuals are free to do whatever they want, even if they hurt themselves.”   I contend that actions that hurt oneself in fact hurt others, analogous to having a wild party and  trashing a home given to you by your parents.  Doing such a pointlessly destructive act squanders the life energy and physical resources put into the asset by others, even though the immediate effect is to harm your personal quality of life.  Those resources squandered were applied to the asset by productive members of society with the implicit intent of their constructive use toward the preservation of civil society, not as fuel for self indulgence.

I can only hope that such citizen activism as the Tea Party and other civic participation will tend toward Self Government Conservative principles (“Rights are inseparably associated with duties.”), resisting the dual siren songs of Big Government Radicalism (“I’ll give you other people’s money.”) and No Government Libertarianism (“Every man is an island.”).