Sunday, September 13, 2015

Explaining Libertarianism to the Right

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
There, shallow Draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again. 
--Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

I was once editor of a literary journal entitled The Pierian Spring, named for this bit of verse. The name and the verse allude to a bit of Greek mythology about the sacred spring of the Muses, which is identified as a metaphorical fountain of knowledge. The meaning of the verse is that, as we first gain knowledge of a subject we become heady with that knowledge. The "intoxication of the brain" is a certain bit of foolishness that results. But as we absorb more, that initial foolishness abates and we become "sober" once again.

Occasionally that happens when a conservative "discovers" that Libertarianism is what was once called "classical liberalism" and has an ignorant conniption fit. Having drunk a shallow draught he is giddy with the pittance of knowledge that has been gained. He needs another drink. I have a full cup.


Libertarianism IS, in fact, exactly classical liberalism. The name "Libertarianism" has been coined because modern-day "Liberals" have so corrupted the term as to render it unusable for its original purpose. This is the very first thing of which my more "conservative" friends should take note.

For a moment let's discuss that original purpose. "Classical liberalism" is that of the Age of Enlightenment, that age which led to the founding of the United States. In fact, every single one of America's founders was a Liberal in this sense, without any exception whatsoever. If you think of yourself as a Constitutionalist, you either agree with this philosophy... or you're not, and should start looking for a new label for yourself.  A classical liberal education, dominant in the Age of Enlightenment, was one that emphasized the liberal arts, those being:
  • Grammar
  • Dialectic
  • Rhetoric
  • Arts & Music
  • Natural Science
  • Mathematics
  • Geometry
You might simply call it a classical education now. It is the foundation of such principles as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom from government coercion, the right to property, the right to privacy, the right to a representative government, the right to self-ownership and self-determination (what was then termed the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness)...

...a few of these should sound vaguely familiar.

Now, if you like all of those things, and you want your government to guarantee them and you aren't spouting opportunistic bullshit about when, who, and under what conditions they apply... if you're not engaged in situational ethics in which your freedoms are ok, but someone else's are "dangerous"... if you're ethically consistent... if you can grasp the concept that a guarantee of freedom means that some people are going to do things with which you fundamentally disagree... if you were honest about it when you said you wanted your government to guarantee all of those freedoms, then you might be a Libertarian.

I thought long and hard about all that before deciding I was a Libertarian.  Fortunately I have drunk deep, from the very same "deep end" as the Founding Fathers of this nation, without adultery, dilution, bastardization, or embarrassing compromise of either principle or morality.

It is true that in the principle of government, I support Liberty. It is my Liberty upon which this country was founded; not your ability to control my actions, whatever they may be. For in allowing that the actions of one human being may be regulated by another, you give permission for them to do the same to you according to their principles of what they want from you. This is something I find to be thoughtless and short-sighted.

It was my Liberty that was argued when the Bill of Rights was debated on both sides, with the only question being whether it was best protected by enumerating rights or relying on their lack of mention in the Constitution to identify them as being reserved to the People. A debate, by the way, still being played out today, and which seems to be proving Madison right, as Amendments intended to reign in and control the government are perverted to control the People instead. As an example, First Amendment was never intended to control the religious practices of any citizen. Its plain language meaning is to limit the government. That hasn't stopped any non-Libertarian from twisting its use. Hardly a record of which to be proud.


It was only after heavy consideration that I realized my championship of Liberty does not constitute an endorsement of what you do with it. This is the most common bit of simplistic ignorance leveled against Libertarians. Seeing through this allowed me to decide that it was not possible for me to identify as anything else.

Here is the platform of the Libertarian Party. Keep in mind that as in any huge group of people, there are differences of opinion. A party platform is a general guideline of agreement... sometimes the "agreement to disagree". Especially in the case of Libertarians, it is a grave mistake to believe it is some instruction as to what to believe. I certainly don't agree with all of the points, but that's OK... People who employ reason do not limit their discussions to only one side of an issue. Rather, they're open to frank discourse.

Here are my own positions on key issues:
  • Drugs: I am for ending the wasteful, useless, counterproductive "war on drugs", but I am not for drug use. I'm not for alcohol use, either, though it was made legal after a disastrous attempt at Prohibition that yielded exactly the same predictable, counterproductive results as the current "war on drugs". I am also against the institutionalized slavery made possible by unnecessary convictions for "victimless crimes". I describe the justification for this term in an earlier essay. Far from being a pejorative invention of mine, the Supreme Court of Virginia made the characterization while interpreting the Thirteenth Amendment. This is slavery which is monetized by UNICOR and financed by the United States Government. That would be you and me. I, for one, don't like being made an implicit slave owner through these practices, of which most ordinary citizens are completely unaware.
  • Church and State: I am for the separation of Church and State, but unlike statists on both the Right and Left, I know what that means. It means I get to pray in a school or courthouse, and if you don't like that, then you can say your own prayer or don't pray at all; and neither one of us will be in violation of anything. It means that the government is prohibited from making a law robbing me of my ability to choose my customers based on my religious beliefs. It does not mean they should "make it legal"... it means they can't make the law in the first place.
  • Abortion: Libertarians are not monolithically pro-choice. They are divided on the matter as are Republicans and Democrats. I, for instance, am pro-life and justify laws banning abortion by the fact that unborn innocents have a right to Life that would otherwise have no champion. The protection of the innocent is a legitimate role of government, and I believe these laws to be necessary. When weighing the literal life or death of children against the inconvenience of the adults that conceived them, I side with the children. Other Libertarians are just as bluntly pro-death, and the party platform basically just punts, because we're not going to agree today. Whatever their stance on personal choice, however, almost all Libertarians agree that the government has no business funding abortion through any means.
  • Border Security: Libertarians are also divided on the subject of open borders. I am among those who oppose it on consequentialist grounds (its impact on maintaining a free society). We have the means to immigrate to this country legally. This is necessary to ensure that those who become citizens at the very least will promise to uphold the basic liberties that drew them to this country and allowed them to become citizens. There is no need for insecure borders, and plenty of reasons to secure them.
  • Equality: I am consistently for equality before the law, because ALL men are created equal. And in accordance with common language usage, "men" means "mankind", as in "women", too. And there aren't any qualifications on which men or women this is talking about. Does anybody seriously want to argue against that? Prediction: you will lose.
  • Marriage: I am for the elimination of government controls on marriage, but I am not for gay marriage. I will neither perform nor enter into one. I jealously guard my religious freedom as a matter of self-interest, and government has no business in religious matters. That means your sacrament, my sacrament, theirs... all off limits. (See First Amendment). How that works is made crystal clear in my last essay
  • War: I oppose starting a war. I also oppose fighting someone else's war without invitation. I am in favor of an unassailable National Defense, in that I draw a sharp distinction between defense spending and military spending. I do support mutual defense pacts, and in those cases, an attack against one member is an attack against all. Like the porcupine that is the Libertarian mascot, we should make it very painful to attack the US. I supported retaliation for 9/11 and would again. But it would be focused, fierce, then finished. It is stupid to spend billions to engage an enemy on his home soil when he is content to simply wait you out. Furthermore, I support the intelligent use of our military; something that hasn't been tried in many decades. The military has one main purpose: to secure our borders and liberty. Why do we need a separate border patrol? Why do we not allow our military to do their job and secure our borders on our soil? Whatever the reason is, it is not the Third Amendment.
  • Privacy: I oppose impositions on Liberty enacted with the supposition that they "enhance my safety". How many terrorists have convicted under the Patriot Act? There is no useful answer, because under the Patriot Act there is no need for due process. The Act requires no charge, no warrant, no prosecution, no conviction, no sentence. This is applied to American citizens on American soil. And when due process is applied, it is often applied inappropriately, simply because it can be. Consider the case of Tamera Freeman, who was convicted under a felony charge of terrorism after swatting each of her children three times on the leg during a Frontier Airlines flight. She spent three months in jail before they forced a guilty plea out of her. Charged with terrorism? You are damned straight I opposed a law that made that possible, I have nothing but pity for the sheep who supported it unchanged rather than urge the construction and adoption of a better alternative that defends the rights of Americans. I know thinking is hard work, but sometimes it's a lot better than just continuing to go with the first thing you came up with out of some misguided sense of "support". The injustice of it should make your blood boil.
  • Economy: I absolutely support free market capitalism in what is universally touted to be a "Free Market Capitalist" economy. Why would I support anything else? Forty years ago when I first started paying attention to politics that was the conservative position. Maybe people have just gotten economically illiterate in the meantime. Which, on the average, they have. Take as an example the hypothetical failure of a lending institution. That could never happen, right? But it did, and both main parties threw trillions of dollars at it. In a free market, when "Bellyup Bank" goes belly-up, you're not off the hook for making your house payments. You still pay. That debt of yours represents the bank's assets. And those assets are what get sold off in either re-structuring or dissolution of the company. The end result is, you're still making payments. Only now it's to a stronger bank. And it's unlikely that those assets would all go to one place. Several banks would have gotten stronger as they purchased those assets. The people who worked for Bellyup Bank will be jobless only temporarily, as those stronger banks grow to fill the void left by Bellyup, and will seek experienced help. In other words, there's a temporary impact on the economy, which then recovers, just as with any recession and no worse... except not a single dime of bailout money need be spent. The "trillion dollar bailouts" of this last decade did basically nothing for the economy but keep a few familiar logos on some familiar buildings when they should have been replaced by new ones. A truly conservative economist would never endorse such a foolish waste. Libertarians are more conservative than Conservatives on this issue.
  • Education: There is no role for the Federal government in running our schools. The Constitution doesn't permit it, though overeager politicians have. I therefore support disbanding the Federal Department of Education. Education is best managed at as local a level as possible. In South Carolina, where I live, the state constitution (in Article XI) does mandate a public education system, so that's the appropriate place. I'm not opposed on pragmatic grounds to paying for it with taxation at the State level (which is moot because it is already).  However, Article XI Section 4 also prohibits state funding of private institutions, which could be interpreted as prohibiting the use of school vouchers at those schools. I favor educational choice, the advantages that come with competition, and using educational funds for the purpose for which they're intended, namely the education of all of the children in the state. I therefore favor vouchers and a constitutional amendment to Article XI Section 4 to explicitly allow parental choice and appropriate credits. But even without such an amendment, I favor parental choice among public schools. On a purely practical note, this happens anyway. Parents simply list some relative's address in the desired district. All parents should have that option. 

There's a lot left out, of course, but these are the ones that have come up in conversation with the Right... and I threw in Education for good measure. That having been said, of these issues, what's wrong with my positions? I don't want to know just whether you agree with the positions, but with the reasons they were taken.

And I mean it... tell me in the comments, or message me on Facebook.

Oh, and please don't bother with what you suppose I might say about topics I didn't mention. If you want, ask me about them and we'll talk about them at a future time.

My reasons for this are somewhat personal. There is plenty here for disagreement on both Left and Right. Few Democrats or Republicans will read these points without saying, "Yeah, that's good except...". As I've discussed politics over the years, most of my heaviest disagreements have been with Democrats. But the ones from Republicans, though less frequent, feel the worst, because Republicans are the ones who talk the most about freedoms and small government. Though the public record shows that government grows more intrusive no matter which party is in charge, I still hold this hope that rank and file Republicans actually want freedom and small government.

But I also want to know whether or not, Democrat or Republican, you can see a consistent and reasonable cause for my position, even if you don't agree with the position itself. Do you think I am your "enemy" as opposed to thinking that I merely disagree with you on a point of policy?

You see, in all my disagreements, today is the first time anyone has ever referred to me as "the enemy" in response to a reasoned discussion, much of which is included above. I want to know if that charge has merit. So if you would, please. drop me a line.

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