Monday, January 21, 2008

Wrestling with pigs...

Apparently, a blogger over at Lew Rockwell decided that to criticize libertarians by digging up from the dead two of the most debunked and, in my opinion, brain-dead criticisms of libertarians: 1) atomistic individualism and 2) libertinism. Going further, he blames the libertines for equating libertarianism to "heroin addict, prostitute and private military contractor, not peace, free markets and local communities."

There's little to say on the libertine/atomistic individual nonsense , as I think Murray Rothbard covered that ground quite well (and you'd think the bloggers at Rockwell's site would know this, especially since this article was on the main page of the Mises Institute site about a week ago or so). Furthermore, in one of my favorite contributions to the fantastic collection of essays in George Carey's Freedom and Virtue, Murray Rothbard writes:

If the fusionist position is simply the libertarian position on freedom-and-virtue, then what of the fusionist critique of libertarianism: that it ignores virtue altogether in the pursuit of freedom (or, at least, ignores virtue insofar as it goes beyond freedom itself)? Much of this critique rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what libertarianism is all about. Thus, Professor John P. East speaks of the traditionalist concern about contemporary libertarianism (which he, as a fusionist, seems to share): "of taking a valid point, in this case the importance of the individual and his rights, and elevating it to the first principle of life with all other considerations excluded".* Even Frank Meyer, uncharacteristically and in the heat of the ideological fray, identified libertarianism as a "libertine impulse [which] . . . raises the freedom of the individual . . . to the status of an absolute end." But this is an absurd straw-man. Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end of life. Freedom is necessary to, and integral with, the achievement of any of man's ends. The libertarian agrees completely with Acton and with Meyer himself that freedom is the highest political end, not the highest end of man per se; indeed, it would be difficult to render such a position in any sense meaningful or coherent.

Maybe the libertine criticism, as weak as it is, is not directed specifically towards people like me because the first thing I think of when I think of libertarian is individual liberty. Freedom, peace and free markets flow from that, but "local communities"? Like Mark, at Publius Endures, I see the sort of majoritarian difficulty that James Madison so eloquently addressed in Federalist 10, as opposed to a healthy respect for both federalism and the proper role of the state police power, especially when I read complaints about a community's right "to teach intelligent design in their schools". Of course, when "their" schools are government schools (and not "their" schools in the private property sense), it is the state that is teaching religion masked as science, and yes, that is not a valid role of the police power.** If "their" schools were privately funded institutions, I do not know of a single libertarian that would support using the state to prohibit the teaching of intelligent design.

I should also mention, as if it needs to be said, that individuals have rights. "Community rights" should be viewed simply as the collective sum of individual rights and nothing more. To suggest otherwise is collectivism. Libertarianism and collectivism mix about as well as drinking and driving.

More thoughts from Tim Sandefur.

For some background on my choice of a title, please read David Boaz.

** Some would make that argument for public education. I'm avoiding that discussion for the time being.