Libertarian society or drug-addled, obscene freak show?

Many have observed that libertarianism has less attraction for middle-of-the-road Americans than for those people who inhabit the fringes, whose tastes–in just about everything–are unconventional.

There is nothing surprising in this.

When a person’s occupation, lifestyle, religion and morals are safe and respectible, the government tends to leave them alone, as long as they pay their taxes to the government.

These happy people have less reason to complain. They are the normal people. With the universal exception of the odd relative, they mainly hang around with other normal people.

The normal people tend to want the government to make sure that everybody else acts normal . . . or else.

Less-normal people may be excused for being attracted to a political philosophy that permits them their eccentricities as long as they don’t harm anyone else. A “Live and let live” philosophy will always have special  appeal for people who don’t fit in.

This may give rise to the misconception that a libertarian society would force all the “normal” people to put up with the distasteful behavior of the not-normal people as they live in ways formerly suppressed by the government. This misunderstanding is understandable.

Freedom of association is a natural human right and includes the right not to associate with anyone for any reason. We need to understand, however, that a libertarian society would be more respectful of this right, not less. If our vision of a libertarian society is one where drug addicts lie in every street and tattooed couples fornicate on the sidewalks in some freak show straight out of an apocalyptic movie, we are not yet getting the point.

In a free society, we would have more control over our lives and neighborhoods and be better able to live as we ought. When government gets out of the social engineering business, people will take that responsibility on themselves, starting with the sort of community they wish to live in. There is a way to make this happen without aggressive government. The key is private property. That is the topic of my next post.

Libertarian does not mean libertine

Why do so many think that libertarians are “anything goes” libertines? Many conservatives believe that libertarians are really just liberals. Many liberals insist that libertarians are really just conservatives. How can it be both? It is wrong to say–as some do–that libertarians are “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” These views stem from confusion about morality and criminality, such that our modern society has lost the ability to distinguish between vice and crime. Even worse, many so-called crimes are not vices at all.

Conservatives and liberals alike want to use government to force everyone to conform to their view of morality. And each would like to hold the whip against the other, and nobody is happy with the way things are.

This is because we have ignored what St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wisely taught: that punishment for crime should be limited to conduct that harms others (i.e., “theft, murder and the like”). Beyond that, neither individuals, nor the government have the right to punish or force people to do whatever the state tells them.

As to what is moral conduct, libertarians are just as variable as the population as a whole. Libertarian Catholics do not dissent from Church teachings. They embrace them. They hope and pray that others do likewise, but they refuse to use force (whether individual or collective) to make others conform to Christian morals. Only defensive force is legitimate.

That does not mean, however, that a free society would be an “anything goes” society. If drug addiction or prostitution were treated as health and moral issues—rather than as criminal issues—most families would still not want to see them on their streets. People will rightly have their preferences as to church, society, friends and the neighborhoods they live and work in. In later posts, we will see that a libertarian society would be more conducive to a moral lifestyle, not less; more supportive in the raising of families according to our beliefs and our purpose in life.

Review by “Young, Catholic and Libertarian”

Alex Sullivan in his review at “Young, Catholic, and Libertarian,” explains who should be reading Free is Beautiful:

I will strongly recommend this book to two groups of people. Firstly, and most importantly, I recommend this book to politically inclined Catholics. Aristotle said, ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ Put your biases aside (everybody has them) and give this book a read. It deserves it.

I will secondly recommend this book to libertarian folk who wonder to themselves how Catholicism can possibly be compatible with libertarian ideals and principles.  . . . ” 

What is a just wage? And who decides?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides that a just wage is one that takes in account “the needs and contributions” of the people involved. Those who favor interference  with voluntary wage agreements cite the Catechism for the proposition that “agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.” CCC 2434. Agreements made under force or fraud certainly are unjust, but further meddling by others is unlikely to yield a more just result.

It is difficult to see how an outsider to any wage agreement will have more competence to judge what is fair and just. This kind of meddling reminds me of the sort of courtroom judge whose conceit overpowers common sense and a proper humility.

An Unwise Judge

In a criminal case there are two parties: the state, represented by the prosecutor, and the defendant, represented by his own attorney. In most cases, they reach a settlement of the case without a trial. Each considers the evidence supporting their side and the likelihood of success and punishment. By the time they reach a plea agreement, each side has carefully weighed the issues, sometimes over a period of many months.

The deal is made and they appear before the judge. The agreement is announced. It typically involves a compromise regarding the charges, or the sentence, or both; and unless something seems dishonest or fraudulent, the judge accepts the plea and sentences the defendant according to the agreement. The judge will often accept a deal that is more harsh or more lenient than the sentence they would ordinarily give. It may not be a perfect solution, but the wise judge knows that the precious few minutes he spends with this case is dwarfed by the hours and months that the parties have invested to understand the issues and the evidence.

The foolish judge sweeps all of this aside and substitutes his own views and prejudices. His arrogance blinds him to the fact the parties to the case have far better reasons to believe that the agreement is fair. The foolish judge does not care, nor does he have to live with the result. He is pleased with his judgment, even if no one else is.

When it comes to the free market, the parties in a transaction, will do their best to reach agreement regarding a fair wage (or price). There is no assurance that their agreement is perfect, but–absent force or fraud–it seems likely that neither they, nor society, will benefit from interference by the government.