Where I’m Still Libertarian (With a couple of shameless plugs.) November 18, 2009
Now that I have become a big government Democrat, I am farther removed from the Libertarians than I ever was before. But as a Christian, I could never be a philosophical Libertarian, much as I would have liked to be in my youth. I did think, and still do, that some libertarian thought is worth looking at for its social justice implications.
I would say, first, that I am still concerned about religious liberty in relation to land use law. Religious liberties, and all our liberties, are liberties to be exercised in a place, or they have no meaning. It is quite true that, as the nature of the church has changed, it is more desirable for a church to be in a light industrial neighborhood than a residential one, in the past. But the system of “conditional use permits” implies that the church or Christian service organization exists by grace of the state in about the way as a minor child acts by the grace of his parents. And I don’t believe the government was to have that kind of discretionary authority over the church. And yes, these are usually local governments. Your view of local government is your view of government, no matter how you go on about “centralization” of power in Washington D. C. and “local control” and all that. Shameless plug #1; probably the best organization in the country dealing with the issue of land use and religious liberty is the Becket Fund.
Second, following from that, it is dangerous for controls over business, especially small business, to be too unlimited and discretionary. Regulation is often justified as a means of controlling big business, and indeed the large corporation does become a “government” of sorts in its own way sometimes. But regulation is imposed on all business, and large business actually relatively benefits from it because they can more likely meet the extra costs imposed by it. Regulation is like a fly swatter. The effect of it on a human rear end is a little “ouch.” The effect of it on the rear end of a fly is that the fly dies. My second shameless plug is for the Institute for Justice, [attach link to their site] which is sort of a “small business civil liberties union” of a kind I used to dream about when I was younger. They also handle opposition to eminent domain because of arbitrarily declared “blight.” Philosophically, I think their leadership is more libertarian than I am, but the
areas where they are active are the areas where I am still vestigially libertarian. And notice their name – Institute for Justice. As a Christian, I’m not allowed to believe that “freedom,” in the sense of doing as I will and not as others will, is a top priority, but since justice is a top priority I do believe that a large degree of freedom is essential to justice. I mean, how can we expect the state to exercise its first priority as a ministry of justice unless the state is forbidden to act unjustly? If property rights are merely at the will of the state, what meaning have they?
Yeah yeah, I know. The real meaning of “freedom” is self-control, not doing what you want. But that doesn’t have a lot of political significance. And it probably is true that a society full of self-uncontrolled people will find freedom intolerable. But in the absence of freedom, however secondary a value, how can there be justice?
Yes, I know I’m a Democrat. I am for some (not across the board) higher taxes on some things. I would like the government to require everyone to have health insurance and relieve the employers of providing it. (Whether this requires the “public option” or “single payer” option I don’t know. I sort of hope it doesn’t; at least I hope there’s a private sector of medicine left along side the other one.) I accept, in theory, laws against certain sorts of sexual behavior among consenting adults. (In practice, I wonder if that can be implemented without the penalties falling disproportionately on the women, and on certain sins like homosexuality which are certainly sins but are less popular than others. The record of societies that do have such laws, unfortunately, is that heterosexual men, at least well-placed heterosexual men, tend to get off the hook and are not easily penalized for caddishness or whatever.) I don’t think abortion is a “civil right.” But in the areas I spoke of earlier, I still recognize the importance and value of freedom.