Libertarianism & Libertinism – Further Considerations

French RevolutionEarlier this week I did a brief post explaining why contemporary libertarianism influenced by Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism and Mises libertarians is essentially a political philosophy of libertinism. I contend that no person who commented (at my Facebook page) with a dissenting opinion addressed the core argument of the post; rather, the routine slogans were issued to deflect the need to make a legitimate case for the Neo-libertarian (to invent an identifying label) political philosophy being championed as axiomatic truth.

Irving Kristol’s libertarian critics often charge him with retaining elements of his past radicalism within the pejoratively labeled “neoconservatism” formulated within his malleable political worldview. Oddly, the Neo-libertarians have retained quite a bit of their former progressivism, which entails an often unrecognized inheritance of the erroneous Rawlsian original position. Indeed, some Neo-libertarians are former conservatives of a various stripe, but these too espouse and unite the errors of Lockean liberalism into their newly discovered political philosophy. What the Neo-libertarians accuse of Irving Kristol of doing, they to are guilty of committing.

But I digress.

Interestingly enough the essay titled, Libertarianism and Libertinism, by Walter Block, highlights many of the issues I am examining.

Walter Block argues, as is common among his tribe, that libertarianism is a political philosophy dealing with the legality of force, and the instances of when or when not to use force. That is all there is to it; that is all libertarianism deals with according to Block. Force should never be initiated against person or property and only used to protect these two pillars of civil society. As far as Block is concerned, libertarianism has nothing to do with nor does it have anything to say about morality and culture. In fact, there is no such thing as a libertarian position on morality or culture on this view.

This is ridiculous.

To even postulate the basic tenets of libertarianism there needs to be an understanding of what a “right” is, what “property” is, what “force” is, what it would mean to “initiate” force; not to mention the notion of what a human person is and how to organize society around this agreed upon understanding; which introduces into the assortment of philosophical issues an investigation into the ontological make up of reality man finds himself participating, as well as the metaphysical foundations supporting the specific ontology under consideration along side the concept of the human person so construed. If libertarianism has nothing to say about these issues, then it is more worthless then I had previously imagined.

It gets worse for Block because all of these philosophical positions are, or would be properly understood within a culture that can articulate and apprehend these concepts being put forth by the libertarian as universal truths. However, contrary to Mr. Jefferson, the governing ideals of the Enlightenment are not self-evident. It took a philosophical movement, a specific culture, and a revolutionary war in order to institute a common understanding of a specifically Lockean liberal relationship between government and the individual.

Moreover, all one must do to expose the highly problematic claim that libertarianism has nothing to say about morality is to disagree with any Neo-libertarian on what it means to “initiate force”; you will quickly find yourself interacting with a shrieking eel when such disagreement occurs. In addition to this, to violate a “right” is to commit an immoral act, which means that libertarianism has something to say about the morality of rights and the violation of said rights.

Finally, contrary to Mr. Block, libertarianism has a lot to say about culture. All the evidence you need will be found at any nominally libertarian web page. A brief perusal of the articles leads inexorably to the discovery of a pervasive lament of the progressive socialist culture we find ourselves living in. You will find a mountain of articles discussing how our culture does not respect property rights, the destructive nature of the welfare/warfare state, the unfortunate worship of militarism as a means of enacting American foreign policy etc. These are criticisms of a culture to which libertarianism would like to replace with their own – let’s say an anarcho-capitalist culture.

Despite all of this, an important distinction should be made concerning my criticisms. Instead of saying the government has no power to legislate against vice, some detractors are asserting a recognizable discomfort with government, or the state, enforcing a virtue guided jurisprudence.

I contend that this is a different argument than those usually offered by individuals such as Walter Block. It is one thing to argue that legislating virtue is imprudent, and yet another to argue that the government be forbidden to legislate virtue because a free man has the inherent right to vice. The former is an argument worth considering and one that I take seriously; the latter is the argument I am criticizing.

For example, many Neo-libertarians are against the war on drugs because of the supposed right to put into your body whatever you want to, and the government has no claim whatsoever to violate this right. My argument is that it is absurd to postulate a view of freedom and jurisprudence that would protect a “rights” based social structure whereby men possess a legal and moral claim to self-destruction. Justice and the social agency expected to enforce justice must understand the nature of men, which in my view is immanently teleological, that is, man’s nature and existence is laden with purpose. This entails a government and structure of social justice that protects and fosters this teleological conception of the human person.

My position on the war on drugs as currently executed by our federal government is that it is unjust according to a dismissive indifference expressed toward the principle of subsidiarity, and that it is particularly imprudent to imprison addicts since addiction is a social/moral issue rather than an act of criminality. A criminal act may follow the volitional choice of an addict, which is subject to the law, but addiction itself is not a crime. What I would argue is that the federal war on drugs should be abolished because it is unjust and imprudent, and local municipalities and communities should construct a body of law/regulations to deal with drugs how they see fit. This means that a local community could prohibit drug use as a criminal practice or not; they could decriminalize the use of drugs but regulate the dissemination of drugs; they could consider addiction to be a communal problem needing public monetary assistance. There are a whole host of arguments and policies that make sense legally and morally, none of which require the puerile claim of a right to do drugs based on the fundamentally flawed idea of secular liberal bodily autonomy.

Governing can be a much more difficult challenge when concrete reality, rather than abstraction, plays a role in deciding legislation and policy application. The appeal of the Neo-libertarian creed is its simplicity, but this appeal is also a significant contributor to why it is hopelessly unrealistic.


– Lucas G. Westman


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