31 August 2011

What is a libertarian?

What is a libertarian?

I read the blogs of people who claim to be libertarians, and it's really hard to tell.

  1. Some sound like libertines.
  2. Some sound like liberals on steroids.
  3. Some sound as though they believe the universe has given them the right to grind the face of the poor into the dirt, forever, and they are just longing for the opportunity to do it.

And some sound like all three, switching from one to the other in as many sentences.

Hat-tip to Ron Paul Is Not a Libertarian | Clarissa's Blog -- I originally posted the above as a comment in response to Clarissa's post, but thought I would also post it separately as well.

There is a chain or restaurants here in South Africa that advertises by saying "You can't have too much of a good thing."

It is an invitation to gluttony, saying, in effect, that over-eating is not a vice.

I am a liberal, and I generally think that liberalism is a good thing.

I think that liberty, human freedom, is a good thing.

But when I read blogs by people who claim to be libertarians, I get the impression that what they are after is not so much liberty as licence. That is why I say that they are like liberals on steroids.

Liberals think that liberty is important, it is an important value, and the lack of it should be remedied as quickly as possible. Libertarians seem to believe that personal liberty is the only value, and that everything else must be subordinated to it.

Someone once asked me how, as an Orthodox Christian, I could say that I was a liberal. They thought that liberalism was the essence of everything that is evil and wrong with the world.

Yet Orthodox writers assume that freedom and love are essential characteristics of being human. For example, Christos Yannaras (1984:33) writes

Man's insistence on his individuality is an indication of his failure to realize his personal distinctiveness and freedom, of his falling away from the fulness of existence which is the life of the Trinity, personal coinherence and communion in love. This falling away is sin, amartia, which means missing the mark as to existential truth and authenticity. The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and 'missing the mark,' as the loss of that 'end' or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

But making freedom the main thing, or even the only thing, as libertarians seem to do, is to turn freedom into an idol. It turns liberty into an ideology, a kind of binding principle, so that in embracing the idea of freedom, and bowing down and worshipping it, one actually loses one's freedom. When one makes liberty a principle and a rule by which everything is judged, one loses one's freedom to live and to act; freedom as a false god is anything but free.


Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press.


Shane said...

Great post. For me, today's strain of 'American libertarianism', epitomized by the Tea Party, means nothing more than what's mine is mine and you can't have it. Of course this belief is strewn with hypocrisy especially the moment someone else's 'mine' takes away something of theirs.

PamBG said...

As someone who came back to the US after 23 years away, my impression is that now, more than ever, in the US "freedom" is taken to mean personal license almost exclusively. Whether my impression is because I have changed, the society has changed, or both, it's hard to tell.

James Higham said...

I just challenged some libertarians to come here and see what a real Christian is like. Should be fun. :)

CherryPie said...

Personal freedom is important but it only works if you allow the freedom of others too.

Matthew Lee said...

It is interesting how anyone's deviation from your ideological norms (reference to the post you linked, not your views at all) is treated in some circles as "being X when it is convenient". There is an unwillingness to admit that someone may have different principles and priorities from yourself.

And yes, it is most unfortunate that American Libertarianism has a very strong Libertine strain.

The Tea Party doesn't exist, it is no longer a separate, unified movement in any way. It has either dispersed into the non-mainstream online cloud, or has been co-opted by the Republican Party for it's own nefarious purposes.


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