Catholic philosopher Nathan Schlueter recently published an article called Why I am Not a Libertarian. I would advise reading that article and then reading this one, although you don’t have to. Also, when I start addressing his numbered arguments, you should read his argument first, then read my response. I am going to shed some light on some of his arguments from a libertarian perspective, and do my best to convince the reader of my position over his.
Mr. Schlueter kicks off his article saying that libertarians “actively oppose laws prohibiting obscenity, protecting unborn children, promoting marriage, limiting immigration, and securing American citizens against terrorists”. He leaves it at that: no facts, no evidence, nothing. The problem with this inane claim is that people are always looking for confirmation of their biases, so many conservatives will read that and believe every word he says here, even though he doesn’t follow this statement up with any evidence.
Libertarians oppose laws prohibiting obscenity as far as the first amendments protects. Simple as that. If you want to use the Constitution as a premise (which Schlueter does later in his article), you can’t pick and choose, and say that the government can regulate speech here, but not there. I’m sure Schlueter is opposed to the HHS mandate on the basis of the freedom of religion, so he naturally should support the freedom of speech too. It’s all the same amendment.
Some libertarians believe abortion should be legal. However, the way this statement misleads the reader, you would think that all libertarians think this way, which is entirely false. A number of leading thinkers in the libertarian movement, including prominent Catholic libertarians Judge Andrew Napolitano and Tom Woods, are anti-abortion libertarians. We believe that life is the first and most fundamental of all natural rights; it must be protected.
Libertarians want to promote marriage by pushing the state out of the situation altogether. Where on God’s green earth did somebody come up with the insane conclusion that the state is needed to regulate a holy sacrament? Did Schlueter, a Catholic philosopher, forget what marriage is fundamentally? Marriage is not a matter of the state. Conservative Catholics like Schlueter usually don’t realize that if marriage wasn’t regulated by the government, it wouldn’t be a political issue at all. Religious people would get married, and non-religious people wouldn’t. No tax-breaks, no certificates, only sacrament.
Libertarians are not opposed to “limiting immigration.” We just call a spade a spade, and know that protectionism and xenophobia are not going to help the national or world economies. America has an illegal immigration problem because of a number of flawed policies, including but not limited to our border security, the drug war, the minimum wage laws, and federal education. All libertarians want to do is promote free trade, which includes the flow of people and ideas across borders with minimum government interference.
Lastly, and personally my favorite, Schlueter says libertarians oppose “securing American citizens against terrorists.” Let me ask you a few questions Mr. Schlueter. Does the United States need 52,440 troops in Germany to “secure American citizens against terrorists?” Does the President need to be able to kill anybody he wants without congressional approval to “secure American citizens against terrorists”? Does the United States need to give millions in foreign aid to dictators such as King Abdullah, President Saleh, Sultan Oman, and Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in order to “secure American citizens against terrorists?”
Next, Schlueter picks out 10 arguments that, he claims, “libertarians often make.” I will go through them one by one and refute each one. I am not going to reprint the claims for the sake of space consumption, but I provided the link at the top of the page, so you can go read them yourself.
1. Schlueter fallaciously claims that because the Constitution is not a pure libertarian document, the founders therefore were not libertarian. While it is true that the founders were not libertarian (because libertarianism did not exist), many were classical liberals. Early documents such as the Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, the Constitution itself, and the Bill of Rights were all influenced by prolific classical liberal thinkers such as John Locke and Adam Smith. The Constitution is not a pure libertarian document because of the influence of people like Alexander Hamilton, one of the original neoconservatives.
2. This one is easy. Schlueter falsely assumes that whatever Hayek says is what goes for all libertarians. One individual does not dictate this ideology, obviously. That would be very un-libertarian. Schlueter does, however, call on the Declaration of Independence to illustrate his points that conservatism is rooted in principle. I wouldn’t argue that conservatism is not rooted in principle (the double negative is necessary), but I find it ironic that Schlueter would use a document written by a classical liberal and influenced by classical liberals to show this.
3. Here, Schlueter’s basic claim is completely wrong. Libertarians do emphasize the individual, but do we say there is no such thing as a common good? Absolutely not. Schlueter is right when he says that the common good is achieved through associations with others, creating institutions and forming relationships that better society. What he refuses to acknowledge, but should be obvious to everybody, is that these relationships are voluntary. The basis of a family is two people who voluntarily chose to come together and start it. Nobody forced them. You cannot achieve a common good when relations and associations are forced. True solidarity will come from voluntary association.
4. This one gets tricky. Schlueter is correct in saying that libertarians condemn harm done to anyone. But he is wrong in thinking that this is the basis for a libertarian state. A libertarian state would exist to protect natural rights. Obviously, we have a right to life. So a libertarian state would protect that. Is healthcare a natural right? No. Is never having to see anything that upsets you emotionally a natural right? Obviously not. So the state would not deal with these issues.
5. Schlueter begins with a Murray Rothbard argument, but deviates and never really addresses the initial claim. If I think a war is immoral and the government forces me to fight completely against my will, is this not slavery? Am I not being dictated to what to do with my life against my natural rights and against my will? If I work and earn money, and the government takes some of this money, is this not theft? Is it taking what is rightfully mine, the fruit of my labor, against my will? This is theft by definition. And the problem is compounded by the numerous immoral and wasteful expenditures that our money is used for. Most conservatives would agree with libertarians here; I am not exactly sure where Schlueter is coming from.
6. The problem I have with Schlueter’s argument here is that he assumes that law dictates societal norms. He has this completely backwards. Societal norms and beliefs dictate law. The civil rights movement happened when it did because society was ready (or close to being ready) for it. According to Schlueter’s logic, racism stopped when the government legislated against it. When the state said “stop being racist,” people magically became not racist. Conversely, the laws were made because people were ready and demanding. Schlueter also (falsely) claims that the lack of a law is a sign that the behavior is acceptable. He is wrong again here. Laws discredit personal responsibility. Again, according to Schlueter’s logic, you could make a strong case that abortion is A-OK because it is legal. Laws do not and should not dictate morality.
7. Schlueter says that in the libertarian view of a free market, “all human associations, such as families and churches, are falsely remade in the image of ordinary contracts”. He is correct in a legal sense. However, he forgets the power of the associations and relationships to lift institutions such as families and churches up to something more than “ordinary contracts.” Yes, they are contracts in the eyes of the state. That is all they should be. The state should not be involved in anything unless it absolutely has to be, says the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity. Leave it to the individual, the families, the communities, the church’s, etc. But in the eyes of society, in working towards the common good, these institutions and associations are much, much more than “ordinary contracts.”
8. Schlueter again falsely assumes that something he may have read or heard from a single libertarian is consistent for all libertarians. Of course there can be middle ground between libertarianism and totalitarianism. However, Schlueter shows disturbing ignorance about current affairs when bringing up the slippery slope fallacy, and attempting to discredit it. He forgets that the state has been grabbing power since it was established. The government is the perfect, insidious manifestation of the slippery slope fallacy. Trying to legislate morality can only lead to totalitarianism; every politician will have his own definition of morality (and will no doubt have his price to change that definition).
9. This section is nebulous. I can’t really respond to his argument because his premises are all baseless generalizations. “Libertarians accuse conservatives of being utopian or naïve about human nature.” I don’t, and I don’t hear this from other libertarians. He says that libertarians claim that “power by its very nature corrupts human beings and therefore should be narrowly circumscribed and vigilantly watched.” Doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it? Is he trying to say that power doesn’t corrupt, and we should throw as much power as we can at the state? He also says that libertarians fail to “give proper weight…to the exigencies of a free society and limited government.” No, we absolutely do not. This is central to the ideology.
10. This is a world of soundbites. “Freedom works” is only that. I don’t know if Schlueter realizes, or he doesn’t, and knows most of his readers will be ignorant of this fact, that Alexis de Tocqueville, whom Schlueter quotes in this section, was a major thinker in the classical liberalism movement, of which libertarianism is more or less a modern-day manifestation. The first Tea Partiers, whom Schlueter mentioned, stood up when their tea was taxed. He tries, however, to refute the libertarian claim that taxation is theft in number 5 of his article.
I wouldn’t call conservatives “utopian or naïve about human nature.” I would, however, say that many conservatives contradict themselves. And I think Schlueter is guilty of this, maybe unknowingly, when he doesn’t acknowledge the classical liberal influence in the Declaration of Independence, as well as among the founding fathers, both of which he tries to use as a premise to refute classical liberalism itself. I welcome any responses, and I hope that CatholicVote will post the libertarian response followup that Nikolai Wenzel is supposed to write. I don’t think they will, but I hope they do anyway.