Friday, August 31, 2012

The Libertarian Problem


I think I have voted for one or two Libertarian candidates in the past and will probably vote for more of them again in the future.  At the federal level at least, their aversion to government intervention is more in line with my own  beliefs that the federal government has far exceeded it's Constitutional authority.   But that's more a symptom of the total failure, corruption, and dysfunction of the two-party system than it is agreement with libertarian principles.  

I am not a philosophical libertarian.   I'd like to begin to explain why here, because I think a lot of activists are not comfortable with the philosophy but can't put their finger on why.  To be sure, not all of them have a legitimate reason for their discomfort.    There are people walking around right now who believe they are "conservative" and label themselves as such, but whose actual beliefs are much closer to fascism.   That is, they believe that individual rights should take a back seat to national security and even national greatness- often defined in militaristic terms.

Such folks prefer a strong central government which makes uniform rules for everyone, as opposed to classical limited-government conservatism which has a healthy skepticism of the ability of governments in distant capitols to make our lives "better" if only we cede them more money and control.    I understand why fascio-conservatives are uncomfortable with libertarian ideas, but I consider the real reasons for their objections to be roughly as objectionable as any problem I might have with a libertarian approach.

With that said, let me begin to explain why I am not a libertarian by noting that of the three libertarian pillars, the only one I agree with is the Rule of Law.     The other two pillars are non-aggression and Self-Ownership.  Today I would like to talk about Self-Ownership.   Here is the definition from Wikkipedia:
Self-ownership (or sovereignty of the individualindividual sovereignty or individual autonomy) is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to havebodily integrity, and be the exclusive controller of his own body and life. According to G. Cohen, the concept of self-ownership is that "each person enjoys, over himself and his powers, full and exclusive rights of control and use, and therefore owes no service or product to anyone else that he has not contracted to supply."
Who could argue with that?  Lot's of decent people, once you apply that absolute to some sticky situations.  An example might be whether a man who got a woman pregnant had any obligation to pay child support.   Insisting someone share the bill for national defense, or anything else with "free rider" issues, might be another example.   

The great Scottish writer George McDonald,  who wrote both Children's books and works on Natural Law, once said "The first principle of Hell is 'I am my own.'"    Understand I am not saying that the state owns us, or that we own each other.    My position is that God owns us, and though He has placed us in this world and granted us much freedom to become who we want to be, we are and will be accountable to Him for the use we have made of our freedom.

If you think about it, it's really hard to make the case that we "own ourselves."  We did not create ourselves.  We did not determine when or where we entered this world, and we do not get to decide whether or not we get to stay in this world.   Others did many things to us and for us- some with our permission, some without, which permitted us to reach adulthood.   Each day a thousand things we cannot control in the heavens and on earth are necessary to sustain our lives.  Nor can we stop the ravages of time in our own persons.  Though we might live 100 years, still our destiny is a slow fade in this life as we begin our journey to the next.   We can dye our hair, but we cannot really turn even one hair of our head white or black.     Self-ownership does not seem a rational position.

A much better case for "self-ownership" can be made in any eternal afterlife that might exist.    There it might be argued that our place of entry is determined by our own choices, that the being we have become is the result of our own choices.   So while we may have had no hand in our own creation in this life, we would in the next.   And the condition would be, unlike this world, permanent.   What McDonald called "the First Principle of Hell" makes sense as a reality in Hell.   In this life, if God exists, we can only be as children in the womb, preparing for the next life but no more "sovereign" in this one than children yet unborn.

The concept of personal sovereignty, in the absolute sense Libertarians present it, implies individuals get to determine their own morality (except for the few absolutes they attempt to impose such as the conditions under which force might be used).   Again, measured against the vast scale of the cosmos, the enormity of time which has passed in all ages, and the value of wisdom which has endured for generations before us, the idea that the four pounds of grey matter in our skulls can be the final arbiter of right and wrong, even for ourselves, seems ridiculous.  

We can try and discern right from wrong, and a worthy life will spend time doing so, but the idea that each generation, and even moreso each person, gets to re-write morality from a blank slate seems ridiculous.    Any one of us is only a tiny part of the natural world.   We remain in it only an infinitesimal portion of the total time it has existed.  The idea that we can construct our own personal morality, to apply only to us, displays what seems to me an almost psychotic misinterpretation of our place in the universe.

It seems to me the balanced approach, rejecting the extremes of both fascism and libertarianism, would be one in which government power was dispersed.   Instead of fighting over who gets to hold the single gun that is pointed at the rest of us from sea to shining sea, the central government would get no gun for enforcing moral imperatives.

States and localities would, retaining their right to sanction moral behavior such as mandating child support.  But let them be careful how they use such power!  For in such an arrangement states who go too far (that is, impose rules for moral behavior outside the underlying moral reality of the universe or beyond the scope of government compulsion) are bound to lose productive citizens to states which do not.  States and localities who did not go far enough would too. And in each case government would look more like what the citizens who live there would want government to look like,. Decentralizing power would make the government subject to the marketplace,

13 Comments:

Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

With great trepidation, I begin to explore why I am not a libertarian...to my libertarian friends, feel free to shoot holes in my arguments- but not me!

7:16 AM, September 01, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Moore, I appreciate you discussing this topic! This will get philosophical, but it is appropriate. I agree with you 100% that we do not own our bodies in this lifetime. God owns us. We merely pay rent. God has given us free-will, and with that, the choice to sin. I have a certain concern, however. I believe we must categorize sin in order to discern when a State or localities may properly act or when a person must only answer his sins to God. God abhors all sin, regardless if others' rights have not been infringed by those sins. However, this is distinguished from the proper role of government at all levels. Sins that are committed by an individual that infringe upon another individual's rights are to be punished by our earthly government. If we are to believe that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." With the Declaration of Independence as a key reference concerning governments, those governments are only to secure life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Certainly, no one can impose upon someone what to believe when it comes to morals and God. What governments can do, and must do, is to ensure the rights of individuals are secured while their time here on earth exists. A moral system created by anyone else other than me neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Once that individual does harm my rights, the States and localities must step in. I enjoy these discussions, and please continue the blogging! (PS, this is Cliff Jones. I don't have an account so I put anonymous).

2:09 PM, September 01, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It seems to me the balanced approach, rejecting the extremes of both fascism and libertarianism, would be one in which government power was dispersed. Instead of fighting over who gets to hold the single gun that is pointed at the rest of us from sea to shining sea, the central government would get no gun for enforcing moral imperatives.

States and localities would, retaining their right to sanction moral behavior such as mandating child support. But let them be careful how they use such power! For in such an arrangement states who go too far (that is, impose rules for moral behavior outside the underlying moral reality of the universe or beyond the scope of government compulsion) are bound to lose productive citizens to states which do not. States and localities who did not go far enough would too. And in each case government would look more like what the citizens who live there would want government to look like,. Decentralizing power would make the government subject to the marketplace,"

Instead of fighting over who gets to hold the single gun that is pointed at the rest of us from sea to shining sea, we should hand millions of guns out to states and localities?

This doesn't really answer any of these philosophical questions, it just allows everyone else to answer them as they see fit.

1:51 AM, September 02, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

"that just lets everyone else answer them as they see fit"

Exactly! Smells like freedom to me. San Franciso and Rogers are not going to have the same answers, so why not leave the citizens of each free to implement the answers they have. Whoever is most out of harmony with the moral order of the universe will suffer for it- if people are allowed to go without penalty and the offending government is not propped up by the central government.

1:30 PM, September 02, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Jesus had some very interesting instruction for His followers "When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next." If we followed His instruction, and each city were allowed its own leeway in making the rules then in time cities of heathens could live as they wished and cities of Christians could live as they wished. Each may disapprove of the way the other is living, but so long as they don't block people trying to leave, what is that to us?

1:32 PM, September 02, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Now you are quite right that some sins God never authorized a civil government to issue a penalty for. Rather He would deal with those who violated those laws. But I don't see in the OT law (not that I am trying to re-establish that by any means, just looking for principles of government to apply) that the lines are set where Libertarians want them put.

I think the example of child support is a good one, that I notice you did not address. It seems like self-ownership does not comport with the idea of forced child support.

1:35 PM, September 02, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

but of course I am still sorting this out. I put this up here for discussion, and thank you for discussing it, but this is not like something I have believed for 20 years or anything, its my musings that I am trying to crystallize into principles. I welcome efforts to shoot holes in it because I am still forming the ideas I have written about here.

1:37 PM, September 02, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The libertarian philosophy can answer the child support question. The parents of the child do not have the right to violate the right of the child. The child must eat, sleep, and be nurtured. Libertarianism requires personal responsibility. Socialism requires collective responsibility. They are two completely opposing ideologies. The two parents are solely responsible for the well-being of the child they have created. An individual has the right to do anything they wish up until it violates another individual's rights, and the government's sole responsibility (as elaborated in our Declaration of Independence) is to both protect that liberty and punish the infringement of liberties. A father disregarding his child's well-being is an infringement of that child's rights.

7:20 PM, September 05, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Your answer conflicts with the definition of "self-ownership" from the Wikki article. I have a feeling ten different libertarians would give ten different answers to this question, perhaps explaining the popularity of the philosophy (which again I go many miles down the road with the philosophy, I just get off before the end of the line)

8:22 PM, September 05, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

OK based on a FB group debate over this same article I am beginning to see a trend emerge. Very few calling themselves "Libertarians" hold strictly to the "Only force or fraud" standard for government force. The same goes for "Self-ownership" as described here.

Instead, they dust off these terms to use as a sort of moral high ground against laws they oppose, but rationalize their way around them on laws they favor. Usually they assert, without foundation in Libertarian principle, that some sort of "right" is violated when a man exposes himself to their daughter, or child support is owed so that the government can use force.

I agree with their conclusions in such cases, I just can't agree that these conclusions are consistent with the Libertarian philosophy they claim to hold- which is part of why I don't hold it.

7:13 AM, September 07, 2012  
Anonymous Mike Roberts said...

Libertarians view you as the owner of yourself in the sense that you are in control of and responsible for your actions. Since you are responsible for your actions, you should bear the fruit of them and no other person has claim on those actions (for good or for naught) without your consent. You may view God as your owner, but he's not responsible for you forgetting to take the trash out last night.

2:32 PM, November 14, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Right, I am responsible for how I deal with my garbage. But God has an opinion on it, and so would my neighbors if I decided just to scatter it about my property. The whole point is whether or not there is some Higher Standard which I can be held to by others, be they God or government acting in His stead. Where I live, I vote to be able to have the government fine my neighbors if they just scatter their garbage in the yard.

The bottom line is that the decision is not wholly yours when you live amongst others. You don't get unlimited discretion on how you deal with your own garbage until the flies actually spread the disease to your neighbor or what have you. They can act pre-emptively, based on what past generations have learned about what sort of behavior will cause someone problems if continued, to sanction even the habits that history has shown frequently result in some harm being done. We are not our own, with zero obligations to respect the opinions or judgement of those we live amongst. We don't belong to the state either, but both belong to the creator. What that means, we all have to hash out among ourselves until hopefully one day we approximate getting it right.

9:43 PM, November 17, 2012  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Its back to that idea of do each of us get a blank piece of paper to totally re-write morality to suit us, or do we get that blank piece only to draw as best we can the moral order which exists out there independent of our wishes and opinions.

9:45 PM, November 17, 2012  

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