On Atheist Criticisms of Libertarian Christianity

As a libertarian Christian, I believe that a Christian worldview is not only congruent with, but necessitates, libertarian policy positions. I’m at regular odds, then, with people who charge that Christianity is incongruous or incompatible with political liberty.

Conservative Christians, who I find to be widely and increasingly amenable to my arguments, are less and less among this group. Rather, it now seems to be made up largely of Christian socialists and libertarian anti-Christians. I’ll here discuss the arguments I most regularly hear from the latter.

Involving Religion in Politics

bibleflagWhen writing about the relationship between libertarianism and Christianity, I sometimes encounter a vague demand that I “just keep religion out of politics.” Yet this objection is incoherent.

My religious views include an account of the human condition that, if true, should be the foundation of my policy positions. On the other hand, if “keep religion out of politics” is really only an insistence that my religious views are not true, then it should be presented as such.

Granted, what most people mean by “keep religion out of politics” is simply “don’t force your religious values on me.” Yet this cannot be the meaning of a libertarian atheist who knowingly makes the demand of a libertarian Christian. In this case, the demand either asserts merely that Christianity is false, or it is senseless gibberish.

A better strategy for the libertarian atheist would be to concern oneself, first and foremost, with whether a religious person’s beliefs will expand or reduce the scope of government. My Christian belief in humanity’s fallenness and propensity to sin, for instance, disinclines me to entrust government agents with all-seeing omniscience. I would be more open to the prospect of sweeping data collection if I did not subscribe to Christian principles. If one’s goal is to limit government power, then it should be at least a relative good if I consult my religious text when picking up a legal pen.snake

In fact, this is true even if you don’t agree that Christianity predisposes its adherents to libertarianism. Even someone who thinks little of Christians should recognize that we will act with some measure of rational self-interest in the political arena. Note, then, that government power over social issues is increasingly being used against Christian values rather than for them. It will therefore be more and more in the interests of believers to limit government power, even putting other factors aside.

Suppose libertarian atheists could choose to live in only one of two societies: the first entirely secular but cripplingly authoritarian, and the second politically free but religiously mixed. Which would libertarian atheists prefer? If the latter, then working with libertarian Christians in order to promote liberty should be an easy choice.

The Doctrine of Hell

A common complaint of libertarian anti-Christians is that it is authoritarian to teach the Christian doctrine of hell. When Christians warn others about hell, after all, they are telling people that they will suffer unless they take a specific action. This warning, the argument goes, amounts to a kind of coercive threat.

If this is the case, however, it must likewise be authoritarian to warn someone that he’s about to be hit by a truck. If you call out to a man who is standing in front of a truck, then you are no less coercive than the Christian who warns others about hell. You are warning him that a horrible fate awaits him unless he take a specific action. We all understand, however, that “Look out!” is not coercive; the shouter is giving vital information to the person about to be hit.

lewisSome libertarian anti-Christians retort that, if there existed a God who allowed nonbelievers to go to hell, they would have a moral duty to oppose Him. Yet what is the source of this moral duty? If the morally good decision is the one which maximizes one’s happiness, as I believe it is, then some sort of divine command theory is true – as God has structured our reality and arbitrated the conditions that will lead to our happiness or unhappiness. If the atheist asserts that an invisible platonic “form” is the source of his moral duties, then it is actually this form that is demanding his suffering – all the while offering no reward in return.

An atheist might contend that my truck metaphor is invalid because it does not depict me as wishing the man to be hit by the truck. Yet neither do Christians want others to go to hell. If believers did not wish others to be saved, then they would keep quiet about eternity and anti-Christians would have no alleged threat to point to in the first place. This is a fact recognized by atheist Penn Jillette.

Granted, while I do not endorse your standing in front of the truck, I certainly do endorse the free will that allows you to do so. I also endorse the things that allow the truck to hit you, like the human ability to innovate and the physical possibility of speed. I endorse the existence of cliffs, of tools, and of many other things you might freely use to harm yourself. I would certainly not end free will or make the whole universe a padded cell in order to abolish the reality of conditional consequence – and I thank God for not having done so.

“Free will,” said C.S. Lewis, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

Lack of Free Will

steamIn an effort to exclude theists entirely, some more determined libertarian atheists will attempt to redefine libertarianism as an essentially metaphysical, rather than political, concept. “Libertarianism means that nothing – not just the government, but nothing – holds power over me,” the assertion goes. “Therefore theism is opposed to libertarianism.” I don’t accept this definition of libertarianism, but let us do so for the sake of argument.

If naturalism is true – as atheists typically hold – then everything you do and think is predetermined by an inevitable chain of material causation. Your body is a machine and your consciousness, to borrow a metaphor from Thomas Huxley, is a wisp of vapor. You are an effect but never a cause – a ghostly observer that has power over nothing and is wholly under the power of everything.

In contrast, the fact that I freely choose appears to me to be a properly basic belief, requiring no supporting argument. If proper basicality justifies my belief that the external world exists, my belief in free will is likewise justified. This seems to me to be a good argument – though there are others – for affirming the transcendence and causal power of the human mind. Someone who agrees with this argument should find naturalism false, and theism at least more probably true.

Given the definition of libertarianism that some libertarian atheists propose, theists can be libertarians while naturalist atheists cannot. Moreover, while there are some atheists who are not naturalists, they are few and far between – and hardly respected by their compatriots.

A History of Oppression

carolusIt’s difficult to deny that Christians have historically made a disproportionately large contribution to the sciences. Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Marconi, Lemaître and Collins come to mind. Point this out to most atheists, however, and their reaction is a predictable one: Christendom doesn’t deserve any particular credit for its scientists because it is old.

Ask militant atheists about the history of war, however, and this reasoning is suddenly inverted. It seems that the old age of Christianity is no reason not to credit it with the hostilities perpetrated by some professing Christians. It’s a striking paradox that Christianity – and religion in general – is given no credit for its great minds but full credit for its bad ones.

Yet religion – and especially Christianity – has not been the disproportionately oppressive force depicted in online atheist caricatures. As Matt Rogers has pointed out, about 7% of the wars in recorded history have involved a religious cause. These wars account for about 2% of people killed by warfare.

Conversely, the twentieth century was the bloodiest hundred years in human history – whether measured in sheer killings or in killings as a share of the world’s population. From 1900 to 1987, nearly two thirds of those killed by governments died at the hands of Marxists.jacobins

The thousands of murders committed at Verden, and later by the Inquisition, are without a doubt terrible blots on Christianity’s history. Yet it took Christendom centuries of power to muster up each atrocity. In contrast, practically the moment that the atheist Cult of Reason prevailed in France, thousands of Christians were sadistically drowned as part of Jacobin de-Christianization. In G.K. Chesterton’s words, “Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.”

The actions of atheist governments, of course, do not mean that no atheist can be a libertarian. I hope that I’ve here helped to equip Christians and to sway atheists precisely because I wish for libertarians on both sides to work together. Collaboration is the best way to ensure that neither of us is ever again oppressed by the other.

This column was originally published in 2014.

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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.

What’s In A Name?

The terms anarcho-capitalist and anarchist are quite common to libertarians. We hear the terms and think of such figures as Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard. Yet to the general populace, these words represent something very different. The terms harken back to history classes where students learned about the self-proclaimed Anarchists who threw bombs, engaged in violence, and had a much-different view towards the free market.  In a lighter sense, the majority grew to accept that to be an anarchist is to experience youthful phases of rebellion against society and “the man”. This is drastically different from the libertarian view, where an individual who identifies as an anarchist or an ancap is one who believes in a completely voluntary society with  no government coercion.

While I don’t claim either one of those titles, this is certainly a case in which libertarians need to play a better semantics game as it relates to outreach to the general public. The second that one identifies themselves politically as an anarchist or an ancap in a conversation with a non-political acquaintance, one of two things will happen: either the subject will be changed or a deluge of confused questions will be asked; in my experience, the former tends to happen more often. Anarchism has such violent connotations; do we really want ourselves associated with that, even if we attach the term capitalism?

There are much better terms to use to describe the belief in a free society or laissez-faire economics. Relying instead on the political label of voluntaryist may require some explanation, but doesn’t create preconceived notions. Explaining first and foremost that you are an advocate of a free-market economy (a real one without impediments created by the Federal leviathan) is also another solution to the semantics problem that we find ourselves facing.

The general public finds itself more cynical of the status quo every day and is looking for another answer out there. Terms need to evoke a certain kind of hope, and that can only be accomplished by using self-descriptions that haven’t already been manipulated to represent a negative, or dangerous, point of view. I’d argue that even capitalism is a bad term. It was first defined by Marx in Das Kapital and has always had a negative connotation: one that evokes the image of the fat executive smoking a cigar while stomping on the poor. Furthermore, the Left claims that the bailouts and Keynesian economics “saved capitalism”, an exemplar of oxymoronical statements. If the bailouts and Keynesian economics saved capitalism, I wonder what their notions of real central planning are.

It’s not hard to be savvy about your terminology if you know who you are talking to. Efforts must be made in every way possible to win the hearts and minds of the public, especially in terms of viability of libertarian candidates. When I run for office, I don’t want people to be associating me with Gavrilo Princip just because someone mentioned to them that they were a libertarian who had anarchist leanings. Likewise I assume that libertarians in business or the non-profit sector of the economy would rather not have their productivity associated with destruction and violence.

Make a conscious effort to use new terms, or only use self-descriptors such as “anarchist” or “anarcho-capitalist” amongst other libertarians, where they will be understood for what they mean. It will make a world of difference in the long run, and could contribute to living in a much more free society one day.

Pro-Life Libertarianism

On the topic of abortion, the libertarian movement is strongly divided in two camps: those who support abortion and those who oppose abortion. Within the pro-abortion libertarian communities, the unborn child has been given the labels of “parasite” and “trespasser.” Let it be known that libertarians have always spoken their mind. From a rational standpoint, it is impossible for an unborn child to be either a parasite or a trespasser. By definition, a parasite is never the same species as its host. As much as the pro-abortion advocates would love to claim that an unborn child is something alien, an unborn child and its mother are both undeniably human. An unborn child also does not feed off its mother in a manner intended to harm her; after all, child-rearing is the most natural thing a woman can do. An unborn child is not a trespasser, either, as the child is not in the woman’s womb out of his own volition. The unborn baby did not decide to transplant himself into the uterus of his mother with the intent to squat her property rights. There was no conscious choice made by the unborn child to be placed in the mother’s body; however, it is most likely the conscious choice of the woman to engage in sexual relations with the consequence of becoming pregnant. If case law is to be applied (as pro-abortion advocates support when they rattle on about Roe v. Wade), even if the “trespasser” idea was valid, the Ploof vs. Putnam decision states that an individual can seek refuge in someone else’s property if his life is in danger. Clearly, the instance of an unborn child needing the sustenance of a mother to survive is a case about preserving the sanctity of human life.

Definitions aside, the biggest problem with calling an unborn child a “trespasser”—or, worse—a “parasite” is that it dehumanizes another human being. Yes, an unborn child is a genetically distinct human being.  No matter how many times people scream or whine, an unborn child is a unique human being. It is impossible to deny that.

ababydoesnotsimply

The language that is used by pro-abortion advocates is intended to devalue human life. Using demeaning terms like “parasite”, “trespasser”, “just a clump of cells” (which all of humanity really is), etc. are supposed to trivialize human life to make it easier to kill. In every single instance of genocide or slavery, the group being targeted is referred to as subhuman. “It’s okay to kill Jews, they’re not humans like the rest of us.” “It’s okay to enslave blacks, they’re not humans like the rest of us.” Today, it has become politically correct to all but explicitly say, “It’s okay to kill unborn babies, they’re not humans like the rest of us.”  Of course, you will find the individuals who will, in fact, go that far.

The word genocide refers to the deliberate systematic destruction of a group of people. Using that definition, abortion is flagrantly genocide. The group being targeted is the unborn. The mechanism enacting the deliberate, systematic destruction of the unborn is the abortion industry. This particular genocide has led to the deaths of more than 50,000,000 babies since Roe v. Wade in America alone.wedonotwant

Once an individual stops thinking of other individuals in terms of their humanity, it is easier to systematically exterminate them. The government, through tax-payer funded avenues such as Planned Parenthood, using phrases such as “reproductive choice’, have made it easier for people to have no guilt about viciously puncturing the head of an unborn human being, and vacuuming out its brains, in the name of “women’s rights.”

The unborn child has become subhuman in popular culture. Once it is understood that an unborn child is another human being who is entitled to the fundamental right to life, however, the libertarian case for abortion falls apart.

Libertarians believe in the doctrine of self-ownership. Man’s body is his property to do as he pleases. The pro-abortion libertarians extend this idea to abortion, claiming that an unborn child is part of a woman’s body and therefore, the woman can do what she wishes to that property. However, this point seems to miss the fact that an unborn child is also a human being. An unborn child is not anyone’s else’s property. The principle of self-ownership, applied completely, would mean that only the unborn child has unilateral bodily autonomy over himself. The unborn baby, therefore, is not anyone else’s property, and no one else can make the decision to terminate the baby’s existence except himself.  For people who talk about the importance of consent, a baby cannot consent to its own termination; therefore, to allow abortion means to allow for another person to make the decision of life or death for someone else—without his consent. It’s hard to believe that anyone would choose not to be given the right to life, no matter how horrible the hypothetical situations are (and people will come up with the most absurd hypotheticals of a cruel world to try to justify the murder of the unborn.) As Ronald Reagan eloquently put it, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”

yourbody

Libertarians also extol the virtues of the non-aggression principle. According to the non-aggression principle, violence against another human being is morally unjust. Therefore, abortion is a clear violation of the axiom. Abortion is the deliberate killing of another human being, most often out of convenience. No one would argue that murder of an innocent person is justified under the non-aggression principle; therefore, when taking into considering that an unborn child is another human being, it makes no sense for abortion to be accepted by those who espouse non-aggression.

Pro-abortion libertarians often talk about abortion as being related to “the right to choose.” That phrase is a misnomer: the unborn child has no choice. The unborn child must submit to the will of the mother. If a mother chooses to have her child, then the child is afforded the right to life. If a mother chooses to have an abortion, the unborn child will be killed at the hand of its mother. The unborn child is never afforded the ability to choose in this situation. The mother’s choice to murder her child is elevated as more important than the right of her unborn child to make any choices about his own life. As well, the mother’s ability to choose to kill her child is seen as more significant to the father’s property rights over his own child. If pro-abortion libertarians argue that a child is property that can be disposed of at will, then the father, being half of the property owner, should also be able to have an opinion about the termination of a pregnancy. However, time and time again, abortion advocates will state that only the opinion of women matter.

dearrepublicansOn the topic of the female body,with  the recent passage of a Texas abortion bill, pro-abortion libertarians have been crying about a supposed assault on freedom. According to pro-abortion libertarians of the feminist variety, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks is an unprecedented attack on women. What the pro-abortion libertarians forget, however, is that women are increasingly the targets of abortion. The House of Representatives was not even capable of passing a ban on sex-selective abortions in America—which, as you could have guessed—are geared to specifically target baby girls. Certainly, if there is a supposed “war against women”, a war against genocide based on gender would be a lofty aspiration; however, the libertarian feminists feel as if it is more important to protect a woman’s right to “choose” to kill her unborn child than the right of another woman to be able to live. It is more of an attack on women, clearly, to deny them the right to murder their daughters than to stop the murder of female children all together. As well, as much as the feminists would like to argue, abortion is not a procedure that is entirely without consequences (though, libertarians are supposed to support the idea of consequences for their actions). The significant rates of suicide, depression, and general mental illness after an abortion is performed are alarming. Abortion wrecks havoc on a woman’s mental health. If any regulations on abortion threaten women everywhere, then why do most women support the Texas idea of a ban on abortion after twenty weeks?

The subset of scientific libertarians who consider themselves lovers of technological advancement driven by capitalism have a particularly hard case to argue. While supporting abortion, they often forget about scientific advancements in pushing back viability. I, personally, was born substantially premature. The same day I was born, abortion was still a legal option. The only reason why I am alive today is due to an experimental drug that I received (and a lot of prayer). The technology clearly exists to allow for children to thrive without their mothers at times that were not previously thought possible; however, libertarians who advocate for abortion at any and all points of a pregnancy deny that scientific advancement should play a role in determining whether an individual should be given a chance to live.

Constitution-loving libertarians who consider themselves strong proponents of the Fifth Amendment also have to engage in logical leaps when they simultaneously defend abortion. The Fifth Amendment clearly states that no individual can be deprived of life without trial. With abortion, there is no trial. The mother is the prosecution, the judge, and the executioner. The unborn child is deemed guilty of a crime so heinous that his life is taken from him without having ever committed an offense other than wanting to live. Abortion, therefore, is also inherently unconstitutional.

Of course, Roe v. Wade will be pointed to as the basis of legality and Constitutionality of abortion. However, Roe v. Wade is an atrocious case for anyone who respects the rule of law. The Constitution clearly states that only Congress and the respective states can create laws; however, in the Roe v. Wade ruling, the Supreme Court acted as Congress and state legislatures when it created the “right” to an abortion and the trimester framework. The advocates for abortion, when they rely on Roe v. Wade, believe that the Supreme Court can grant someone their rights—which is even more fallacious than the belief that an individual obtains rights from Congress. Libertarians generally despise the notion that the government grants people their rights; however, they have no problem with believing the government can take away an individual’s God-granted natural right to life by creating the artificial “right” to an abortion.

Putting the human element back in to the termination of a human life, it becomes impossible for a logically consistent libertarian to support abortion from any of the commonly quoted perspectives. Perhaps the most egregious offense libertarians support when they support abortion is that abortion is state-sanctioned genocide. The abortion industry in America is run on tax-payer dollars. It is ironic that individuals are paying taxes to the government, which in turn makes sure that other individuals can never pay taxes to the government. Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers receive your money in order to fund their killing of millions of babies every single year. As well, they receive your money to keep propagating the idea that not all human life is of equal value. For egalitarian libertarians, this should certainly strike a chord. The state is also the entity that created the idea that individuals have a “right” to an abortion. For libertarians, it should be clear that you do not have the right to anyone else’s property, especially not anyone else’s life.

Liberty at War

rand1.1.13Last week, military lawyer David French wrote that “I’m noticing military libertarianism increasing, not decreasing, among the more politically aware and engaged officers and enlisted.” French’s column affirms a hunch I’ve had for some time: that libertarianism is a military ideology.

I don’t mean that libertarianism is militaristic, in the sense that it subordinates society’s other concerns to those of the military. I mean it’s a military ideology in the sense that Mithraism was a military religion; it’s a system of thought well-suited to people in the military.

I’ll illustrate my point. Suppose the United States was attacked, or faced the credible and immanent threat of an attack, during a Rand Paul presidency. How might President Paul respond?

Firstly, I think we can expect that Paul would use the U.S. military to thoroughly destroy both the enemy’s offensive capabilities – as a matter of simple practicality – and the enemy – as a matter of long-term deterrence.

Paul has said that, when we must fight, “we fight to win.” Antiwar’s Steve Breyman – who I presume is some sort of pacifist – has called this statement “code for the application of massive, unrestrained levels of violence.” If by this Breyman means destroying all those responsible for and complicit in an attack or near-attack on Americans, even at the inevitable cost of civilian casualties, I essentially agree.

Secondly, Paul would begin withdrawing U.S. forces as soon as these tasks had been accomplished to a reasonable degree. Libertarians recognize that soldiers are not police; it is both unnecessary and counterproductive to, for any prolonged period, put soldiers in the role of alien interlopers patrolling streets that are not their own.

The late CBS journalist George Cirle III, who wrote the book that inspired Charlie Wilson’s War, once said that America helped grow Al Qaeda by “washing its hands” of Afghanistan in 1993. In other words, by not doing enough nation-building in the Middle East.

Cirle, apparently, never looked at any Al Qaeda propaganda. That American forces did not stick around long enough to install plumbing in Afghanistan has never been one of its primary talking points.

Appropriately, Paul recognizes that it is neither feasible, nor the job of American soldiers, to forge new republics by affixing American-style governments to cultures vastly different from our own. In Paul’s own words:

Instead of large, limitless land wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy; strike with lethal force.

We would not presume that we build nations nor would we presume that we have the resources to build nations.  Many of the countries formed after WWI are collections of tribal regions that have never been governed by a central government and may, in fact, be ungovernable.

In other words, Paul’s foreign policy would permit soldiers, when necessary, to wage war. It would not consign them to the futile chores of policing streets and installing plumbing, with which they’ve been burdened by liberal internationalism. It’s not that there should be no role for constructive, rather than destructive, personnel in a military – there should. But they should be in the National Guard. French agrees:

That’s why I wonder if a libertarian military might be more lethal, even on smaller budgets. A trimmed-down bureaucracy, an increased emphasis on the destructive rather than nation-building capabilities of the force under arms, and doctrines designed to inflict maximum (non-nuclear) destruction on enemy forces rather than transforming and democratizing communities — all of this could add up to a more lethal (yet smaller) military.

After 9/11, the U.S. military experienced a spike in recruitment. Barring a staggering coincidence, I don’t imagine that many of these recruits expected to be sent to Italy or the United Kingdom, which each host 10,000 U.S. troops. Nor do I suspect they wished to go Germany or Japan, each home to contingents of 45,000 American soldiers. As the U.S. continues to plummet into debt, these latter countries are becoming economic powerhouses at our expense.

Defense analyst Adam B. Lowther has written a fascinating paper for the National Defense University titled “The Post-9/11 American Serviceman.” On the worldview of servicemen, Lowther writes “Believing that man is a fallen creature and wicked by nature, the military is suspicious of grand proposals for creating world peace.” That’s a “very strong libertarian streak” if there ever was one.

French is right to say that a libertarian military would be more formidable: libertarians would let the military do its job.

Libertarian Tech

gps1Oftentimes, technology is discussed solely in such a light that it will only lead to an inhibition of freedom, as LWA contributor Spencer Smith pointed out in regards to drones.

This past weekend while traveling to Northern Illinois to assist the McHenry County Young Republicans in their July 4th activism, I realized one of the benefits of technology in regards to one of the most vital forms of human freedom: mobility between geographical and governmental boundaries.

When I would put in my destination, my GPS would notify me: “This route has toll roads. Do you want to avoid them?” Anyone would say yes, but my reasoning was to deny a state that has been fiscally irresponsible more revenue; the dream of any libertarian.

My GPS not only helped me avoid such wastes of time and money, but also stimulated local businesses, an exemplar of spontaneous order if there ever was one. When I was in need of gas or a bite to eat, my GPS would alert me to where the closest gas station or restaurant was. The utility of such technology cannot be understated, even though the government can use such technology for nefarious purposes. In the past, I took drives merely with paper directions; that was not the easiest thing to do and resulted in many obscenities being uttered. Tom Tom is a company that is commended every day by such consumers like me who continue to buy their products and use them.

Consumers gain quite a lot more than government can as a result of the fact that they are rational actors using such technology to produce wealth, as opposed to stifle wealth or violate the rights of others. Consumers also don’t use the technology in such a way that it is overwhelming; in other words, they only gather enough information to use for their needs. I need to go one place, not gather the details on where millions of people are going.

Consumers, beyond using such technology to challenge, and stymie, revenue collection and stimulate private business, can also use such technology to do what I did: counter government intervention with activism. In that I wasn’t a local, I didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the environs I was working in there, just like when I was doing my work with AFP in my home state. Yet, the technology assisted me in getting where I needed to be and thus I was rendered more effective.

GPS units are not merely computer chips and plastic, they represent a certain kind of freedom as well due to the ease of travel when utilizing them. They are decidedly libertarian in nature for the reasons I’ve pointed out and a result of the prosperity the United States still has, in spite of the central planning that has become more characteristic of the economy.

What Conservatism Offers Liberty

“The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny.”
Michael Oakeshott

Fictional libertarian Ron Swanson has become a TV icon.

The fictional Swanson has become a TV icon.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture by political scientist Donald J. Devine. Though the talk was my introduction to Devine’s work, the “Rasputin of reduction” has quickly become one of my personal heroes.

As Reagan’s civil service director, Devine was the original Ron Swanson: a stalwart libertarian placed at the head of a bloated bureaucracy. During his tenure as director, Devine slashed his office’s spending by 58% and fired one hundred thousand public employees. Taking an axe to government earned Devine several colorful monikers, including “Reagan’s terrible swift sword.”

In light of Devine’s actions, it’s a wonder why any libertarians say that Reagan’s administration was no better than Obama’s. Under the latter, IRS agents have spent some tens of thousands of dollars building a mockup starship Enterprise, violated government rules by booking top-dollar presidential suites, and hired costly speakers to lecture on subjects like “leadership through art.” This is precisely the sort of frivolity that Reagan’s sword would have razed.

Moreover, Devine’s latest book, “America’s Way Back,” has earned some revealing praise from Rand Paul. The senator has said that “Devine spells out the solution for the modern GOP – a fusion of the best of conservative ideas with those of the liberty movement.”

Rand Paul has been called “the effective leader of the Republican Party” by a prominent Democratic strategist.

Rand Paul has been called “the effective leader of the Republican Party” by a prominent Democratic strategist.

It’s not a coincidence that Senator Paul both identifies with Devine and has been recognized as “the effective leader of the Republican Party.” It’s thinking like Devine’s that enabled liberty-minded Republicans to surf into the House and Senate in a Tea Party tsunami in 2010. Conversely, the liberty movement’s alternative strategy – described as the “cosmotarian” approach by Justin Raimondo – has won no equivalent victories.

The futile overtures of the cosmotarians often involve abandoning libertarian positions in favor of leftist ones. Months ago, for instance, the chairman of the Cato Institute went so far as to offer a “libertarian case” for reintroducing an already defeated piece of gun control legislation.

Yet the strategy espoused by Dr. Devine and championed by Senator Paul requires nothing of the kind.* On the contrary, a brief survey of conservative thought reveals that it ultimately serves to strengthen and underpin the positions that libertarians already hold.

Cynicism

It’s no secret that the left perceives its every political victory as part of mankind’s linear and inexorable march into the light. Nor is it any mystery why. The left must disdain the past because most every serious thinker in human history to date would, today, be called a conservative.

In the words of Jonah Goldberg, “modern conservatism was born as a reaction to various utopian ideologies” that emerged in the 18th century. In the grand sweep of history, leftism is a particularly nasty rash that, only last week, cropped up on the body of human thought.

Russell Kirk wrote “To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things.”

Russell Kirk wrote “To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things.”

Thomas Sowell has suggested that the left originated when Rousseau first denied “the plain fact of evil.” That is, Rousseau advanced the biologically absurd position that humans have no innate behavioral traits: all of our differences and failings are the result of outside circumstance. From Rousseau’s premise, France’s Jacobin government inferred – quite reasonably – that it could perfect humanity by amassing enough sheer power to properly manipulate social conditions.

Yet, as Murray Rothbard would later note, this premise ignored the “ontological structure of reality.” The resulting Reign of Terror killed tens of thousands of people.

By denying the very “structure of reality,” leftism provides a bottomless justification for government violence. If everyone is the same by default, then any inequality is proof that someone has committed fraud or theft. To a leftist, government force is not initiatory violence, but the defensive appropriation of stolen property. Thus, “scratch an egalitarian, and you will inevitably find a statist.”

A leftist never quite runs out of people to kill.

A leftist never quite runs out of people to kill.

In the 20th century, this statism was borne out in full as communism blossomed across Europe and Asia. According to University of Hawaii professor R.J. Rummel, communists murdered nearly two thirds of all those killed by governments from 1900 to 1987.

This makes leftism the bloodiest and most authoritarian doctrine in the history of mankind. In the words of Russell Kirk, “the ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.”

The conservative, by contrast, recognizes that humanity is fallen. Because people have intrinsic limitations, Kirk wrote, “all that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk.” Pretending otherwise causes even more problems than we had to begin with.

The Parable of the Trees warns against political power.

The Parable of the Trees warns against political power.

If mankind is perfectible, the war on drugs has not gone far enough until there are no drug addicts. The war on prostitution has not gone far enough until no women choose to be prostitutes. “Humanitarian wars” have not been waged enough until there are no more Joseph Konys.

In other words, a state that abandons the principle of imperfectability will continue to grow either until it is stopped or no humans are left alive on Earth. To borrow from C.S. Lewis – who said that “it may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies” – the very worst right-wingers are robber barons.

While Friedrich Hayek had rhetorical problems with the term “conservative,” he called himself a “Burkean” – i.e. a conservative – and shared Burke’s objections to egalitarianism. Hayek wrote:

From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time.

Moreover, even if some sort of perfection were attainable, a conservative would not trust government to implement it. While a leftist may expect moral people to spring forth from democratic institutions, a conservative sees that politicians are as limited as the rest of us.

Kirk wrote that “knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence.” Likewise, the biblical Parable of the Trees (Judges 9:8-15) warns against offering human beings power – arguing that the most evil humans will be most attracted to it. By contrast, the righteous leader Gideon rejects government in Judges 8:22-23, saying “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.”

Cicero said “freedom is a man’s natural power of doing what he pleases, so far as he is not prevented by force or law.”

Cicero said “freedom is a man’s natural power of doing what he pleases, so far as he is not prevented by force or law.”

Continuity

Kirk’s conservative principles also included the sense that “modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.” He wrote that conservatives adhere to “a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.”

This principle is certainly helpful to political decentralism, which has deep and ancient roots. Humans lived in tribes of roughly 200 people for the overwhelming majority of a timeline on which centralized states are a mere blip. Conservatism counsels us to stand “on the shoulders of giants” rather than pretend that we can create a wholly artificial pattern from scratch.

A human thinks in terms of his immediate community and is not wired to conceptualize strangers in other regions as if they, somehow, were members of it. There is little reason, then, to place disparate communities under the uniform rule of an overarching government. Kirk agrees: “In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.”

Iceland had a libertarian legal system for almost 300 years.

Iceland had a libertarian legal system for almost 300 years.

Likewise, Yale historian Donald Kagan has said of ancient Greek polities that “the idea of taxation being normal would have gotten a Greek foaming at the mouth. When there’s no tyranny, there’s no taxation.” University of London historian Tom Asbridge has said that, during the Carolingian renaissance, Europeans were allowed “to follow quite different sets of laws depending on their local region, their traditions. And to have a loose umbrella of power that held it all together. That actually worked.” In Iceland, the nation was formally divided into a market of several dozen chieftaincies for nearly 300 years.

As Roderick Long has said of this final example, “We should be cautious in labeling as a failure a political experiment that flourished longer than the United States has even existed.”

Community

One of Australia’s top Aboriginal leaders is also its fiercest conservative thinker.

One of Australia’s top Aboriginal leaders is also its fiercest conservative thinker.

Look back to the Jacobins, and it’s not difficult to see today’s tolerant left foreshadowed. Under Jacobin rule, religious people were seen as backwards “fanatics” and drowned en masse. The government replaced the Christian calendar with a secular one, removed the word “saint” from street names, and adopted a 10-day week so that Christians would not know which day was Sunday.

Likewise, it became a capital crime to use the words “monsieur” and “madame” – which the Jacobins replaced with the gender-neutral and egalitarian “citoyen.” Even the guillotine itself was designed to be egalitarian.**

Inspired by the Jacobins, Karl Marx would later seek to bring about “the disappearance of all culture” and promote the “abolition of the family”, a unit that “will vanish as a matter of course when its complement [capitalism] vanishes.”

In response to leftist calls for human sameness, conservatives like Edmund Burke began to argue that plurality, in and of itself, is desirable.

Localizing government not only increases accountability, but promotes differences between communities that – like those between cultures, the sexes and individuals – are complimentary and competitive.

In his essay “The Relevance of Conservatism,” Noel Pearson argues that conservatism offers the best way forward for his people – Australian Aborigines – and the continued existence of their unique culture. Writes Pearson:

Conservatism is the insight into the imperfection and mystery of human nature. This imperfection and mystery will ultimately make liberal and social-democratic structures inadequate and unfulfilling.

Conservatism is the idea that distinct groups of people should continue to exist because deep difference (not just multicultural diversity) is an end in itself. We don’t know what the purpose of existence is, if any. The homogenization inherent in liberalism and social democracy is risky because it robs us of many possibly attempts to answer the unsolvable existential enigmas.


* FAQ on this point: See here for immigration and here for foreign policy and social issues.

** This was poetically fitting. As the Reign of Terror illustrated, there is death in equality as surely as there is equality in death.

The Left-Libertarian Pot of Gold

For the past three years, an ardent faction of libertarian Democrats has wreaked havoc on the D.C. establishment.

By grounding their libertarianism in progressive principles, these “Wacko Birds” have successfully shifted the Democratic mainstream towards liberty.

Their rebellion even seems to have influenced Joe Biden, who recently lamented that “our government spied on every one of your phone calls” and decried the notion that we should be “taking on more new interventions” in places like Syria.

Sorry: there is no pot of libertarians at the end of the liberal rainbow.

Sorry: there is no pot of libertarians at the end of the liberal rainbow.

This is, needless to say, mind-bogglingly wrong. This story is not only false, but the mirror opposite of what is actually occurring.

Some elements of the liberty movement, however, continue to regard the reversal I’ve just presented as more attainable than the actual trend unfolding in front of our faces. This vision is the sort of surreal inversion that can only be produced in the comfort of an internet echo-chamber.

In reality, it takes minutes to convince most conservatives that we should not raise taxes to protect drug users from their private mistakes. Convincing most liberals to let you own an automatic weapon, on the other hand, is a fool’s errand. The disparity is so obvious that I suspect people who don’t recognize it are not really having these conversations in their daily lives.

If the thought of “Wacko Birds” taking flight in today’s Democratic party strikes you as less than ludicrous, it’s time to take a break from blogging and start having more face-to-face conversations about libertarianism.

Unlike Bush, Obama’s approval rating has weathered scandal after scandal.

Unlike Bush, Obama’s approval rating has weathered scandal after scandal.

George Bush spent less on the military and spied on fewer Americans than President Obama. Yet, during Bush’s second term, Republicans responded to his big government policies with mass disillusionment – leaving him with an approval rating of 22% and making him the most unpopular president on record. Conversely, amidst an almost cinematic barrage of ridiculous scandals, the left continues to cling feverishly to the pillars of power.

Glenn Greenwald recently called the fact that liberals have stuck with Obama “a testament to their intellectual dexterity.” At the heart of this dexterity is an ideological addiction to force. Leftism casts aggression as defense: that’s why it has been the predominant ideology of authoritarian despots for a hundred years.

Libertarians, nonetheless, have been making overtures to the left since the early 90s. Curiously, this approach often seems to involve stabbing other libertarians in the back. In 1994, the San Francisco Libertarian Party criticized Justin Raimondo for campaigning against welfare. During Ron Paul’s first GOP presidential run, the Cato Institute eagerly disparaged him on the grounds that he appealed to flyover state retrogrades. More recently, of course, Cato came out in favor of gun background checks – compromising the one liberty upon which all others are ultimately dependent.

Where, I ask, are the fruits of this strategy? It has not produced a Rand Paul or a Mike Lee in the Senate, nor a Thomas Massie or a Justin Amash in the House.  Ron Wyden – the only Democrat to aid Rand Paul’s filibuster (albeit in a very brief and noncommittal way) – will never be called “the effective leader of the [Democratic] party.” The liberty movement’s recent victories have been won not because of the leftist strategy, but in spite of it.

There are, of course, potential libertarians to be found everywhere. But if the liberty movement wishes to become a viable political force, we must embrace a strategy that yields real results in the generality – even if it doesn’t necessarily mirror our own individual experiences as post-9/11 teenagers.

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.