Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Libertarian Heresies

I am not Libertarian, because I feel their extraordinarily individualistic philosophy is corrosive to community values and their views of capitalism and private property are dangerously naive (e.g., "I have the right to do whatever I wish with my property.") But sometimes their unusual perspective can be illuminating.

Libertarian Presidential candidate Michael J. Badnarik wrote this simple sentence about marriage that took my breath away: "Marriage partners, not government, should define the terms and spiritual orientation of their union in accordance with our nation's guarantee of religious freedom." And in another place, he asks rhetorically, "If you have a marriage license, what permission do you have to do now that you did not have permission to do before? Who gave you that permission, and who gave them the authority to give you that permission in the first place?"

I recall LTG saying once that marriage was really a contract with three parties: the two spouses and the government. Badnarik turns that on its head. It's audacious. (As is often the case with such Libertarian heresies, the flaw in the reasoning is that it neglects the context of marriage within the community--but I still think it's a fascinating concept.)

Moving to another line of thought, I ran across a fascinating quote Beatrice Jones, Libertarian councilmember for Hardeeville, SC. "In the past two years, in a city of 1,500 residents, we have built a $4.2 million dollar recreation and city office complex, fixed a 12-year-old road drainage problem that was the root of two lawsuits against the city, bought three brand-new fire trucks and doubled the employment at our fire station, bought four new police cars and paid them off early, doubled the size of the city, and developed a 24-hour cable access channel that broadcasts (in conjunction with a local college) accredited college courses that people can take at home. And we did all this without raising taxes."

Surprised that this list of community programs would come from a Libertarian? I was. But it just goes to show that these values cut across party lines. Even the Libertarians support projects that promote the well-being of their community. In fact, this was from the Libertarian Party website--they are proud of her work. The difference between their approach and that of liberals is that want to pay for these services with individual fees instead of general taxation. I think this helps show how much these values are part of the American political heritage.

Lastly, Jones says, "If elected Libertarians want to accomplish something while in office, they have to be willing to work with other people to forward near-libertarian ideology -- and other Libertarians shouldn't insult them for doing so... If Libertarians are tired of believing that candidates spring fully formed from Ayn Rand's forehead--and actually want to do something real and viable to grow the party as a political force, then it's time to get moving." She has kept her seat through repeated elections and run other Libertarians' successful campaigns. I think this is precisely the kind of practical coalition building that the Democrats could do with church groups and other organizations who are not liberal, but nevertheless share these community values.


Raised By Republicans said...

I have to admit a certain soft spot for Libertarians myself. I'm a Democrat instead of a Libertarian because I don't agree with Libertarians that such a strict line needs to be drawn against government involvement in the economy. I think they "throw the baby out with the bath water" with regards to government regulations and social welfare and public health programs.

That said, I really admire the Libertarian position social issues. Why do personal relationships need to be a government concern at all? Why does any aspect of a person's private life need to be any business of the community's at all?

In some posts I've made a point of not calling Democrats and progressives "Liberals." The reason I do that is that only in the United States has the word "liberal" be hijacked by the conservatives to be a largely insulting word along the lines of liberal=socialist=communist=end of discussion. In the rest of the democratic world, Liberal describes an ideology very much like that espoused by the Libertarians, namely no government intervention in our personal lives or the economy.

In Europe, Liberal parties often take positions on what we would regard as the "right" end of the political spectrum because of their hands off approach to the economy. But several Liberal parties have demonstrated serious internal tensions and ambivolence when it comes to prioritizing the social aspects versus the economic aspects. Until recently in Germany for example, the Liberals cooperated with the Social Democrats on social policy (with the Christian Democrats in opposition) but cooperated with the Christian Democrats on economic policy (with the Social Democrats in opposition). And each time the party shifted partners, it nearly split. The Danish Liberal party did split about 100 years ago with the Liberal party usually cooperating with the Conservatives and the Radical Liberal party (seen as being at the center of the Danish political spectrum) usually cooperating with the Social Democrats.

OK, so enough with the academic discussion of Liberal ideology around the world.

I've suggested that the Democrats and progressives should seek common ground with Libertarians and people with like ideological view points. Libertarian views used to be very influential within the Republican party - indeed, most Libertarians used to vote Republican for major offices. But most of the Libertarians I know are increasingly frustrated with the role of Christian conservatism within the GOP. They are becoming increasingly detached from the Republicans. They can be compromised with. They have an ideology based on reason and, more importantly, have (as Dr. Strangelove points out) demonstrated a willingness to compromise themselves.

However, I'm afraid I don't share Dr. Strangelove's optimism with regard to finding common ground with the Christian conservatives. Sure on some issues compromise might be possible, at least theoretically - like school prayer, or Christian symbols on public property etc. But what I fear with the Christian conservatives is that they have taken political opinion and raised it to the level of commandmants from God (Christian progressives may debate them on that point but I don't expect to see many minds being changed any time soon). Compromising on policy becomes tantamount to compromising their faith.

All else equal I'd rather not tell people how to worship or what to believe about God etc. But their political agenda is so tightly bound to their religion that I have a hard time seeing how that Gordian knot can be untied.

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