Libertarians for Life


Jeremy Lott (a former Reason intern and currently an editor at the American Spectator, where he occasionally runs pieces by me and my colleagues) has some interesting observations on the nexus between libertarians and the pro-life position. An excerpt:

Call it a paradox if you wish, but as someone who's flirted with joining the church of Rome, the parallels between Protestant misunderstandings of Catholicism and general churchy misgivings about laissez faire types are striking, and they usually boil down to an utter lack of hands-on experience. In some rarefied reality, the pro-life and libertarian ideals may be set against each other. But in our very messy, muddled world, I don't see the contradictions.
Jim Henley has said about why classical liberals are so prickly at times: "We are all moralists at heart."

Libertarians make a big deal about government regulation of drugs, and trade, and video games for a number of reasons, I'm sure, some of them no doubt selfish. But the main cause of our outrage, and of our persistence past when many people would've called it quits, is that these intrusions offend our moral vision of how the world should work….

Most Christian critics of libertarianism tut-tutt at its celebration of individualism, but as my colleague Shawn Macomber has argued, it cuts both ways. In order for classical liberal philosophy to place such importance on individual decisions, it has to vest individuals with tremendous importance. It must assign them rights, work out a basis for those rights, and sort out what happens when the claims compete. In fact, at some point, it begins to sound like that "dignity of the human person" that Catholic apologists love to go on about.

The impact of this analysis has not been lost on libertarians with regard to the unborn, if this author's experience is in any way representative. My home in the Washington, D.C., area is a nexus of free market economists and libertarian think tankers, and the circles I move in are lousy with the latter-day apostles of Adam Smith. To pilfer Mencken, I couldn't heave an egg out of a Pullman window without hitting a libertarian, though doing so would arguably violate the non-initiation of force principle.

The D.C. libertarian scene isn't a hotbed of pro-life activism, but it sure surprised me. I expected a stony-faced pro-choice consensus and instead got long conversations trying to work out that messy area where ideology and life collide. And I was surprised to hear relieved admissions that they were pro-life as well. I sometimes describe my politics as pro-life and pro-drugs, to which one surprised correspondent recently replied, "I thought I was the only one."

For most libertarians it depends, as cliched as it sounds, on when you think life begins. Although libertarian philosopher and economist Murray Rothbard argued in his book The Ethics of Liberty that a purist libertarian position might grant that a fetus is a human life, but come to a perhaps unexpected conclusion from this starting point:

Most fetuses are in the mother's womb because the mother consents to this situation….But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic "invader" of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain….let us concede…that fetuses are human beings…and are therefore entitled to full human rights. But what humans, we may ask, have the right to be coercive parasites within the body of an unwilling human host? Clearly, no born humans have such a right, and therefore…the fetus can have no such right either.