What is libertarianism? We ask this several times a week. The dedicated reader should know precisely how we define it at this point. Libertarianism is an adherence to the ethical proposition: no one shall ‘initiate or threaten to initiate physical force against others and their property’ (Hans-Hermann Hoppe). No, not even a group of individuals calling themselves the government. In his essay The Bible and the Draft, (included in the collection Freedom and Capitalism), John W. Robbins writes that one “misconception is that the Ten Commandments, including [Thou Shall Not Steal], apply only to private individuals and not to governments. This notion, which has absolutely no foundation in Scripture, illustrates how far we have gone toward deifying government, for it is attributing divine qualities to rulers to say that their official (or private) capacities are exempt from the law. The Commandments, as both the Bible and the Westminster Confession say, bind all men without exception.” He also writes: “There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that governments are above the moral law.”
With the rise of thick libertarianism, the political philosophy is beginning to shift from a narrow understanding of the use of physical force in society to a social outlook with a wider scope. The great cultural and social evils of our time are flooding the libertarian movement in a way that makes it very hard to save. If you ask the man-on-the-street what libertarianism is, no doubt he’d mention something to the effect of a softer view of poor behavior, sexual liberalism, and an approval-type tolerance for all kinds of lifestyles which are undoubtedly at odds with a Biblical ethical framework. Libertarianism, then, is seen as cultural Progressivism and social leftism but with far less State-control, government restraint –perhaps none at all.
Aside from the fact, the tautological fact, that this is not what libertarianism is, and should be fought against with all sorts of argumentation and persuasion, it is a curious thing when we recognize that the “dominant social themes” of our time are the new drivers of the libertarian movement. Movement libertarianism, as opposed to theoretical libertarianism, is similar to most other social and political movements in that it markets itself to the society at large, society as a whole, with all of its sinful tendencies and tragic lustful desires.
The democratic state has a self-interested desire to ensure that the people will have a long-lasting psychological desire for its existence. Thus, when cultural themes arise, the state longs to wrap itself around that theme so as to appeal to the masses and attract them to itself. One of the very best books on this issue is Paul Gottfried’s Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt. Here, Gottfried (who was creator of the term “paleoconservative” to distance this social outlook from neoconservatism) discusses the post World War II shift from the traditional economically-focused “managerial state” of democratic socialism to the culturally-focused “therapeutic state” of our present democratic socialism. The therapeutic state, a brilliant phrase if there ever was one, has a desire to acquire for itself attention and support based on the “social themes” of a increasingly needy society. Thus, victimologies become the primary category of “social struggles” we ever hear about in the media world. And the media world, of course, has a very cozy and convenient relationship with the ever-growing state complex.
These victimologies, these dominant social themes are easily recognizable. And not only are they in the news almost every hour, but they are also to be found all over the blogosphere, in “Christian” gossip circles, in tv shows and movies, in advertisements, in sporting events, and in political discussion. Who sets these agendas? Why now? Why the unison of the blaring message?
I am not sure. But I do know that these themes are rapidly plaguing the libertarian movement as well. It is a national phenomenon. Everywhere we look, we see praise for homosexuality, cheering for gender operations, witch hunts against “bigots,” claims that anti-feminism is sexist and despicable, and even trumped up accusations of racism are again on the rise. The State latches on to these themes and sees them as good reasons to expand, to reach into more and more of our private lives. Not only are these issues a distraction from the economic calamities being created by State intervention into the economy, but they also allow the State to act as society’s everyday hero, to sweep through with cameras and trumpets, and rescue the victims from the appointed and declared “bad guys” of western civilization. In short, people are easy to manipulate and thus the State loves democracy. Democracy, which plagues our civilization, is the idea that the mob knows better than the property owner and by their united voice can legitimately order the “officials” to plunder and pillage those with capital. The democratic order, as Hans Hoppe has so brilliantly argued, is the cause of a declining western culture. As I have stated previously,
[Hans Hoppe] states quite emphatically that the tendency to misunderstand and misapply libertarian doctrine is “inherent in the social-democratic welfare state, of promoting a process of intellectual and emotional infantilization (recivilization of society).” Because of democracy’s emphasis on “majority vote” and “popular demand,” democracy actually works against the very idea of a principle that is applicable to all people at all times. The masses of this generation, growing up in a society where “democracy” is screamed at them from all sides, are inculcated to assume that ethics and culture is relative, subjective, and conventional.
Conservative Christians need to continue to hold their own and watch for these trends so as to not get caught up in society’s troubling progressivist hoopla. For those who stick to the Bible as their final authority, who make conscious efforts to think calmly and not let their emotions be subject to the blaring bullhorns of the present day, the insanity of the world’s messages will be obvious. But for those who neglect the Scriptures, the word of God, their minds will be slowly, surely, taken over and given to the contemporary world views.
Now, I realize that this site is read both by Christians who are not libertarians, and also by libertarians who are not Christians. So as for libertarians, I would hope that you stick to the traditional definition of libertarianism and not get swept away by the social themes that have entered the libertarian world. Tucker has called for a libertarian embrace of feminism. Not only does libertarianism not require such a move, but in doing so, libertarians are allowing their political theory to be redefined. More than just compromising the libertarian political theory, this also acts in a counterproductive fashion by using the very same cultural themes that the State loves so much, as libertarian issues. The State loves dependence and fear. It feeds on such things. When the masses as a whole have adopted the idea that they are victims of “Old White Males,” The “Patriarchy,” Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Religion, Tradition, The Rich (except Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and other wealthy cultural elites), they give way to the expansion of the State, putting their faith in its existence to solve what they conceive as Oppression and Privilege.
Libertarians need to cast aside the faulty idea that libertarianism requires a sort of egalitarianism. It most certainly does not. Libertarianism addresses how to identify criminals in civil society and what governments ought not to do to peaceful people. Libertarians should not claim that the State owes us anything in its mode of operation. It does not owe people an “equal opportunity” to work in its bureaucracy, it does not owe people who work for it “equal wages,” it does not owe gender or race-based affirmative action. Since the State currently (by definition) has a monopoly on “defense and the provision and enforcement of law and order” (Hans-Hermann Hoppe), then its only current role in which we wish success is this provision of justice. It owes us nothing else. There are many libertarians who hold that, since the State is also a participant in the marriage issue, it follows that it must also hand out marriage licenses for homosexual relationships. But this is not demanded under libertarianism. For the State actually owes no one a marriage license whatsoever. The State has the ability to withhold a marriage license from a traditional couple if it desires and so it has the right, given its existance, to maintain a traditional definition of marriage as well. For the “anarcho-capitalists” that are struggling with this, think of a natural order in which government bodies compete for customers. Can not the law-and-order providers set the terms and definitions of their services? The customers can refuse and find a new law provider if they desire. (Such was the nature of the pre-monarchical aristocracy, as Hoppe relates here.)
There is no exterior demand that the State become an egalitarian guarantor. There are no “human rights” being artificially restricted in the State’s refusal to acknowledge a non-traditional marriage. The Non-Agression Principle is not being transgressed in this refusal. It is the breach of individual rights (to person and property) that makes State action immoral, not refusing to give people what they want.
At any rate, homosexuals aren’t banned from marriage. Any homosexual man can dedicate himself to a willing wife if there is the consent of both parties.
The Dominant Social Themes are taking over the libertarian movement, and other areas of interest, such as evangelicalism. In a recent response to Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, Al Mohler writes: “There are a great host of people, considered to be within the larger evangelical movement, who are desperately seeking a way to make peace with the moral revolution and endorse the acceptance of openly gay individuals and couples within the life of the church.” These culturally revolutionary themes are everywhere we look. We ought to stick hard and fast to our definitions, for all social wars are first inaugurated against our labels (Machen fought against the Modernist use of “Christianity”).
When you think of the libertarian, think of political theory and think of the State. Do not let the cultural trends leap on board this ship, lest it sink to the bottom of the ocean.