Friday, May 28, 2010

The Limits of Libertarianism

Never one to wholeheartedly and uncritically leap into any ideology with both feet, although I have been beating the Libertarian drum solidly for most of the last year I think its time to issue some rejoinders. Or at least some caveats.

Jonah Goldberg said that if Libertarianism could account for children and foreign policy it would be an ideal political philosophy, and it took me a while to figure out what he meant. Libertarianism, at its heart, is the belief in liberty, at an individual level, which is to form the basis of all laws, ethics and government, and the goal is to protect the rights of the individual and limit the scope and powers of government.

In this sense it could be said that with all the emphasis on the rights of the private citizen, what about matters beyond those of the individual? It has been said that Libertarians are good on economics but bad on social issues, and there may be some truth in this. We are more than just economic units, although only classical Marxist really considers that that's all we are.

It has been said too that Libertarians abhor nationalism and other forms of collectivism. This is untrue, largely, in the sense that while Libertarians abhor Statism, they ought not to oppose forms of collective activity as long as they are voluntary and not imposed by the state.

It has been accurately pointed out that Libertarians, broadly, oppose restrictions on immigration, although this blog has argued against this on the grounds that protecting the life, liberty and property of citizens involves making a distinction between who is a citizen and who is not.

Similarly, I can live with Nationalism - or, preferably, Patriotism. Nationalism is a basic human impulse, and as long as it is not used a stick to beat people with, can be a constructive and noble endeavour. I was recently accused of not being a real "individualist" because I expressed pride in my ethnic and cultural heritage. What nonsense, but yet reading articles by some Libertarians it is not hard to come to the conclusion that they resent the nation-state and all forms of collective identity.

Another criticism of Libertarianism, suggested above, is that an emphasis on the individual neglects children and is anti-family. Again, this is an unfair characterisation. Individualism is a legal framework and has few suggestions to offer on how people conduct their lives. Why should emphasising personal freedom restrict families and the birth of children. Western societies, broadly speaking, are suffering from low birthrates, but the most "libertarian" parts of the Western world - America's Red States - are the only ones where people are reproducing at 'replacement rates'.

Allowing people maximum freedom and, more importantly, letting them spend their own money, seems to lead to larger families, not smaller. This is one reason why Libertarianism has a natural home with traditional Conservatism, and particularly with American Republicanism. It has been said that Libertarianism does not promote "family values" in the way that Conservatives like, but by not "promoting" any values, do we not allow people to make up their own minds - the consequence of which will be that they follow whatever comes 'naturally'?

If "family values" are natural - as Conservatives rightly claim they are - in proclaiming personal freedom are we not implicitly promoting those values?

It could be said that individualism is just pure selfishness. But breeding a culture of personal responsibility is not selfishness. Indeed, what could be more selfish that an entitlements-based society created by left-wing social engineers?

In terms of National security- or as Goldberg refers to it, foriegn policy - what have Libertarians to say? Most are anti-war, and the Bush Doctrine does not go down well. But there is legitimate dissent with the larger libertarian movement about this, and it can be strongly argued that protecting property (and other) rights it is fully necessary to participate in military activity. Americans have never shied away from this and I don't see how National defence is a threat to liberty.

One final criticism of Libertarianism I've heard is that it is almost silent on "racial" issues, in spite of the feeding frenzy the media is having over Rand Paul's remarks. Radical individualism is necessarily silent on such things, and this annoys those who think in those terms. I don't think this can ever be solved, particularly when it comes to racial essentialism.

However, it may -or may not - indeed be the case that "the facts of life are racist". Or at the very least "culturist". I'm a dedicated Culturist, in that I believe that Western culture is superior to all others, and I believe that prosperity is dependent on behaviour. Libertarians are strictly opposed to social engineering and this includes trying to fill the income and achievement gaps between different ethnic groups, which is how Paul got into trouble.

Laws do not need to reflect any differences there may be, however, in fact it is essential they don't. The law must remain neutral and apply to everyone equally. No free pass for poor behaviour should be allowed to anyone, and if this system results in "inequality", so be it.

This applied to immigration too. You may have a "right" to follow a foreign culture on our shores but don't expect us to pay for it. It may be your culture to circumcise your daughter, beat your wife or set fire to your sister, but if you do it here, we'll prosecute you - and deport you.

So, Libertarianism is not a monolith. There is legitimate dissent within, as in all movements, and so I will continue to tread carefully around it, with a critical mind.

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