Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why I Can't be a Libertarian

"Well why the fuck not???"
Most Libertarians I know are very intelligent people.  A good personal friend of mine considers himself to be a Libertarian, and he’s the person that got me switched on to Ron Paul.  Ted, author of Country Thinker and fellow contributor to Political Realities, is a Libertarian, and I place a good amount of stock in what he has to say about “pawlonics,” as he puts it.

I agree with the general principle that people are happiest when they are free to live their lives as they choose.  I also believe that a person is generally the best judge of how to live his or her life.  So the notion that we should be as free as possible sits very well with my philosophy and political theory, but the problem I have with Libertarians is the degree.

I know that not all Libertarians are anarchists, but I feel as though they advocate a level of “freedom,” that human beings simply can’t handle, or a level that would at least be very detrimental to the health of society.

When I think of a Libertarian society, I think of the western frontier in the 19th Century.  It’s not fondly referred to as the “Wild” West for no reason.  There were many towns were there was little to no law.  And even in some places where there was law enforcement, it didn’t really matter because they feared banditos and the like.

Was society better then?  Would we prefer a society in which the person with the biggest guns gets to own everyone and everything?  Some Libertarians might look at the government that way, that the government only does what it does because it has the guns.  The difference between the government and some random rich person who can afford the Pinkertons is that we, as a people, consented to the government to arbitrate in large-scale affairs such as law enforcement.

“Well I didn’t consent to the government controlling me.”  If that’s how you feel, then you are “free” to get out.  Someone recently balked at my suggestion of the “social contract,” saying that he never was offered to sign it.  Remember that if your family is ever murdered and you demand justice.

Anyway, if visions of the Wild West are too vague for you, then we can always look to the Gilded Age, the period roughly between 1876 and 1900.  If you want to have a glimpse into what Libertarian society is like, do some reading on that time period.

There were very little laws governing business.  Child labor was used, wages were a mere pittance, and many people in urban settings lived in the squalor of tenements.  Many immigrants, to whom most of us owe our very existence, came to America thinking the streets were paved with gold, only to find that they were paved with shit.  There was no such thing as minimum wage or a social safety net.

Needless to say, life was not pleasant, and people were not happy.

And how did the obscenely rich monopolists like Andrew Carnegie justify it all?  The Gospel of Wealth, or the Protestant work ethic.  It was an asinine assertion that poor people are poor because God doesn’t favor them.  Although I admire Carnegie’s success because of his humble origins, it was wrong for him to try to convince the poor exploited masses that they didn’t deserve any better than to be treated like cogs in a machine.

Quality of life was poor, politics and elections were a sham, and law enforcement was only good as long as you were paid up with the right people.  The Gilded Age is an example of how bad society can get when there is not enough government oversight to prevent and put a stop to injustice.

Do I think the “gubmint” is the solution to every societal ill?  Absolutely not.  The government is made up of fallible human beings as well, and they are also prone to corruption and overstepping.  But we have to remember that liberty requires a balance.  Too much freedom stifles liberty, too little freedom stifles liberty.

Does this look like an appealing fruit of Libertarianism?
I get that we are all free to fuck up our lives, as we should be, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something to help steer people in the right direction.  If humans weren’t morons, and if they didn’t have passions and desires that are difficult to control, then we wouldn’t need laws.

But since we have ample examples of how greed has consumed humanity and destroyed lives, we know we have to have laws and oversight.  Of course, it sucks when those charged with enforcing those laws and conducting the oversight also happen to be greedy douche bags, but Libertarianism calls for a society in which the proper balance for maximum liberty cannot be achieved.


William McCullough said...

I agree with the premise that most people are unable to wrap their heads around the amount of freedom that the Libertarian doctrine seems to offer - as for myself, someone please lop of my chains....WM

jez said...

Jack: applause. For my money this is an impeccable argument. :)

Jack Camwell said...

Jez, thanks for stopping by and thanks for the compliment =)

Harrison said...

Do we want to live in a country that governs according to the lowest common denominator? I don't.

Jack Camwell said...

Ideally no. But it's immoral to tell someone he or she has to live in squalor so that the guy that owns the factory can live in a mansion with gold fixtures.

I'm not advocating for income or property redistribution, I'm just advocating for treating human beings like human beings, and not cogs in a machine.

Anonymous said...

But cogs in the machine are what we are now. Under the definition of your last paragraph we already are immoral.

Jack Camwell said...

Well the goal of liberty is to let us be as human as possible right?

I should mention that I, in no way, think that the current status and condition of our government and society is conducive to the type of liberty that I espouse.

I have no doubt that we are being treated like cogs now, but I simply do not think that Libertarianism is the panacea to that ill for all measures of policy. There might be some things that we need Libertarian thought on, such as the welfare state. The welfare state needs to be fixed in such a way that the safety net actually gets people back on track to being self-sufficient instead of keeping them down forever.

In terms of economics, however, de-regulation obviously did not work out too well for us, so Libertarian policy might not work out so well in terms of fiscal policy. Money policy might be another issue entirely, one at which I am inadequate to discuss in any meaningful detail.

Teresa said...

Good post!

Do you think to be a libertarian that you have to ascribe to a Ron Paul libertarian type of philosophy?

I only say this because I see myself as being part libertarian and part conservative but I there are more libertarians out there than Ron Paul.

Jack Camwell said...


I used Ron Paul because he's the most prominent example of a Libertarian that I could think of. It's simply that there are some Libertarian stances that I wholly agree with, but there are too many that I disagree with.

I don't think a government that operates in an extreme philosophy can function. We've seen the results of both extremes in history, and both were fairly disasterous in their own ways.