The Attractions of Libertarianism

Posted by T on June 29, 2009
Economics, Ethics

To set the stage for later criticism of Libertarianism, it behooves to define it. There are many forms of libertarianism, but what is shared by all variants is a deep suspicion if not outright rejection of all appeals to a collective: the Individual Will is the highest and indeed the only realization of the purpose for humanity. The goal here is simply to describe the important variants and offer some suggestions for explaining its appeal.

The landscape

Radical libertarianism proposes anarchy plus property rights. Anarchy is not meant as a pejorative, nor does it connote what most people think. The idea is that property title would emerge by personal occupation, coupled with the right of self-defense. Presumably, there could be violence until things settled down – think of the Wild West. Things would settle down, however. At length, there would be no need for a sheriff, or if there were, he would be a covenanted agent of the community.

There is a great deal of intuitive appeal of radical libertarianism to the male Anglo-Saxon. If it seems counter-intuitive to think that a police force would not be needed to deter crime, consider the fact that today the police are not going to arrive in time to help you in most situations of violent attack. It is up to you anyway.

Moderate libertarians see a limited role for government. Most Christian libertarians grant this on the basis of Rom. 13, while the secular moderates like grant it on pragmatic grounds, evidently seeing their role to be a dialectical voice of reason in the public discourse, content if they could just tilt the center of gravity of one or both main parties in the direction of “freedom.”

Libertarianism is a superstructure that can rest on many different foundations. Self-worshiper Ayn Jew Rand was a libertarian. On the other side, racial realist Edgar Steele has recently come out as a libertarian. The best Christian libertarians are the theonomic ones, like Gary North, since at least they can give a cogent answer both as to why there is a state at all, and what principle limits its activity. The remainder of this discussion focusses on this flavor.

Theonomic libertarians grant the existence of three pre-Ego institutions, church, state, and family, and social theory is limited to expounding the limits and duties of each of these, which provide the crystal lattice structure so to speak in which the electronic Individual circulates according to his own inner impulses. The way the three primary institutions are understood quickly reveals the Libertarian agenda:

1. The state is limited by a “regulative principle” which says that only those actions specified in biblical law may be undertaken by the state.

2. The family as biblical institution is limited to the nuclear family, and this amounts to little more than an incubator for propagating the species. The scattering of families across the American landscape is not seen as a problem: annual family reunions might be nice, but there is no clannish loyalty extending any further as a norm. The nuclear family is simply the divine institution to facilitate the nurture of children until they can stand up as Free Individuals in the wider, clanless society.

3. The church is the only ultimately important collective. If there is any theory of history, it is exclusively and only that which emerges from the struggle between the church and the city of man. The church is international and tribeless, and the city of man is international and tribeless.

The individual should seek to maximize his personal wealth, while looking forward to a golden age when everyone will belong to the trans-national church, and thus — with peace breaking out all over — facilitate tribeless states that are as limited in power as possible. Blood is an embarrassing fact of creaturely life that should be transcended whenever possible. Collectives are ordinarily evil, unless entered into voluntarily; the three divinely ordained collectives occupy an upper story that must be submitted to within bounds defined by biblical law, while the lower story of the deracinated Individual is where most of the real action and interest resides.

On this view, the tribe or community can make no demands on the individual nor assert its rights. Indeed, the “tribe or community” is itself a legal fiction — it should be defined as those, and only those, that want to think of themselves that way, like the membership of a club. If there are nations at all, it is simply the set of individuals contained at any moment topologically within the closed figure that defines a border — which is itself merely a crusty remnant of a discredited past. If one laments that Germans are being displaced by Turks and other Mohammedans, they have a quick retort: that is the Germans’ fault for not having more babies. If you fret that the neighborhood is going to be replaced with Mexicans, they retort, so what? anyone is free to buy the property at market value.

Value is defined as market equilibrium brought about by free individual choices: the supply/demand curve. This defines objectivity on the creature side.  Objectivity on the divine side is defined by the law of God, but this functions largely as a personal-eschatological category. For example, they would forbid the state from blocking pornography — unless there is a biblical law about it — granting only, that the individual providers and users of it will be judged by God in the final day.

The attractions of libertarianism

A fuller criticism of Libertarianism will follow in the future.  Indeed, you could say that a major burden of this blog is to show another way.  Here, I conclude by listing three reasons that Libertarianism has strong appeal and hint at why that surface appeal is illusory.

Part of the appeal of libertarianism I think is that it provides a slick and non-falsifiable way to allow seemingly contradictory social views to be incorporated and thus neutralized. “Ah, you want villages and farms? Fine. Find some others that think like you and join them to set up farms and villages.” You over there, form a nudist colony if that’s what you want. And you, a sodomite colony. (The theonomic variety would not permit this one.) Do you want a dense city with socialism? Then find others and build it.

Do I have the right to move into that city and not abide by its socialism, or does the city have the right to forbid my entry? Libertarians start to choke a little here. Someone’s right is going to end, or their broad inclusiveness will have to stop short. If the Swedes nearly unanimously choose for socialized medicine, how is that not libertarianism? Perhaps the Libertarian will answer that the individual does not have the right to delegate away any part of his individual liberty – similar to Thornwell’s view of Presbyterial Right. But this can only be sustained if, like Thornwell’s church government, the Individual Right comes by direct divine endowment — which I will show in the Ham series is problematic to say the least.

The second surface appeal of Libertarianism is the intuitively-sound theory of exchange, based wholly on the subjective-marginalist insight. You have the right to exchange your property for any property of someone else, subject only to the willingness of both parties to enter the exchange. When many players enter and form a “market,” a “supply/demand” schedule emerges which describes the “market price.”

But this insight is not really denied by very many. Even communists, though they place the “means of production” exclusively in state ownership, grant property right at the level of personal moveable items, I think. Would communists forbid a comrade from trading an extra easy chair for a coffee table? Not that I have ever heard of. The Austrian School has the most sound exposition of micro-economics, but its basic kernel could be granted and appropriated by advocates of a variety of social theories.

The third element is frankly the appeal to the base instinct of avarice so easy to awaken in fallen humanity. Every collective aesthetic concern must be sacrificed on the altar of property-owners’ freedom. The owner of the lot across the street has the right to build a mansion, a factory, or an airport, as it suits him. Libertarianism coupled with an ethos of maximum enrichment leads to the look of Harbor Blvd in Costa Mesa, Orange County, which is fast being duplicated as the K-marted, Thisorthat Warehouse-infested, congested mobile main street of Everytown in America. The Libertarian either relishes that look – “I love the sight of Walmart in the morning! It looks like… freedom!” – , or considers that the ubiquitous ugliness and cultural impoverishment is simply the necessary cost of adopting their vision – a hive of ambitious little bees trying to become millionaires. If we can get that, we have everything! they think.

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13 Comments to The Attractions of Libertarianism

  • Very well-written, very important. I, too, had been tempted by the attractions of Libertarianism (theonomic), sensed some problems with it, but couldn’t articulate these problems. I look forward to further on this topic.

  • Hey Mr. T,

    I was talking to a Boer friend of mine today. He was railing against what he called “Black-Apartheid” in Africa.

    Could you offer any comments on that situation in light of what you’ve said here?

  • Brother T:
    Thank you for writing a piece on Libertarianism. Libertinism is a mammon-worshipping myth which seeks to build a Godless society of empty and rootless materialistic souls. As you mentioned one of the founders of Libertinism was Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum (aka Ayn Rand) who was a blatant adulterer and militiant anti-Christ. Because of the limited government appeal, Randians and “Objectivists” have been recruiting many Christians to their ranks. I think that a consistent Libertarianism leads to a utopian anarcho-capitalist world where greed and atomistic, self-worshipping individualism are the highest virtues.

    I wait attentively to your next installment. Providential blessings to you and your family.

  • Oscar — looks like a good reference. Although they are not the same, I think there is a connection between Libertarianism and Libertinism. I had a section on this that I cut out for brevity and will devote a future post to. Thanks.

    Eliza — you too anticipated a section I had cut out and will return to, namely, the legitimacy of one’s sixth sense at times like this.

    Shotgun — how great that you know a Boer. Tell us how that came about.

    1. The Aryans in South Africa must come together as one. The british ones need to admit that the Afrikaaners were right all along, and therein will be the peace.

    2. They must follow the logic I outlined a couple posts ago, and patronize each other’s businesses exclusively, even if items cost a little more.

    3. They need to work out a joint escape plan, whereby they decide how they can work as a team to make it happen.

    Likewise, we need to be ready to put South African whites up while they get settled, help them find work, write our Congressmen to resolve immigration problems, help them build up a support network, and so forth. They need to get out of Africa, and we would be greatly blessed to have such immigrants.

  • Hey thanks for responding…and in such a satisfactory way!

    My Boer friend, however, may not be happy with number 3. He is very passionate about his people and I doubt he’d want to leave his land to savages.

    I was actually considering migrating there to escape the situation in America. (My puritan ancestors did as much. Additionally…I grew up reading Louis LaMour and the promise of adventure, danger, and wealth is very enticing. Also, I have a love for the mystique of the continent. )

    I began networking and eventually met my boer friend online.

    As for number 2…I’m still trying to complete the homework assignment.

  • Should pornography be prohibited by government sanction? This question had plagued Christians of the 60’s and 70’s. Now that the most perverse forms are only a few clicks away from everyone’s web, Christians (among others) have seemed more or less to come to peace with its intrusive existance and made its use purely a private matter. I suggest that the issue of legalizing or prohibiting porn is not asking the right question.

    If governments refuse to prosecute fornication, adultery, sodomy, beastiality, and others, they will never never prosecute pornography. Nor should they. They should be overthrown. Pornography is merely the visual depiction of sexual immorality for people to view. It is, in fact, the ipso facto evidence of said immorality. The government should use it to prosecute the participants. Imagine if a person could get such a view of his/her spouses infidelity! No further need for witnesses. Case closed. And if the government were prosecuting immorality, the issue of pornography would resolve itself.

    So in a sense, fighting porn is a Christian’s last ditch futile effort to do something about sexual immorality.

  • First, I want to confess that I was a Christian Libertarian for the bulk of my own adult life. Since I have stopped being one, it behooves me to point this out. (I know a fellow that once behaved and argued strongly against the WCF view of the Sabbath; then one day he was not only observing it, but chiding some of my lapses. I wanted to say, “excuse me, I think there are a few dots that need to be connected since we met last.”) It’s not fair to change sides without at least owning up to it.

    Now as to this particular argument against prohibiting pornography per se. This is a well-stated form of an argument that I first saw emanating from either Douglas Wilson or one of his acolytes.

    Using pornography as evidence to convict of adultery would only cover some of the cases. Other cases would fall within the class of the “unbetrothed young lady” — the remedy for which is placed in her father’s hands –, or even exhibitionism for hire from a married couple, for example.

    Moreover, the trial and conviction of adulterers would not cause the tapes of their uncleanness to cease to exist. Who would “own” the tapes? What if they had been sold?

    Thus, addressing the adultery and worse would not solve the pornography problem at all. Without a law against exhibitionism, or lewdness, or public indecency, or, above all, corrupting the morals of the folk; and without a magistrate that is willing to act swiftly and crushingly, this pestilence will never be stamped out.

    But libertarianism would rather see a people perish than have such a law, with enforcement.

    WCF 23.3 (American edition, excerpted): Civil magistrates, as nursing fathers… It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever.

    Leaders of both church and state are referred to in Scripture as “shepherds,” upon whose dereliction the sheep suffer, often not even knowing why. They are simply miserable.

    Probably no group would shout for joy louder if pornography were ruthlessly stamped out by our Leader, than porn-addicts.

    Anyone who would prefer this democratic morass that we have now to life under the Reformed kings of Prussia, for example, is either a libertine, or insane.

    Yes, I was insane for a while. A long while.

  • Yes, of course the porn would remain. But porn users never go back to the old porn. They have to have ever new porn to try to get the libido up again. Never mind that they never actually do. There is always old porn. Before the era of real porn movies, and especially before it was easily accesable privately by folks too scared to go to the downtown district, there was still books from the 19th century and before. I don’t think the civil magistrate stamping out porn would ever get rid of the old porn in any event. Especially in the digital age. I still think prosecuting the producers (12000+ porn movies made every year from California alone) has to be the beginning. Then, yes, prohibiting the distribution can happen also. This is the case with “snuff” movies and “child” pornography today. Of course it doesn’t mean that either of these can’t be found if a person is willing to look far enough. And I believe both will be readily available for all in the not so distant future.

    But yes, sexual immorality will be prosecuted eventually. No society can survive without it. We hope and pray that it will happen before much more damage is done. And absolutely before snuff films and child porn are allowed.

    As an aside, defining porn is something of a knotty issue. For legal purposes, the definition is narrowly drawn. From a private standpoint, it can simply be as wide as two fully clothed unmarried people standing on either side of a bed acting as though they are going to get into it. Our father went into the worst rage I have ever seen when an old Peter Sellers movie was on TV and my children were watching a fully dressed woman in a bedroom, and two fully dressed men, one her husband, chasing each other in and out of the bathroom, under the bed, through doors, etc., and no one ever touched. It was scripted as comedy. For him it was obscene. I’m sure he considered it porn. I had to chase every one out of the room. Oh, if he were alive today!

  • Jim — Our Leader will know where to draw the line. It is really not so difficult.

    When the dust settles, it looks like we are in violent agreement. The producers and distributors of pornography need to be stopped; this would not be so under Libertarianism.

  • If you read the comments, you get a flavor of how dangerous this guy and his sect are…the commenters literally worship at this man’s feet like slobbering dogs.

    And did you notice how many times we were told that there is no neutrality only to be told the state would be neutral toward the “uncovenanted” enemies of the theocratic order, because Jesus rose from the dead to protect the free exercise of atheism. By the end of the post, the State had shed its theocentricity for the neutrality of pure libertarianism. Wouldn’t want there not to be a free market for covenant breaking religion…schools, cathedrals, etc.

    He was right about one thing, we may as well call for something radical, because we’re going to get the same treatment either way. I propose covenanted, theocratic nations descending from common ancestors and rooted in a piece of land. I can’t remember where I first saw that…it may have been an article on

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