Friday, June 06, 2014

Challenging libertarianism

The writer of Ita Scripta Est reads this blog and left a comment here. A thinker rather like Modestinus, trying to defend Catholic social teaching and challenging libertarianism. I don't understand all of the arguments but it makes me think.
Libertarians prioritize liberty over the good but only virtue truly sets man free.
Rather like Modestinus says he thought a few years ago (soft libertarianism), I'd still say that liberty is arguably the best means to promote "the good" (the truth, virtue, flourishing) but point taken. A means, not an end; otherwise you get the selfish monstrosity (as I understand Ayn Rand, whom I hear wrote long boring novels that appeal to teenage narcissism, was like) libertarianism's critics say it is. Extreme individualism (selfishness): endgame of Protestantism by way of the "Enlightenment." Which I thought was the paleoconservative case against libertarianism.


  1. If you want to boost worker wages, stop importing so many workers. If you want to foster community, dismantle the federal bureaucracy for anything but national defense and foreign relations. If you want to promote virtue, stop subsidizing bastardy. Of course, all of this means less government, not more.

  2. I think liberty/freedom is a good thing. The problem that I have with self-styled libertarians is that they give the impression that they think it is the only good. If you have ever read Out of the silent planet by C.S. Lerwis, there is a speech by the Oyarsa of Malacandra at the end (shorter and much better than Ayn Rand's "John Galt" speech). In it he says that the Bad Guy, a mad scientist called Weston, has exalted a good thing, love of kin, to being the only good. And the same applies, mutatis mutandis to love of liberty. Making it the only good is idolatry.

  3. There are two primary defects to libertarianism. The first is that libertarianism is an ideology, and like all ideologies it fails to acknowledge the existence of competing goods. Freedom is necessary but it is not sufficient for human flourishing. There must also be order -- and an order that reflects classical virtue. It is best if the state has a very light hand and that individuals choose to moderate and restrain their passions on their own accord. However, fallen human nature being what it is, and our current culture being what it is, most people are going to be unable to practice virtue without the assistance of law and public institutions (not just governmental institutions but primarily mediating institutions like the family, churches, private business associations, trade unions, etc. but the state does have a role). As Burke wisely observed, man must be ruled. He will either rule himself or be ruled by others but he must be ruled. Our Founding Fathers understood this idea quite well, and they built a system that incorporated the great Whig principle of ordered liberty into its structure and function. Not order without freedom, not license without restraint, but a blended concept: ordered liberty. Insofar as libertarianism denies this insight, it is simply wrong -- wrong about human nature, wrong about human flourishing, wrong about the nature of government, wrong about what will ultimately lead to true human happiness. All ideologies fail this test, but none so spectacularly as libertarianism. So, there's that.

    The other problem with libertarianism is cultural. "Hey man, I'm not about rules man." It builds off the ideological problem but where the ideological problem is cognitive, the cultural problem is, for lack of a better phrase, pelvic. As Russell Kirk pointed out in his must read essay "Chirping Sectaries" by the 1980's most libertarians were really "sexual pathetics." It is undeniable that modern libertarianism (not the Lysander Spooner kind) is basically unhinged from any kind of moral boundaries outside of the principle of individual consent. Adultery? Sure. Abortion? You bet! Redefine marriage? What kind of bigot even wants the state to recognize any kind of marriage? Hey, look, I've got some killer green bud to share. Don't judge me. Yada, yada, yada -- to use a 90's phrase. The basic point is that it is about numbing oneself to restraint (this is how it builds off the ideological problem) and indulging not in virtue but in vice. This doesn't lead to human flourishing, instead it leads to tens of millions of dead babies, young people who are ravaged by STDs, zombified drug addicts, and public spaces that become uninhabitable for decent people because of the human wreckage left in the wake of the "hey man, I'm not about rules" idea.

    So, libertarianism is a defective ideology that gives cover to license rather than virtue. That about sums it up in a nutshell.

  4. Anonymous5:38 pm

    Thanks for the linkage. I guess my main issue with libertarians comes down to definitions and first principles. The traditional Catholic notion and the modern libertarian notion differ even though both sides might use similar vocabulary which muddles the discussion. The Catholic definition sees true freedom as freedom from sin. The state and its laws can certainly help or hinder this, but it nevertheless has a role to play. As Aquinas taught law can have a teaching function that helps to facilitate virtue.

    I also find a disturbing trend among Catholic-libertarians in their acceptance not only of economic but now social modernism. Judge Andrew Napiltano, a man who bills himself as a "pre-Vatican II" Catholic seems the triumph of same-sex marriage as a "good thing"

    Jeffery Tucker another Catholic libertarian has expressed similar views. Now libertarians like Tucker, Woods and Napolitano make the argument that there is no inherent contradiction between Catholic Social Teaching and capitalism (I of course don't find this persuasive) but at least there is enough "source" material to work with ( say Leo XIII's positive appraisal of private property). The idea though that Catholic thought save perhaps for post-Vatican II modernism, could somehow support the triumph of same-sex marriage is a simply a bridge too far. You might already know this, but I believe Judge Napolitano actually attends an SSPX chapel. Could you really imagine Archbishop Lefebvre or Bishop Fellay endorsing this kind of Americanism? Having read most of the Austrians, I have come away with the impression that they are the true “progressives” as almost all of them openly celebrate capitalism’s deleterious effects on traditional societies. How can someone like Napolitano serve two masters? How is he any different from a Kennedy or Pelosi? In fact I would say he is even worse as he cannot claim ignorance. This whole affair shows the serious depths Catholicism has plunged in this country when traditionalists make such arguments.

    @ anti-gnostic your whole argument is basically one giant non sequitur. One could reasonably argue to every single one of your points that the problem is a failure of government action. The problem is not just a question of scale but ideology. The fact that we have a liberal state that assumes and enforces the false metaphysics and anthropology of the Enlightenment is the salient issue. As far as I am concerned libertarians not only do not grasp this, their ideology perpetuates it.

  5. One could reasonably argue to every single one of your points that the problem is a failure of government action. The problem is not just a question of scale but ideology.

    You don't get one without the other. It takes a large tax base to keep that army of Catholic bureaucrats employed enforcing the Church's social teaching. And after a while the taxpayers will tell you thanks for the welfare, now go mind your own business. The last experiment in clerical fascism was Quebec.

    How exactly do you plan on recapturing the State in a pluralistic democracy?


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