On the eve of the mid-term elections, I’ve been reading, studying, and thinking more about the nature of politics and mine own personal political leanings, and have come to the conclusion that I am not a libertarian, although I might vote for one. Libertarianism is represented by individuals such as Ron Paul (whom I voted for), Larry Elder, and even Elon Musk.
The Libertarian party believes in the maximum amount of liberty for the individual. This, in turn, lends itself to a belief in small government, unrestricted capitalism, non-interventionism, and boundless civil liberties. I endorse aspects (at minimum) of each of these, so it makes sense that given the choice between a progressive, a gutless conservative, or a libertarian, I might vote for the libertarian. The libertarian is a co-belligerent against the woke nonsense that has captivated political discourse in recent years.
There are a couple of issues which I could highlight that put me on the same side as the Libertarians. One would be the issue of free speech. Progressive ideology has become demonstrably censorious over the last several years, as evidenced by the “set my hair on fire” responses to conservative speakers at public universities, as well as by the Big-tech censorship during the pandemic that essentially shut down dialogue between opposing viewpoints. The second issue would be the bloated bureaucracy through which un-elected government officials dictate how businesses are run. Through irksome regulations (disincentives) and tax credits (incentives) the government “has its thumb” on the scales of the economy, which almost always results in bubbles, crashes, waste, and tax payer dollars.
So while I am sympathetic to those things and, with the balance of the scales being so far in the other direction I would vote for a sincere libertarian over a phony conservative, I have to ask myself whether I would agree with a government that is truly libertarian. In other words, if Libertarians took over the government (through elected means), would I find myself in some way fighting against their goals and aims? And the answer is yes.
The purpose of this post is not to explain what all of those disagreements would be, but to attempt to articulate the difference between my conservatism and libertarianism at a fundamental level. When I voted for Ron Paul in 2008 to be the Republican candidate for the presidency, I was struck that a vote for John McCain and a vote for Barack Obama were not very distinct. In other words, Ron Paul was actually saying something different than the others. That swayed me towards the libertarian viewpoint.
However, the longer I live the more I believe that a proper political system must be built on a better foundation. Libertarians and liberals both have their source in the Enlightenment idea that the liberty of the individual is a universal right that can be known through human Reason. If I’ve got that historical reality and definition correct, then I have (at least) 3 big problems with Libertarianism.
Individuals Without Natural Affection
The first issue I have is the focus on the individual. Societies are not only composed of individuals, but also groups, which have traditionally grown out of the natural affection between family and then clans. While individuals should also have rights, a society that ignores the reality of social constructs that lie between the level of the individual and the State are bound to wind up where America has wound up, with a massive government burrowing itself into debt through a commitment to caring for individuals from the cradle to the grave.
The issue of social structures larger than the individual is inescapable, as we can see from our current divided States of America. People will organize themselves into groups, even if those groups are not organized around the traditional formula of family and religion/church. The problem is that the groups we see organized in America today are largely grievance groups, bound together by their common victimization, even if that victimization is a perception rather than a reality. So the structures will always exist, but in a society that has intentionally destroyed social structures based on natural affection, such as the family and the church, the groups that materialize will be distorted, bound together by things like hate (ethnic supremacy groups) or by envy (victimization groups).
One way this works out is that the Libertarian doesn’t care what people do in their bedroom and who marries whom, as long as there is consent. If a married couple wants to divorce, then that is between them. But as a conservative I believe that marriage is a social institution that is recognized by the State for the good of society, and thus society has a vested interest in marriage for the procreation of children who will become good citizens and carry on the values of their family, clan, and nation. Downstream of all of this are the issues of abortion, school nurses treating children without the consent of parents, gay marriage, etc…
Freedom Without Responsibility
The second reason I reject the foundation of Libertarianism is because of the focus on freedom to the exemption of responsibility. The freedom of the individual is enshrined in the highest temple without a word to the concept of duty. America is a Republic requiring certain civic responsibilities. These include paying taxes, honoring the laws of the land, and aiding in times of national crisis. To bestow the rights of citizenship without requiring the responsibilities of citizenship is a prescription for disaster.
Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.George Washington
Abundant quotations from founding fathers of our nation like the one above exist because the idea of a Republic continuing without a willingness on the part of the people to uphold that Republic made no sense to these men. And if we have responsibility to our nation, it holds that there will be times when in national interest, we have to pursue policies at the level of nations where we must impose restrictions on certain economic activities or intervene in the affairs of others.
A specific example of this would be the war in Ukraine. While there have been many military interventions in my lifetime to which I was opposed, I believe there is a moral obligation to assist Ukraine because we were the ones who convinced them to give up their nuclear weapons. We did this because disarmament was in our national interest, which it really was.
Reason Without Tradition
Finally, if my premise that Libertarianism is founded on Enlightenment principles is true, the the whole things comes down to the idea that the rights of the individual can be found through Reason. That is, that if only mankind could cast off the shackles of tradition, we could see the universal rights of man descended from the heavens like a New Jerusalem, suspended upon nothing but the I-beams of human goodness fastened with the bolts of brotherhood to the…darn it I ran out of metaphors. But you get the idea. Why in the world do we think that human Reason will lead all men to the same conclusion, when it manifestly does not? Because we have been brainwashed into thinking that Enlightenment philosophy is a sound universal truth.
Several wars and attempts at nation building should persuade us that this is simply not the case. You can put three people in a room together and human reason will not bring them to the same conclusion about any number of issues. Societies that have long traditions outside of Western philosophy are going to approach everything from a different angle, and the idea that we can export liberal democracy around the world and it is going to be received with open arms is completely false. Right now, the most obvious example of this is China, where a powerful global economy is run by a increasingly totalitarian government.
A system of government should reflect reflect ontological realities of the human condition and the way that societies begin, develop, and maintain themselves over time. While Libertarians may side with Conservatives against the current crop of Progressives on many issues today, I don’t think they have a philosophical foundation that can sustain a society over the long haul. Conservatism believes in conserving, and one thing worth conserving is our nation.
So go vote kids, and if there isn’t a true conservative on the ticket, vote for a Libertarian.