Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Beef With Libertarians (and Libertarian-Leaning Conservatives)

I wrote this in response to an interlocutor on Mark Shea's blog post about the conservatives at the Tea Party debate who cheered when Ron Paul implied that someone who was in a coma without medical insurance - insurance that he had neglected of his own fault to get - should "suffer the consequences of his actions", since that was what "freedom" meant, and among whom were a couple who shouted "Yeah!" when it was asked whether that meant "let him die".

Anyway, the guy I was arguing with - a polite and generous man - asked what my beef was with libertarians. This is the first of a series of posts in which I want to try and flesh out my political philosophy a little (and also to save some of my thought that's been captured in some of the replies I've made in blog discussions).

My Beef with American Conservative-Libertarianism

I come from the conservative/libertarian end of the political spectrum - I'm still a Republican - and I am extremely frustrated with conservatives in the United States, mostly because they took what is a secondary consideration, "Whether it is a wise thing to make one, large, bureaucratic institution with the power of the sword the sole nexus of justice in a society" (answer: no), and made it into the primary thing, as if it were a primary principle of natural law.

I never thought I would have to argue with Catholics that society has a duty to help people in need. I never thought anyone would take the position that if someone's in trouble, and it's their own fault, then it's okay (under Natural Law) to let 'em starve (or slave forever under a burden of medical debt they will never be able to pay back, or ... whatever). And yet there are people in that video and [in the comment section of Shea's blog] who think just that way. That doesn't rise to the level of natural virtue, much less supernatural, Christian virtue. Even a virtuous pagan knows he should care for his neighbor.

These people have made "freedom" an idol. Freedom doesn't mean - it cannot mean - that I no longer have a responsibility to my neighbor if he's a big enough idiot. Yet under the banner of "freedom" and "liberty", people feel free to argue that they have no such responsibility, and that it's ultimately up to individuals and their own personal "charity" to decide whether to help their neighbor or not, and natural justice under natural law could never blame them if they didn't help. This is sick and wrong.

People keep saying things like, "Well, taking care of people in need: that's charity, not justice."

That is false. Charity is the love of Christ flowing out of me to give more than is my duty to give. But taking care of one's neighbor is not a supernatural virtue. It is a requirement of natural justice. I have a duty to care for my neighbor. If I don't, it's not a lack of charity, it's an injustice. I'm not an unprofitable servant. I'm a wicked servant.

Americans have had the luxury of living in a pretty decent society, where we could count on the fact that the churches were, by-and-large, well attended, well funded, and looked upon as true representative institutions of the whole community. Furthermore, we lived in towns or small neighborhoods within cities where people knew their neighbors, shared their ideals and their way of life, knew what they deserved in justice, and, since they belonged to the same organizations (churches, fraternal organizations, etc), had the means and the wherewithall to help them, and deliver the justice that society owed them.

But this state of things has been destroyed. And it has been destroyed as much by people who desired economic freedom from their neighbors and the mobility of labor that allows large corporations to operate more efficiently and deliver consumer goods in greater abundance, as by the "liberals" who wanted to expand government. In short, we destroyed it, just as much as FDR. And we Red Staters refuse to acknowledge this. Instead, we go on carping about "freedom" as though with just a little more "free market capitalism" we could save America. It was "free market capitalism" that helped destroy the America that could operate without intrusive national governmental oversight. FDR and his ilk were trying to save America for capitalism, for economic individualism and "freedom", not from it.

But my people will not see. They are captive to a philosophy that sees the Modern Conservative Understanding of the Founding Fathers as some sort of Oracle of the Divine, when Thomas Aquinas could have reduced all their arguments to rubble.


Anonymous said...

I will be looking forward to this series of posts!

BiggieTea said...

Just discovered your blog from a comment you posted on Shea's blog. Interesting reading. I'm enjoying it.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

This is what I get for reading posts in reverse order. The destruction of the private safety net you rightly decry is at the hands of such men as FDR and (far more so) LBJ, with their false notion that government should remediate every social ill. Government should not, because it cannot. In far too many cases to count, our attempts to have it do so have resulted in far worse ills.