April 24, 2017

Refuting the Conservative Position on Libertarianism

 

 Below is my response to an article on Intellectual Takeout which can be found HERE.  All underlined portions were written by the author at the link provided.  Non-underlined portions are my response.  I encourage your participation.


Libertarians are good at explaining why the market works and why government fails, and they have made important policy initiatives in areas such as school choice. On the other hand, they actively oppose laws prohibiting obscenity, protecting unborn children, promoting marriage, limiting immigration, and securing American citizens against terrorists. These positions flow from core principles that have more in common with modern liberalism than with the American founding, and which threaten to erode our constitutional order even further.

The core of Libertarian philosophy is that we do not believe that a centralized authority aught to legislate moral, behavioral or otherwise philosophical circumstances in which no physical harm will come to parties involved.  Its not necessarily if or not we support an action as much as we simply do not support the Federal government or the State to be the arbiter of the matters.  So yes, neat solutions to complex issues.  Realizing that they don't need oversight from the state, and could be handled between the parties involved in the matter.  This radical idea that adults, when left to their devices, tend not to want to harm others where no incentive has been made.  I think the core principles flow from the minarchist principles the founding fathers had.  Their writings and teachings seems to be geared towards the least amount of the necessary evil, government, required to go on living as a society who's ideals are encompassed in Natural Law and Freedom and Liberty.  I really believe that it reinforces the principles of the Constitution more than any other modern political ideology.


The attraction of libertarianism is also its main defect: it offers neat solutions to complex problems. Unfortunately, reality is far more complex than libertarians acknowledge. Only conservatism offers principles adequate to that reality. Consider ten claims libertarians often make:

1. “The Founders of the American political order were libertarian.” Although the American Founders believed in limited government, they were not libertarian. The Constitution was designed for a federal system of government, specifying and limiting national powers and leaving to the states the exercise of their customary powers to protect the health, safety, morals, and welfare of their citizens. None of the American founders challenged these customary state powers, nor did they attempt to repeal them. Even on its own terms, the Constitution provides for powers that many libertarians would object to, such as establishing post offices, granting patents, regulating commerce among the states, and suspending the writ of habeas corpus.


Its not that Libertarians do not realize the complexity and uniqueness of reality, quite the opposite.  It is because of reality's complexity and the uniqueness of each individual situation that we believe there aught not be blanket laws meant to bend personal philosophy to a popular morality.  Libertarians to my recollection have never been so bold as to claim their ideology to be the only adequate response to the reality of complexity.  This is precisely the problem Libertarianism hopes to combat.


Most Libertarians realize that the founders were Libertarian-esque in their ideas, and faced real problems for the birth of their nation.  As a result their practices were often counter to their philosophy.  John Adams and the Alien and Sedition acts come to mind.


The Federalist form of government that was derived by the Founding fathers what commensurate upon a voluntary contract by the member states.  A contract from which they were able to leave if they found the terms not to their liking.  It was essentially meant to be organized as an Economic pact between member states to keep them all going.  Making regional distinctions as their cultures and lives saw appropriate.


As far as the listed powers being in objection, its more of what they have become rather than their root idea.  These powers being entrusted to a Senate and House of Representatives with the public trust to act in their real interest.  Since those things were written and needed, they've become abused beyond reason.  Specifically regulating commerce among the states.



Thomas Jefferson on the commerce clause:
"The power given to Congress by the Constitution does not extend to the internal regulation of the commerce of a State... which remains exclusively with its own legislature; but to its external commerce only, that is to say, its commerce with another state, or with foreign nations, or with the Indian tribes."


James Madison on the commerce clause:
" 'among the several States'... grew out of the abuses of the power by the importing states in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventative provision against the injustice among the States themselves, rather than a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government."


As for the suspension of Habeus Corpus, the unlawful detention of persons without trial or recourse is inherently and morally wrong.  I can not concieve a situation where any percieved gains could not be outweighed by potential abuses.


2. “Conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them.” This claim, made by F.A. Hayek, is simply false as applied to American conservatism (as Hayek himself knew). American conservatism seeks to conserve the principles of justice that lie at the root of the American political order, what might be called Natural Law Liberalism. These principles, enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, are rooted in nature, which fixes the boundaries to all authority. They include “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”; “self-evident” truths such as “all men are Created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”; and a clear statement of the end of government, to “secure” rights and to “effect [the] Safety and Happiness” of the governed.

Conservatism in practice seems to stick true to what you've written here, and that's kind of the problem with it.  Conservatism does not readily recognize changes and evolution of culture and incorporate that into the mechanations of government.  It is simultaneously its strength and fault.  See, it appears to most that Conservatism seeks not only to enforce or ensure the practices of Natural law, but also to inject its philosophical morality in spite of competing cultural views.  This is in and of itself a coercive effort to legislate morality as a matter of personal preference or in conjunction with perceived religious superiority.  In a day and age where so many are publicly non-religious and so far out of Conservative traditional culture, it would do us all well to modernize those things which governments and men might or might not be allowed to enforce through the Judicial.  Self evident truths require no government intervention through any of the three branches.  One of these self evident truths being, Government can never secure the safety and happiness of the governed.



3. “Only individuals exist, therefore there is no such thing as a ‘common good.’” The statement reflects the corrosive nominalism that Richard Weaver decried in Ideas Have Consequences, and which fatally undercuts the principled limits to coercive authority identified above. Every human association, whether a marriage, business partnership, or sports team, has a common good, or why would it exist?

Common goods are not substantial entities standing over and against individual persons; they are the good of individual persons. But this does not mean common goods are always divisible into individual shares, like a cake. An orchestra, a marriage, an army cannot be divided without being destroyed. Within such associations individual persons exist as bandmates, spouses, and soldiers.

The common good of the political association consists in the ensemble of conditions in which persons and associations can more easily flourish. These are nicely summarized in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “to . . . establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”


Again, it is not a repudiation of Natural Law as a whole, rather than questioning if or not the limits were set in a just manner.  Making the claim that an ideology that champions the Individual as the highest form of authority over ones self undercuts limits to coercive authority is mind boggling to me.  I'm really not sure how to address such a circular form of thinking.  Especially considering that the Libertarian Philosophy is born out of the abuse of the enumerated powers and is instead a response to the State's clever bending of the general welfare clause.


James Madison in Federalist No. 41:
"It has been urged and echoed that the power... amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare... But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon?  ...for what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general phrase?"


Thomas Jefferson:
The clause did not authorize Congress "To do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose.  To consider the latter phrase, not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless."


4. “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.” The “harm principle,” first formulated by J.S. Mill, is a moral claim. It cannot be derived from moral skepticism without committing a self-referential fallacy: The argument, “We don’t know what is right or wrong, therefore it is wrong to do x,” is obviously invalid.

As a moral claim, the harm principle is not neutral with respect to competing conceptions of the good. Underlying it is the conviction that the good for human beings is to live according to one’s own conception of what is good, and to live in a society in which that freedom is protected. For the sake of this conception of the good, it requires the repeal of legislation enacted by those with a different conception of the good. It thus deprives them of their right to choose and live according to their own conception of the good. In effect, libertarians wish to compel other persons with whom they disagree to live in a society that these others find, often with very good reason, to be hostile to human flourishing.

Further, the harm principle is neither self-evident nor demonstrably true. It certainly cannot apply to children and mental incompetents, as Mill himself knew, and this concession significantly undermines the principle.

The greatest objection, however, is the narrow construction Mill gives to it. For him, as for other libertarians, the principle only applies to bodily harm. But why deny the existence of moral harm? If it is true that some actions are intrinsically self-destructive or self-corrupting, then it is also true that encouraging such actions can cause harm to others. Prostitutes, panders, pushers, and pimps all profit from the moral corruption of others. Why should society be forced to treat these actions with indifference because of a questionable moral claim like the harm principle?


Its quite disturbing that you would continually champion Conservative values and adherence to Natural law under the general welfare of the people and then say that non-aggression is an invalid circular form of thinking.  Further, it should be noted that libertarians understand the flawed nature and subjectivity of what is good or moral.  Instead, we realize that no person likes to be killed, or raped.  Libertarians realize that violence can never be justified in a situation where an individuals consent has not been offered or that person was not in violation of some other persons consent.  It holds that the highest form of personal property is the self, and that no person or body of persons has any just claim to the individual.


As far as Morality, it is as you say, a neat fix for a complex problem.  Realizing that morality is so subjective, why give a governing body the power to determine what has been a moral slight?  Prostitutes, panderers and pushers all engage in voluntary actions.  Pimps, for the most part are exercising restraint and ownership over human property and is clearly in violation of the Natural right to Own ones self.  Your question started good.... and it should have ended something like this:  "Why should society be forced?"  That is the essence of Libertariansim.... why should anyone under any circumstance be forced?


5. “Conscription is Slavery, and Taxation is Robbery.” This is Murray Rothbard’s succinct summary of the anarcho-libertarian objection to politics. Anarcho-libertarians are opposed to conscription and taxation on principle. What gives people calling themselves “the state,” they ask, the moral right to do that which, if done by “private” persons, everyone would call criminal? (Rothbard, consistent to the point of absurdity, would even prevent parents from restraining their run-away toddlers.) Because non-anarchist libertarians also regard all coercion as evil, this objection presents some difficulty for them.

Conservatives do not regard coercion as evil, simpliciter. Some limits liberate. Human beings enter the world utterly dependent, and they require for their security and development the authoritative and sometimes coercive direction of parents, teachers, police, soldiers, and judges. There are many subtle threads of coercion, conservatives argue, that make social cooperation possible.

Outside the bounds set by natural right, however, coercion is tyranny. It has been the greatest achievement of Western civilization to recognize the basic human needs, interests, and inclinations that make coercive associations necessary, to carve out their rightful scope and limits, and to bring them under the discipline of reason and the rule of law. Civilization depends upon citizens (cives), members of a political association (civitas) who understand and are grateful for the gift of free government, attached to its principles, and prepared to defend it against all threats, including free riders who would exploit the system for their own private advantage. Libertarians often treat this difficult achievement like mere scaffolding that can now be kicked down for the sake of a utopian vision that has never existed and never will.


Conscription is always slavery.  If you can not find enough brave souls to voluntarily fight and die for a cause, then perhaps you do not have the public sentiment to act on their behalf.  Not only does it enslave the poor souls forced to fight or be imprisioned, but also the folks that have to pay for all of it.  Through taxation.

Taxation is robbery for the only fact that it is not a voluntary activity.  While Libertarians take issue with taxes in general, I think it would be fair to say that most almost always mean the Federal Income tax.  This whole general principle no only speaks to the non-aggression principle but also the broader issue of a centralized authority.  A free people aught to be able to vote with their voices, their rifles and their money.  Money or the fruits of ones labor are seen as a derivative of self ownership.  If I give away a blind claim over the fruits of my labor it relinquishes that portion of the ownership of my self and my future.

This goes back to Article One section 8.  Again as adressed above, the general welfare is not to be determined by a central authority, but rather by Senate and the House of Representatives.  Who are ultimately answerable to the States and the highest authority... the Individual.  If I don't own the use of my money and the fruits of my labor, and I also do not feel its theft is being used for what I find to be moral and just, then I clearly do not own myself and am therefore conscripted to the State's actions and interpretation of the general welfare and morality of the body politic.  These are things which no right thinking person can realize and then determine that we have any modicum of individual Freedom.


Essentially, we recognize the need for people to be taken care of, and the need for a national defense... but our country has strayed far from those principles.  Where charity has given way to taxes, defense has given way to acts of agression, and Freedom has given way to a tyranny of morality by a centralized authority with an agenda divorced from the body politic.


6. Virtue cannot be coerced, therefore government should not legislate morality. Coercive law cannot make people virtuous. But it can assist or thwart individuals in making themselves virtuous. Law is both coercive and expressive. Not only does it shape behavior by attaching to it penalties or rewards; it also helps shape attitudes, understandings, and character. Libertarians who doubt this point can examine the difference in attitudes toward racial discrimination in America before and after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the availability of pornographic materials before and after Roth v.United States (1957), or the stability of marriage before and after the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s. The law, both by prohibition and by silence, is a powerful signal of acceptable behavior, and thus a powerful influence on character. When the behavior in question involves moral norms that are consequential for the rest of society, it is a proper object of law.

This is not to say that the law must prohibit every vice or mandate every virtue, as libertarians often suggest. Aristotle, Aquinas, the Declaration itself all make clear that “prudence will dictate” whether the costs outweigh the benefits in concrete circumstances (e.g., difficulty of enforcement; more pressing needs with scarce resources; the danger of encouraging underground crime, etc.). But this is prudence in the service of principle, not mere pragmatism.


Its clear that you recognize the subjectivity of Morality, but why not virtue?  Any thinking person is aware that law can shape virtue and morality.  This is the chief complaint.  To believe that society at large or some governing body can say to the individual is or is not acting in a virtuous or moral way is to inflict a tyranny of majority and/or authority.  The principles of this country as stated above, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, were to give the individual the freedom to flourish and also be wrong.  That all men are created equal.  Not, all men are created equal and subordinate to larger groups of men.  The purpose of Justice is not to guarantee virtuous behavior or even moral behavior, rather it is to set a reasonable cost for violating another individuals right to his or herself.  I may be mistaken, but I can't recall anywhere in the constitution or the writings of the founding fathers, a clause or thought on feelings.  Libertarians don't want a nanny state, nor do most rational people.


So, if prudence will indeed dictate, perhaps Libertarianism is a prudent response to the coddling, theft and morality driven legislation of the State.  It would seem that almost every effort by the Federal government to attempt to legislate morality and virtue (war on drugs, war on terrorism, prostitution laws, hate crime legislation et al.) have failed miserably or have had a net growth effect on the very things they tried to rid us all of.  It has interfered with markets and increased the price of underground and black markets by changing the risk reward ratio of so called illicit activities.  Governments virtue laws and morality driven legislation have given "immorality" a boost and certainty of survival.


7. Government should not interfere in the free market. Because they oppose commerce in things that are intrinsically immoral and harmful, such as hard drugs, prostitution, or obscene materials, conservatives are accused by libertarians of opposing the free market. This is false. Conservatives value the free market as much as libertarians, as a means for mutually beneficial exchanges, as an occasion for the exercise of virtues such as creativity, cooperation, industry, honesty, and thrift, and as an indispensable source of information (through the pricing mechanism) for individuals on the best use of resources.

But conservatives oppose the “total market,” in which all human associations, such as families and churches, are falsely remade in the image of ordinary contracts, and in which all voluntary (short of force or fraud) contracts between consenting adults are enforced by law. In the libertarian universe there are no citizens, only consumers.


For conservatives, private property and the free market are important institutions for human flourishing, but their value and success critically depend upon non-market institutions such as the family and the political association, as well as a moral and cultural milieu favorable to honesty, trust, industry, and other important virtues. When the use of private property and market exchanges have spillover effects that adversely effect these other institutions and individuals, they are subject to reasonable limits by law. This is the understanding of law and morality that lies behind the common law, was embraced by the states after the American Revolution, and although under steady assault by modern liberals and libertarians, continues in America to this day.


Libertarianism seeks to draw no distinction between citizen and consumer, but rather recognizes that each state of man has a different driving mechanism.  And any attempt by government or parties uninvolved in transactions to influence behavior is by an large coercive tyranny and completely futile.

Libertarians also recognize that honesty, trust and other virtues are important to markets.  This is why we are able to recognize government interference in markets so easily.  Because government regulations on markets almost always lead to the opposite desired behavior.  Its not to say these behaviors can not exist in a situation without government regulation, rather it trusts individuals to decide where and how they spend their money, and if or not the individual chooses to care about the virtues of the producer of his good or service.

Jailing the prostitute, the John, the drug dealer or the black market salesman does not deter the transactions, does not kill the market or change the morality and virtue of those involved.  It changes and effects the price of the goods and services offered only.  And as government has been keenly aware, when there is large demand and short supply, incentive for truth and honesty typically vacates in short order.


8. The only alternative to libertarianism is totalitarianism. This is a false dilemma. Between the fantasies of libertarianism and totalitarianism is the wide spectrum of governments that have actually existed through most of human history. The false dilemma is often associated with the slippery slope fallacy: If people are given the power to coerce in one area, they will eventually coerce in all areas. Libertarians rarely give the cause or reason why this must be true, and conservatives deny that it is true.

Conservatives recognize the dangers of moral fanaticism, but they insist, with historical evidence to back them up, that the remedy is not to facilitate the debauchery of society by eliminating the props to good moral character, but to reinforce and support those props.


I have not really heard this claim made by many Libertarians.  It is not something I believe in personally.  However, I think that you may have taken another thought and kind of mixed a few words around to come up with an imprecise meaning.  Its not that totalitarianism is the only alternative, rather, that all governments are inherently flawed to favor authority and coercion.  This is an entirely different thing.  I'd like to know more about how you came up with this thought.


9. Libertarianism is based upon a realistic understanding of human nature. Libertarians accuse conservatives of being utopian or naïve about human nature. Self-regarding actions are sufficient for producing a free and prosperous society, they argue. Moreover, power by its very nature corrupts human beings and therefore should be narrowly circumscribed and vigilantly watched.
Conservatives reply that it is the libertarians who are utopian for failing to give proper weight to the full range of human motives, and to the exigencies of a free society and limited government. They concur with James Madison’s observation in Federalist No. 55: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: so there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these [latter] qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”
Public virtue alone is not sufficient to secure limited government, but it is foolish to think that it can be dispensed with altogether. If the despotism of George III caused the American Revolution, the virtue of George Washington was necessary to conclude it. “The aim of every political constitution,” Madison writes in Federalist No. 57, is “first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” Here, from the “Father of the Constitution,” is a sober constitutional principle based upon a true realism.


Libertarians are realistic about virtue, in that we realize that even in the presence of government, and regulations, laws and enforcement.... vice almost always gives way to virtue.  And rather than penalizing individuals on their roads to temperance, we decriminalize destructive behaviors.  Not because we find them to be necessarily desirable acts, rather we realize that every road to understanding is different.  And that adding impediments under the auspices of legislating virtue is no sensible way to bring any individual back from any perceived sociological rebellion.  Also, if the only person being harmed in the process is that individual, what business is it for anyone to impune their personal development?  It would seem as though the State has lost the Public's trust... and Libertarianism is the result.


10. “Freedom works.” A frequent refrain of Hayek, but what does it mean? Weapons also “work,” though not necessarily for good. Freedom cannot be evaluated apart from the ends that it serves. John Winthrop, in a passage Tocqueville called “this beautiful definition of freedom,” once said:
There is a liberty of corrupt nature, which is effected by men and beasts, to do what they list; and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this liberty, [we are all inferior]; ’tis the grand enemy of truth and peace … But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good; for this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives.


It really seems like this particular grouping of words seeks to adhere to some literary principle rather than stand up as a reason for anything.  This is of course unless you take a wildly different interpretation of its meaning.

The full quote is as follows:


"Nor would I have you mistake in the point of your own liberty.  There is a liberty of corrupt nature, which is affected by men and beasts to do what they list;  and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this liberty, sumus omnes deteriores, 'tis the grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it.  But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good; for this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives... this liberty is maintained in a way of subjection to authority; and the authority that over you will in all administrations for your good be quietly submitted unto, by all but such as have a disposition to shake off the yoke, and lose their true liberty, by their murmuring at the honor and power of authority."

I'd say you may take away an entirely different meaning from the full quote.



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