An RNL reader who goes by the name of Charles David Edinger posted a lengthy comment about Libertarians in a thread I posted, Libertarians Harming their Cause over Zimmerman Case. I found the comment interesting and promised to make my reply into a separate post, and here it is. Also, for the sake of helping the reader follow along, I re-posted the entire comment to which I am responding as the first reply to this post. You can find it at the bottom of the page.
First, I suppose I should start by trying to make sure we all read from the same sheet of music in what could prove to be a lively and interesting discussion. To that end, I want to start by defining how I see the terms Left and Right in relation to the political spectrum. In the interest of brevity, I think it is best explained here:
Next, I need to state that I tend to believe that our founders established the best formula for maintaining individual rights and liberty and to preserving a free and self-governing society since that which Moses established after the Exodus. So, while I am not dogmatic in following their every word, I do tend to see the society they built as the ideal, and I measure everything against their yard stick.
Finally, I need to state that I do not believe those who call themselves “conservative” are in our founder’s camp. The modern American conservative supports too many institutions which our founders held to be injurious of individual liberty to claim the mantle of heir to our founders’ ideology. At the same time, neither can modern American “Libertarians” lay claim to that mantle. Whereas the conservative resides too far to the right of our founders, the libertarian is too far to their left.
Now, this all said, let me just open the discussion with some observations that should help you understand my objection to the libertarian cause.
First, while most libertarians will espouse an allegiance to individual rights and liberty, I have found that they generally hold what we would consider a liberal/progressive set of values with one major difference: libertarians want to hold on to their money. In short, you could call them greedy liberals.
Now, I expect the first objection to this assertion will be that libertarians do not want to tell me what I can and can’t do the way liberal/progressives do. However, I would counter that objection by saying they bloody well do want to tell me what to do by telling me what I can’t do. And this is where we get into something you said:
Part of our Libertarian charm is that most of us share a set of basic, clear principles, and then value the intellectual freedom to interpret the meaning of those principles on our own. Also, true Libertarians (I love the snootiness of that opening) do not necessarily emphasize the same issues as critical, do not generally hold party affiliations (including the “Libertarian Party”, which to many is a bit of an oxymoron) and view ourselves as a loose movement based on the Classic Anglo-American Liberal postulates embodied in the US Constitution, the Declaration and the Bill of Rights. To use a Biblical image, we Libertarians function as “salt” within the broader context of American society. Salt, despite Nanny Bloomberg’s prescription, is essential to keeping our nation on its original path as laid out by the truly “Greatest Generation”, but too much salt, or Libertarianism, can spoil the dish, and certainly wreck the average dinner party. Our core principles are individual freedom and liberty, strictly limited government (see Murray for a great discussion of this point), free enterprise capitalist economics, and the freedoms of association, speech, religion, communication, the right to keep and bear arms, and the other limitations on government embodied in Constitution and original Bill of Rights.
I reject this assertion based on this assertion. You see, it is self-contradictory. You cannot claim to agree to a loose set of common principles if every libertarian is then free to “interpret” those principles however he/she wishes. You might as well be claiming the right to spell words any way you wish, to assign whatever definitions to them you desire and to assert that 2+2=5 – until you decide it equals 76. When this happens, you have no common understanding, and without a common understanding, you have anarchy. This is how progressives work: by so bastardizing the language, or the law, or whatever the issue is that no one can understand it. In so doing, no one can find a standard or ideal by which to measure anything, thus, everything becomes as equal to one thing as the next. Basically, it is deconstructionism and post-modernism and nihilism: the destructive nature of which Utah has written about quite often on the RNL. But the point is, what you just asserted there is the very essence of anarchy.
Now, true anarchy is on the far right of the political continuum (at least in the sense of total vs. no government). However, I do not agree with the early Natural Law theorists who hold that the State of Nature is the State of Natural Law. I would argue that the State of Nature is the law of the jungle, and the law of the jungle equates to the strongest survives. There can be no liberty under the Law of the Jungle; neither can there be liberty under Anarchy. In essence, they are both the tyranny of the strongest. This is why men enter into society: to protect their individual rights and liberty and to preserve and enforce Natural Law. But there is a hitch to Natural Law: it is predicated on a common morality, and the notion of morality cannot exist outside of a Creator. For morality to be morality, it must be universal. And to be universal, it must be above the definitional control of man. And for the law defining and governing morality to be above the control of man, it must have a source of authority higher than that of Natural Law. This is the Creator.
This brings me to my last beef with libertarians, and that is their refusal to accept the fundamental necessity of a common morality in society, as well as society’s fundamental right to legislate the same. Universal morality rests not on the most fundamental right to your life, but to your free will. From there, Natural Law can easily be derived:
But the very notion of free will implies the necessity of a Creator:
Sadly, legislating morality is one of the primary areas where libertarians depart from our founders. The founders were very clear that liberty depends on morality, and morality on religion. You cannot preserve liberty without morality, and morality cannot exist without faith in the Creator. Yet, somehow, libertarians miss this point, as evidenced by your Biblical reference to salt. I’m not sure whether or not you know it, but that reference carries the understanding that Christ’s followers were to be salt by showing the need for morality through the way they lived their lives. I understand you were trying to use it as a political analogy, but I find it interesting that you try to make something that is about morality into a political illustration. I think it speaks straight to my point about libertarians not understanding the crucial role morality plays to maintaining a free and self-governing society where individual rights and liberty are preserved. And this is why I say libertarians are just to the left of anarchists.
I would point out that the Articles of Confederation were very close to what I presume the modern libertarian ideal might be, and they failed. It was not until the founders wrote the Constitution – which does allow for different communities to legislate morality – that the stability necessary for a free and self-governing society to thrive was established. And if you bother to trace back through history, it was when this ability to legislate morality was removed that our nation started it slow march toward tyranny.