Against The Libertarian

Neither of our political parties is capable of remedying our ills because their separate ideologies are in reality the same.  Both the left and the right embrace the conception of the individual liberated from the relational demands placed upon him by the community.  We find this libertarian conception of man pervasive among enlightenment-age philosophers, most notably John Locke.  For Locke the only cause for man’s participation in society is self-interest, which is only abridged by contracts.  To many ears, this terminology will not sound so offensive.  But what happens when this vocabulary of contracts is applied to relationships? To friendships and marriages, even?  Nothing can be expected of citizens with the exception that they not bother other citizens.  Communities and their governing bodies rule in a merely negative manner, that of arbitrating disputes.  The local authorities find themselves keeping people apart rather than encouraging them to come together.

While Locke outwardly argued for a “limited” government, his philosophy necessarily creates an authoritarian state.  As communities, families and every social bond deteriorates the governing apparatus must grow in order to compensate for the naturally increasing number of disputes that arise between those now disparate individuals and communities.  What’s more, as the social webs that had previously supported hard-pressed people deteriorate, the government must evolve into the welfare state. This growth allows it to support the massive amount of economically impoverished citizens who hitherto found financial and social relief from neighbors, friends, families and churches.

The libertarian philosophy destroys these fixed institutions and social relations and brings about what it seemingly hates the most, the authoritarian state.  We are experiencing this process first hand.  And while Tea Party activists and Republicans may shout and rage against the growing welfare state they have not been capable of rolling it back one inch.  All the political enthusiasm in the world cannot fix this trend; only probity and a new emerging political will may stand.  A will that must focus on the reestablishment of community through honestly evaluating what makes communities cohesive, productive and and free from the abusive reach of a distant federal government.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    michael said,

    Why all the attacks on freedom lately? Perhaps the animosity to choice you’ve developed stems from your vocation (it is overwhelming collectivist, but I’ve always assumed that to be a selection bias, rather than a causal connection).

    I must say though, Cole, this attack is the strangest yet. You start off with two false premises. The first (Republicans v. Democrats) I’ll ignore, but the second is inexcusable. Neither the American left nor right view the individual as liberated from the demands of the community. Rather, both view the individual as subordinate to the state. The American right believes the state should dictate values and morals to citizens and trample as many rights as necessary to maintain order. The left believes the state should control everything else. Calling either party “libertarian” is an outrageous mistake for anyone who has heard the term before. You can argue that subjugation to the state is preferable to freedom, but starting out with absurd premises isn’t going to help your already-weak argument.

    But let’s address the rest of what you say.

    1. Freedom leads to social disorder.
    2. Social disorder leads to the destruction of private charity.
    3. This leads to the creation of the welfare state, and this is authoritarian.

    Therefore, you propose that we do away with personal freedoms, and find local governments that decide for the community what is best, and what will make us cohesive, and somehow, and for some reason, shrink the federal government. I think we’ve tried this before. It was called feudalism. Mass starvation might be an obstacle to implementing your form of autocracy.

    But really, I’d like to know what you’ve been reading lately. The Catholic Worker? I’ve been going to a quasi-socialist Catholic school for 3.5 years now, and I’ve had to wade through this communitarian nonsense the entire time. There are plenty of critiques of capitalism, but no one seems to have thought through the hell on Earth the implementation of Catholic Social Thought would bring about. It’s a terribly violent philosophy.


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