THE WRIGHT PERSPECTIVE: Why I am No Longer a Libertarian

I think this is the most link-heavy day I have ever had. Unlike the other two, this is meant to be the first of a weekly and ongoing feature.

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wright-perspectiveThe opening of my first article for them is an introduction of myself:

I often introduce myself as a recovering libertarian. It is not an entirely serious introduction, but it is not entirely frivolous either.

Why “recovering”? Sad experience teaches that any ideology, even a sound one, like libertarianism, is intoxicating. The appeal of ideology is the appeal of elegance. Just as Newton reduced all motions from the orbits to apples falling to three expressions, every intellectual craves a simple formula to explain the human condition. Libertarianism is based on a single principle that limits the state’s use of force to retaliation against fraud and trespass.

Nearly all the natural moral rules all men carry in their hearts are satisfied by the simple rule that you may do as you like provided you leave your neighbor free to do as he likes. No neighbor may rob, defraud nor attack another.

The intoxication comes with each case that fits neatly to the theory. Natural morality agrees that wars to defend the innocent are permissible, as is killing in self defense. Natural morality agrees that a man should keep his contracts, and so on.

The theory says the state must remain carefully neutral in all cultural and moral questions: the use of intoxicating drugs for recreational use, suicide assisted or no, polygamy, prostitution, gambling, pornography, duels to the death (provided only all participants fully agree!) or, for that matter, copulating with a corpse on the roof of your house in plain view of the neighbors’ children playing in their backyards, and then eating the corpse, all must be legal.

For me, the intoxicating spell ended in three sharp realizations, each one as forceful as a thunderbolt.

Read the rest here:


ADDENDUM: I have the honor to share the paper with Col Kratman. Here is the announcement and the link:

On Monday we launched Colonel Kratman’s column, “Lines of Departure”. I’m pleased to announce that it is now the most-commented piece of content we’ve had in the site’s history. Instapundit was kind enough to provide an inbound link which definitely helped the launch.


  1. Comment by JartStar:

    The unmanageable problem of the police in libertarianism was the issue which drove me out of its ranks.

  2. Comment by Rainforest Giant:

    I was never truly libertarian. I always knew ‘gay pride’ parades were harmful to everyone exposed to them. It’s as if we allowed people to commit suicide in public even if they harmed no one else they’d certainly cause emotional harm to most watchers and bystanders to say nothing of the mess they leave for others to deal with. If I can’t get past a bunch of mostly naked men sodomizing each other in public, how can I say I’m a libertarian? There are a half dozen other examples off the top of my head but ones enough.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      What you say it all too true. I am sad it too me so long to see it.

      Libertarians are still our allies in the Culture War. We are a society overrun with government, sick with government, dying with government, chained with government. Any sort of antigovernment activism is our friend.

      Er, except when it comes to drug legalization and the normalization of p()rnography, of course. On those issues, they fight on the otherside.

      Lets have the conservatives and libertarians join forces and SELL OFF ALL THE GOVERNMENT-OWNED LAND IN NEVADA TO PRIVATE OWNERS, and then we can have a polite discussion about drug legalization.

      • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

        The one issue that libertarians and I have always disagreed on even when I thought I agreed with most of their philosophy was abortion. How is nine months of inconvenience worse than the death of a baby? Regardless of whether or not a woman has a right to her body does not the child also have a right to his body? Isn’t that the one thing that libertarians are always going on about, owning their own bodies? And death vs gaining 30lbs? That’s not even in the same ballpark.

        The same libertarian philosophy should allow me to starve or abandon my infant children because they inconvenience me. They are my children why should the government tell me what I can and cannot do with them?

        I can agree with them on smaller government. I can even support them when it does not go against my other principles but somethings there can be no compromise with.

        Oh, and heck yes we should reopen the federal land to homesteading again. It would be worth it just to watch the watermelon/environmentalist throw the mother of all hissy fits. I would rather see homesteading than sales or a mix of both. Americans should be able to carve out eighty acres away from their neighbors. Far away.

        • Comment by indpndnt:

          Libertarians are quite varied on the topic of abortion. There is no monolithic support one way or another.

          The arguments for abortion are very close to those of David Boonin (the violinist argument, for example). These are easy to refute, though, just look up Beckwith’s responses.

          There was a website that may still exist called “Libertarians for Life” that goes through lots of excellent material on being pro-life from a libertarian perspective.

          The short version is this. There is conflict in thinking among libertarians about what constitutes consent, obligation, and property. Everyone is arguing from the same libertarian principle of not initiating force. Rather, it is the arguments about personhood, for example, that create the split. Just like in non-libertarians.

          • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

            Rather, it is the arguments about personhood, for example, that create the split. Just like in non-libertarians.

            There you misunderstand the entire Christian opposition to abortion and demonstrate why the libertarian position whether argued for or against are both argued from false starting points.

            There is no question of consent, obligation, or property, or even force. The question is it right to murder a baby? That is the only question. If you are not starting from there you have already misunderstood what you are talking about.

            • Comment by indpndnt:

              I agree that that’s a key question, but when you say “murder”, there is an implicit assumption of the baby being a person. For example, we do not say that hunters “murder” deer. I completely agree that the baby is a person, but there are people out there who do not. I gave one such example.

              The actual starting point is not to ask “is it right to murder?”. Murder, by definition, assumes some kind of unjustified ending of the life of a person. We do not call self-defense murder, because we know that there is justification in self-defense. The actual starting point in the abortion debate is to discover what makes a person a person. From there you can go on to make moral judgments that relate to persons.

              Peter Kreeft’s (a Catholic) excellent work on abortion starts from defining whether or not the baby is a person. He even addresses the issue based on any potential incomplete information about whether or not the baby is a person. Other Catholic apologists, like Trent Horn, also address these questions first. Other christian apologists do the same (such as the folks from Stand To Reason).

              I am a Catholic, and I think abortion is one of the worst evils that can be performed by humanity. The Catholic faith teaches about the sanctity of human life, and of course I believe those teachings. However, for people who are not Catholic, or do not believe in a god, arguments can still be made against abortion that do not require the Church’s theology.

              This is what occurs with many libertarians, as I described. Many do not start from the theological statements of the Church. They have other starting points. My point in responding to you was only to say that libertarians are not monolithic in their treatment of abortion, as you were implying. I tried to explain why they are not monolithic, not why they are wrong in thinking abortion is fine.

              • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

                Thank you for your clarification. It is true there are others against abortion and I am glad they are even if their reasons are wrong.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                my argument is that parents have a duty to protect and raise a child no matter whether the child is human or not. If a witch turned the prince into a frog for nine months, and he is clearly a frog and not a human being, and you know the spell will and must end in exactly nine months, is it proper for the Queen to kill the frog on the last day of the eighth month? Even if it is not murder, if the Queen kills the frog had she not clearly and horribly failed in her duty as a mother to protect and love her child?

                • Comment by indpndnt:

                  I absolutely agree with that! Libertarians do not do a very good job (if any at all) of describing any form of duty.

                • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

                  Mr. Wright, your take on this is different from any I’ve heard before, but it’s very interesting, and definitely worth thinking about.

                  The double-standard of laws against disturbing eggs of endangered species, etc., with those that permit abortion is a question that abortion supporters cannot adequately address, because they refuse to acknowledge the dignity and importance of human life. While your approach might gain traction with people who fail to recognize the humanity of someone who resembles a “segmented worm” as Carl Sagan so inelegantly described the early stages of a human embryo, I believe there is an increasingly significant contingent of abortion supporters who would respond, “Yeah, it’s a human. So what?”

              • Comment by Foxfier:

                *cough* I usually point out that they just decided that they get to decide what humans are people. That means they’re deciding that some HUMANS are NONPERSONS.

                This usually results in accusations of being unscientific.

                Thanks to the wonders of the internet, there’s a response to that other than sputtering at the incredible… something or other… of accusing someone of what you, yourself, are doing.

                Catholic Stand actually just accepted an post on that topic:
                (I hate self promotion, because I’m not much of a writer, but it is on topic and the resources are helpful.)

                • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

                  Very nice article. My mother noted forty something years ago that as soon as abortion became legal eventually euthanasia, ‘assisted’ suicide, even death panels although she did not call them that, would be coming.

                  She was right.

            • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

              If abortion is in fact murder, then it should not be defined as a crime separate from murder.

              Therefore every abortionist should be subject to the full legal punishment for murder, up to and including the capital sort.

              Likewise, every participant in an abortion, including the woman seeking the abortion and any friends or family who may have assisted her in procuring the abortion, are accessories to murder and should expect imprisonment if convicted.

              Mind you, I am as opposed to abortion as most of you here. I do think that we should not use the word “murder” without fully appreciating its implications.

              • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

                Yes abortion is murder. And I have no problem with prosecuting those involved as such.

              • Comment by Foxfier:

                Remember that murder has different levels for things like someone threatening you if you don’t do it, or similar issues.

                IIRC, the leading cause of death in pregnant women (in the US) is the boyfriend.

                • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

                  Coercion is no defense of murder in your state. I feel nothing but pity for women who have shitty boyfriends who would urge an abortion. Pity that they did not select a better quality of mate and pity that they be subject to the pressure to murder their child. I feel pity that the boyfriend believes rightly or wrongly that they are the kind of woman that would succumb to that pressure. Women who actually murder their babies? No, no pity except the same vague pity I feel for any broken person.

        • Comment by Foxfier:

          Pregnancy and birth are rather big deal, but on the abortion issue the big deal is that it requires violating a primary rule of Libertarianism.

          It’s initiating deadly force on someone who in no way, shape or form is threatening you– it’s simply not possible to argue that the unborn human even chose a course of action which put your life at risk. Even in those cases where the mother didn’t/couldn’t consent to the act that resulted in pregnancy, it wasn’t the child that did anything. It’s like claiming it’s OK to hit someone who is crossing the road because you’re in a hurry.

      • Comment by Zaklog the Great:

        I’m of two minds about drug legalization. I don’t like idea of the widening use of mind-altering drugs that would almost certainly follow this. I don’t have a particular problem with the government regulating such substances . . . however I do like the Fourth Amendment, and the pursuit of drug offenders has been a major part of destroying our protection against search and seizure. I’ve essentially become neutral on this as a political issue.

  3. Comment by ConceptJunkie:

    I used to describe what I’d like to see as being “Christian Libertarianism” (or to be more precise “Catholic Libertarianism”), because I cannot abide with the ideas of legalization of drugs or abortion, but once I understood the concepts of subsidarity and distributism, I realized that the “Libertarian” part of the label is superfluous.

    Catholic social teaching, despite what a lot of modernists would have you believe, such as whoever writes some of the position papers of the USCCB (who seem to think it’s one flavor of socialism or another), is a really remarkable concept that emphasizes individual liberty and freedom in their proper context of Christian morality.

    Economically, Catholic social teaching also respects the ideas of private property as sacrosanct, while recognizing our duties towards each other as well as to ourselves. The joke was that when Pope Leo issued “Rerum Novarum”, he angered both the proto-collectivists and the robber baron “If you can get away with it, God meant you to have it” capitalist types all in one fell swoop, so he had to be on to something.

    These ideas are similar to what the libertarians stand for in many ways, especially in those ways of restraining the power of the state to those areas where it is truly needed, but in other ways, there are irreconcilable differences. I could see maybe supporting a libertarian Presidential candidate, because most of the issues on which I disagree with the libertarians, at least with regard to domestic policy, are issues that I think should be rightly decided by the States in the first place, and would not be subject to the President or Congress, if the 10th Amendment still meant something.

    And given the performance of the last couple Republican presidential candidates, I’ve long wondered whether the game theory conclusion that voting for a third party is “throwing away your vote” is any worse than backing obvious losers over and over.

    I think your criticisms of libertarianism are spot-on, although I would suspect at least some libertarians would take issue with the idea of people having license to influence other people’s children in any way they wished as being problematic. But your final example seems to sum up the problem that a libertarian attitude doesn’t necessarily leave room for the possibility that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

    • Comment by Flikery:

      Regarding your game theory conclusion of voting for a third party, since the probability that your vote is the deciding one is extremely close to zero (closer still if you consider the recounts and courts that would be involved if the election were close, with flourishing access points for foul play), you need only decide that the value to you or the message you can send to those whom you discuss the election with by voting for said third party is worth some small positive value. The existence of the third party as the most attractive party to many is the problem, not your voting for one. I say vote away!

      • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

        Actually a winner-take-all voting system is the real problem. With no provisions for proportional voting, preference voting or run-offs, the system guarantees a two party system, and there’s nothing, mathematically, we can do about it. In 2008 and 2012, I felt it was most important to do everything I could to prevent one of the candidates from winning, therefore it really didn’t matter who I voted for, because I wasn’t voting _for_ anyone.

        This is the kind of situation that prompts people to try to game the system by running false-flag third party candidates, voting spoiler in an open primary for a party you do not belong to, and other tactics that have absolutely nothing to do with democratic selection of a candidate based on the preponderance of preference from among the voters.

        The U.S.A. has perhaps more diversity among its citizens (except for language) of any country in the world, but our voting system does not allow for a multitude of political parties that more closely represent what citizens actually believe and want, and encourages bullying, cheating and strongarming, as opposed to the kinds of coalition-building and cooperation that other countries must accomplish to make things happen.

        Plus, we absolutely need to repeal the 17th Amendment, enact term limits and in my opinion, I really think the President should be selected by the House of Representatives (even though I think a majority of those folks are crooks and/or idiots).

        Direct election of the President has become a joke, and process of getting nominated seems to guarantee we get horrible choices that no one really wants (with the exception of our current President, who was an anomaly in that regard).

        Did our forefathers really suffer and bleed and die for our right to hold our noses and reluctantly pull the lever for the slightly-lesser of two evils?

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          With no provisions for proportional voting, preference voting or run-offs, the system guarantees a two party system

          Canada and the U.K. have a first-past-the-post system with no proportional voting, preference voting, or runoffs. Both Canada and the U.K. have three major political parties, and have had more in the past. In the last 30 years alone, six different political parties have formed the official opposition (second-largest party in Parliament) in Canada, and three have formed Parliamentary majorities. This should sufficiently demonstrate that your conclusion does not follow from your premises.

  4. Comment by Carbonel:

    Back when I still called myself a libertarian (and it was John, by-the-by who convinced me that was the correct label for my political beliefs) I would be regularly amused by the reaction: You’re a Christian? And a libertarian? Because my answer was “only Christians can safely be libertarians.”

    As a political descriptor of a type of political leaning, it’s okay. As a philosophy of anything important? Not so much. And since the advent of the tea-party, there isn’t really any need for “libertarian” as a distinguishing label, either.

    • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

      Except, Carbonel, that the “Tea Party’ term has been painted as a bunch of Neanderthal racists who want to the destroy everything the government does, but don’t you dare touch their Medicare.

      Yes, it’s a ridiculous stereotype, but I’m convinced that a significant portion of the populace see this as the literal truth and are unwilling to take any steps to see otherwise. “Libertarian” doesn’t (yet) have as many bad connotations, I think.

      Of course, I think the true Tea Partier should be unwilling to cede the definition of words to the enemy. Conservatives and culture warriors for Christ way too often fight battles on the enemy’s terms, either by choice or unintentionally. Nonetheless, the real problem is not for an ever-growing proportion of the population, real dialog is no longer possible. Look at the string of non sequiturs that passes for public debate these days. Most Democrat politicians (and a fair number of Republicans) would have to unload a lot of cognitive dissonance just to get down to doublethink.

      I’ve been active online for 25 years in one way or another and I’ve talked and debated and argued with a fair number of folks. Sometimes we find common ground, other times, not. But I’ve debated very few leftists in the last few years who didn’t respond to a cogent point by changing the subject or resorting to name-calling, even when I’m really trying to engage and not just taking shots. I even make a serious effort to dial back on the snark (and that’s a Herculean task, trust me), but it’s becoming more and more futile.

      Nowadays, I wouldn’t even bother, but for the silent spectators, and based on my debates on Facebook with fellow parishioners (imagine that, hardcore statists and other assorted lefty detritus who call themselves Catholic (just ask Bella Dodd how that came about)), I’ve received numerous encouraging comments privately or in meatspace that people really appreciate what I do. One time it even got to the point where I had to appeal to the pastor, and he backed me up*. But it takes a toll, because these kind of folks know how to push my buttons, and I’ve had to block certain folks lest it become a near occasion of sin. In fact, forget “near occasion”.

      * Despite what the USCCB might suggest, Catholic doctrine does not require practitioners to support socialized medicine, gun control, and pretty much the entire leftie menu except abortion (but don’t look too closely at the NGOs they support financially). And the Holy Father, God bless him, seems to be unintentionally adding fuel to the fire. I get where he’s coming from, and there’s a lot I like about him, but he’s not scoring many points for Traditional doctrine with his ad hoc style. He’s not “changing things” (and can’t and won’t) as so many are hoping, but he is sure is giving mixed signals, especially given the way the media will inevitably distort things.

      I mean, the Church must have the Holy Spirit on her side because we humans couldn’t go for more than a couple decades without running the whole thing off of a cliff.

      • Comment by Carbonel:

        Hmmm…. just as consubstantiation is a useful reference for people who wouldn’t understand the idea of the Real Presence (or care)… A fair cop. I’ll have to rethink my position on that one.

      • Comment by billthesimple:

        Wasn’t it Hilaire Belloc who concluded that the Church must be of divine origin because ‘no human institution run with such knavish imbecility would last a fortnight’?

        • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

          I have no doubts that any observation I may make on the subject has already been made with much more eloquence many decades or centuries ago.

          But it is nonetheless true. I am a zealous and devout Catholic who loves the Faith and who tries to be educated about the Church, her Teachings and her history. I try to defend the Faith in all venues and strive to be a good servant of Christ, even if I’m not very good at it.

          But to be honest, I have a pretty low opinion of a lot of the people running the Church. I appreciate the respect and obedience I owe to the Bishops by virtue of their God-given authority, but I also recognize that we don’t owe them, or anyone, blind obedience. It’s a good thing, too, since we are in the midst of the worse crisis since Arianism.

          Nonetheless, I trust that Holy Spirit guides the Church and their servants, all sinners like me, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail. But that doesn’t mean things won’t get ugly. It is not just a colorful metaphor that Mr. Wright employs when refers to us in another post as warriors for Christ.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Belloc may have said it also, but there is a famous anecdote:

          During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”

          Myself, I am perversely proud of any incompetence on the part of my Church leadership, for the same reason why a soldier of Israel should have been proud to see David the shepherd boy defy Goliath. You see, the worse our leadership is, the more clear it is that the Church is the beloved Bride of Christ and under His special guidance and protection.

  5. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    Congratulations for your column.
    I like the header. Did you choose the art?

    I also congratulate you for TRANSHUMAN AND SUBHUMAN, which I just bought.

  6. Comment by brucecharlton:

    @JCW – The visual setting of this article on its page in the on-line journal ironically mirrors its argument.

    The text (arguing for traditional values) is surrounded by just about every imaginable kind of disgusting imagery, insidiously-corrupting headline and attention-grabbing triviality; the setting tending both to trivialise and subvert the content.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Addiction to distraction, just as you said in your book, indeed. But they are paying me 300 bucks for four hours of work. It beats filling out income tax forms, which was my first job.

    • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

      It was jarring for me as well. An article by John Wright and another by Col. Kratman next to a ‘prank’ video of a girl with flatulence just doesn’t set well.

      I suppose young men are attracted to such things now days. And they do need something worthwhile to read occasionally. If they can be lured away from the bikinis and ‘fart jokes’ to something serious I can see the benefit.

      • Comment by amacris:

        Shhh, don’t give away our cunning plan.

        • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

          It’s true, you cannot find a young man of the age of reason who has not been exposed to such influences. When I was a boy the cover of my uncle’s playboy on the coffee table represented the height of daring decadence.

          Now if a kid reaches jr. high without knowing what the variations of sodomy are the school will be sure to provide instruction. I’m not saying my side should give up. I am a father and grandfather and do the best I can to limit what is seen and heard in my home. I am not sure what to do as a society (as if I had any influence at all).

  7. Comment by Iapetus:

    Mr. Wright? If you don’t mind sating a reader’s curiosity, I’ve got an off-topic question for you. Now that you’ve been Catholic for several years, are there any particular devotions you’ve become attached to? Any saints or prayers that have become favorites of yours? My apologies if I’m being intrusive–it’s just something I’ve been wondering about.

  8. Comment by amacris:

    I’m with you except for on drug legalization. My reasons:

    1. Personal. My wife’s health depends on heavily regulated government substances. Because the drugs are so regulated, a single prescription lost in the mail will mean she’s in wracking agony with no help available because “sorry, that’s a controlled substance”. The most effective treatments available (60% cure rate) is entirely illegal because it can’t get FDA approval because not enough people have her illness to do a full trial. It’s an absurd situation – to give a bureaucrat power over what substances you can take for your health is to give them total power over you. I believe in ordered liberty – but the order needs to preserve life and liberty, not hamper it.

    2. Systemic. The state has proven itself woefully incapable of even determining which substances are healthy. Witness the train-wreck of state nutrition guidelines triggering the obesity epidemic! It’s done far worse in determining which substances’ use should be criminalized, nor of finding rational stopping points for this legislation. You wrote, “in states where marijuana has been made legal, it’s being offered in candy and soda pop, in order to lure the young and make customers for life.” Meanwhile, in liberal-run cities and states, they are moving towards banning candy and soda pop because it’s Bad for the Children.

    brucecharlton – The reality of the Internet today is that no website in the world is presently able to sustain itself with highbrow content or highbrow ads. Dig into any site – Forbes, NY Times, pick your poison – and you will find a foundation of Buzzfeed/Upworthy/User-gen style content and filler/remnant ads. Or you will find a site that is subsidized by a print magazine. Or you will find a site that is just a money-losing vanity project.

    The Left never hesitates to infiltrate the bastions and citadels of the Right. Why should the Right shy away from presenting its message wherever the opportunity presents itself?

    • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

      I don’t have a problem with those who believe intoxicating drugs should be illegal, with a couple of caveats:

      – it’s not the fact that some drugs are illegal that bothers me nearly as much as the militarized “war” on drugs, with its no-knock raids, armored cars and asset confiscation. Roll back these tyrannical accretions, and we can compromise.

      – anyone who gets his shorts in a wad about pot or even coke, but is on board with the massive doping of generations of American children with psychotropic “medications” needs an industrial strength hypocrisy check, toot sweet.

  9. Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

    Mr. Wright:

    I suspect that very few of us would desire to live either in a lawless state or in a totalitarian one.

    Each of us must at some point look at a behavior which we find offensive and decide that (a) it should be legal, or (b) it should not be.

    How do you personally make such decisions?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic. I believe that a rightly ordered political state is a consequence of the fall of man and a necessity created by my evil nature and those of my neighbors. All legitimate political authority comes ultimately from God, and any political state which offends God loses its claim to legitimacy. Within those bounds, the state is right to collect taxes, defend its borders, carry on just wars, enforce the good and ancient laws and traditions which happen to have grown to the force of law (being a young nation, Americans rarely encounter these, but they exist). Laws are rightly ordered when they establish the proper relations between man and wife, father and child, and enforce voluntary contracts, and render men secure in the persons and property, as well as secure the public weal by punishing notorious acts of vice.

      I personally make such decisions by looking to the English Common Law, which is the greatest accumulated repository of justice and wisdom, accumulated quite literally on a case by case basis, the human race has ever produced. Attempting, as the French Revolution did, to determine justice in the abstract, guided by theory, is nearly always a most grave error.

      The main danger to our English system of laws — and we Americans, save in Louisiana use the English system — are activist judges. They should be hanged from streetlamps by local militia volunteers on behalf of municipal, parish, or country governments, and burning in effigy every 5th of November. They are surely a greater danger to civil liberty than Guy Fawkes ever posed.

  10. Comment by indpndnt:

    For me (a Catholic and libertarian), the biggest conflict I have is this. If ends do not justify means, how can we be justified in using the threat of force (or force itself) from the state to get the ends we want? Just because some things are morally right or wrong does not therefore mean that they must be legally required or prohibited.

    For some matters, it’s easy to reconcile. A government withholding benefits or recognition does not initiate force to do so (think of marriage). A government responding to external physical threats is responding to an initiation of violence (defense and just war). Is the resolution to say that moral wrongs (such as exposing children to the glorification of immorality) allows us to respond with force?

    I am still reading and exploring this, but life has a way of getting in between these pursuits with more day to day matters. I do not like that I have such a conflict, and I prefer to trust the Church, but this apparent conflict vexes me. I have not yet found a good answer to these questions (the fault for this is more with me than any other person).

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I wish I were a better scholar, because then I could point you to some book by Thomas Aquinas or something to answer the question. Alas, I am not. All I can say is that Libertarianism is morally bankrupt because it attempts to define the rightness of use of force without reference to the rightness and wrongness of human action; instead it uses a purely formal and legalistic definition which says that any initiation of force, aside from retaliation to force or fraud, is wrong.

      But that simply does not cover all the cases. We know a man buying a kilo of cocaine and a man buying a violin are simply not the same. But the Libertarian formula says they are the same, in that no one is defrauded or assaulted in the attack. To enact a law forbidding recreational drugs, so say the Libertarians, is essentially the same as enacting a law forbidding them to print pamphlets criticizing the king. But the Christian mind knows that man was meant to love and serve God, and that a drunkard or an addict can do neither, whereas the King is a son of Adam no less sinful than yourself, and hence has no right to silence your criticism by the sword. The Christian can see the two things are not merely different, but opposite: one is alien and hateful to human life and growth, and the other is an expression of it.

      The Christian knows freedom primarily is freedom from sin, freedom to be human, fully alive, fully rational, and that political freedoms are subservient to this greater freedom, and cannot overrule it.

  11. Comment by paul.griffin:

    In my younger, unmarried days (which were not so long ago) I considered myself a libertarian, but as I have married and gotten older, my thoughts and positions have changed. While I can appreciate the libertarian desire for less government, and I strongly believe that is a good thing, libertarianism bases its arguments on a falsehood, namely that we are some sort of atomic units, capable of performing actions that have no effect on the other atomic units around us.

    We are communal creatures, meant to live in communion with one another. Communism (a foul misnomer if ever there was one), Socialism, and a slew of new-age clap-trap like to powder their rotten offerings with this little bit of truth, the better to get people to eat what they’re shoveling. However, to put it simply, there is no such thing as an action that does not affect the people around us. Seeing how the repercussions of the suicide of my wife’s grandfather continue to be felt three generations later has been more than enough to convince me of the indefensibility of that belief.

    Getting older, I have spent many years with my own struggles, seeing friends and loved ones self-destruct to various degrees, and joining my wife in counseling and praying for those around us looking to right their ship and turn away from the destruction, or else heal from the destruction wrought by those around them. In the midst of all this, I could not help noticing that nearly all of these greater or lesser disasters involved the very activities a libertarian would defend as “not hurting anyone else.” What I see instead is that someone else is always in the blast radius of our actions.

    Quite frankly, I don’t know where any of this leaves me politically any more. It seems like every political camp is playing for the other team in some important aspect. Before everything, I am a Christian. I have no desire to force my beliefs on someone, mainly because that is a false conversion and does nothing for their hearts, but politics is not separable from these other matters. I don’t believe I can simply stand by and accept a society that implicitly or explicitly approves pornography, prostitution, suicide, and drug use. These things are incredibly destructive, and not just to those directly involved.

    My heart breaks to see both our culture in general, as well as specific people around me, embracing the very things that long for nothing so much as to squeeze the life out of them in return. Often, the libertarians I know go rushing into the arms of destruction just as quickly as anyone else.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      It seems like every political camp is playing for the other team in some important aspect. Before everything, I am a Christian.

      I am beginning to feel the same way.

      • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

        I don’t think the Tea Partiers are playing for anyone’s team but their own.

        Their only problem is that no one else is playing for their team either, and they can’t effectively defeat the Big Duopoly without being organized and united, but their very nature tends to preclude that, because they are people who are independent-minded and mostly just want to be left alone.

        An image of herding cats comes unbidden to mind.

        Their natural allies would seem to be the Republican Party, but we’ve seen that that alliance is a tepid one at best, and at worst they are being coldly co-opted for their votes when needed, and deliberately sabotaged when not.

        You cannot gain traction in the this Duopolistic system without compromising yourself because negative TV ads are the only thing that really sways most people, and that takes enormous amounts of money.

        Any candidate who makes it to the level of a national nomination is pretty much pre-sold-out for our convenience. Worse, the more government insinuates itself into every aspect of the economy, the more the rich and powerful will want to interfere by buying their way in… the investment is too good an opportunity to pass up.

        The same people who complain the most about money corrupting the system are doing everything they can to vote in a way that incentivizes corrupting the system with more money. Voting should be a political decision, not an economic one, and corporations are only running the henhouse because they’ve been given the keys. Kickbacks go both ways.

        When the government is a balance against power and influence, as it should be, then things would work better. When the government is a redistributor of power and influence then it’s going to be a free-for-all, survival-of-the-fittest Battle Royale where might makes right.

        And as someone alluded to above, the voting system itself guarantees a two-party system. There are other voting systems which are much better at allowing voters to express their will, but the odds of the U.S. considering them are only slightly less than odds that we will reconsider monarchy.

        • Comment by paul.griffin:

          Well, I was alluding to a team that is more interested in souls to devour and lives to destroy than it is in votes. It seems more and more as though that team’s leader has weaseled his God-forsaken fingers into every aspect of our culture and especially our politics.

          Thank God that my hope does not lie in any of that mess. In the midst of all of these tragedies, I am beginning to understand, however dimly, things like Peace beyond understanding and a Hope that the world cannot fathom.

  12. Comment by Foxfier:

    When I met my husband, he was a pretty solid Libertarian. Being rather geeky, he was use to going against the tide, and is dang good at it. The way HE lived was pretty traditional, but he didn’t want to urge anybody else to do it.

    When our first daughter was born, it was like a switch flipped– suddenly, he viscerally recognized that the “doesn’t hurt anybody” stuff DID actually hurt folks.

  13. Comment by Augustina:

    What libertarians fail to recognize is the importance of culture. They believe, falsely, that man is a purely rational atomistic being who will ultimately make the right choices in life. When confronted with the awful choices people make, they point to government incentivizing these choices. That is true to a point. But ultimately, most people do not think too deeply about their actions. They base their right and wrong on what they see is acceptable to others. Hence, the importance of culture.

    The sad case of Russia illustrates this. I had always believed what I was told by free marketers, that Soviet Russia was in a bad state due to their totalitarian government oppressing the people. I believed that once they had freedom they would prosper. Well, they got their freedom. And they didn’t prosper. Every social indicator pointed to a despairing and dying society. Once communism was overthrown, the birth rate went down, mortality went up, poverty increased, life expectancy went down, violent crime and suicide went up. Why?

    Once the evil oppressive government was overthrown, shouldn’t the rational actors in a rational society now free to act rationally and make rational choices to be rationally happy, now be free and happy? Apparently not. Mere freedom is not enough. People had no culture to instruct, support or give them an understanding of how to live life. Soviet communism destroyed the thousand year old Orthodox Christian culture. The clunky Soviet culture that replaced it wasn’t a very good substitute, but it was better than nothing. It gave people something outside themselves to believe in. Once that was discredited then the Russian people had nothing to believe in. No culture to instruct them how to act, what was good, what was bad; and without that, the people despaired.

    It seems to me that Putin is attempting to revive the old Russian Orthodox culture. Good luck to him, but it may be too little, too late.

    Destroying a culture ultimately leads to despair in the people now bereft of their culture. It’s where we are now in the West. Libertarians do not recognize this, to their discredit.

    • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

      Many social conservatives of my acquaintance likewise misinterpret the role of culture. They seem to believe that the cultural trends of which they despair can be rolled back by the application of state power.

      A society with a large majority of citizens who believe that abortion is a human right (or at least, an occasionally acceptable necessity) will simply never enact strict anti-abortion legislation. A society that believes that homosexual marriage, and legal availability of all intoxicants, are acceptable, is a society in which legal prohibitions to those activities will inevitably (slowly or quickly) erode.

      The only way to reverse the direction of the culture is the changing of hearts and minds, one by one, on the retail level. Trying to do so by advocating for laws or candidates is, I suspect, futile.

    • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

      As to why “Once communism was overthrown, the birth rate went down, mortality went up, poverty increased, life expectancy went down, violent crime and suicide went up. Why?”, quite simple. The Communists lied about their numbers. Heilein wrote about it, in his Russian travelogue. We are seeing Obama try to do it, playing with the Census to cover up his healthcare failings. Leftists are quite odd in their contempt for telling the truth, and in their burning need to keep records of the lies……

  14. Ping from “Why I’m no longer a Libertarian” | TechnoChitlins:

    […] Read the whole thing, as they say. The above is just a teaser. […]

  15. Comment by Augustina:

    No Vic,we will not change the culture by changing hearts one at a time. That is now how we got into this situation. Culture is imposed from above by an elite. It does not bubble up from below. Most people go along with what is seen as ‘acceptable.’ Homosexual marriage is the most recent instance where a small elite imposed its views on an unwilling public. It was promoted by the media, academia, and pushed through the courts. It was the same with abortion.

    Culture is imposed from above. The average Joe does not write screenplays or produce TV shows. He does not write symphonies or even popular songs. He does not conduct “scientific studies” and has nothing to say about the “scientific consesus.” He doesn’t even educate his own kids. He goes along to get along and follows the lead of the elites.

    We culturally conservative Christians have tried to change the culture ‘one heart at a time.’ Most Christians aren’t even Christian. Let’s face it, they have premarital sex, abort, divorce and ‘keep up with the Joneses’ at about the same rate as seculars. They send their kids to secular public schools and colleges. We lost the culture trying that.

    Though I agree that electing the right candidates is pointless. They are all a part of the elite ruling class, identified by Angelo Codevilla. 40 years of trying that hasn’t worked. We’re pretty much screwed. Our Christian culture is dead, and the civilization it produced is dying. It won’t change until it collapses because the elite will not release their death grip around it’s throat. They want it dead.

    • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

      Our Christian culture is dead, and the civilization it produced is dying.

      I know nothing about your faith Augustina, and please forgive me, but…that sounds like something a premillennial fundamentalist would say. Most Catholics and most Jews I have talked to, being aware of the ebb and flow of cultures over the centuries, would not despair so.

  16. Comment by Augustina:

    I am not s premillennial fundamentalist, whatever that is. Civilizations rise and fall. We are in the falling phase. It isn’t necessarily the end of the world, though.

    Christians, however, haven’t put up much of a fight to save Christian civilization. They willingly hand their own children over to a state that is overtly hostile to their views, and expose them to the vile entertainment industry, and have allowed distorted ideas to infiltrate their own institutions.

    There is a lot of ruin in a civilization, so this process will be slow. If you asked a fifth century Roman citizen, they would have told you things were okay, just a few bumps on the road.

    Whatever happens, you can be sure Libertarians are not going to fight for our ideals. They don’t actually have ideals. Pot smokers and porn addicts aren’t going to man the battlements, literally or figuratively, for the simple reason that they are hedonists.

    • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

      If you confine that comment to card carrying members of the Libertarian party, I won’t attempt to defend them.

      But there are quite a few of us who consider ourselves small-l “libertarians” who are neither pot smokers nor porn addicts, and whose personal lives would be, could you inspect them, as far from hedonism as those of the most devout Christian.

      What we have done, though, is reached the conclusion that in many cases “I find behavior X distasteful” does not necessarily imply that “Behavior X should be punished by the police power of the state”.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        By that definition, I am also a small-l libertarian, as is everyone who believes in small government, the rights of man, the separation of powers, federalism, and the right to bear arms. Even most liberals think there is some (very small) range of topics where the government cannot or should not make laws.

        But when I was a Libertarian, and yes I had a card and yes I carried it, everyone who called himself a libertarian accepted some form or another of the Non Aggression Principle or the Natural Law, which said that governments can only use violence against the violent, or to enforce contracts voluntarily signed. The reason why I left the party was that this formula cannot possibly reach pot and porn, or give a valid cause to suppress it, because these formulae are formulae, an abstract proposition, rather than experiential knowledge hard-won over generations about the nature of man and the ends of man.

        • Comment by deiseach:

          A question that has just occurred to me – why do (or did) Libertarians think government should be involved with voluntary contracts?

          Joe Smith, in his capacity as Mayor of Smalltown, enters into a contract with Jones & Co. to tar the roads. If either Mayor Smith welches on the deal, or Jones & Co. provide sub-standard material so that the new surfacing washes away in the first rain shower, fine – the government may act to either protect the public purse or pay the just debts incurred for the public weal.

          But if I agree to buy from you your lovely acrylic on black velvet “Fall of the Rebel Angels (after Bruegel) As Cats” for ten bunches of bananas, and either I only pony up eight bunches, or you send me “Durer’s ‘Four Riders of the Apocalypse (as Pugs)” instead, what’s it to the government?

          Civil marriage is a contract yet laws punishing adultery have been quietly allowed wither away. I don’t think Libertarians insist that adulterers should be sent to jail, so why do they expect the government to enforce or protect privately agreed contracts?

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            There are different brands and branches of Libertarian. There are some who do not think the state should enforce contracts, but the majority of Libertarians regard that as a legitimate use of government force, on the grounds that if a man cheated you by taking your money and not delivering the goods or services promised, you’d be within your rights to march into his house and take his stuff in proportionate recompense.

  17. Comment by Augustina:

    You guys are missing my point. Why do you think that every bad behavior needs either to be ignored or needs a law? It is a false dichotomy. Culture matters. It matters more than the law. Most people regulate their behavior not by consulting a lawbook, but by absorbing from the culture around them what is seen as good behavior and what is seen as bad behavior.

    Today, most people think it is okay to fornicate outside of marriage, live together before marriage, divorce easily, encourage women to pursue a career above her family, encourage debt, and live a life of consumerism. This is because they have been taught so by our culture.

    This is the point that libertarians miss. They don’t see the point of trying to influence the culture. The leftist progressives are far better evangelists than Christians are. That woman who made a video of her ‘good abortion’ was evangelized into this. It is unthinkable that she would have done a similar stunt 70 years ago. And here she is, evangelizing for more death. How many other women will be more likely to abort their pregnancies because of her?

    Of course, the law is a part of the culture; Augustine said the law is a great teacher. And the left has used the court system as a battering ram to knock down our culture. However, at this point, all the argument over limited government is a moot point. A limited government requires a moral people, who are able to self regulate, again by seeing what the overall culture encourages. Many of our founding fathers noted this.

    Books, television, movies, magazines, education, church sermons, public acknowledgment of morality (right now that is political correctness, not Christian morality), and so on. That is culture. And the enemy owns it. This is why I appreciate the efforts of our esteemed blogmaster, John C. Wright, as well as others like Vox Day. They are attempting, one book at a time, to participate in the overall culture.

    Privately living a good and moral life while shrugging your shoulders at the culture which encourages bad behavior in others isn’t going to cut it.

    • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

      I have no problem at all with those who try to influence the culture.

      Back in the late 19th and early 20th century we had a lot of people in the USA who felt very deeply that alcoholic beverages were poisonous to our culture. To the extent that they expressed this feeling through public and private exhortations of all varieties, I would have borne them no malice.

      But when they took advantage of the distractions arising from the “war to end wars” and made it illegal for the American working man to purchase a refreshing mug of beer, that is when they went too b_____y far.

      That’s how I define my libertarianism.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        I think you and I put the line between public and private in exactly the same spot, even though I no longer call myself libertarian. I am a teetotaler myself, but I would dare never to yank a mug of good brown beer from the hand of a workingman in the public house after his long week of work. It would be a sin against civilization.

        I object to the ‘war on drugs’ and very strongly object to property confiscation, but I don’t want to live in a land where recreational drugs are legal. I have a family to raise, and no one who assures me that legalization will not have negative externalities far in excess of the alleged good of legalizing slow suicide via self destructive pleasure is lying or is gullible.

        Nor would I try to enforce a NO SMOKING ban on the soldiers, airmen and sailors of the armed forces of the United States. (Yup. Not kidding. Your tax dollars at work.)

        • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

          Of course, the good citizens of the Anti-Saloon League would not hesitate to call that mug of beer a “recreational drug” and proceed to yank it from that workingman’s hand for his own good.

          And that’s exactly the point of contention. I don’t doubt that in your Libertarian days you heard, and perhaps used, the term “War on -Some- Drugs”.

          I think it’s a term that is still not without value, particularly since (as I mentioned above) we live in a country that -legally- dopes its children with -legal- psychotropic drugs to a degree that Aldous Huxley would consider a mad fiction.

          Anyone (and I surely think not you) who tolerates that state of affairs is poorly placed to demand punishment for the occasional marijuana user.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            But as a conservative, I am allowed to take the experience of all human history and prehistory into account in making a decision, and, unlike a libertarian, the decision does not need to pretend that abstract categorization based on airy theories has the same probative value as wisdom and experience. The theory should account for the fact that alcohol has been used and abused by humans since prehistory, and is an integrated part of all civilizations, whereas your recreational drug of choice is not.

            The correct answer when a libertarian brings up the idea that in theory alcohol does not differ from other drugs is to say, “If your theory cannot tell the difference, change your theory until you can tell the difference.”

            Drugging the children in schools is an evil I cannot even comprehend. I thought the Left hated Big Pharma. Why did the Left decide all boyish behavior is a disease and grant untrained school counselor authority to become pushers for Big Pharma?

            But the fact that one lawful evil group is drugging the kids at school does not undermine (or, to legal term, does not estop) me from demanding the other group, chaotic evil, from selling drugs to the kids. I am perfectly well placed to make this demand, since I neither caused nor condone the other evils you want to use as a shield. I don’t care if the policy seems hypocritical or not: the polity has a right to use force to expel drug pushers and punish drug users. The polity does not lose that right because some drugs are proscribed while others are prescribed.

            • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

              Actually, alcohol -is- my recreational drug of choice.

              I’ve used marijuana less than ten times, and not in the last thirty years.

              Whereas the week does not go by when I do not indulge (in moderation, and never before driving) in a glass of wine or a tot of single malt.

              I defer to others the choice of what pleasures they choose to indulge in their own homes, provided they allow me the same privilege.

        • Comment by Foxfier:

          I think a major point of difference is recognizing that there is a line between private and public, and it needs to be drawn.

  18. Comment by Tecumseh:

    Libertarianism comes down to trust for me. Do I trust those in power enough to make decisions that affect me? No, I do not. And as that I trust no one, I do not expect them to follow my judgment either.

    Drugs and pornography are bad, but they are merely sin. Man cannot stamp out sin. And to the extent that he manages to stamp out one, then surely another will spring up in its place or he will exult in his triumph and commit the sin of pride.

    For me, libertarianism represents an imperfect idea for an imperfect world.

  19. Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

    What I should have said at the start, but failed to……..

    May I posit that, in a non totalitarian state, things which are desired by a sufficiently large portion of the populace cannot be effectively prohibited to them?

    For example: Alcohol and marijuana by adults. Pornography. Personal possession of a firearm. Illegally shared music tracks. A drive at 80 MPH on a straight, lightly trafficked interstate highway. And – access to an abortion.

    In various parts of our country, and at various times past and present, these have all been illegal. At no time do I believe the inclination to them has been in any way lessened by the fact of illegaity.

    Should one desire to re-criminalize any or all of these, it seems to me that there are three avenues open:

    (1) Attempt to change the mindset of the population so that an increasingly smaller segment desires the thing in question, reinforcing legal prohibition by societal pressure. Such activities can be enforced against and prosecuted using methods appropriate to a free and civilized nation. Murder, rape, arson, etc. all live here now, and I have reason to hope that abortion will eventually join them.

    (2) Prohibit on the books, but enforce only sporadically. In this case, lawbreaking assumes the nature of a game, and the lawbreaker who is caught is seen as an unlucky or unskilled player of the game, rather than as any sort of threat to society. File sharing and mildly exceeding the speed limit live here now, and I suspect they always will.

    (3) Prohibit on the books, and enforce using totalitarian tactics. The “War on Drugs” lives here now, but the fact that drugs are far from defeated indicates that perhaps it has not been totalitarian enough, and that the shades of Beria or Himmler should be consulted for their assistance.

    Mr. Wright, and others who find current aspects of our culture highly objectionable….. which of these responses do you endorse? Or is there a fourth or fifth??

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