I was out on my bike, riding through the countryside, when I came upon a group of deer grazing near the edge of the road. I was riding where it is mostly woods and fields so there’s not much car traffic. As a result, the woodland critters are often in plain sight. I took the opportunity to stop, drink some water and enjoy the magnificent beauty of nature. At these times it is easy to see why men believe in a just and loving God. I was also reminded of why I hate libertarians.
To be fair, I don’t really hate all libertarians. As is the case with “conservative”, the word “libertarian” has been expanded to include things that the original libertarians never would have imagined. The word itself was coined by a French communist from the word libertaire, to mean an advocate or defender of liberty, especially in politics. The guy most consider to be the founder of libertarianism, Claude-Frédéric Bastiat, was a classical liberal in the line of John Locke and Adam Smith.
It used to be that libertarians were property and contract guys. They argued that the state existed to protect property rights and enforce contracts. These were the neo-classical liberals, who believed government had been created by individuals to protect themselves from one another. Since all property was either owned by an individual or owned collectively, the state existed to protect property and sort out disputes that arose over property. There’s really nothing wrong with this as an argument against socialism and communism.
The trouble is that somewhere along the way, this rather sensible rebuke of socialism curdled into a weird fusion of Cultural Marxism and laissez-faire globalist economics. To be a libertarian today means to abandon the field as soon as the Left assaults the culture in some new way. They always have some excuse for hiding under their bed when the Left goes on a rampage. At the same time, they fall into lectures about pencils as soon as the topic of global capitalism is raised. Listen to a modern libertarian and you get the sense they really think the point of life is cheap consumer goods.
Ironically, modern libertarians are fond of talking about the Founders and they even argue that early America was a libertarian country. That’s ridiculous, but it also misses a critical point. The American colonies were doing well economically and the taxes and levies the King wished to impose were minor. Despite this economic realty, the colonies revolted anyway. It was early proof that homo economicus has always been nonsense. Humans as not rational and narrowly self-interested agents. Humans, individually and collectively, are biological.
When the Brits went to the polls and decided to leave Europe, they did not do so with economics in mind. That was part of it, but patriotism, identity, class and other non-economic factors were at the front of their mind. The winners were not waving the Union Jack because it happen to be handy. The Brexit forces were not talking about sovereignty and self-government by accident. Libertarians are so blinkered they could not comprehend what was so blazingly obvious. They remain convinced that humans are just moist robots.
It used to be that libertarians understood this. Murray Rothbard cooked up something he called Right-Wing Populism, which was a not so subtle attempt to hook libertarianism to biology. Guys like Ron Paul and many Paleo-Conservatives embraced something that is the foundation of the emerging Alt-Right. That is, the chain of causality, which is shorthanded this way: Biology->Culture->Politics->Economics. Iceland has the culture of Iceland because it is full of Icelanders. Nigeria is the way it is because it full of Nigerians.
Modern libertarians appear to embrace the Progressive claim that humans are a blank slate so the chain of causality is reversed. They run out of the room as soon as biology is mentioned. Talk about crime, for example, and they break into a sweat and start looking for a way to escape. When it comes to culture, the modern libertarians are too quick to come up with some bit of dogma that prevents them from facing off with the Left. Usually that means another lecture on why we need to legalize weed and prostitution.
Like most sensible people, I like low taxes and limited government interference in my life. I’m a maximalist when it comes to personal liberty, but I also understand that human society is about trade-offs. I give up some liberty in exchange for the benefits of living in a society to my liking. My liking and that of my fellow citizens is not always going to be logical or fit into a tidy economic model. I also know that a certain segment of the population is going to require extra help and extra restraint. That requires trade-offs too.
Those rolling hills where I sometimes ride may one day be slated for development or a chemical plant. Maybe I’ll be all for wiping out Bambi’s playground or maybe I’ll be on the other side. My arguments will be no more rational than why I prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla. The people on the other side will be just as irrational. That’s the way it goes in politics. It is two sides fighting over what to love more and what to hate more. It is about who we will be, together, as a society. It is what we want our kids to remember about us.
Libertarians have nothing to say about any of this, but like a pebble in your shoe, they keep finding a way to be an irritant. In the current crisis, they have plenty to say, but they refuse to pick a side. They have their principles and their well crafted arguments, but most of it feels like a call to inaction. They clearly believe, but faith without works is dead. A faith that can never work because it runs counter to biological reality deserves to be dead. That’s how I feel about libertarianism.