Defense of Libertarianism

We’ve been watching the Republican primary closely and there is a polarization of Conservatives against the Libertarian wing. Ron Paul is a poor articulator of libertarian philosophy, so I’d like to give it a shot.

Libertarians believe in the principle of inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property – for all people, applied equally. We believe the individual is of supreme importance. Individuals should be free to exercise life, liberty, and property so long as they do not violate contract or infringe upon another person’s rights.

Importantly, rights must be defended for those who are different from ourselves. If we cannot hold to a principle when it doesn’t affect us personally or maybe even makes us uncomfortable – then we have no rights at all, we have only tyranny of the majority. If we do not have the rule of law, applied and respected equally, then we do not have security of rights we have anarchy.

Libertarians believe in principle not pragmatism. Supporting the lesser evil or suspending principle for what seems beneficial  in the short term is unacceptable.

What does this mean practically and applied to policy?

The Christian church in New York has been singled out to be thrown from public buildings, though any other community organizations are free to continue meeting. I find this deeply troubling as a Christian. What if the issue at stake was the freedom of Muslims to meet in schools? A wiccan? I only truly have a secure right to worship as a Christian when those of any other faith have that same right or my right rests on political whim.

The political view of the day is populism which is concerned for people as groups or society as a whole. With this approach, one isn’t concerns for a small percent who are negatively impacted. A Libertarian is concerned for people as individuals. It is better 10 guilty go free than 1 innocent be convicted.

It may seem to us that the measures put in place for terrorism are applied to obvious terrorists. One might say it is ok to detain without trial, because these are people who are fighting for the enemy. But if they are so obviously guilty, we should have no difficulty securing a legal judgment.

To die at the hands of a terrorist attack would be a tragedy. But terrorists are a known risk and a known evil. A far greater tragedy is for the “good” institutions of government to sweep up innocent people and destroy lives because someone mistook their patterns of activity. A great shame it is to definitely lose liberty because one might be impacted by terrorism.

Military use represents the greatest divide between Conservatives and Libertarians. Most Republicans believe government is the problem, they don’t want government getting too big or taking over their healthcare. Libertarians believe in small government at home AND small government abroad. We don’t trust government at home or abroad. We don’t believe government can solve complex problems or build free societies abroad any more than they can at home.

A strong defense is a necessary function of government. But it should be a defense, not an offense. Just as there are many sharp objects and potential dangers in our day to day life, there are many potential worldwide threats. But to run around and eliminate all risk in both cases would be to trade a possible bad situation for a definite loss of liberty.

Ron Paul has some obvious faults, he’s not a great speaker, he’s had some real lapses of judgment, but he gives voice to philosophies of liberty the founders believed in and a growing number of Americans are desperate to hear again in the political dialogue.

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11 Responses to Defense of Libertarianism

  1. Adrienne says:

    Amen and well said! I will be forwarding this post to friends and family who need to hear this put so well.

  2. Keith says:

    “… the individual is of supreme importance”

    My question is whether this is the preferred Christian principle.

    I think one could say there are three different philosophies at work in this election campaign. 1) Obama-ism preferences the State over Individual, 2) Paul-ism preferences the Individual over State by means of Rights, and 3) Santorum-ism which preferences the Individual over the State by means of Institutions.

    As you may recall, I am sympathetic to the third option. Do you have any thoughts about this trisection?

    The difference between Paul and Santorum

    • Rick says:

      Keith – can you elaborate, I’m not quite sure what you are getting at

      Statism says you have no rights except what Government grants you.

      Libertarianism says rights are inherent

      Santorumism – we get our rights from the instutitions we form?

      Maybe you are asking: is it Christian to be libertarian? I’ve had this debate and I’m pretty sure I once started an article. I’ll have to revisit and post and you can see what you think.

  3. j challies says:

    Very well articulated. Although I don’t think I would ever adopt a libertarian position. I have long ago abandoned a ‘conservative one, at least as far as it is articulated by such loathsome figures as Newt Gingrich.

  4. Good thoughts, Rick. I so agree with you on Ron Paul. He is not as “polished” as Romney, but exudes far more sincerity. Agreed to that freedom is whittled away at through “good causes”, and justified concerns.

  5. bchallies says:

    Good precis, Rick Thanks! Mom C

  6. Grace says:

    Enjoyed this Rick! Well written and clear…we still hope Ron Paul might have a chance but it’s doubtful.

  7. Keith says:

    “Santorumism” would agree that rights are inherent and not granted by the state, but it would maintain that families, churches, and other “little platoons” hold rights as well and it would be wrong to establish laws that eviscerate the individuals duties to these intervening institutions.

    It is this insight that the capital-L Libertarians will never acknowledge in their rush to strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest. They think that all authorities impede the proper exercise of rights.

    I am probably stating all of this a bit over the top, but do you see the thrust of the point I’m getting at?

    • Rick says:

      Keith – This is where 1) freedom of association comes in – you can form any groups that you wish and 2) freedom of contract to determine how you will be bound to those groups.

      I think Social Conservatism (“Santorumism”) unwittingly undermines the institutions it seeks to strengthen by looking to government to sanction or legitimize.

      Libertarianism is not anti-authority, it just wants consent and a bottom up approach to defining institutions rather then a top down approach.

  8. Keith says:

    I’m really not talking about what is commonly called “social conservative” issues. I’m talking about some deep questions of human anthropology and first principles.

    To use an extreme example, I have full confidence that you believe that slavery is wrong. Yet if we were do adopt the Libertarian doctrine of full-fledged freedom of contract, how could the state have any role in forbidding a man from selling himself into slavery?

    But most fundamentally, Libertarian philosophy doesn’t explain parenting. My kids were born into my family and not of their own will. They didn’t have any ability to contract to terms; they are under my authority just by the natural order of things. I think Santorum’s vision of Conservatism accounts for this in a way that Libertarianism does not. To quote from Jonah Goldberg–who I would consider generally in the libertarian camp despite his several heresies against that doctrine–“if libertarianism could account for children and foreign policy, it would be the ideal political philosophy.”

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