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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Why the Left Favors Death

reapers

A conservative friend recently pointed me to a video of satirist Evan Sayet detailing his “Unified Field Theory of Modern Liberalism.”

“They [liberals] were raised to believe that indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is discrimination,” says Sayet. “Indiscriminateness of thought leads invariably… to siding with evil over good, wrong over right, evil over good, ugly over beautiful, and so on… if nothing is better than anything else, then success is unjust.”

Though I’m hardly reserved in my own criticism of the modern left, as I watched Sayet’s stump speech I actually groaned out loud. What a bunch of goofy hyperbole, I thought. This is no way to advance the debate.

After reflecting on two recent events, however, I’ve realized that – at least for the most part – Sayet was right and I was wrong.

The first is the case of brain dead woman Marlise Munoz. Jezebel, a website that is a readymade Onion parody of itself, ran an article on Munoz titled “Texas Will Keep a Dead Woman on Life Support Just to Incubate Her Fetus.”

Munoz, “a pregnant woman from Tarrant County, Texas who suffered a pulmonary embolism the week after Thanksgiving has been kept on life support against her and her family’s wishes so she can essentially serve as an incubator for her fetus.”

Of course, the question of what to do with brain dead people is relevant in and of itself. My position on the issue is analogous to my take on criminal justice: just as convicted persons sometimes turn out to be innocent, “brain dead” people sometimes turn out to be alive. I say that, to paraphrase Voltaire, it’s better to keep a dead person on life support than to kill a living one.Brain-Death-Image

When brain death is disputed, however, the same people who gave us progressivism and the estate tax suddenly become austere fiscal conservatives obsessed with honoring the wishes of family members. This discrepancy alone might give one the impression that progressives simply think there’s something super cool about people dying.

The Munoz case, of course, has an additional layer of thanatophilia. Progressives are not only working tirelessly to see that Munoz’s corpse decays in a timely manner, but to kill her still-living fetus. The Munoz case transcends the typical abortion debate because Munoz’s offspring cannot be said to be imposing on an unwilling mother. It has to die simply because its existence is undignified.

The second is the dispute between Lisa Adams, a cancer patient and blogger, and The New York Times’ Bill Keller. In his column “Heroic Measures,” Keller advised Adams to shut up and die. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I will quote him here at length. Brace your stomach.

Among doctors here, there is a growing appreciation of palliative care that favors the quality of the remaining life rather than endless “heroic measures” that may or may not prolong life but assure the final days are clamorous, tense and painful. (And they often leave survivors bankrupt.) What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently…

When my wife, who had her own brush with cancer and who has written about Lisa Adams’s case for The Guardian, introduced me to the cancer blog, my first thought was of my father-in-law’s calm death. Lisa Adams’s choice is in a sense the opposite. Her aim was to buy as much time as possible to watch her three children grow up. So she is all about heroic measures…

Keller, like Jezebel, is not merely saying that one should make peace with death when it is inevitable. In both cases, progressives acknowledge some chance of survival, then advise embracing death as more dignified than fighting for life. This advice is redundant: progressives have made death and dignity synonymous.

It is significant that Keller identifies heroism as the essential target of his criticism. Left-wing philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his eloquently nihilistic “A Free Man’s Worship,” likewise affirmed that “no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.”

I propose that the inverse of heroism – an embrace of emptiness, predictability and sameness – sits at the heart of progressive attacks on life. Below are three reasons why, given a progressive worldview, one might favor extinction over existence.

Suffering is Pointless

DGGFeWUIn 2010, a study in the Journal of Medical Ethics compared the methods of atheist physicians to religious ones. Using a survey of 4,000 doctors, it found that atheist doctors are twice as likely to hasten the deaths of terminally ill patients.

When I point others to this study, I find that many are surprised. “Shouldn’t religious people be less afraid of death than atheists?” they ask. According to a 2009 study, they certainly are.

Yet the source of the terminal illness divide is not hard to identify. To a Christian, life is a divine gift to be embraced. To an atheist, life is – in Bertrand Russell’s words – “but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”

A Christian’s life is part of a cosmic drama – one in which a deathbed chat might have eternal consequences for either the dying or the surviving. To an atheist, there are no eternal consequences: “all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction” in the inevitable heat death of the universe.

Months ago, I idly picked up a stray copy of New York magazine and read its cover story, “The Cancer Racket.” The “racket” in question turned out to be Zaltrap, a cancer drug that extends median overall survival by 42 days. I was shocked and disgusted at the magazine’s dismissal of the drug as a waste of money. Who wouldn’t pay any price for the chance to spend even another week with a loved one?

In the context of the Medical Ethics study, however, I shouldn’t have been surprised. 42 days is nothing compared to the total and inevitable nothingness to which secularism says we are all destined.

Secularism is part and parcel of the modern left – and secular physicians hasten the deaths of their patients out of a demented sense of compassion. They see suffering – even that which might save a patient – as cosmically pointless.

Life is Unsafe

red-tapeIn April 2012, 7-year-old Emily Whitehead was on the brink of death. In April 2013, Emily spoke at an American Association for Cancer Research conference – cancer-free and with a full head of hair.

Emily suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia for more than a year before her parents enrolled her in a gene therapy trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In less than a month, Emily’s cancer was gone.

Emily was the first child in the U.S. to receive this sort of treatment. To be sure, this triumph over cancer is an American success story. Its timing, however, should be a national disgrace: oncologists in China had already been successfully using gene therapy for several years.

Consider the case of Arthur Winiarski, another American cancer patient. Suffering from a tumor “the size of a fist,” Winiarski was given months to live. The businessman was interested in gene therapy and had nothing to lose – but the treatment he needed was inaccessible in the United States. So Winiarski traveled to China, where, at Beijing’s elite Tongren hospital, a Harvard-trained doctor sent his cancer into complete remission.

This was nearly a decade before Emily Whitehead.

Gendicine, the drug that cured Winiarski, has been found to be three times more effective than radiotherapy in a clinical trial of 120 patients. The only recorded side effect was mild fever. Yet, while China’s FDA approved the drug for commercial production years ago, our own FDA still has yet to approve a single gene therapy product.

The Chinese have not left us in the dust because of their technological superiority. They have surpassed us because they are, apparently, less inclined to let life-saving technology language in a regulatory abyss while their own people die.

If Arthur Winiarski had not left the United States, he would be dead. Presumably, in the years between Winiarski’s victory and Whitehead’s, many Americans who could have benefited from drugs like Gendicine did not leave the United States and are consequently dead.

To a sane person, it might seem ironic that the FDA denies experimental treatments to people that they could only help.  But FDA regulations were not written by sane people. They were written by people like Bill Keller.

Like Keller, the progressive authors of regulation are ultimately unconcerned with extending a patient’s life. Theirs is an ideology of control – the only thing that FDA regulations really maintain. Terminal illnesses are par for the course: their success are predictable. Life, and the innumerable possibilities that come with extending it, is risky.

The left is risk-averse. It extolls innovation, but its innovation is really only done alone a linear path prescribed centuries ago. Its is a rigid history, and one is either on the right or the wrong side of it.

This brings me to my third and final point.

Life is Inegalitarian

XSiGHT_Sydney_Pregnancy_3When reading phrasing like that chosen by Jezebel – “serve as an incubator for her fetus,” for example – one comes to a striking realization: something about the fact that women get pregnant really pisses off the left. Its anger then becomes understandable. Here is an ideology that defies all biology by taking as its starting point an expectation of sameness. Yet it must be confronted daily with the gigantic fact of female, but not male, pregnancy. And as if this sheer physiological difference was not maddening enough, one might wonder whether sexes that evolved such different abilities managed to evolve identical brains. They did not. Pregnancy is a ghastly reminder that we are not the same. It is an undignified state for a brain dead woman to be in because it is an undignified state for a woman to be in.

My suggestion is not a radical one. Consider the opinion of leftists known to you on having children early, or on having many children. It is virtually self-evident that it is most progressive never to be pregnant at all, and that if one must be pregnant, then it is a necessary condescension to backwardness, and should be done as little and as late as possible. Pregnancy is contemptible because it is patriarchal – it is the submission of a woman’s other aspirations to service as a mere “incubator for a fetus.”

As it happens, of course, female pregnancy is also the mainspring all mammalian life. Contempt for female pregnancy, then, is a contempt for life and of the whole untamable tumult of our biological existence. Biological death has the final benefit of being the closest thing to uniformity that the human experience offers.

Of course, what a progressive who disdains pregnancy fails to realize is that, in Murray Rothbard’s words, “the concept of life and perfection is incompatible. But so is death and perfection.”

This column was originally published in 2014.

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.

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.

Original Sin and Guns

“You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away?”

That’s the advice that a 911 operator gave a woman who called to report a break-in last year. Having explained that “I don’t have anybody to send out there” (the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office is closed on weekends, of course) the public servant offered the victim this shrewd counsel.

It was, apparently, of little practical use to the woman, who was choked and raped by the intruder ten minutes later.

Girl-at-RangeConsider the operator’s suggestion in the context of the gun debate. Supporters of gun control legislation – about half of the country – wholly predicate their arguments on two assumptions: 1). We can trust the government to provide for our personal safety, and 2).  It’s safer to cooperate with an attacker than to resist them.

Both of these ideas were very much at play in the Josephine County case. In their cultural context, in fact, the 911 operator’s violently naive statements really ought to be unsurprising.

It’s not hard to see where gun control advocates might derive these assumptions. If the first is true, we can expect elected officials to be virtuous. In other words, a decision-making body will tend towards increasingly moral choices as it grows to include more human beings.

If the second is true, criminals are not particularly interested in harming you. Home invaders do not have a human desire to do violence, but purely financial motives brought about by outside circumstance.

imagesThe ultimate foundation of gun control advocacy, then, is the notion that man is good. If this premise is true, in fact, it actually makes the arguments for gun control rather compelling.

But it is not true. In fact, it’s so plainly and calamitously wrong that it must take some intellect to trick oneself into believing it. I’d say, moreover, that no doctrine in human history has been responsible for more evil than the notion that man is good.

Last month, I happened upon Gina Luttrell’s column “Guns Aren’t the Answer to Rape.” Luttrell concludes her piece by cutting right to the core of the gun dispute.

Suggests that people are “naturally” rapists

I will be the first person to admit and to say, that rape, just like any other kind of violence, is not going to be completely eradicated from our society. However, again, if you look at the claim that women should simply be armed in order to prevent their own rape, there is a fundamental assumption in there that rape is natural, can happen at any time, and that we should just prevent against it like we do a cold or natural disasters. You’re basically assuming that people (and, implicitly, men, although of course men are not the only ones who rape) are inherently rapists. And that certainly is a disturbing thought.

Though Luttrell’s analysis of the gun divide is spot-on, it’s unclear how she chose her side. She gives us no reason to think that rape is entirely environmental except that the alternative is disturbing. Conversely, I can point out that dolphins and orangutans are known to commit violent rapes. Likewise, testosterone has been shown to reduce empathy and is found at high levels in rapists.

earthquake-4-sep10-0073Perhaps Luttrell is equating the natural with the good. Admittedly, if I heard the statement “rape is natural” in isolation, I might assume the speaker was offering a moral defense of rape. Yet Luttrell has dealt eloquently with this problem already: disease and earthquakes are natural. And while most of us are now aware of this fact, we have not become apologists for malaria or Krakatoa.

Moreover, we are given the power to save many people from both of these horrors – to “just prevent against it” – by our knowledge of their origin: the natural processes of a flawed world. Medicine and disaster-preparedness would be less successful if we instead pretended that the world is otherwise than it is.

There is little need for liberty if there is no cause for cynicism. John Adams said that he distrusted rulers because he perceived “danger from all men.” We should be glad that Adams had this cynical temperament; otherwise, we might be even less free than we are today.

We should carry arms, then, because a world of perfect safety is not possible – and because we couldn’t trust politicians to create one if it were.

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.