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.

2 thoughts on “Libertarian does not mean libertine

  1. I have been a Libertarian since my teens, having read much of Ayn Rand back in the 60’s. Also, from my teens through my early 30’s I read a lot of science fiction. Many of those authors wrote about Libertarian principles.

    Libertarians should know that people have rights and government have powers. The U.S. Constitution gave limited powers to the government, but over time, the ignorance and laziness of the people has allowed the government to take more power than it Constitutionally should have.

    For instance, the so-called war on drugs is really a war on the inalienable rights of adults to make choices, whether good or bad, as to how they will live their lives. My definition of inalienable rights (which the SCOTUS has never defined) is as follows: Any and all non-violent, non-coerced, non-larcenous consensual adult behavior that does not physically harm other people or their property, or presents a direct and immediate danger to same, that does not disturb the peace or create a public nuisance, especially if done in private and on private property, is the inalienable right of all adults.

    I do not condone drug use, but I do not automatically condemn it either. My only drug use is alcohol, which is a much more harmful drug overall that all the presently illegal drugs. The so-called war on drugs got started by religious people lobbying Congress to pass the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914. They got their version of religion passed into law, which would seem to be a violation of the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause. The drug laws are, at base, religious laws. The problem is that I and millions of others do not go to that church nor believe in that religious dogma.

    • Thanks for the comment. Of course, libertarianism is not about religion. It is a political philosophy. It does not care which victimless crimes your personal code or religion considers immoral (drinking, gambling, dancing, drug use, prostitution, rudeness, etc). You are a libertarian if you refuse to use or support violence against those who don’t agree with your morality (as long as they are not harming another). You may advise them, condemn them, shun them or try to persuade them to your view, but that is all.

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