Two Huge Contradictions in Contemporary Libertarianism

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As vociferous and opinionated as I am when I interact with people through the Internet, the arguments that my friends and acquaintances make really do often give me pause and cause me to reconsider my positions. Because of this, my own political positions do continue to evolve, though not in a volatile manner. This continuing evolution makes it difficult for me to define myself politically. Put simply, my general political philosophy is based on the revolutionary belief that government sometimes should and sometimes should not intervene in people’s lives. I guess you could say that I am something of a moderate – though a combative and right-leaning one. However, I think I can safely say that I do not want to be associated with the Republican Party. The most honest thing to say would be that I am a moderate Libertarian, but I know that, since moderate attitudes are not common among Libertarians, most Libertarians would call me a LINO.

One of the main reasons for which I would be termed a moderate Libertarian is the fact that I disagree with the bulk of the Libertarian movement on many social issues. Some would say that this makes me a Republican, but it is not that simple, as I disagree with Republicans on many other issues such as protectionism, corporate welfare, and foreign policy.

When I say that I disagree with many Libertarians on social issues, it is not necessarily even because I have lukewarm feelings about core Libertarian principles. Rather, it is because I feel that many Libertarians’ views on social issues – and the stated platform of the party itself – are actually blatantly contradictory to core Libertarian principles. The two most important examples of this can be seen in abortion and in the official advocacy of homosexual unions.

Abortion
On the question of abortion, the Libertarian Party’s platform states the following:

…we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

It is understandable that Libertarians would adopt this position, as the general Libertarian attitude is that government should stay out of people’s private lives. As Anthony Gregory once said in a speech at the University of California, Berkeley:

…we believe that government’s only legitimate role is to protect individual rights to life, liberty and property, and not abrogate these rights.

I feel that these two statements are fundamentally contradictory because they fail to consider the fairly substantiated possibility that a child in the womb is a human with rights. I have heard Libertarians say that no man, Libertarian or not, has any business weighing in on abortion either way because, not having a uterus, it is not something that should concern him at all. However, again, this argument is made under the supposition that the only human being with a substantial interest in an abortion is the mother. What about the child? Does a man not have any business protecting children?

Imagine that a woman discovers that she has ovarian cancer. Understandably, her physician recommends that she undergo surgery and have the cancer removed. Now, imagine that religious groups begin picketing the hospital and harassing the woman and her family, telling them that the womb is sacred and that operating on a woman’s reproductive organs in such a way is an affront to God. This is obviously a matter of religious opinion. While they are certainly entitled to believe and say as they wish, as they are not the ones dying from cancer, they do not have any right to use law to keep her from undergoing this important surgery. In this situation, every argument that “pro-choice” activists make is relevant: it is her body and her business.

The inconvenient truth, though, is that a child is not a tumor. It is true that no one really knows exactly when a zygote, embryo, or fetus becomes a human, but if we are going to base the definition of a human on one’s DNA and one’s ability to experience and respond to stimuli, human life begins long before any of the current abortion limitations in the United States take effect. Even if we ignore theistic religion and associated concepts like divine heritage, pre-mortal life, and spirits, defining human life according to simple scientific observation, there is no basis for the idea that human life begins upon the completion of full-term delivery. In a scientific environment in which we actually study unborn children’s ability to learn rather than simply trying to verify it, the idea is actually quite preposterous. In our country, unborn children are innocents condemned by silence.

When people argue that a woman should be able to abort her child for any reason, despite what they may say, this is an argument based on religion rather than science. It comes from an overzealous and narrow-sighted focus on a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body – regardless of how her decisions affect someone else’s body. This is reminiscent of the many cases in human history in which zealots have proven capable of great wrongs by focusing on one religious concept at the expense of all other things in which they claim to believe. Of course, there are clear exceptions and gray areas when it comes to situations like rape and considerations for the mother’s health, but allowing women to kill unborn children for any reason at all without restraint does not come from an enlightened sense of human rights. Rather, it comes from a cowardly decision to ignore human rights for the sake of trying not to appear blindly conservative.

Homosexual Unions
The Libertarian Party’s view of issues related to the legal recognition and official advocacy of homosexual relationships can be summed up with the following statement from the Party’s platform:

Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships.

The immediate problem with this statement is its sheer breadth. Government cannot define any personal relationships? If this were true, it would be true not only for “domestic partner” relationships, but for all family relationships, and the implications would be much more far-reaching than what the Libertarian Party seems to comprehend. For instance, questions of inheritance would become a matter of pure opinion. Also, if government cannot define a parent-child relationship as such, it cannot be restrained from infringing on the rights and responsibilities inherent to that relationship. Just as the protection of basic human rights requires a viable definition of humanity, so does the protection of family-based rights require a viable definition of family. To say that personal relationships cannot be defined is to court the horrors of either anarchy or tyranny, as government has no basis upon which to acknowledge limitations of its own powers or defend rights on the basis of family relationships. Libertarians may feel that this argument is purely semantic, as it may depart from the intent of the passage. However, even if that is the case, it is at least clear that this part of the Party’s platform has been carelessly written.

Focusing on the question of official government recognition of same-gender unions, though, some – including many Libertarians – feel that the proper role of the government should be to simply enforce contracts, which would include the “contract” of marriage, regardless of the genders of the people involved. Rather than dictating the guidelines of such contracts, they say, government should simply give official weight to whatever contracts people decide to make, not requiring the issuance of marriage licenses and getting out of the “marriage business” altogether. One problem with this approach is the fact that government is most certainly not overstepping its bounds – even by Libertarian standards – by placing certain requirements on legally binding contracts. We will not go into detail about it here, but even in a very libertarian society, it would be an exaggeration to say that people can agree to whatever they want and get the law to uphold that agreement.

Another problem with the current Libertarian approach to law regarding “personal relationships” is that, as some would say, it is supposedly based on the idea that government cannot get involved in moral issues. “You can believe homosexuality is wrong all you want,” they say, “but you cannot expect us to make it illegal.” The first fallacy to this argument is that this is not a matter of legality at all. No homosexuals are currently being fined, imprisoned, or deported as a result of their sexuality choices, and that is not going to change. The question at hand is not a matter of legality, but of official advocacy. Two men can get together and have a wedding ceremony and tell people that they are married, and they are in no danger of being arrested or punished in any way by the law. However, when they demand that the government that represents me issue an official stamp of approval for their favorite sin, that is where they begin trampling on the rights of every taxpayer who has moral objections to homosexual relationships. As Thomas Jefferson, Robert Heinlein, and many other great thinkers have stated, it is tyrannical to force someone to pay for something that he feels is morally wrong, and there is no small number of people in this country who feel that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful. We certainly are willing to allow people to do as they please, but do not expect us to pay for a government program of official advocacy and coercive normalization for homosexual behavior.

Before stating that government should not get involved in moral issues, a true Libertarian must think upon the many instances in which he takes his political stance based on what he calls principles, ethics, and, yes, morality. Is the Libertarian Party itself not the “Party of Principle”? I once had a somewhat Libertarian friend tell me that an individual’s behavior is based on morals, while a government’s behavior is based on law. He used this as an argument against imposing moral sympathies on matters of law. What he did not understand was that, while morality simply exists regardless of what we believe or say, the same cannot be said for law, as it is something that we must create. And when we do create law, we must base it on something. If we are not basing it on our moral sympathies, what are we basing it on? Murder is illegal because it is evil. Theft is illegal because it is evil. The same basis applies even to more trivial laws: we have speed limits because every driver has the moral responsibility to drive in such a way that he or she does not pose a threat to other drivers. Even when we argue against levying specific laws because we view them as tyrannical, we do so on moral grounds. Morality is inextricably connected to law, and those who would argue otherwise should take care: they may simply be advocating a law that is immoral. In all of human history, there has never been a single amoral law: every law in existence is either moral because it protects rights and enables virtue or immoral because it tramples rights and encourages vice. Realizing this fact, we should also realize that the morality or immorality of a law should be the only grounds upon which its implementation is based. (Some may argue that this could be used as a way of advocating unconstitutional laws to be passed, but that is not actually true, as I hold that it is immoral to pass a law in conflict with the Constitution.)

I applaud the growing social trend that causes people to look at homosexuals as human beings with vices, virtues, and rights just like everyone else. I support reasonable efforts to protect their rights of fair access to healthcare, housing, work, education, scholarships, etc. However, I also contend that any law that forces individuals and institutions to accept homosexuality against their will or uses their tax money to openly advocate the practice in the public sphere is an immoral and tyrannical law. Anyone who strives for “a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others” should feel the same way.

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