Libertarianism & Libertinism

French RevolutionThere is a consistent theme I have picked up on when discussing various philosophical disagreements with libertarians. When I point out that libertarians advocate for libertine moral anarchy in society, they will often reply by saying I am guilty of conflating libertarianism with libertinism. Additionally, when I argue for a virtue based jurisprudence rather than a purely rights based jurisprudence, libertarians will often reply by saying that if you are not free to practice a vice or sin then you are not truly free. For example, libertarians tend to be against the war on drugs because they think a right exists to put into your body whatever you want to, and no government – local, state, federal – can say otherwise because such legislation violates this supposed right to self-destruction.

Now, if I am guilty of conflating libertarianism with libertinism then I don’t think it is entirely my fault for doing so when so many libertarians are offended by the idea of regulating vice or legislating against recognizable evils, such as abortion. Based on the arguments being made by the new-libertarians influenced by the Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists and Mises Institute libertarians, I contend that they are in fact arguing for a libertine moral and political philosophy that is ultimately reduced to an incoherent relativism. To be sure, these arguments are influenced by an unexamined metaphysical pretense influenced by postmodern atheism, the false dichotomy of public and private morality, conflating economic subjective valuation with axiological claims, an incorrect view of the human person, the myth of moral neutrality, and the incoherent assertion that a person is not free unless they can do that which is intrinsically immoral. All of these philosophical errors need to be dealt with one at a time, but for now I will focus on only one of these many problematic issues.

The new libertarian political philosophy reduces the social order (nominally construed) to contractual consent, rights based jurisprudence, and economic self-interest. The rights based jurisprudence is grounded in a Mill-styled non-interference moral framework, which basically states that you should be free to do whatever it is you like just so long as you are not infringing on the rights of another to do likewise. What is often believed to follow from this is the idea that a person should be able to do drugs, practice prostitution, produce and/or participate in pornography, promote the practice of abortion, redefine the definition of marriage to a union predicated upon strong emotional sentiment, and many other forms of moral degradation. If it were the case that these acts are voluntary actions of consenting individuals, then it would be a violation of rights (read immoral) to enact legislation from any level of government to prohibit such actions. This is the new-libertarian position on these matters.

To argue that it is immoral for a community to prohibit drug use backed by the force of government, for example, and that a person’s right is being violated if such prohibition took place, is in fact to endorse a libertine moral and political philosophy. It is to say that a society is not free unless the citizens therein can consume drugs and become addicts. It is to argue that a society is not free unless it protects and endorses the right to be libertine. Slogans such as “you cannot legislate morality,” or “you can’t force your morality on another person,” or “morality is subjective” does not change the fact that new libertarians openly endorse libertinism while simultaneously denying that they do so. Moreover, to say, “I think those actions are immoral but it isn’t my place to force morality on another person” is as ridiculous as saying, “I would never have an abortion because it is immoral, but I wouldn’t dare think to force my morality on a person that thinks abortion is moral.” This is where the claim of libertine moral anarchy is derived. These views endorsed by the new libertarians are inconsistent, incoherent, and dishonest. Own your political philosophy and follow its premises to their conclusion instead of watering it down with clichés and catch phrases.


– Lucas G. Westman

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