Libertarianism

Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, A Libertarian?

 

Libertarians

 

As faithful readers of this blog know, I have absolutely no use for the late Ayn Rand, a  puerile novelist who got rich on the formula of writing didactic libertarian novels like Atlas Shrugged, and filling them with smut at a time when smutty mainstream novels were still a rarity.  I also have little use for libertarians, the perfect political philosophy for fifteen year old nerds.  However, , at The Stream, is quite correct about a new form of “red baiting” going on in Saint Blog’s today:

 

Today Catholic circles are seeing the exact same tactic, except that now the use of guilt-by-association and false implication is serving the cause of big-government statists. The targets are conservative Catholics who distrust the modern secular state, and the smear-word is not “Communist” but “libertarian,” which is then connected with the thought of Ayn Rand. Welcome to the age of the Rand-baiters.

An entire conference held last summer at Catholic University of America was devoted to such Rand-baiting, to speeches that said, implicitly or explicitly, that Catholics who oppose the expansion of government and the large-scale redistribution of wealth are “dissenters” from Catholic Social Teaching. Listening to them speak one would imagine that opposing the leviathan state was a heterodoxy on par with supporting partial-birth abortion and euthanasia. Austin Ruse wrote a fine response to this conference, which provoked a sneering answer from Matthew Boudway at Commonweal.

Go here to read the rest.  Can we supply an example of this Rand Baiting?  Can we?  (Mark, you are missing your cue!)

I am similarly dubious. When I hear Ryan a) ceasing to pretend that he was never an acolyte of Rand and b) doing more than paying lip service to Thomas and citing more than the word “subsidiarity” to give his rhetoric a veneer of Catholic respectability, I will take his Sister Souljah Moment with regard to Rand seriously. Till then, I’m not buyin’ Ryan. He seems to me to be a particularly odious epigone of the Randian Class Warrior against the weak, dressing his class warfare with a few rags from Catholic social teaching to make it look nice. When the Randian jargon goes and is replaced with actual Catholic social teaching beyond the bare repetition of the sacred word “subsidiarity” (interpreted to mean “individualism and hostility to the state”) I’ll start to trust that he is serious. Continue reading

Shea & I: A Follow-Up

The-Pope-and-the-Inquisitor

I have a new piece up at Crisis regarding libertarianism and heresy inspired by a post on Mark Shea’s blog. Since I post there under my actual name, and since the reasons I had for writing under a pen name have largely vanished, I suppose my pen name is no longer needed here, though I will keep it because the Marquis de Bonchamps is still my hero. Anyway, I wanted to post some additional thoughts here for those interested, and since there are (as of 5/3, 11 am Pacific Time) 320 comments between my article and Shea’s reply, there might be a few. So here they are:

1) I didn’t choose the name of the piece – or the picture (above). Shea and I am sure others know that writers don’t often get this privilege when they submit something for publication. It’s not that I wholly object to the title and I like the painting, but I might have chosen something else. It wasn’t my intention to provoke the man.

2) Speaking of which, I haven’t followed Shea’s writings enough to know whether or not he deserves the almost unprecedented levels of animosity directed at him through the com-boxes. I’ve found some of his writing to be agreeable in the past and I have nothing personal against him. It was his claim, not his character, I was seeking to critique. I don’t approve of or condone the savaging of the man on a personal level.

3) Shea, through the com-boxes in his reply (though oddly not in the actual reply), thinks my argument is “silly” because if libertarianism is heretical, it can’t possibly be worth anything (thus rendering my probing questions in the opening of the piece superfluous). And yet in his original post (the second link above), he makes a practical argument against libertarianism and I am still not sure if it is the reason why he thinks it is heretical or if it is just some unrelated tangent. If libertarianism is heresy – end of story, end of debate – why proceed to make a rather half-hearted point against it, in this case, that it is somehow “utopian”? Or is that the reason he thinks it is heretical? He didn’t make that clear, hence the questions I pose in the piece. I also make clear that since I believe that a) libertarian arguments against confiscatory taxation are rooted in true and morally good principles and b) the Church does not reject what is true or good that c) it is very likely that at least what I call libertarianism is not “heretical.” I thought that was rather obvious.

One last thing: another publication will be posting a reply to my piece on Tuesday. I won’t give anymore details for now, but I expect a lively exchange to result.

The Real Brutalism: A Critique of Jeffrey Tucker

If you haven’t heard, the libertarian Catholic Jeffrey Tucker has launched a salvo against libertarians he classifies as “brutalist.” What does he mean by this? In his words:

In the libertarian world, however, brutalism is rooted in the pure theory of the rights of individuals to live their values whatever they may be. The core truth is there and indisputable, but the application is made raw to push a point. Thus do the brutalists assert the right to be racist, the right to be a misogynist, the right to hate Jews or foreigners, the right to ignore civil standards of social engagement, the right to be uncivilized, to be rude and crude…

This, in contrast to the libertarian “humanitarians” among whom Tucker counts himself, who believe that:

Liberty allows peaceful human cooperation. It inspires the creative service of others. It keeps violence at bay. It allows for capital formation and prosperity. It protects human rights of all against invasion. It allows human associations of all sorts to flourish on their own terms. It socializes people with rewards toward getting along rather than tearing each other apart, and leads to a world in which people are valued as ends in themselves rather than fodder in the central plan.

It would be difficult to deny that there are libertarians who enjoy crudeness its own sake. But it appears that Tucker doesn’t really know what he wants. How can one favor the flourishing of “human associations of all sorts” and then complain about the ones that aren’t sufficiently polite? Take this muddle of contradictions from the same piece:

So let’s say you have a town that is taken over by a fundamentalist sect that excludes all peoples not of the faith, forces women into burka-like clothing, imposes a theocratic legal code, and ostracizes gays and lesbians. You might say that everyone is there voluntarily, but, even so, there is no liberalism present in this social arrangement at all. The brutalists will be on the front lines to defend such a microtyranny on grounds of decentralization, rights of property, and the right to discriminate and exclude—completely dismissing the larger picture here that, after all, people’s core aspirations to live a full and free life are being denied on a daily basis.

Is this town not a “sort” of “human association” that is operating “on its own terms”?

Continue reading

New Blog, Ron Paul & Other Things

Hello TAC. I haven’t been posting here as often as I once was since a) I wanted to get a new blog up and running and b) I am also going to be writing for Catholic Stand, and my first piece is appearing tomorrow.

My new blog is called “Liberty & Dignity.” It is not an explicitly Catholic blog, but it is devoted to a natural law/rights version of libertarianism called “paleo-libertarianism.” I distinguish paleo-libertarianism from other kinds of libertarianism in the following way: the paleo brand explicitly recognizes that liberty is a historical and cultural product as much as it is an abstract ideal, that it requires certain institutional prerequisites and supports, and that taken out of its proper context – like anything else – it can self-destruct. It is close to but not identical with paleo-conservatism.

My first article for Catholic Stand will explain how I believe all of this as a Catholic.

Now, onto the Ron Paul business. Obviously I don’t agree with many of the comments left on Paul Zummo’s post about Ron Paul being an inherently malicious person. At the same time, I found his comments to be wildly inappropriate and politically destructive, much like Todd Akin’s rape comments. His subsequent statements on his Facebook page really didn’t improve the situation either.

I am not too happy with his son either, for much different reasons, but you can read my blog to learn more about that.

Here at TAC and Catholic Stand I am going to continue focusing on the two issues that pose the greatest threat to religious liberty in our time: the HHS mandate and the “marriage equality” movement. I expect it will also be necessary to continue defending free markets and private property as our social democratic government continues its assault on both. Many Catholics still believe that they have a religious obligation to support a welfare state and open borders. These beliefs are toxic even if well-intended.

Well, that’s all for now. Let the comments roll.

The Origins and Role of Government

So we’ve been discussing the proper role of the state on this blog recently, particularly as it relates to the legalization of marijuana. This discussion, in all of its unfortunate snarkiness and nastiness (to which I freely admit having contributed, not that I’m proud of it) is really a discussion on the proper role of the state.

I think it is rather uncontroversial to assert that America was basically founded upon the Lockean social contract theory. We begin with the proposition that everyone has basic natural rights: to life, liberty, and property. In a hypothetical scenario in which there is no coercive authority (the state/government), we must also act as our own judge, jury and executioner. In this anarchic situation, our rights to life, liberty and property are unsecured. In order to secure them, we collectively renounce our right to be our own personal government and transfer that right to a government we establish by contract. Our property – life, liberty and estate – is more valuable and necessary for life than our “right” to do as we please, when we please, to whomever we please.

The terms of the contract are rather simple. They are stated very simply in the Declaration of Independence. Governments exist to protect our natural rights. They don’t exist to make us “better people” – that’s what the Church is for. They don’t exist in order to achieve “social justice” – that is what private charity and free markets are for. The individual American states were founded by people of like-minds who wanted to establish communities that reflected their religious values – Pennsylvania for Quakers, Maryland for Catholics, and so on. The Constitution was created by the states mostly for the purposes of common security.

Government is not a positive good. It is an evil necessary to prevent the greater evils that would result from total anarchy. As such, it must be kept on the tightest of all possible leashes, which is why so many Americans demanded a Bill of Rights as a condition for the ratification of the Constitution. If men in a state of anarchy would be evil, they don’t suddenly become angels because we give them titles, badges, and offices. The evil in our hearts is the evil in their hearts, and the greater the scope and depth of the powers we give to governments, the greater potential for evil we establish.

Continue reading

Stupid Meme: Libertarianism & “Gay Marriage”

One of the more annoying memes I am often confronted with is the automatic assumption that libertarians must be for “gay marriage.”I can understand why some people automatically assume such things in good faith, but I can also tell when the leftist media is attempting to exploit an apparent rift between libertarians and conservatives on the right. Whenever I read somewhere that there may be tension between different wings of the American right on an issue such as “gay marriage”, it is almost never a conservative or a libertarian writing it.

Is it consistent with libertarianism to be an uncritical and loud advocate of “gay marriage”? In my view, the answer is no. In fact, it is more consistent with libertarianism, at least in the current political climate and given the way the issue is currently framed, to be opposed to the “marriage equality” movement. The word “equality” ought to be the first indication to a libertarian that something may be amiss, since egalitarian movements are often statist, sometimes outright totalitarian movements that seek to achieve an ideal of equality by sheer force. Communism is the most obvious example, but what feminist and certain racial groups have achieved on college campuses is only a microcosm of what they would like to see in society at large: free speech utterly silenced, opposing views ostracized, careers denied or ruined over the utterance of a heterodox opinion (just view the archives of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for countless examples). To some extent this already does happen in society at large, but only selectively – for now.

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It Takes A Family

I recently completed Rick Santorum’s It Takes A Family.  I quipped on Twitter that had I read this before the campaign started then Santorum would have been my top Rick pick before that other Rick entered the race (though I still maintain that Governor Perry would have been an outstanding nominee, but no need to go there).  At times Santorum slips into politician speak – you know, those occasions when politicians feel compelled to tell stories of individual people in order to justify some larger agenda.  And some of the book is a little plodding, especially when he gets into wonkish mode (which fortunately is not all that often).  Those quibbles asides, there are large chunks of this book that could very well have been written by yours truly.  That isn’t meant to be a commentary on my own genius, but rather a way of saying I agree with just about everything this man has to say.

The book title really says it all.  The heart of Rick Santorum’s political philosophy is the family, meaning that to him strong families are the heart of any functioning society.  The family has been undermined both by big government programs and by the culture at large.  Santorum mocks the “village elders” who view more government programs as the solution to all problems.  Santorum acknowledges that many of the problems we face don’t have quick and easy fixes, and often no legislative action can be taken.  Santorum offers a series of small policy proposals that are aimed at giving parents and individuals in tough economic circumstances some tools to help, but he also emphasizes the doctrine of subsidiarity.  Ultimately we must rely principally on local institutions, starting with the family.

Santorum understands what even some on the right fail to appreciate, and that is we can’t divorce social issues from economics.  The breakdown of the family coincides directly with economic hardship.  If we want a healthier economy, we need healthier families.  It’s a central tenet of conservatism that is somehow ignored by large swathes of the political right.

His approach to politics can be summarized in a passage on page 341 of the hardback edition: Continue reading

You Mean Rick Santorum is Not a Libertarian? Burn Him at the Stake!

I’m going to need to recant my placement of RedState at the top of my favorite blogs list.  Now that Rick Santorum has emerged as probably the leading not-Mitt candidate in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, they, along with a few other conservative websites, have gone absolutely bananas over the prospect of Santorum becoming a leading candidate.  Sure, they all hate Mitt Romney, but can we truly tolerate a candidate who says extremist things like this:

This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone.

My goodness.  I can just see Santorum delivering these remarks on a balcony with a hammer and sickle proudly displayed behind him.  Did he also poound a shoe on the podium, because the man must surely be just shy of being an out and out Communist.

Jeff Emanuel has unearthed two more shocking quotes that reveal Santorum’s obvious Stalinist tendencies. Continue reading

Big Government? No. Big Exaggerations? Yes.

Now that Rick Santorum has basically tied Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus, the knives are really out for Rick.  On the one hand, he will undoubtedly experience a surge in the polls and in fundraising.  On the other hand, as every conservative who has ascended in the polls has before, he will face a firestorm of criticism from both left and right.  I discussed this in my post yesterday, and now things have only gone into overdrive.  As someone who reads secular conservative blogs, there is a lot of concern that Santorum is some kind of “big government” conservative.  I think this is absurd, as does a pretty famous conservative figure not known for particularly liking big government types: Rush Limbaugh.  Here’s what he had to say about the big government charge on his program today: Continue reading

Apologia Pro Libertarianism Sua

There’s been a bit of discussion about the nature of libertarianism on the blog recently, and as the resident pseudo-libertarian, I thought I would re-state where I come down on the matter (this is based largely on an older post I did on the subject, which sadly is now lost in the cyber-ether).

To understand where I am coming from, one needs to make a distinction between political positions held as a matter of moral principle, and those held as a matter of prudence. Take the issue of torture. One might oppose the use of torture on the grounds that it’s not a good way to get information from suspects, or because by using torture on the enemy you risk retaliation by the enemy on your people, etc. Alternatively one might believe that torture is just immoral, and you should do it regardless of whether or not it is effective.

Call the first type of objection to torture “pragmatic” and the second “principled.” (A person might object to torture on both pragmatic and principled grounds, in which case the opposition would be principled, though buttressed by pragmatic considerations). Dividing the justifications for various political positions into principled or pragmatic can be sometimes tricky, but the basic idea is, I hope, intuitive enough.

A principled libertarian, as I use the term, is someone who holds libertarian political beliefs for principled reasons. Taxation is theft, my body, my business, etc. In my experience, when you say libertarian this is what people think of. Continue reading

Libertarians vs. Rand Paul

A couple of months back Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul stirred up a hornets’ nest of controversy when he (briefly) indicated his opposition to Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination in “public accommodations” like restaurants and hotels. The controversy was notable not only for its utterly irrelevance to any current political issue, but also for the fact that even many libertarians distanced themselves from Paul’s position. I was out of the country at the time and so didn’t get a chance to comment, but libertarian think tank the Cato Institute recently published a libertarian defense of Title II and other civil rights legislation, which got me thinking about the issue again.

Defenders of Paul’s position (and there were a few) typically made one of two arguments; one based on an appeal to principle; one based on free market economics. The first argument is the straightforwardly libertarian one that individuals have the right to dispose of their property as they see fit, and while we might not like it if a business owner refuses to serve members of a particular racial group, it is still wrong to violate his property rights by telling him he can’t do so. I don’t have much to say about this argument, except to note how incongruously unpersuasive it is to most everyone today. Libertarianism is also criticized as being absolutist, but of course there are areas in which lots of people are willing to be comparably absolutist in their defense of individual freedom. Had Paul said, for example, that he supported the right of neo-Nazis to march through the streets of Jewish neighborhoods waving swastikas, his views would have been in keeping with those of most of the intelligentsia. Yet displaying a similar solicitude when the subject involves commercial activity is viewed as borderline crankish. The reasons for this discrepancy are probably worth further reflection, but I won’t dwell on them here.

Perhaps sensing that the argument from principle is a surefire loser, others have contended that laws such as Title II weren’t really necessary to end private discrimination by businesses. According to this argument, any business that turned away a substantial number of potential customers would soon find itself out of business, and absent legal mandates segregation would simply collapse under its own weight (call it the ‘everyone’s money is the same color’ argument).

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Looking into the Cloudy Ball

Tax day is a day when all Americans are reminded about the importance of politics and think about the importance of the political future so they can adjust their budgets accordingly. Most of the time in politics we have a reasonably good idea of what’s going on: what the issues are going to be, who the favorites in the next election are, who are the main blocs, etc. Of course, there are always surprises and upsets.

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