By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial
A recent article by an unknown guest contributor on the Bilan Report suggested that a libertarian society is unsustainable for various reasons. Among these are the ideas that all personal freedom leads to libertinism, individualism is incompatible with the NAP (non-aggression principle), and the supposed libertarian assumption that all governance is bad. The author makes many misconceptions about libertarianism in their article. In response, this piece attempts to set the record straight on libertarian philosophy.
The author of this piece starts off the article with an explanation that “there is some level of inherent worth within the individual” from a Biblical perspective. The author then attempts to immediately downplay this importance. They say that a philosophy based entirely on individualism would not work very well.
There is no exact definition of individualism made. From later parts of the article, we can assume the author means that individualism is independence from any organization. The Biblical definition of individualism clearly does not coincide with the latter definition, though. This is because the Bible clearly outlines the importance of being a member of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and part of the Church community.
Because the Bible also emphasizes the importance of community along with individualism, Biblically deduced individualism as a core of a philosophy would not lead to the disastrous consequences that the author suggests.
Individualism is not the full extent of the Biblical relationship to libertarianism either. In the first part of Bastiat’s The Law, natural rights stemming from life as a gift from God are clearly deduced. I have written on this subject before:
These gifts from God preclude any human legislation and any political leader that has ever existed. This is the core of what exists. These are human rights. Legislation does not define these – nature and nature’s God has. In the garden in Genesis, there was no government. It was anarchy in the truest sense there has ever been, no coercive governing entity. There was only a loving and gift giving God. Clearly there was no legislator dictating how Adam and Eve live their lives through the coercive stroke of a pen. Human legislation cannot ever get underneath this core, but it can restrict it. Restricting it has no benefit though, for any restriction of freedom will stifle economic growth. God set it up this way, to make it the most beneficial for everyone to be free to use their faculties as they wish.
It is foolish to downplay the relationship between the Bible and libertarianism as a few verses alluding to individualism. It goes much deeper and is much stronger. Regardless the author dismisses all discussion on Christian libertarianism by says that “it remains somewhat outside the scope of this discussion of libertarianism as a whole.” This is untrue. Ron Paul is probably the second most convert-gaining libertarian in human history (directly behind Ayn Rand). Bastiat, John Locke, and many of the founding fathers had a faith-based perspective on liberty. But such a statement by the author allows them to get rid of an opposition to their argument. They construct a libertarian strawman that is much easier to attack.
The author of this piece also seems to get praxeological insight confused with a moral code as to how man ought to or should act. They mention the action based framework for economics loosely twice in the article:
Taken to its logical conclusion, libertarianism holds that there are no wrong choices, but simply the right to make that choice.
Drawing on heavy Kantian influences they view human action as fundamentally rational, or purposeful.
In Human Action Ludwig von Mises describes that man acts. From this action axiom, along with other synthetic apriori truths (irrefutable statements we learn and know simply from being human), we can deduce the entire science of economics as a subset of praxeology. These other apriori ideas are things such as the law of returns, the law of diminishing marginal utility, time preference, the existence of opportunity costs, etc. These come from the epistemology put forth by Kant which the author alludes to.
The culmination of all of this truth gives us a value-free economics that allows us to understand how the world is and how it works. Praxeological reasoning does not tell us how the world ought to be. It is value-free. It does not aim to. Because of this, the propositions that man faces various choices does not mean that any choice a human chooses is good or moral. The author clearly does not understand that praxeological value free truths do not intersect with libertarian ethical standards from a Misesian perspective.
From a Rothbardian/Hoppean perspective, they eventually do, especially when it comes to the Hoppean argumentation ethics. The author does not address these at all, though, and simply takes the proposition that “man makes choices” to mean that “all choices a man makes are good.” Once again, this is a strawman of libertarian philosophy brought about most likely by lack of understanding of the philosophy.
The author then attempts to argue that the non-aggression principle, or NAP, is incompatible with libertarianism:
The principle of limiting coercion is a fundamental aspect of libertarianism but taken in context with the other principles of maximal autonomy and the ability for the individual to reason towards moral and ethical principles, it becomes contradictory. If moral principles are something that can be determined through an individual’s own use of reason how can there be an objective universal principle against coercion?
This reasoning is once again based on a false conception of what libertarianism is. Not a single serious libertarian theorist has ever argued that “an individual’s own use of reason” allows them to come up with their own moral principles. I have no idea where the author got this idea. Libertarianism does not make the slightest attempt to justify any moral standard any individual just dreams up.
If libertarianism did justify such a proposition, it would be extremely flawed. A psychopath could reason their way to a moral standard of murder being ok because it makes them feel good. The reason this is not ok is that the non-aggression principle supersedes individual standards of morality. Libertarian theorist Robert Nozick described the non-aggression principle as a “side constraint” on action. This means that we cannot do things that violate this side constraint.
Think of the rules of soccer: there is the side constraint that you cannot pick up the ball. If you could pick up the ball, it would be helpful for you, because you could through the ball into the goal. This is not allowed in soccer though because it breaks the game. The side constraint of the non-aggression principle breaks the game of reality.
The author of this piece eventually gets to the point of arguing that libertarian individualism means a complete lack of any sort of social structure. They seem to think that lack of government (a territorial monopoly based on the threat of force) means a lack of governance (an authority based on societal norms or culture). They say the following:
Libertarianism taken to its logical conclusions promotes complete autonomy. This moves beyond simply being unconstrained by positive law and a strict use of only negative law, but liberation from associations and relationships. This includes fundamental institutions such as, “the family, church, and schools to the village and neighborhood and the community broadly defined—that exert strong control over behavior largely through informal and habituated expectations and norms.”14 Ironically, the rejection of institutions and concepts that have traditionally reigned in human behavior creates a further need and additional calls for the state to intervene to regulate bad behavior. This contradiction can play out as legislation mandating acceptance of, or at least association with, behaviors that would be rejected by natural law.
While the radical individualism of Objectivists does reject the idea of any sort of cultural governance, most libertarians (often right-libertarians) see it as an important staple as a free society. Families, churches, and cultural communities are important modes of organization that can exist outside of the state. Jeff Deist expertly explains the importance of such social institutions in this video:
A libertarian society does not reject these complex social institutions. Rather, it upholds these institutions, while a society with a growing state tears these down in favor of itself. The author seems to think that liberty leads to lack of organization, causing a need for the state. The situation is constructed in an entirely backward manner, though. The state seeks to grow in power. It would rather the people become reliant on it rather than their families or churches.
The wearing away of a traditional reliance on such institutions and customs, Deneen argues, will lead to a breakdown of functioning society. Instead of creating a society based on non-aggression and free transaction, best fulfilling the desires of its people, libertarianism tends to isolate the individual and break down the institutions that maintain a proper society.
The author of this piece does not understand what being a freely acting individual means. They seem to think it means being a freely acting individual outside of the influence of anyone else. But society does exist. And it is made up of individual people. The only alternative to this radical independent individualism in the eyes of the author is the state. But as we have explained the state is the true cause of the denigration of these important social institutions.
Liberty and Responsibility
Now we will move onto the final question of libertarian libertinism. The author makes the proposition that the non-Christian libertarianism spirals into responsibility free left-libertarian hedonism. Yet at the same time, the author quotes Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard as major representatives of the libertarian philosophy. Neither of these individuals was for hedonism. Both of them were against libertinism.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy is based completely around being responsible for yourself. Murray Rothbard and libertarians in the Rothbardian tradition recognize the importance of responsibility on a society. I have written recently on this matter of responsibility and how it is very important to combat libertine libertarianism.
Freedom means we do not have the right to encroach on the actions of someone else. But freedom also means you need to be responsible for your own actions. It means you need to better yourself without the force of the government. Christian libertarianism is not the only political framework that promotes responsibility. And the answer to libertinism sure as hell is not more state power. It is the promotion of a culture of responsibility.
Libertarian theory is not self-destructive. A libertarian social order is not as unsustainable as this author believes. They think that their strawman version of libertarianism would be horrendous. But it is a strawman and not an accurate representation of libertarian belief.