Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
Recently there have been a series of posts over at the Action Institute’s PowerBlog by Joe Carter regarding libertarianism and Christianity.
Norman Horn has a good summary and some rebuttal of Carter’s confused understanding at LibertarianChristians.com. Norman beat me to the punch as I was getting sick of reading Carter’s inane posts, but Carter is back at it so I’m going to take a shot this time. His latest piece is called How to Love Liberty More Than a Libertarian Economist.
His thesis is that libertarians “love the principle of liberty in a way that undercuts the reality of liberty.”, and “By not accounting for how humans behave in the real world, libertarians can set themselves up for a fall.”
It is quite clear from his diatribe that Carter has no clue about what libertarianism is and no idea what the non-aggression axiom says.
Carter uses the recent sub-prime housing bust as an indictment for why libertarianism doesn’t work:
A prime example of what I mean can be found in the way libertarianism would have dealt with the recent housing crisis. Consistent libertarians would say that we must not separate choice from consequences, and so the proper response would be to let the banks fail and the mortgage holders lose their homes.
Let’s concede for the sake of argument that the libertarians are right and that this would have been the proper and preferable response. What would have been the effect of such a policy? The answer depends on whether you assume that America is secretly composed of 300 million libertarians. If it is, then we can expect that everyone would shrug and stoically accept their fate, even if it meant the annihilation of our economy. If it were not, then the result would be that few people would have the stomach to accept such consequences. The citizens would empower both progressives and the government to help them avoid the consequences of their actions. That is essentially what happened with the non-libertarian safety net that we already had in place. If Americans had endured the forced austerity required by pure libertarianism it would have lead to an even more empowered and intrusive government.
Libertarianism could be, in theory, the greatest political theory of all time. But in reality it suffers the fatal flaw shared by all utopian schemes: a failure to account for how humans actually behave.
Look how sneaky he is. He poses a question based on the libertarian concept of moral hazard, inserts a false dependency, makes an assumption as to the consequences (annihilation of our economy), and then declares victory.
His argument assumes we magically found ourselves in this situation because of the free market and libertarian principles will just make it worse. This is obviously false as government intervention into the housing market caused the malinvestment in the first place.
His last statement actually makes the libertarian case. Exactly by accounting for the fact that humans behave badly, we’ve come to the conclusion that you have to remove the ability for that bad behavior to have influence over millions of people, thus not putting yourself in a situation that leads “to an even more empowered and intrusive government.”
He continues by quoting Edmund Burke:
Indeed, conservatives agree with Edmund Burke, who said:
I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases. A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it; but a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country.
For libertarianism to be effective would require a revolution to wipe the political slate and start with a country that is nothing but carte blanche, a slate upon which they may scribble whatever they please.
Carter is associating the violence of the French Revolution, of which Burke was speaking, with a libertarian’s desire to be left alone by the state. Yes, carte blanche, but only insomuch as it does not aggress on the freedom of others.
He’s also inferring that one should never get rid of the state, simply reform it. That’s exactly the problem. It can’t be reformed, and the reason is exactly what Carter says is libertarians’ problem. That is “how humans behave in the real world”.
Then, since (as he admits) Carter does not know any libertarians, he relies on whatever pops up in Google for fodder.
He references Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason as the oracle of libertarian thought.
Caplan is an admirably consistent and realistic libertarian. He not only follows the logic of libertarianism wherever it leads (e.g., pacifism) but is fully aware that since he can’t make the world libertarian, he can at least retreat into his own libertarian world.
Caplan’s libertarianism leads him (rightly, I believe) to embrace pacifism. As he says, the foreign policy that follows from libertarian principles is not isolationism, but opposition to all warfare. The is internally consistent yet self-defeating since the conclusion is that libertarianism means loving liberty only to the point that you are not required to defend it by means of warfare.
Since when does libertarianism lead logically to pacifism? Maybe Carter should expand his search a bit and see what other libertarian thinkers have said about self defense.
This is a confused “conservative” relying on a confused “libertarian” for easy arguments to knock down. Let’s see him engage with someone like Murray Rothbard or Ron Paul.
And finally we get to the real angst behind this post.
In contrast, I—like many other veterans in America—served my country (fifteen years in the Marine Corps) precisely because I loved freedom. I loved it so much that I was willing to sacrifice some of my own freedom, or even my life if necessary, to secure it for myself, for my nation, and for libertarian pacifists like Caplan. He is able to afford the luxury of living in his beautiful bubble because other Americans have bought that liberty for him. For over two centuries, American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have paid the cost necessary to allow people like him to live freely. We have provided him with the safety and security he needs to crawl off in his elite bubble and forget that people like us exist.
Caplan is free to move to Switzerland, though I suspect he’ll keep his Bubble in Arlington, Virginia. As a libertarian economics professor at George Mason he’s smart enough to do the calculus. He knows that his optimal choice is to stay put and keep free-riding on the benefits provided by other people—whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian—who love liberty more than he does.
This is the same crap that we are always fed about the military. That if it weren’t for the American soldier, we’d all be living in 1930s Nazi Germany, or under Sharia law.
The problem is it’s simply not true. There have been no soldiers killed on American soil protecting American liberty since the American Revolution. None. Every other war was fought either to trash the ideas of the Revolution (The War of Northern Aggression), as a boondoggle for the military industrial complex, or as a religious attempt to bring about the end of the world.
Sorry Joe, but just because we choose not to go around murdering people on the other side of the world in the name of “democracy” and based on the state’s lies does not mean we don’t love liberty.