The proximate cause for this post is the graphic on the right, which was posted by this and several other of my friends, and which I have seen posted numerous times by other self-proclaimed Libertarians, atheists, and people of other politically correct (aka non-Christian) faiths.
In case you can't see the graphic, is says (with a background image of galaxy M31, as if that is pertinent):
"I CAN'T DO THAT, IT'S AGAINST MY RELIGION."
Perfectly acceptable. That is religious freedom and I will fight for you to have that right until the day I die.
"YOU CAN'T DO THAT, IT'S AGAINST MY RELIGION."
Those are fighting words. That is persecution through religion, and I will speak out against it and fight it until the day I die.
Aside from the delicious irony of someone using their beliefs to tell others they should tell other something is wrong because of their beliefs, this is nonsensical in and of itself. So let's take a little detour and talk about basics. First, a couple of basics:
1. EVERY LAW IS AN IMPOSITION OF YOUR BELIEFS ON ANOTHER.
The Cambridge English Dictionary online says:
law noun: a rule, usually made by a government, that is used to order the way in which a society behavesNow let's look at morality:
morality noun: a set of personal or social standards for good or bad behaviour and characterThus, a law is a government imposing morality on the governed. This is always true (by definition). Every law is the imposition of morality on another. So all laws are "You can't do that, it's against my beliefs" whether those beliefs be part of a recognized religion or not.
2. EVERY NEGATIVE LAW IS A POSITIVE LAW AND VICE VERSA.
In other words, every "shall not" can be expressed as a "shall." For instance "You shall not kill" is "You shall respect life." Conversely "You shall give people the choice of which bathroom to use" is "you shall not keep men out of the ladies' room."
Just on the face of those two facts you can see how inane the above graphic is. But the graphic, and those like it, remain popular. Why? Because of an unconscious persecution of religion (how's that for irony).
Let's add another basic to the two above:
3. LAWS ARE IMPOSED BY FORCE.
Let's face it, if nobody wanted to steal there would not have to be a law against it. It is only to change someone's behavior against his will that we have laws. Therefore all laws must be imposed by force.
4. ALL LAWS ARE DEFINED BY A SUPERIOR POWER (AKA MIGHT MAKES RIGHT).
This follows from the previous truth. If a superior power didn't like a law, it could not be imposed on that power. Conversely, if the superior power wanted to impose its rule, it simply would. Therefore it is superior power that has the ability to make law.
Throughout most of human history that power was assumed to be God. Certainly there is no higher power, and therefore, nobody more appropriate to define morality. Only recently, when God was declared dead, do we have people asserting something else as the definer of morality (aka law). Of that there are two choices:
- They who have guns. (aka statism)
- Everyone or no one. (aka anarchism)
No one (anarchism) is not really a serious thing. Every anarchist wants at least his own right to life to be respected by others.
Which brings us to Libertarians. Libertarians believe in "maximum liberty for individuals." That sounds great, and it is. In fact, it is the basis for all laws in all societies at all times. The question is "who decides what maximizes liberty?" That's where morality comes in, without which libertarianism is useless, and with which libertarianism is not neeeded.
Is the rapist's liberty to control his own body more important than his victim's right to control her own body? There, the libertarians have an answer to that in the form of "personal sovereignty." By that, each person is a little kingdom, and we only have to look at which kingdom is invading the other kingdom's space.
And like all errors, it is very close to the truth. They espouse a general principle that sounds good, but fails in some cases. The libertarian will say "but I am right in this case, and you are wrong." But of course they are then asserting an outside arbiter of morality, which contradicts individual liberty right there.
For that matter, what makes libertarianism itself "right?" Why should personal liberty be a defining principle? They will say it is innate to man - it is his natural state. However, that's cultural bias, as throughout history very few people would have agreed with them. And libertarianism running its natural course produces The French Revolution (TM) - with all that that entails - essentially the same end as statism, but with a different state dong the killing. As French Revolutionary Loius Saint-Just said "No liberty for the enemies of liberty!"
So let's look at some cases where libertarians have no answer, or flat out get it wrong:
Abortion: The Libertarian party says that abortion should be decided by the states, not the federal government. First off, it's a cop out. Either the unborn baby is a human being, and by the laws of libertarianism should have its "personal sovereignty" weighed against that of the mother, or the unborn baby is not a human being, and the mother's "personal sovereignty" is unchallenged.
If the former (the baby is human) then it is federal law that should defend its life (both the Declaration of Independence and the 14th amendment say that everyone is entitled to the right to life, and that nobody should be deprived of life without due process). So the states should legitimately defer to U.S. law in this case.
If the latter is true (the baby is not human) then again, clearly the Declaration of Independence and the 14th Amendment affirm the right to liberty which should not be denied without due process. So right away, the party violates its own principles.
But who decides whether the baby is a human being? Libertarians can go either way on the subject because of their personal beliefs. Se we see that even if you accept libertarian principles prima facie you run into the issue of needed an additional moral authority.
Let's take another case - "same sex marriage." Again libertarians are at odds. While most of them would say "the state should stay out of the marriage business" many will also affirm the "rights" of people to receive service, even when it means forcing another to do something that is against their religion. The problem is that marriage is not an individual right, it is a state recognized by force of law. Again, we have the problem of needing an external authority as arbiter of principle. You can't have your cake and not bake it too.
Another case, suicide/drugs/alcohol. Most libertarians say "let 'em kill themselves!" and save us all the problem of having to deal with them. It's their personal sovereignty after all. But again, the problem is that we are not all little kingdoms - we are little villages. Anybody who has had to deal with friends or family who have committed suicide knows that suicide is not a victim-less crime. Likewise anyone who has had a friend or family member addicted to drugs or alcohol knows those are not victim-less either. Does one's liberty depend on their relationship to others (as the libertarian would, in fact if not in word, rule), or all all men equal in dignity (as the Christians would have it)?
Consider the case of divorce. Libertarians would almost universally accept no fault divorce, since the parties involved can choose to associate how ever they want. Yet, is that justice to children to have adults "do whatever they want?" What about their rights?
I could go on with case after case where libertarianism gets it wrong, but there are a few of the more obvious ones. Again, that's not to say that libertarians are always wrong - on the contrary, they are most often right, which is what makes these cases all the more dangerous, because people think that because they are right in most cases, they must be right in all.
Which brings up the question - were the founding fathers libertarians? I think not, or the American Revolution would have gone like the French Revolution. Certainly they held the principles of liberty high, but if you read the founding documents, liberty is always second, after life, and both of these are acknowledged to ultimately be derived from God, and therefore subject to His law.
As Robert Cardinal Sarah says: "Without a Christian reference, in ignorance of God, a democracy becomes a sort of oligarchy, an elitist inegalitarian regime. As always, the eclipse of what is divine means the debasement of what is human."