Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Monday, April 19, 2004

Written by: Answerman

I used to be a libertarian, and I'm not proud of it.

Let me explain. I grew up a typical conservative and moved toward libertarianism during my late high school and early college days. My beliefs in low taxes, deregulation, and a drastic reduction in the size of the bloated collection of morons, criminals, and reprobates many of you refer to as the U.S. government hardened into a nonchalant dislike of any law that addressed concerns beyond the protection of people from physical interference by others. Libertarianism was attractive because it was simple; it offered a global explanation for everything wrong with politics. If the principles of freedom and individualism were simply applied consistently, we would be so much better off.

Well, that's a bunch of crap. Libertarianism is an adolescent philosophy rife with problems. First, it refuses to look at any issue from any perspective other than a political, or perhaps merely economic, one. Troublesome little details like culture and history and morality are ignored out of deference to overly-simplified notions of Natural Rights and the Rational Man.

Second, libertarianism is a metaphysical disaster. What exactly constitutes a "direct" violation of another's rights? A libertarian would make it illegal for me to punch you in the face, but what about me waving my hand two inches from your face but never touching it? It's certainly not legitimate for the government to regulate handguns, but how about the private possession of nuclear weapons? Can the law prevent that, or can it only prevent their use? These inane hypotheticals can go on and on, and they prove how bereft libertarianism is of the texture and layers that necessarily prop up most other political philosophies.

Finally, libertarianism is woefully utopian. It seeks to throw away all cultural and religious, and most legal, restraints on human behavior out of a blind sense of faith in man's inherent rationality and goodness. Are you kidding me? Libertarianism would eliminate the rich differences among societies, legal systems, and the like in favor of a dreary sameness that has a zero percent chance of resulting ultimately in anything other than chaos and death.

Roach has provided dead-on commentary on the problems with libertarianism: "Libertarians often go far beyond what government should and should not do; a culture of indifference to the choices of others arises. The flaws of others become proof of the impossibility of moral greatness; everyone is a hypocrite and thus we should all just do whatever we want. Any concern whatsoever for the effects of others' choices is labeled as creeping statism and puritanical nosiness. This is unfortunate; it is a skeletonized account of what a philosophy needs to tell us about what we do, how we spend our money and free time, and what types of activities should be hidden behind closed doors or openly flaunted as morally neutral 'choices.' "

In my view, there is a huge conceptual difference (in other words, something quite different from a mere difference in degree) between a conservative skepticism toward government and libertarianism. A conservative knows that when a government uses the blunt instruments at its disposal in an attempt to tackle a big, complex social issue, it tends to fail miserably, worsen the problem, and create new problems to boot. A conservative is therefore skeptical of social engineering and tends to favor more organic tools from within existing social institutions and civil society in his attempts to "fix" problems.

A libertarian rejects the notion that there is a problem that needs worrying about, much less "fixing." The libertarian does not discuss how to address an issue; rather, he considers the very discussion of said issue politically illegitimate. This is a huge distinction.

Even in the last few years, far removed from my libertarian days, I have referred to myself as a libertarian-leaning conservative. No longer. I may often agree on ends with certain libertarians, but for widely divergent philosophical reasons. Libertarians are not conservatives, and we insult ourselves and them by pretending they are.

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