Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I'm Not A Libertarian

I'm announcing it, in case there was a doubt. Andrew Preslar has given me some things to think about via Ed Feser. I'll keep it basic, because I have a basic brain. Not everything the state does is theft. Indeed, the very notion of constitutionally-limited government presupposes that within those limits is the government's legitimate function. To what end? The common good. And what is that? It is at least the conditions necessary for each person to attain his end, first natural, then supernatural.

I realized what was happening in my thinking over these past years when I thought of the welfare state itself, how it began as a great spasm of compassion for the less fortunate, how its very existence is the measure of self-worth for the progressive. And the great insight, the great truth that emerges from its creation and reflection upon this creation is that the government exists for the people. Yet we are individuals; we are self-aware as individuals; something of those inalienable dignities--that unique dignity--becomes real only in the individual.

One of our great sins in our work of compassion is that we haven't cared whether our great concepts of justice and equality are realized in the individual. It is enough that they are held up as desirable. We dare not even look at those policies in action, these monuments to failure. For too long, they have been nothing more than expressions of our own self-regard. Medicare and Social Security are hailed as great successes, but if we fail to address what is mainly a demographic problem and a problem of misaligned incentives because it is easier to attack those who point out the problem as monsters who hate the weak and needy, we are unworthy of our grand vision. What sort of liberals are we if we allow disaster to happen to spite our political adversaries?

I realize that I'm not the kind of conservative that wants to re-make society. I just want someone to acknowledge reality. As they say, something that can't go on forever, won't. We are not a country without a safety net, nor should we be. But anything that does not serve the cause of self-determination--for those in need, or the rest of us--needs radical reforming or to be discarded.

If we believe there is genius and real innovation in the American people, let them take some part of what the government takes from them in Social Security taxes, (as one example) and see what they can do. We certainly can't do worse. Do we believe in self-determination, or buying votes?

That's what this whole thing is about: self-determination. "Free markets" and "smaller government" are just cheap slogans if we don't subordinate them to our real end, and explain why it matters. Some of us have been drawn to philosophies of radical autonomy because the government is such an overbearing threat to our self-determination. Indeed, it is so omnipresent that its influence is courted and bought by the largest firms in every industry and sector of the American economy. At once it thwarts meaningful economic participation for those at the margins, and distorts and even destroys mutually beneficial economic partnerships already formed. And prevents new partnerships from forming. This is not free enterprise; it is corporatism. And the vile philosophy of socialism feeds off the injustice it creates.

And economic freedom is an expression and a means to achieve holistic self-determination. We must reject everything that is rooted in radical autonomy or collectivism. We have ends greater than ourselves, but neither do they terminate in the State.

1 comment:

Molly McCann said...

I like the title of this post. :) John Locke, the father of the Libertarian movement, makes pretty clear in his writing that his philosophy does not enable good people to argue good morals. There are no solid first principles on which to stand. Aristotle recognized that man is fundamentally a social creature and that government is the natural (and good) product of that reality. Limited government does not mean government is fundamentally evil. Enjoyed the post!