The Editorial Board of Jewish Currents, "a progressive, secular" and 65-year-old bimonthly magazine, has a warning up entitled "The Temptations of Libertarianism." Robert Arvay of The American Thinker, a more right-leaning "daily internet publication" for whom "the right to exist and the survival of the State of Israel are of great importance," has its own piece up by Robert Arvay entitled "A Conservative's Practical Guide to Challenging Libertarianism." Let us mash up these cautionary tales into a single narrative arc!
Act I: Into Temptation
For example, on the one hand, [libertarianism] advocates lower taxes, smaller government, and strong property rights. So far, that is appealing to conservatives. […]
[L]ibertarian thought is not, in fact, a hodgepodge—its individual policy positions are not eclectic, but rather consistent with its central theme of individual liberty and personal freedoms. This central theme is very attractive to conservatives of all stripes[.]
The "hands-off," anti-government libertarianism espoused by Reason may offer some temptation to us "homeless" progressives, especially in the wake of Washington's bipartisan betrayal of working people over the past decades. As self-proclaimed devotees of the Declaration of Independence's call for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," for example, Reason's editors advocate marital rights for same-sex couples, decriminalization of drugs, reproductive autonomy for women, and similar manifestations of liberty. The magazine also decries intrusions into private life by the national security establishment since September 11th, 2001, and worries about anti-Muslim bias in America. All of this contrasts sharply with the hypocrisy of the Christian Right and other conservative elements that condemn "government interference" yet are only too glad to pass laws that institutionalize their biases.
Act II: Sister Madly
What Reason argues for under the rubric, "free markets," is a whole lot less tempting, however. Welch and Gillespie unveil their logic as follows:
A growing majority of us has responded to the stale theatrics of Republican and Democratic misgovernment by making a rational choice: We ignore politics…and instead pursue happiness. We fall in love, start a home business, make mash-ups for YouTube…bum around Europe for a year orthree…or trick out our El Caminos. Through these pursuits we eventually find…[that people] mostly left to their own devices and not empowered by the state to force others into servitude, will create riches far more meaningful and vast than the cramped business of tax-collecting, regulation-spewing, do-as-I-say-or-else governments.
Never mind the callow obliviousness to their own class privilege (Hey, guys: a bunch of Americans are living in their El Caminos): Welch and Gillespie have here revealed the central fallacy of their libertarianism. They see a smooth highway, "the pursuit of happiness," running between the private and the economic, between "free minds" and "free markets" — if only the government would stop erecting traffic signs and toll booths! But economic activity is never private. All aspects of wealth-creation are "social": from the natural resources we use (our shared inheritance), to the process of invention and innovation that sets in motion new products (dependent upon previous centuries of education, infrastructure and scientific advance), to the labor that manufactures, ships, harvests, bills, etc., right on through to the solutions we must now collectively seek to the blunt the global-warming impact of industry.
For freedom is not merely a right; it is also a responsibility. With the freedom from tyranny comes the duty to do good. Were it otherwise, the Declaration of Independence might well eliminate the words "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" and substitute instead "permitted by their government to exercise certain negotiable rights."
Without acknowledging that human rights come from the Supreme Being, one concedes that all human rights are conditional upon the current structure of power, the particular fad of the moment. Subjective rights are not rights at all, but merely temporary, revocable privileges.
To recognize that human rights come from God is to affirm that there is a God, and that His commandments are not subordinate to the whims of men, but instead are absolute and eternal. […]
It is vital then, to understand and embrace not only the written words of the Constitution itself, but also its underlying values. Those indispensable words are but the edifice which rests upon an equally indispensable moral foundation.
Dénouement: Mean to Me
Taken to its logical conclusion, economic libertarianism leads to Social Darwinism, the doctrine that sees it as proper that the fortunate few who are endowed with talent, endurance and, above all, luck, should thrive at the top, while the rest of us fall by the wayside. Progressives want to cultivate a very different doctrine, one that believes human society to be capable of moving beyond the "survival of the fittest" to seek the greatest good for the greatest number — with democratic government as the tool for achieving that goal. This doctrine is just as deeply rooted in America's founding documents as hands-off libertarianism, since our Founding Fathers saw fit to mention in the preamble to the Constitution a governmental obligation "to promote the general welfare."
Political philosophy aside, what are the concrete results when economic libertarianism is implemented? The answer is simple: Look around! We are living through one of the least regulated, least taxed eras in modern history — and the results have been disastrous for the great majority of Americans.
Forcing landlords to rent to unmarried couples, forcing professional photographers to accommodate homosexual weddings, and requiring pharmacists to supply abortifacient drugs are just a few examples that come quickly to mind.
In the near future, licensing of brothels, clean injection centers for drug addicts, and a requirement that grade schools teach homosexual propaganda will likely be enacted. To varying degrees, they already have been.
Libertarian thought provides no reliable remedy to the social poisons that society is ingesting. Its values may be those of freedom, but they are also the values of the golden calf.
Libertarianism has much to recommend it. But a poison lurks within it, and only clear thinking can save us from that.
So there you have it: Freedom tastes great and all, but without God or enough government the brew will prove fatal.