Despite the triumphant march of America’s leviathan government throughout the 20th century to this day, individualism and political liberty remain convenient scapegoats for partisans to blame for America’s ills. Even though a moderate plan of liberty has not been given a genuine chance in generations, to hear certain ‘moderate’ Republicans and Democrats speak, libertarianism is the reason for our nation’s perilous state of affairs. Sadly, too many people falsely equate a “laissez-faire” posture in the political arena with a “don’t care” attitude in all other areas of life, associating the belief in political liberty and individualism with communal apathy and moral blindness.
Where the right tends to view libertarians as morally bereft libertines who equate liberty with license, the left tends to see libertarians as callously selfish, antisocial kooks who wish to live out an atomistic existence. In short, the left and the right alike tend to demonize libertarianism just as they are already prone to demonize one another for their own respective libertarian tendencies. If only they could appreciate the love of liberty they hold in common, we would all be much better off.
Whatever the reasons for the establishment’s animosity, liberty lovers are accused of being nihilistic; the idea being that because libertarians are wary of the predations and privileges of centralized political power — and especially wary of how such power can strip meaning, responsibility, and prosperity away from the people — then libertarians must be against any standards, rules, laws, morality, or community whatsoever.
This could not be further from the truth.
In general, the libertarian worldview is a positive political philosophy based on the presumption of human freedom and a respect for the sovereignty of the individual and his conscience. The libertarian holds the deep-seated conviction that the sovereign individual is the dynamo of society with the potential to achieve happiness, not only for himself but for his family, friends, and community. The libertarian believes a political culture of respect for individual rights — most fundamentally the rights of life, liberty, and property — serves as the foundation for emancipation from the exploitations of ruling elites that have plagued the human race for most of its history.
From the libertarian perspective, the only legitimate role for legal force and violence is to repel and punish invasions of persons and property. In this view, the government cannot legitimately possess extraordinary rights the people do not already hold themselves. Political authority in a free society does not have an arbitrary blank check or general coercive power to define what is true, good, and beautiful for all of society. Instead, what a free people finds to be true, good, and beautiful — according to their best traditions and informed insights of their conscience — narrowly defines who or what has legitimate political authority.
Unsurprisingly, the libertarian sees the modern reliance on leviathan central government as corrosive to Western civilization’s best traditions, as well as a hindrance to its further development. Centralized leviathan government, contra individual liberty, has marched us towards communal apathy, moral blindness, and society-wide distrust as well as unpayable generational debts, a perpetual war footing, and an increasingly incompetent bureaucratic malaise.
Even the ‘compassionate’ and ‘pragmatic’ attempts by such modern governments to propagate virtue, expand wealth, and foster equality have actually in practice eroded virtue, diminished wealth, and promoted vast inequality. What’s more, our leviathan central government now even claims the extraordinary right to break the law to uphold law, to disregard liberty to protect liberty, and spread disinformation to foster the ‘truth’ of their latest noble goals to save the world.
To further illustrate the perverse effects of this central government, consider the virtue of charity. Though some may claim ‘the people’ are being responsible by having the government impose safety net programs (on its face a noble endeavor,) such programs pervert the virtue of charity. In taking up the cause of charity, the government transforms this personal, explicit, and voluntary responsibility into a general, vague, and outright coercive duty — thus hammering this natural plowshare into a sword to be wielded by those with political power.
This is no superfluous point, for in thinking about charity as personal responsibility, one posits a society of born-free individuals who are equal under the law; they must help one another through voluntary aid and association. Yet, in thinking about charity as a general, coercive duty, one posits a society of rulers and subjects: rulers who need to instill in their subjects a sense of virtue by forcefully imposing whatever duties the authorities deem desirable.
Now, extrapolate beyond mere charity, and witness the American people have ceded many of the most precious personal responsibilities of a free people to the trappings of central political power — money, education, healthcare, etc.
Beyond the immense monetary costs and inequities of this modern Babel, the vicious cycle of political centralization pervades our lives in perverse spiritual ways beyond immediate comprehension. What has been lost in terms of local community and initiative is difficult to fathom.
Despite the cliché, all politics has not been local for some time, and it shows.
As Thomas Paine wrote:
“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
Rather than attacking “laissez-faire” as a “don’t care” philosophy, Americans should know their current and coming calamities have been brought about by a leviathan central government they have, willingly or not, furnished.
Let us hope the American people soon remember liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order — and that despite the protests of self-interested moderates in Washington DC, the only remedy to the coming crisis is to return to our libertarian traditions.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9am-12noon. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.