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.
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 lewrockwell.com 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.