The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Libertarian Suicide

The folks who call themselves libertarians today confuse me. And even more confusing are those who jump aboard the libertarian bandwagon under the assumption that libertarians are the true conservatives who will return the United States to its foundational roots.

First of all, I think it's important to realize that conservatives and libertarians actually have very little in common. Yes, they both abhor big government of the sort that tends to evolve into the authoritarian or totalitarian state. But true libertarians take this abhorrence to an extreme, and tend to distrust government of any sort. There is, in the true libertarian mind, an anarchist bent, that rejects any limitations on human freedom. I think it's fair to say the libertarian worships license rather than liberty.

John Stuart Mill
I first recognized this when, as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, I took a course that ostensibly addressed our nation's political roots. Among the reading assignments was John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859), a book written long after our nation's founding, but one that seemed to look backward rather than forward. The professor who taught the course was enamored of Mill and declared him to be the modern founder to libertarian thought. He also tried to claim that our nation's founders were, like Mill, both true libertarians and conservatives.

But as I read Mill's tract, I came to realize he wanted to conserve nothing. Custom, tradition, religion, revelation, natural law -- everything that formed a culture and a people, everything worth conserving, were to Mill dispensable and essentially meaningless because they acted as restraints on individual freedom. Indeed one of his most telling paragraphs can be found in the middle of his book's first chapter when he relates his purpose. It's a rather lengthy quote, but worth including in its entirety, because it so clearly sums up libertarian thought:

"The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."
That final sentence is telling and lies at the very core of libertarian thought. The individual, not the people, and certainly not God, is sovereign. Once this sovereignty is accepted as gospel, cultural and religious restraints are tossed aside. But in truth, these cultural, traditional and religious values are the very things that define a culture, that allow it to continue and thrive because they are the moral, legal and ethical glue that bind the people together as a society. Without them the society moves toward anarchy and ultimately collapses.

This, of course, assumes it actually gets that far. Libertarians, in their extreme toleration of all opinion, tend not to realize that many of those opinions are deadly. In a world populated by those who slavishly follow other ideologies that oppose freedom in any form, a more likely outcome is societal destruction by external forces.

Yes, libertarianism is just another suicidal ideology.

Bill Weld and Gary Johnson-Libertarian Ticket
The Libertarian Party in the USA is right in tune with John Stuart Mill's concept of liberty. Like Mill, today's Libertarian Party enthrones liberty as its god. And like Mill it makes the "one very simple principle" the sole guide to human behavior. Indeed the party platform clearly states this in its Preamble:

"As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others...Consequently, we defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings. The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power."

One can only assume God falls under that catchall phrase "authoritarian power." This is why libertarians are naturally "pro-choice" when it comes to abortion; why they are permissive when it comes to assisted suicide; why they are "progressive" when it comes to same-sex marriage; why they have no problem with any activity chosen by the individual. Why the very concept of sin is anathema to them.

And what exactly constitutes "peaceful and honest" activity or behavior? Without any guiding principle, other than liberty, who decides what is honest and what isn't? And where does morality come into play? For the libertarian it doesn't.

For example, the effects of drug addiction on the family of the addict are ignored by the libertarian because the use of addictive, mind-altering drugs is a "peaceful" activity, one chosen by the individual. From this we also see how the family itself -- counted, no doubt, among those cultural, authoritarian powers -- is cast aside as a hindrance to individual liberty.

I, personally, do not understand how any Christian, especially any Catholic, can support the Libertarian Party. I also find it rather interesting that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, selected Bill Weld, former Massachusetts governor as his running mate. Weld's political history is aligned with the liberal wing of the Republican Party, a crowd more likely to support Hillary Clinton than Gary Johnson. This can be seen by Weld's current support for extensive gun control legislation, not a very libertarian stance. Maybe Weld, lonely in his semi-retirement, simply felt ignored and needed to get back in the spotlight.

We certainly live in interesting times.

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