Thursday, May 3, 2012

Libertarianism: An Irrational, Self-Defeating Philosophy

Libertarianism, in its emphasis on moral autonomy - which says that each man
can determine right and wrong for himself - actually undermines liberty,
and leads to both the tyranny of the mob and the tyranny of the state.

by Steve C. Halbrook

(from Appendix C of God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws

Libertarianism, while having a more developed platform than conservatism and liberalism, nevertheless is also internally incoherent.  A perfect example is in how Joseph M. Hazlett II, in describing libertarianism, contradicts the philosophy on its own grounds from one paragraph to the next:

This freedom from coercion is essential to man’s personal and economic well-being.  Man has a natural right to life, liberty, and property, just as Locke had stressed, and the libertarians utilize this as a basis for their philosophy.  Anything that infringes upon these rights through coercion and or threat, whether it be a man or a government, must be opposed on moral and political grounds.

The individual is considered to be a rational creature.  In other words, each person through reason can decide their own morals, their path in life, and how to optimize their liberty through rational and voluntary decisions.  Libertarians are therefore laissez-faire in individual, religious, and economic matters.[1]

Hazlett says libertarianism is based on the belief that man is free from coercion, having a “natural right to life, liberty, and property.”  Any threat to this “natural right” must be morally opposed.  Hence at first it seems that libertarianism holds to an absolute, unchanging moral law. 

But in the next paragraph, Hazlett turns around and says everyone should be free to decide morality for themselves; religion should be “laissez-faire.”  Now it seems that morality is no longer absolute, but relative.  

So libertarianism contradicts itself by being simultaneously absolute and relativistic.  On the one hand, it teaches moral absolutes: that man has absolute moral rights to life, liberty, and property.  In this case, man would have no right to decide his own morality, since moral absolutes cannot be subjectively determined; man’s rights to life, liberty, and property are absolute.  On the other hand, libertarianism teaches moral relativism: that man can subjectively decide morals for himself.  In this case, though, man is not morally bound to recognize moral rights to life, liberty, and property, and can in fact oppose such rights. 

Thus, libertarian moral rights undermine libertarian freedom, and libertarian freedom undermines libertarian moral rights.  If morality is relative in a libertarian sense, then society is not morally obligated to affirm a libertarian philosophy.  If morality is absolute in a libertarian sense, then society is morally obligated to deny a libertarian philosophy.  

Besides libertarian moral rights and libertarian relativism contradicting one another, the concept of “natural rights” in a godless, libertarian universe is illogical.  How are rights possible without God?  Where are these rights in nature?  Can we touch them, taste them, see them, smell them, or hear them?  Does an impersonal, amoral universe care about rights? 

And, while libertarianism is an anti-statist philosophy, its emphasis on man’s moral autonomy undermines its opposition to statism.  State policy reflects the decisions of individuals who make up the state. 

Therefore, when civil rulers hold to the libertarian view of man’s moral autonomy, the state itself becomes morally autonomous.  And when the state is morally autonomous, it neither answers to God, nor the people.  Rulers are neither guided nor constrained by any moral absolute to keep them from oppressing the people.  Every law is based on whatever best resonates with whatever libertarian moral path the rulers have chosen.  Libertarianism’s end result is tyranny.

     [1] Joseph M. Hazlett II., The Libertarian Party and Other Minor Political Parties in the United States (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1992), 62.


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