Libertarianism & Christianity Part II: Libertines vs Libertarians

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Libertarianism has grown in popularity over the past decade. In fact, it has managed to influence a segment of the conservative movement and the Republican Party, making it more amenable to issues like legalizing marijuana and others.

Despite the rise of libertarian thought in the culture, it has not affected the performance of the Libertarian Party or its candidates. In fact, one of its biggest weaknesses is that most Americans still do not understand what libertarians believe when it comes to political philosophy and policy.

One area in which people have become confused is when it comes to the morals espoused by libertarians, especially from a Christian perspective. Being that libertarianism overlaps with conservatism on several issues, there have been numerous conversations on this topic.

I wrote a previous piece breaking down Romans 13:1 – 5 and how it relates to libertarian ideology. In this article, I want to address a misconception many on the right have when it comes to how liberty-minded people approach morality. Some have suggested libertarians approve of a libertine lifestyle due to their stances on drugs, prostitution, and other controversial issues.

In a nutshell, libertarians believe that many of these issues should be legal and devoid of governmental involvement. This has led some to believe that libertarians, in general, support the use of drugs and prostitution. But this belies a lack of understanding of the movement and culture in the liberty movement.

In an entry in the “Journal of Libertarian Studies,” author and economist Walter Block boiled down libertarian thought to one principle:

Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It [is] concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation. That is it, in a nutshell.

Block added: “Libertarianism is a theory about what should be illegal, not what is currently proscribed by law.”

The important issue to understand is in which cases a government should be allowed to use force on a civilian. Progressives and conservatives alike have ideas regarding what the state should allow and what it shouldn’t.

A liberty-minded perspective simplifies the matter: Governing authorities should only use force as a means of punishment when an individual commits an offense that causes harm to another person or their property. Examples would be violent assault, burglary, fraud, and other acts that damage other individuals.

The drug issue provides an illustration related to the propriety of employing force to address a societal ill. Most would agree that addiction to drugs like cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamine, and others is a net negative. Indeed, there is a plethora of stories of lives being ruined or lost due to this type of addiction. However, whether right or wrong, people choose to ingest these narcotics. They make a conscious choice to put these substances into their bodies, which means that, unless they are being forced to take these drugs, they are choosing to harm themselves.

A liberty-focused approach would eschew the idea of sending men with guns and badges to forcibly remove them from their homes and toss them into cages. Their decision to consume a substance does not justify agents of the state kidnapping them at gunpoint or forcing them to pay money to the government as punishment.

The same holds true for prostitution, which is a blight on society. Many involved in the practice have sunken so low they have to sell their bodies to make money. But just as with the drug issue, if the sex acts they perform are consensual, liberty-minded folks do not approve of sending men with guns and badges to take them off the streets and throw them into cages.

Most libertarian types believe drug addiction, prostitution, and other ills are morally wrong and should be discouraged. But many who believe government force should be used against these individuals mistakenly assume that wanting something to be legal is not the same as condoning it.

The majority of people believe adultery, for example, is morally wrong. We don’t hold this behavior up as something to be emulated. Yet, most of us would not support the idea of imprisoning a man because he steps out on his wife, would we? The government should not be empowered to uphold this type of morality.

However, this does not mean that libertarians support drug addiction, prostitution, or adultery. Indeed, in these circles, there are plenty of individuals who adhere to traditional values and would seek societal means of addressing these problems. Instead of arguing for the imprisonment of drug addicts, they would much prefer that the community comes up with solutions to help these individuals break free of their addictions. Rather than putting a prostitute behind bars, we would address the societal, cultural, and governmental forces that lead one to sell their bodies for cash.

To put it simply, wanting a libertine lifestyle to be legal is not the same as supporting that lifestyle. Of course, there are always exceptions, right? During an interview with Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie, Kaytlin Bailey, a former sex worker, argued for destigmatizing prostitution and other forms of sex work. But since many in the movement do adhere to traditional values, this proposition is not likely to gain much steam.

Undergirding this issue is the reality that liberty-minded folks believe we the people are a better remedy for the ills plaguing our society. The state cannot force people to be moral citizens. It can only enforce compliance at the end of a gun barrel. But communities are more than equipped to rise to the challenge.


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