The Power of Twelve

Rep. Amash

If you weren’t paying attention today, you might have missed a tremendous moment for liberty that happened yesterday evening.

The House of Representatives debated an amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash to a defense appropriations bill. The amendment would have significantly limited the authority of the NSA to collect data on American citizens who are not under investigation already.

Seems pretty reasonable, no?

The House didn’t think so, and instead chose to vote with what the White House, not the majority of Americans, wanted. In a final vote of 217-205, and reportedly after some intense lobbying from the White House, the House decided that it wasn’t reasonable to limit data collection to people who were under any reasonable suspicion of being involved in terrorism.

“This person looks like they might be guilty sometime in the future. Let’s record all their stuff to be sure.” – Lindsey Graham [citation probably not needed]

We’ve learned some important things today. The government’s encroachment on our individual liberties is reaching a dangerous tipping point. We’ve known for years that things like the PATRIOT ACT allowed for, shall we say, more creative interpretations of certain civil liberties such as the right to have warrants “specifically describe” the places to be searched. For years, the retort to this concern has been “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry?” As we can see now, the government doesn’t care if you’re doing anything wrong or not, they will collect massive amounts of information on you anyway; just in case you do sometime in the future, I suppose.

There’s no such thing as presumption of innocence when it comes to the catch-all justification of “national security,” even though the fact that there should be was once self-evident. I don’t think everyone in the government, the NSA, or the intelligence community is malicious. They’re people. I’m sure some of them are prudent. But our government was created to be a government of laws, not of men. The protection of our data, our privacy, and our rights, should not rely on the good intent of people given immeasurable power. That is not how our government was intended to work.

But, liberty lovers, this is not the time to be discouraged!

A few years ago, the American public largely didn’t care about the NSA, the PATRIOT ACT, or civil liberties concerns. For years and years, Ron Paul introduced legislation that died in committee with few or no cosponsors. The lone voice crying in the wilderness has retired from politics, but his profound influence has helped the people who followed him have quite a few allies. Let’s return to the vote itself.

205 voted in favor. 217 voted against. That’s a difference of twelve votes. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Twelve is nothing. The congressmen who voted against it can lose elections. Now it’s our responsibility not to let this issue go by the wayside. Don’t let people tell you they’re tired of hearing about it and change the subject to some fleeting thing like mayoral candidates who have problems with monogamy and discretion.  These are our liberties.  We can still get them back. We’re already winning. Let’s get those twelve votes – or those two-hundred seventeen – out of office. We have just one year until we get our first chance. Let’s not let them forget that they betrayed liberty and the will of their constituents.

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How Can You Be Pro-Life And…?

I recently wrote about my belief that the pro-life movement could benefit greatly from a more pragmatic approach. Even though the article wasn’t a broader pro-life argument, it attracted a lot of common questions that pro-lifers, especially those who don’t fall into the stereotypical religious-based camp, face. How can a libertarian support government regulation of abortion? How can a self-professed feminist support restrictions on “a woman’s body”? Do you care about life after birth? First of all, I reject the assertion that being opposed to abortion puts any kind of requirement on a person to hold any other view. To suggest otherwise is simply an attempt to defeat an opponent by falsely implying hypocrisy – which, I should point out, doesn’t do anything to refute the underlying argument.

That being said, the liberty movement is always going to be at odds over the issue of abortion, and I think that pro-life libertarians need to be able to defend their position. Personally, I don’t care in the slightest if other feminists think that I’m not “feminist enough” for being opposed to abortion, but I do care about women’s issues, and would like young women afraid to identify as feminists to know that you don’t have to fit a certain leftist ideal to be one. And, of course, assertions by the left that “pro-life” is a misnomer if we don’t support universal healthcare or any other leftist cause célèbre are always going to be prevalent and must be addressed.

With all of that in mind, I would like to address the question at hand in relation to the above issues. So, how can you be pro-life and be…

A feminist

Those man-hating feminists! How dare they want to vote! Wait…

On this point, it’s important to put the disclaimer that I’m by no means an expert in feminist thought. At college, I studied political science, not women’s studies, but I’m familiar with a lot of the core of feminist thought as it relates to politics, and to a lesser extent, to society. I believe that historically, women have been disenfranchised by a male-dominated power structure. Women still face a higher risk of being victims of sexual crimes. Rape culture shames and discourages victims from reporting sexual crimes. Women are less likely to run for political office, and more likely to be treated badly by the media if they do run. Women are judged more harshly than men for engaging in similar behaviors. It is within recent memory that women were able to open credit cards without their husband’s approval. Some of our grandparents can remember when women couldn’t vote.

She would like you to know that she’s an autonomous citizen and doesn’t like you oppressing her by feeding her and making her stay in her crib.

However, none of these conclusions suggest or require that support for abortion, which pro-lifers such as myself view as the taking of a human life, be a feminist litmus test. And while pro-life feminists are rare, we do exist. As I discussed in my previous column, I think that it is anti-woman to try to restrict access to contraception or assume that all women have to be, or should be, mothers.

Abortion is a separate issue. Just because the unborn baby is dependent on the life of its mother doesn’t mean that it’s not a life. All children and many adults are dependent on someone else to live. That doesn’t mean that we get to kill them. I was born premature. In many states, I could have been aborted at the time I was born, and in fact, my mom’s doctors suggested aborting me to give the larger twin (my sister) a better chance of living (for the record, we both survived, as you may know if you’ve checked out our contributors page).

Baby Mary Ann after being told the doctors wanted to abort her… er, me.

I do recognize that abortion is complex, and often an emotionally-charged decision. I have a hard time supporting a ban on abortion in the cases of rape, but I would prefer that rape survivors are routinely provided access to emergency contraception. Taking away the perceived need for abortion would certainly eliminate a lot of the complex moral dilemmas involved.

A libertarian

As most of you probably know, I’m a “small-l” libertarian. I don’t claim allegiance to the Libertarian Party, nor do I agree with them on everything. However, as a liberty-minded individual, the question of how I can support government “regulation” of abortion is often brought up. It is true that I do favor less government regulation in nearly all cases.

I have no idea what’s going on in this picture. Please take my libertarian card now.

However, it is disingenuous to suggest that pro-life libertarians are examples of only supporting bans on things we don’t like. I don’t oppose abortion because I don’t like it; I oppose it because I believe it to be the taking of a life. I don’t like prostitution or drugs, but I don’t think people should sit in prison for engaging in those behaviors.

I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. I’m a small-government libertarian conservative, and I’m more likely to support a return to state and local control than an attempt to “get government out” altogether. I absolutely support state legislation against violent crimes that harm individuals, and property crimes that deprive individuals of their property. Even if I don’t like said individuals, I don’t support crimes being done against them. I don’t support legislation of victimless crimes, for the most part, and I don’t support federal legislation of most all crimes. But abortion doesn’t fall under those categories. The rebuttal of “if you don’t support abortion, don’t get one,” really doesn’t apply. Lots of people might think that it’s a husband’s right to punish his wife by striking her, but I certainly don’t want to leave that interpretation up to their choice.

I do recognize, as I’ve said in comments on my previous article, that abortion is something that is always going to be debated. I believe that, at the absolute least, abortion should be restricted past what is, admittedly, a difficult concept of “viability.” I believe life begins when the fetus begins developing. I recognize, however, that proving when life begins is always going to be somewhat a matter for philosophy, not science. Like nearly all issues, I think that complex questions about abortion should be left to the states.

Finally, this takes me to the ubiquitous final question.

How can you be pro-life and not support other “life” issues?

Issues commonly brought up include lack of support for alternatives to abortion (which I covered in my previous article,) and support for war. War is not the same thing, unless you believe that killing foreign combatants is the same thing as murder. I don’t. I think that war is sometimes a necessary evil. It does show a lack of respect for the idea of life if people don’t care if innocent people are killed in war. But that, surely, is a rarity among people who support wars.

The only point I will concede to this argument is that it may be a misnomer to call anti-abortion supporters “pro-life.” However, pro-abortion supporters typically prefer the term “pro-choice,” even if they don’t always support choice in cases of school choice, or personal health choices like drinking large sodas, or the choice to carry weapons. I don’t think that’s necessarily hypocritical of them. It’s understood that “pro-choice” typically refers to abortion, and it’s understood that “pro-life” typically refers to abortion. Let’s not get caught up on trying to trip up our opponents based on their wording.

Of course, the big argument that seems to come up on this point is about healthcare. Is it hypocritical to support legislation restricting abortion and not support government intervention to improve the quality of life for people who have been born?

First of all, there is a fundamental distinction between supporting the government punishing crime and requesting that the government subsidize, well, anything. I don’t support government-funded healthcare, certainly not federal-government funded healthcare, because that’s not the role of the government. Our founding documents talk about the pursuit of happiness, not its guarantee. The government has the ability to provide for the protection of its citizens, in fact, that’s the very idea of government. However, it has neither the responsibility nor the right to feed, clothe, and hold their hands from cradle to grave.

In Defense of Pro-Life Pragmatism

This week, the internet has been abuzz with talk of a Texas state senator’s filibuster. State Senator Wendy Davis stood on the floor of the Texas for over twelve hours and delivered an impassioned defense of the necessity of abortion in the face of a bill that would have banned all abortions past twenty weeks of pregnancy. “#StandwithWendy” began trending on Twitter (copying the much more catchy “Stand with Rand“). Commentators nationwide have praised Sen. Davis for “standing up for women’s rights.”

Senator Davis during her filibuster.

Conservative (and conservative libertarian) women like myself greatly resent being told that our rights are ultimately about whether we want an abortion. We’re often very annoyed with such condescension on the issue of abortion. However, quite frankly, conservatives have done a very poor job of defending their pro-life stance in the face of arguments about women’s rights.

So how can we fix this?

First, for the purpose of this article, I am assuming that the gender gap exists. However, I do not believe it is natural for women to align themselves more often with liberal causes.  I am also assuming that readers are in general agreement with me that abortion is wrong. I’m not going to attempt to change anyone’s mind on the broader issue of abortion because I don’t have the time or the desire to do so. Rather, what I want to accomplish is for conservatives to take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we’re doing very wrong and how we’re allowing ourselves to be put into a stereotype of not caring about women.

Recognize and point out that calling abortion an issue of “a woman’s body” is intellectually dishonest.

Life is not life only when we want it. Conservatives need to step away from responding with talking points and slogans (“I’m pro-life”) and actually take some time to articulate the reasoning behind them. Some states can charge people with double murder for killing a pregnant woman. Many women experience lasting depression after miscarriages. Not wanting to carry a fetus to term doesn’t make it more or less of a life. As conservatives, we have to challenge the idea that abortion is as simple as someone making decisions that only affect them.

Stop acting like rape is no big deal.

Some conservatives think that abortion should not be allowed in cases of rape. Some think there should be an exception. Either way, this is always going to be the rebuttal of the left (“what about rape?”), and we have to realize that this is a very sensitive topic. Unlike in cases where abortion is an issue of convenience, there is no choice involved in this. Pregnancy by rape is something that, by its very nature, is thrust upon a woman against her will. Flippantly dismissing these cases is wrong and offensive to rape survivors. It also doesn’t look great for our “we really don’t hate women” cause. And while we’re on that subject…

Think before you speak!

Let’s summarize some of the things that Republican politicians have said about rape and abortion. Rape victims shouldn’t need abortions because rape kits are abortion tools. Pregnancy rarely comes from “legitimate” rape. Pregnancies resulting from rape are a blessing from God. Going through a rape is “something similar” to a man’s daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Disregarding the fact that these are all blatantly false (some laughably so), just look at how much the left has taken these comments and repeated them ad nauseum. I don’t think that these patently false and rather heartless comments are representative of any mainstream conservative view. But by speaking without thinking about what they’re saying or knowing what they’re talking about, these politicians have made it even easier for the left to tell women “conservatives don’t care about you.”

And while we’re on the subject of knowing what you’re talking about…

Being blatantly anti-science doesn’t help anything.

I strongly believe that conservatism which seeks to impose ideas about how individuals should live their lives is not true conservatism. Conservatives traditionally want smaller government. Liberals may say that they don’t want to run your life, but that promise ends when you want to drink a big soda or homeschool your children. Conservatives may be hypocritical about our small government stance sometimes, but at the very least, it is at the core of our philosophy.

With that in mind, the pro-life movement must separate itself from efforts to ban or discourage birth control, punish premarital sex, or promote motherhood as the ideal for all women. I realize this is controversial for a lot of pro-lifers. But abortion is not wrong because it’s taking away from women’s “natural inclination to be mothers,” it’s not wrong because it’s stopping the “natural process of pregnancy,” and it doesn’t happen because people have sex before marriage. Abortion is wrong because it’s the taking of a life. If we stray from that fundamental argument, we get ourselves caught up in actually telling women what to do with their bodies.

On a related note, if we are ever going to provide alternatives for abortion, we simply can’t argue that birth control also shouldn’t be an option. I am not opposed to birth control. But for the conservatives who are, can we at least agree that birth control would be the lesser evil? The same goes for emergency contraception. While we’re on the subject, emergency contraction doesn’t actually cause abortions. Neither does regular hormonal birth control (not that oral birth control pills are the only form of contraception).

So stop saying these things! We’re fighting a losing, anti-science, anti-reason battle, if we try to convince people not to even use contraceptives. And guess what? Abortions still happen when abortion is illegal. Since Roe v. Wade and subsequent court decisions, abortion has been legal nationwide. Regardless of who we put on the Supreme Court, there is quite a bit of jurisprudence to overthrow in order to change that. If we really want to be pro-life, we can’t just focus on the legal status of abortion (which may not change, soon, or ever!), but also on reducing it overall. As much as we may not like it, that’s going to include not trying to block women’s access to birth control.

Rhetoric matters.

We should be able to accept that having an abortion is a complex, highly emotional decision, and not something that women do because they’re horrible monsters. Stop calling women who feel they need an abortion “baby killers.” Stop saying that rape victims need to accept their “blessing from God.” Yelling at women, telling them they’re murderers, and trying to physically block them from going inside abortion clinics doesn’t help.

One of the few pro-life protest images available that doesn’t include gruesome images of aborted fetuses.

Recently, anti-abortion activists in my hometown were proudly passing around a personal story from a woman seeking an abortion who had been so disturbed by the protesters outside of the abortion clinic that she left… and went to a clinic a couple of counties away. That is not a win! You know what might actually help? Providing women with options so they don’t feel like abortion is their only choice. Screaming, shouting, and condemning is not going to win people over. Nor is it going to do anything to convince women who are drawn to the left that the right doesn’t really hate them.

I do not like being told that it is my right (and the only thing I should care about) to take the life of a child (at the very least, one I chose to conceive). I also don’t like listening to conservative politicians try to argue against abortion by using wrong, unscientific, or sexist arguments, lumped in with dismissal of other women’s health issues like birth control. I’m not calling for a compromise. I’m just calling for using methods that actually work.

Iran, Syria, and Intervention

Last week, citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran went to the polls to select their next President. Moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani won the election to replace the much-reviled Mahmoud Achmadinejad, who has held the office for 8 years. And while many believe that Rowhani may be ushering in an era of reform and stepping away from Achmadinejad’s hardline policies, Achmadinejad’s legacy may be a bit more complex than most Americans realize. As Reza Aslan writes in Foreign Policy,

I was not suggesting that Ahmadinejad is some sort of democracy icon or that he is even a good guy, let alone a competent president — though he is far more politically sophisticated than his critics generally assume. It is a Western fallacy that “more secular” necessarily means “more free.” But the fact remains that no president in the history of the Islamic Republic has so openly challenged the ruling religious hierarchy, and so brazenly tried to channel the government’s decision-making powers away from the unelected clerical bodies that hold sway in Iran.

To many Americans, this probably sounds like blasphemy. Our caricatured picture of Achmadinejad doesn’t often allow for the idea that he may not be 100% evil or have a less-than-negative impact on Iran. Of course, none of this is to say that Achmadinejad has been good for Iran. I would encourage all readers to read Aslan’s piece fully for a better understanding of the issue that I can’t fully articulate in this short article. However, the main point we can take from this is that foreign regimes often have a lot more nuance than we realize.

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the second of the Pahlavi monarchs.

What a lot of us also don’t realize is that Iran’s political history has been marred by intervention. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, modern Iran fought to maintain its independence from foreign control. Iran’s support for the Axis powers in WWII led to the occupation of Iran and the installation of the brutal, but Western-supported, Pahlavi Shahs. The Pahlavis were a polarizing presence because of their authoritarian policies that included forced “westernization” (including banning traditional Islamic clothing). In 1953, the Shah, facing mounting opposition, fled the country. However, British and American intelligence agencies engineered a coup to overthrow democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq. After his overthrow, the Shah returned and his regime became more brutal than ever. The backlash against the Shahs ultimately culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that established the Islamic Republic and the Ayatollahs.

This (very abridged) summary of Iran’s history as well as its present situation has a lot of important implications for America’s foreign policy. First of all, we often underestimate the nuance of a foreign nation’s political situation when pressuring our representatives to make decisions about our foreign policy. We also allow our representatives, unquestioned, to present us with black and white assessments of situations that are really much more complex. A current example of this is the situation in Syria. As James Antle points out in the American Conservative, we are currently arming Syrian rebels in the name of “democracy,” when the banner most of them fight for is Islamism (the rebels even possibly have ties to al-Qaeda!) This situation is eerily reminiscent of what happened when America supported Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. We need to think about unintended consequences of getting involved in complex situations overseas. We also need to remember that the enemy of our enemy may not always end up being our friend in the long run.

John McCain meets with Syrian rebels.Ronald Reagan meets with Afghan rebels.

Furthermore, when Americans talk about intervening in foreign nations, we often forget to take into account the impact of our prior intervention in that nation or region. In Iran, for instance, American intervention against a popularly elected leader eventually contributed to a populist Islamist revolution that installed a theocracy that holds power today. This isn’t ancient history, either. Many Iranians are old enough, or have parents old enough, to remember Mossadeq. Even more of them can remember the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Americans would never accept a foreign nation trying to implement what was best for us, especially not if that regime had interfered in our affairs as early as sixty years ago, and not done a great job of it, at that. Why should we expect other nations to be any different? If we are ever going to have a reasonable foreign policy, we have to accept that interventionism very rarely leaves America any better off than we were before (not to mention the countries into which we intervene)! Interventionism hardly ever works.  As International Relations theorist (and one of my favorite authors and thinkers) Stephen Walt stated on the subject, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In our attempt to make things better for citizens of other countries, we very well may do (and historically have done) just the opposite.

Ron Paul 2016?

Does the idea of Ron Paul running a fourth time for president seem a little far-fetched to you? Apparently, it doesn’t to everyone in the liberty movement.

Writing last week on Lew Rockwell’s blog, libertarian professor and author Walter Block, made the case for a 2016 Ron Paul candidacy.

“What we’ve got to do, in my view, is DRAFT Ron to run for president in 2016. Libertarianism is alright as I see things, but if you really want to accomplish any thing in life, you’ve got to threaten people with physical violence (I’m kidding, I’m kidding – Lew insists I make this clear). So, Ron, unless you seek the presidency of the US in 2016, you’ll have me to contend with. Ron in 16! Ron in 16!”

He later added:

As far as I’m concerned, Ron should run for President of the US in 2016 in any way he wants. As a Republican, as a Libertarian, even as a Martian for all I care. Of all the present candidates for the presidency, I would support Rand Paul. But only in a lukewarm manner.

With all due respect to Dr. Block, adopting this attitude is far from a good idea. Sadly, it is not only among the people who have been active for liberty in non-political ways (like Dr. Block), that this attitude is prevalent. Unfortunately, I see many libertarians talking about how the only candidate they would support is Ron Paul. I have already written on this site about how pointless I find libertarian purity tests, so this isn’t what this article is about. Rather, I want to address what I see as a dangerous cult of personality that surrounds Ron Paul among some libertarians.

Ron Paul never made his message about him.

When we think about our beloved former Congressman, what do we know about him? He has never made the message of liberty about him, or compared himself favorably to other liberty-minded individuals. Rather, the entire message of Ron Paul’s national presence has been that liberty is universal.

Admit it: you want Ron Paul to be your grandfather (source).

In 2016, Ron Paul will be 80. It is not unrealistic to think that he may live to be 88, but it is rather selfish of us to expect him to spend his retirement going through the exhausting process of campaigning. He’s retired from politics. He’s not done fighting for liberty, but he’s ready to spend time with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Letting him do that without pressuring him to run for office again is the least we can do to someone we claim to admire so much.

The liberty movement is about more than Ron Paul.

Rand Paul, Thomas Massie, and Justin Amash  (source)

Ron Paul has certainly done more for liberty in recent years than arguably anyone else. However, if I had to compare Dr. Paul to a biblical figure, it would be John the Baptist, not the Messiah. Ron Paul has spent countless years in government being the “voice calling in the wilderness” for liberty. Where 20 and 30 years ago, Ron Paul had few allies,  liberty these days has some pretty vocal supporters in the House and the Senate.  Liberty is becoming mainstream. The worst thing the liberty movement can do now is to hold tightly to what brought us here, demanding that an aging defender of liberty keep running for office despite his personal wish to retire, and ignoring the new voices we have today.

The most ironic part of all of this is that many of the diehards who wish to see Ron Paul run again are the people who usually say things like “voting is pointless,” “it’s not about politics,” etc. If it’s not all about politics, then we certainly need to stop focusing on one man running for one office. Ron Paul has done his part. Now it’s up to us to carry the torch of liberty and focus on supporting liberty minded individuals – not just for President, and not just for national offices! Let Ron Paul retire without harassing him to be our perpetual candidate. It’s our turn now.

Who Cares About Privacy Anyway?

Absolute monarchs are but men… I desire to know what kind of government that is, and how much better it is than the state of nature, where one man, commanding a multitude, has the liberty to be judge in his own case, and may do to all his subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty to any one to question or control those who execute his pleasure and in whatsoever he doth, whether led by reason, mistake or passion, must be submitted to.” (John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, emphasis added).

By now, most readers are probably familiar with the evolving scandal involving the National Security Agency’s surveillance program and the release of Verizon phone records. Today, President Obama tried to reassure the nation that the program is seriously no big deal, guys, and we are all being just way too crazy about all of this.

“It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch, but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process, and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.” (source)

So, in other words, if I don’t trust the government not to trounce on my liberties when given the opportunity, I’m going to have some problems?

I’ll say!

John Locke is judging you, President Obama.

In addition to reassuring Americans that it’s really okay if the government is seizing your phone records, because they have the best of intentions, Obama also managed to deliver some funny-if-it-weren’t-so-sad doublespeak, reassuring Americans that the programs aren’t “secret,” they’re “classified.” He continued, asserting that Americans don’t need to know the daily workings of homeland security anyway.

Whew! Where do I even begin?

First of all, I am pleased to see that many mainstream liberals are calling the President out for his ridiculously unsatisfying reasoning. Sadly, not everyone feels the same way. Amidst the chorus of intellectual gymnastics that many are going through to justify this, the familiar chorus of “who cares about privacy if you’ve got nothing to hide?” has become sadly common.

Privacy is at the heart of American liberty. We are, at our core, individualists. Although our constitution doesn’t specifically grant us a right to privacy, the underlying message of much of the language of our founding documents is that there are areas into which the government does not intrude, unless absolutely necessary. The fourth amendment in particular discusses the concept of ownership – and how the government shouldn’t intrude on people’s personal effects without warrants “particularly describing the place to be searched.” The fact that we have to defend the idea of personal privacy in the face of “who cares about privacy?” is really, frankly, quite sad. We shouldn’t even have to be defending against this asinine response.

“Who cares about privacy anyway?” – Alexander Hamilton [citation needed]

Now, I am one of those slightly more “statist” libertarians who believes that there is some validity to keeping sensitive information secret. I don’t think we need to know the daily workings of homeland security, the police, or the military as long as said activities aren’t actively infringing on our rights. That seems to be the point that the President and his apologists are missing here.

Of course, none of this is as ludicrous as the idea that the validity of power is based on whether someone has good intentions. I feel that John Locke’s quote that opens this article can also be applied even when the leader is not quite a monarch. The very reason that this system of government was created was for it to be “a government of laws, not of men.” We have The Rule of Law precisely so we don’t have to rely on the virtue of imperfect men and women. Regardless of whether the whims of the individual leader are based on “reason, mistake or passion,” or “balancing security and privacy,” I would rather rely on the Constitution. It is disappointing that this is anything less than obvious.

Fear, Fatalism, and Faith

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27 (KJV)

Last year, I attended a graduation ceremony for some of my friends at the local university. I was excited that the commencement speaker was none other than the fabulous PJ O’Rourke. His message was a simple one. Our generation – the graduating one – has it pretty good. We didn’t grow up practicing hiding under our desks in school to prepare for nuclear war with the communists like many of our parents or grandparents did. We didn’t grow up without voting rights for women or political protection for minorities like our grandparents or great-grandparents did. It wasn’t as simple as a platitude of “count your blessings,” but rather a reminder that every generation faces big threats. Every generation has fears. Every generation has monsters. We endure because of what made us great in the first place: liberty, tolerance, and determination.

School children drill during the Cold War era.

I am often reminded of O’Rourke’s remarks when I talk to my fellow libertarians. To many libertarians, the above may sound like blasphemy. “The world is ending!” we protest, “the government is encroaching! Our liberties are going down the drain!” This week, as we watched things from deadly tornadoes ripping through our heartland to a British soldier being killed in cold blood on the streets of London, the debate has returned to the surface. What are the merits of remaining optimistic in such a time as this? Is there any room for hope in a world where it seems as though every day we lose liberties quicker?

With this in mind, I decided to come up with a list of some things that libertarians, especially Christians, should remember. This article is from an explicitly Christian perspective, but hopefully there is room to apply its message to non-theistic libertarians.

1. God doesn’t want us to live in fear.

This is the first and most important thing to remember. The verse that opens this article is just one of many Biblical reminders that Christians, despite dire circumstances, should not live in fear. Let’s look at some of what else the Bible has to say about fear and the Christian life (all verses KJV).

“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” – Joshua 1:9

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalm 23: 4

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18

The context and stories to which these verses refer are even more powerful reminders not to let fear overtake us. We aren’t traversing through the desert for 40 years, we aren’t running from an angry king, and we aren’t adherents to a newly-formed religion living in the height of the pagan Roman Empire. We do really have it fairly good! We need to be constantly vigilant, yes. But even in much more dire circumstances, Christians are reminded not to let fear overtake us.

2. Fear is not a good political motivator.

From a political perspective, giving into fear doesn’t produce good results. Fear makes representatives vote the massive PATRIOT ACT into law mere days after 9/11. Fear makes people support such foolish decisions. Fear makes you irrational. Fear is not thinking, it is reacting. The liberty movement cannot survive if our motivator is reaction. We must have rationalism behind positive goals. Our goals must go beyond reacting to things that scare us.

President Bush signs the USA PATRIOT ACT into law mere weeks after 9/11 in 2001.

3. Fatalism is pointless.

Now, at this point, some people are surely arguing that it’s not just about fear, but about being “realistic” about the future of our nation (and perhaps the world). Of course, at the radical end of this are the people who think the leaders of the free world are conspiring to bring about an “end game” of world tyranny. However, you don’t have to trek that far into the fringes to find people who are very fatalistic about the future. Christian libertarians also have a tendency to connect our political views with apocalyptic eschatology.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

It’s easy to look at the current state of civil liberties and economic freedom and be pessimistic. Even if the world is coming to an end imminently, does that mean that we shouldn’t try to make it as good as possible while we’re still here? If we are completely pessimistic about the future, what’s the point of doing anything? I firmly believe that political action can, and does, create real change, and that we are not doomed. But even if you think just the opposite, it’s still not unrealistic optimism to focus on the good. It’s not unrealistic optimism to focus on the structures, ideas, and foundation that our founders gave us. It’s not unrealistic optimism to focus on what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.

4. There’s nothing wrong with being happy!

Finally, I think that it’s important to remember that we as Christians are not called to be dreary killjoys. This is also important to remember when we approach politics as Christian libertarians. I’m sure everyone has one or two friends who react negatively to any instances of levity, with admonishments that there are more important things to worry about.

“The founding fathers wouldn’t just post pictures of cats if they had Facebook!”

Maybe not. But I imagine our founding fathers – and our Biblical role models – wouldn’t go around trying to squash other people enjoying humor and joy and life! The Bible tells us that Jesus wants us to live  “life more abundantly“! Bad things don’t negate our enjoyment of the good things in life, and being humorless, glum, and fatalistic doesn’t win anyone over. If we truly want to try to make a difference for liberty, we need to think about our methods, and try to focus more on the positive things we can do. Sure, some people are going to continue to sulk about how the world is ending and everything’s horrible. I’d rather be with the people who try to change what we can.

Winning Is Not Compromising

“This war on drugs is totally out of control. If you want to regulate cigarettes and alcohol and drugs, it should be at the state level. That’s where I stand on it. The federal government has no prerogatives on this.” – Ron Paul (source).

If there’s anything Rand Paul can do well, it’s fire up debate among libertarians. As of recently, hilariously satirized by Steve Heidenreich on this site, libertarians are up in (theoretical, non-aggressive) arms in response to comments Paul made to a group of pastors in Iowa that some read as him “loving the drug war.”

“To some, ‘libertarian’ scares people. “Some of them come up to me and they say, ‘I kind of like you, but I don’t like legalizing heroin.’ And I say, ‘Well, that’s not my position.’ I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot. I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative”

Let’s crucify him today!

For God’s sake, let’s definitely not examine his comments with any degree of critical thought to see how well they line up with libertarian philosophy. Because if we step back from our hysterical Rand Paul hate, it is clear that, while not as strictly libertarian as some, Rand Paul’s views are very much in line with what they’ve always been – and with a small government philosophy.

Rand Paul has been very vocal in his support for ending federal drug laws. In April, Paul gave a scathing statement on mandatory minimum laws, one of the biggest travesties of injustice to come from the drug war. Telling the story of two men (George W. Bush and Barack Obama) who recreationally used drugs as young men, Paul argued that mandatory minimums, and imprisonment for marijuana use, can deprive the world of future leaders and ruin people’s lives unjustly. “In this story, both young men were extraordinarily lucky. Both young men were not caught using illegal drugs, and they weren’t imprisoned. Instead, they went on to become presidents of the United States. Barack Obama and George Bush were lucky.”

Wow, what a great voice for liberty he’d be if he’d only make a video of himself using illegal drugs!

Is it possible to not “love the drug war” and also not support legalization of all drugs on all levels of government? Of course it is. The term itself (Drug War) refers to federal prohibition, mandatory minimums, omnibus crime bills, and other such federal expansion over the area of crime laws traditionally left to the states, into which the federal leviathan began encroaching the 1970s and 1980s. Ron Paul, like Rand Paul, has always supported leaving such issues to the states. Both Pauls believe that states should be free to legalize drugs if they want. Ron Paul, like Rand Paul, is no supporter of drug use.

That’s not to say that Rand and Ron Paul are the same. There are differences among libertarians just as there are differences between any group of people. People – even fathers and sons – disagree, and we shouldn’t hold them to unrealistic standards of agreeing with us on everything if we are to consider them “intellectually pure” enough. If we do, libertarianism will continue to be persuasive only to those who already agree, and who, by and large, do not vote anyway. Winning is not compromising liberty. Self-insular irrelevancy should not be our goal.

This attitude totally wins over thousands of new libertarians every day.

If you disagree with this picture, you’re a statist.

Finally, it is very disappointing to see libertarians blindly accepting what the media says about Rand Paul just because they don’t like him. Libertarians should know better than anyone not to take what the media says at face value, but we blindly accept that Rand Paul “loves the drug war” now – a position completely different than everything he’s stood for in the past – based on the inference of a reporter who provides no quotes from Paul to back this up. The only quote in the article shows that he feels state governments should have the prerogative to ban drugs, just like his father. This is neither surprising nor new.

If libertarians are to ever shake the stereotype that we are basement-dwelling, pot-smoking, jobless college kids, we have to think carefully about our knee-jerk reactions to people who happen to hold more personally conservative views than some of us do. Critical disagreement is fine. Rejecting anyone who holds more politically prudent views than other libertarians is unwise. Blind acceptance of anything the media says, as long as it’s about someone we don’t like, is intellectual dishonesty.

On Sex, Liberty, and Prudence

There is a small war brewing among libertarians. Strangely, the battle lines seem to have been drawn on something that most people wouldn’t associate with libertarians: sex. In an article unfortunately titled “This is How Many Shits I Give About Converting Conservatives to Libertarians”, author Gina Luttrell argues that “conservatives, as they currently exist in American politics, have a pretty narrow view…[and] attempt to ‘persuade’—and by that I mean shame—others away from the peaceful ways they choose to live their lives.” Ashley Rae Goldenberg, writing for this blog, responded by criticizing Thoughts on Liberty’s supposed view that “sex is the most important topic in the entire universe!” writing that “perhaps these libertarian women think the only way they’re able to convert people to libertarianism is to use sex as a tool.”

Whew! Let no one say libertarians hate a vigorous debate! (No one would say that).

Pictured: two libertarians having a typical argument.

I do not feel that such infighting does any good to anyone in the liberty movement. However, I feel that a debate such as this, quite frankly, ridden with ad hominems on both sides and showing no sign of waning, could benefit from a middle ground perspective. Perhaps no one can fully reconcile the two sides, but I think the liberty movement would benefit from seeing more than the left/right paradigm, on this issue as on all others.

1)    My personal perspective.

I am a libertarian. I am a feminist. I do not see any contradiction between the two and feel that both movements have at their heart a similar message: that all individuals should be treated as individuals, and not treated differently based on their race, sex, gender, gender identify, sexual orientation, etc. What makes me libertarian is what makes me a feminist, and vice versa. Of course, there will be feminists who disagree with me, but nobody ever said we have to be a conglomerate of agreement, did they?

2)    Prudence is not just for prudes.

I tend to agree with Goldenberg, who argues that the only “libertarian” perspective on issues such as polyamory, casual sex, homosexuality, etc., is that the government should not pass laws restricting or regulating such activities between consensual adults. You can be a libertarian who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, you can be a polyamorous libertarian, or you can be an asexual libertarian. These things have nothing to do with the liberty movement. You do not have a right not to be “judged” or “shamed,” regardless of how damaging these two experiences may be.

I disagree with Goldenberg that merely talking about sexual issues is necessarily about promoting casual sex or decrying monogamy. I also agree that there is, “no right way to have sex“, and that there is value in discussing cultural issues! But you’re never going to win anyone over to liberty by waging a culture war. Prudence must come into play when deciding which issues you want to attach to the liberty movement. There is value in discussing, for example, rape culture, which is inherent aggression against men and women. But what can be gained by trying to convince social conservatives that they have to agree that there’s nothing wrong with polyamory, or else they are shaming those who practice it? Not a whole lot, I would argue.

Of course Thoughts on Liberty “gives no shits” about winning over conservatives, but this is foolish. As the aforementioned article points out, there is a great deal of hypocrisy from conservatives who claim to want the government to stay out of their lives and then ask it to intrude into other’s bedrooms. Hypocrisy is human. There is no reconciling a leftist philosophy that does not even pretend to reject all kinds of government intervention with the non-interventionism of libertarianism. That’s not to say that liberals are not won over by libertarianism. But our ideologies are completely different. Writing about how you don’t “give a shit” about winning over half of the country, the half that is closer to your philosophy than the other, no less, is not only imprudent, but it is arrogant, short-sighted, and juvenile. And make no mistake; this is coming from someone who agrees with 90% of what Thoughts on Liberty writes on culture and sexuality.

3)    On Lines in the Sand.

There will be times such “cultural” issues come to the forefront of American political consciousness and answers are demanded from libertarians. It is okay when libertarians give different answers! Obsession with extreme intellectual purity has never served the liberty movement well (see:  hysterical objections to Rand Paul based simply on the fact that he is not like Ron Paul 100 percent of the time). To give a non sex-related example: I do not feel that something like support for charter schools should not be on a checklist of libertarian intellectual purity, just as issues of culture/sexuality shouldn’t be. But who knows? Maybe I’m just repressed.