Among Beck’s regularly stated positions is his occasional discussion of his lack of affinity for pure libertarianism. He seems to quite enjoy goading Ron Paul supporters over certain libertarian stances that he finds either immoral or impractical. The other day he went on an anti-libertarian tirade that had me laughing so hard that I nearly had to pull over.
But within Beck’s raffish romp I found a good description of why I can’t bring myself to be a rock solid libertarian. Beck said that part of him wants to be a libertarian and that he agrees in principle with libertarians on 80-90% of their positions. But he just can’t go all the way and accept the remaining 10-20%.
It comes down to morality, Beck said. Our Founders were libertarians, but even the most libertarian-minded of them understood that none of what they were establishing would work without a strong moral framework. Libertarians argue for a laissez-faire approach, not only to economic and political matters, but to moral issues as well. There is a strong amoral (not necessarily immoral) tendency in libertarianism; although, libertarians will argue that freedom from moral strictures eventually creates its own morality. Like Beck, I just can’t go that far.
Kay S. Hymowitz captures this sentiment much more eloquently in this Commentary article (reprinted in the Wall Street Journal). Hymowitz begins her article with a humorous look at the libertarian stereotype of “a scraggly misfit living in the woods with his gun collection, a few marijuana plants, some dogeared Ayn Rand titles, and a battered pickup truck plastered with bumper stickers reading "Taxes = Theft" and "FDR Was A Pinko."”
Hymowitz says, “The Libertarian Party's paltry membership has never reached much beyond the 250,000 mark, and polling numbers for Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination, remain pitiable.” She also discusses trends that libertarians must find appalling.
“[A]ntistatist ideas like school vouchers and privatized Social Security accounts continue to be greeted with widespread skepticism, while massive new programs like the Medicare prescription-drug benefit continue to win the support of re-election-minded incumbents. A recent New York Times survey found increasing support for government-run health care, and both parties are showing signs of a populist resurgence, with demands for new economic and trade regulation.”
Conversely, Hymowitz also notes that libertarian principles have become more ingrained in economic and personal choice matters than at any time in modern history. But Hymowitz also argues that libertarians have gone overboard in the arena of personal choice to the point of even advocating for immoral behaviors that, left unchecked will completely destroy the basic framework required for principles of liberty to exist. She calls this “the cultural contradictions of libertarianism.”
Research shows, asserts Hymowitz, that the natural (ostensibly middle class) family is absolutely essential to creating and maintaining the economic structure in which liberty can thrive. And yet libertarians have willfully ignored the indispensability of the community and the natural family in their support of policies of “freedom” that have contributed to and are contributing to community and family breakdown.
Bizarrely, “do whatever you want” attitudes with respect to morality have led to substantial growth of the type government dependence and government intrusion that “libertarians reject on principle.” Divorce and out-of-wedlock births have created “an increased demand for state-funded food, housing and medical subsidies.” And due to liberal divorce policies, family law courts “are forced to be more intrusive than the worst mother-in-law: They decide who should have primary custody, who gets a child on Christmas or summer holidays, whether a child should take piano lessons, go to Hebrew school, move to California, or speak to her grandmother on the phone.” This is the antithesis of liberty.
Hymowitz writes, “The complex, dynamic economy that libertarians have done so much to expand needs highly advanced human capital--that is, individuals of great moral, cognitive and emotional sophistication. Reams of social-science research prove that these qualities are best produced in traditional families with married parents.”
But the family is of necessity a very undemocratic institution. A good family requires a level of constraint, intrusion, sacrifice, dedication, and compulsion that we would not tolerate in other social institutions (outside of prison, perhaps). And yet the family is also the laboratory in which principles of liberty are introduced, taught, and fostered in ways that our finest public institutions cannot come close to matching.
Thomas Hibbs writes in this NRO article that “religion, skepticism about government in economic life, strong families, and personal entrepreneurism” are essential to fostering vibrant communities that take care of themselves and require less government intervention. That is, strong communities are required for liberty to flourish. But like strong families, strong communities require the limitation of some individual freedoms for the common good. Libertarianism seems to recoil that the phrase, common good.
Some of the elements mentioned by Hibbs, such as entrepreneurism and being skeptical of government resonate well with libertarianism. But other elements actually limit maximization of personal freedom. And yet all of these elements are needed to create and protect liberty. What is needed is a balanced approach that maximizes liberty without killing the goose that lays the golden egg. But pure libertarian ideology, at least as far as my exposure to it, refuses to give any quarter to reasonable limitations on personal freedoms.
The libertarian refutation of a societal moral framework that fosters the kinds of families and communities that produce individuals that can create and sustain liberty stems, claims Hymowitz, from a radical search “for absolute freedom.” She says, “It is a quest that has left little room for the confining demands of family and other unchosen social bonds.” In other words, it is yet another attempt to create utopia that carelessly leaves destruction in its wake.
Many libertarian principles ring true to my heart. Like Glenn Beck, part of me longs to be a libertarian, but the excesses of libertarian amorality prevent me from going there. I believe that John Adams was correct when he said, “Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.” Amorality is modern libertarianism’s Achilles’ heel.