Probing the Libertarian Mind

match-268528_640-300x199 Probing the Libertarian Mind

“It is hard enough to define a libertarian since, as Boaz admits, they come in so many brands and flavors.”

In reading David Boaz’s The Libertarian Mind (Simon & Schuster, 2015), one is struck by the difficulty of the task he has undertaken. It is hard enough to define a libertarian since, as Boaz admits, they come in so many brands and flavors. However, it is almost impossible to define the libertarian mind.

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In fact, according to libertarian logic, there can be no “libertarian mind” since the collectivity of all libertarians cannot think. What can exist are the human actions and thoughts of individuals that freely choose how to follow what each perceives as libertarian tenets.

Perhaps that is what makes the book so stifling. By refusing to accept generalities, one is forced to individualize all things to infinity and thus be deprived of those broad horizons and grand ideals that make life so interesting and refreshing.

Boaz’s primer on libertarianism is all about the individual and stays micro-focused on choices and associations that make each person happy. Its central tenet is simple enough: “We should be free to live our lives as we choose as long as we respect the equal rights of others.”

The tenet is not problematic in a world where some kind of strong cultural heritage and moral framework exists. In fact, Boaz traces pre-libertarian origins to medieval times where Christianity introduced notions of human dignity, representative government and common law. Inside the close-knit medieval society, choices were maximized within the context of family, faith and community that led to an amazing development of freedom.

However, the Protestant reformation began the long fragmentation of the unity and moral framework of Christendom. The libertarian central tenet comes to be interpreted according to the Enlightenment boilerplate of denying man’s fallen nature and affirming the supremacy of reason. It easily degenerates into the ethos of what Brad S. Gregory so expressively called the “Kingdom of Whatever.”

Indeed, The Libertarian Mind is a mixture of “whatever” the individual deems to be his interest. “Whatever” can consist of the reasonable libertarian outcry against big government and abusive regulations, or its excellent affirmation of free markets, rule of law and property rights. But “whatever” also consists of the throwing off of moral restraints that inhibit gratification and self- interest. Thus, the author obsesses about the urgent need for same-sex “marriage,” the end to pornography restrictions, and the right to legal drug use.

Throughout his explanation, there is a failure to consider the effects of individual action upon others or society as a whole since each determines what it means “to respect the equal rights of others.” Habits like drug abuse, for example, are only seen from the individual’s perspective of happiness and not from that of spouses, children, and society at large, all of which are gravely affected by the person’s decision. There is little notion of the “common good” in the common libertarian mind. The common good is at best, the aggregate sum of the good of its parts.

In this vision of society, where society is viewed simply as a machine made up of the sum of its parts, relationships are reduced to contractual agreements whose members are free to mesh or separate with others as they see fit. Even a person’s link with God has an element of contract. There is a big difference between this society and an organic vision of society, where members resemble a family and see themselves like living cells in the context of the whole body.

In this sense, the libertarian “mind” seems more like a calculator of self-interest than the Subscription11 Probing the Libertarian Mindactual thinking organ. Such a society is operated as a co-op or corporation which can deliver benefits, dividends and abundance in as much as they serve each individual’s interest. But it lacks the warm social bonds of an organic society organized like a family. It is a bland secular society officially stripped of its spiritual elements, from which, to recall the words of Irving Kristol, we can expect “no high nobility of purpose, no selfless devotion to transcendental ends, no awe-inspiring heroism.”

Returning to a moral order allows the maximum human freedom and is a better choice than entering the Kingdom of Whatever.

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  • Lou Soileau

    More simply put, “We have abandoned God.” My recent retreat experiences have shown me the true impact of believing in God. Believing in the Holy trinity helps us honor self, mother and father, spouse, family, and others. It is not focused on self and my own need to satisfy my selfish desires. Faith causes us to recognize a Supreme Being to which we are accountable. Accountability puts need behind the commandment to Love God…and neighbor as thyself.” Without God, there is no need to be accountable to anyone or anything. The Supreme Court of the US has abandoned the concept of a Higher Power and, therefore, does not recognize any accountability except to self. Ultimately, this perspective will cost us our nation.

    • jrj90620

      Well said Lou.I’ve read that people either worship govt or God.We can see the trend,as people give up believing in God and become dependent on govt as their savior.

  • Kevin

    I’ve always thought of libertarians as people focused on life, liberty and property: MY life, MY liberty, MY property. Not much room for building a society when you ignore the need to consider your neighbor.

    • Rachel

      I don’t think this statement is accurate. In his book “The Law”, Bastiat clearly states that he is not against natural or voluntary fraternity and philanthropy – he is only against fraternity and philanthropy which are forced on people by the government. He also makes a good point that fraternity and philanthropy existed before there were governments around and that there is no reason to believe that people would suddenly become more greedy and egoistic just because the government didn’t tell us with whom we should associate, trade, labor, how we should be educated, to whom we should gift our resources, etc. He also made a good point in that if law is limited to preventing the taking of individuals’ life, liberty, and property, that it is self limited – it cannot go beyond protecting into the realm of forcing. Forced fraternity and forced philanthropy on the other hand, have no limits, as we see with more and more frequency. Legislators and judges can dream up an unending number of ways to spend our limited resources and an unending list of relationships to force us into.

      • Gracious Gregory GilderSleeves

        I agree 100% !!!!

      • Matheus

        But that is not the point of the article. The author never said that we must have an forced philantropy or fraternity. The point is that leading libertarian logic to its essence, there is no limit on relationships in society as everyone can define what harmed others. Because, if we want to legislate about whatever one could do or not, them, it would contradict the libertarian logic. In fact, by philosofy, liberty cannot exists by itself alone, i mean, its not a value by itself. We only have freedom WHEN we have laws, or rules. In an isolate island which only exists you, you cannot say you are free… because will not have someone or something to restrain you. Because you will not have a parameter.

        In short, Libertarianism is an illusion which denies the dark side of the man.

        • Rachel

          I was replying to Kevin, not the article. He is implying that everyone who associates themselves with libertarian philosophy is a selfish egoist and I know that to not be the case.
          As to your comment, you really have to take into consideration that there are two distinct forms of Libertarianism in America today, the Libertine faction (atheists, wiccans, etc.) who want freedom from any kind of restraint, and the Christian libertarian faction, who acknowledge God’s dominion over us but recognize that the government does not necessarily accurately represent God’s law, especially in these days of secular humanistic government. The uneasy alliance between the two factions is the main reason why my husband and I never actually joined the libertarian party and why we have mostly backed away from our association with them. But we must recognize that our current government does try to force a false fraternity and a false philanthropy on us and neither of the major parties is adequately addressing this.

          • Matheus

            Look, as far as i know Libertarianism does not have two streams. People who call up themselves libertarians may possibly have conservative positions or liberal positions in some points, but this is completely different. The “ideology” (if we can say) is based on some logical tenets and are very clear. There are some people, like Julie Borowski, who are against abortion, for ex., but defends descriminalizatino of drugs. But that are personal points, not in essence libertarian point, because libertarianism is about complete absence, or better, of non-interference of the State both in the economy and in people’s private lives. So, anyone who wants to say “i’m an libertarianist” necessarily should have to defend abortion, e.g., for the sake of logical consistency. Anything different from that, by definition, will no longer be “libertarianism”. It would be some other else, not libertarianism.
            As to your comment that we live in a false fraternity, i agree with that, but the way to have a true fraternity, or to shrink the role of the government, or the state, is not giving up Christian principles. That is something that must be very clear in our minds! There are no shortcuts in this battle, even the libertarianism OASIS.

  • ithakavi

    Modern libertarianism is based on a radical notion of self-ownership. According to this theory, we own ourselves and thus are entitled to do with ourselves to please only ourselves; the only limiting principle being avoiding harm to others.

    The premise is false, no matter how superficially attractive its conclusion. We do not have unrestricted ownership of ourselves. We are born with obligations to God, to our families, to the communities in which we live, and to the individuals within those communities. Neither our bodies or our souls are of our own creation, and our salvation is purchased at a price we could never pay. Libertarianism is a dead end in every possible sense.

    • Philip Meadows


      • ithakavi

        I’m familiar with the passage. I agree. Please don’t type in all caps.

        • Philip Meadows

          Sometimes I type in all caps cause it helps me see what I am typing. I know some people think I am yelling, however, that isn’t the case at all.

        • Philip Meadows

          The reason I type in all capes is so that it is easier for me to see what I am typing. Not to be seen as if I am shouting.

          • ithakavi

            I see.

  • Matthew

    Sorry, but the author offers little more than broad generalizations and dubious conclusions…why can’t such a society have warm social bonds, and why does it have to be non-spiritual and bland? I happen to be a full-blown anarcho-capitalist. I’m also a devout Catholic father of nine children. Society’s movement in this direction can’t but help to turn the tide away from the bankrupt corporatist, warmongering, bureaucratic welfare state that we have become

    • Philip Meadows


  • Cole

    You basically have said Libertarians are Humanists by another name.

  • dennis best

    but if not libertarianism, then what other platform do we rally behind? The Religious Right? I know of no political group in Washington that is promoting the return to an organic Christian society. Libertarianism, at least, presses hard against government tyranny and for local communities to develop their own rules.Won’t it be easier for us to get Christ back into our communities if we can get government control out?

    • Barb Renner

      With respect to communities developing their own rules, Mr. Best, I would not trust libertarians with that task for the very reason that they do not have a moral center. If they believe “anything goes” morally speaking, how could they be trusted to promote laws that do no harm to society as a whole?

  • Craig

    Libertarians, Catholics and liberals, among others are threatened by the same totalitarian forces such as communism in the past and jihadism now. IN a simple way we can trace the advent of libertarianism to America and convolute the two experiments. Sadly, Europe had a poor record of religious and other freedoms. Perhaps better ideals would have evolved, but probably not and would have inexorably led to ww2 scenarios and 30 years war situations. That’s way as an American catholic myself, I am skeptical of various appeals to the common good. The embarrassing fact for catholics and Protestants as well is that America is the country that best models the golden rule. We all agree now about the importance of minority religious rights that were not respected in Europe. Furthermore as an economist I find the church’s meddling into economic affairs as atrocious as their meddling into astronomical affairs. Francis recently admitted that he knew nothing about economics. Mathew 25 mostly applies to individuals not governments. Moreover the American model better practices the concept of giving to God what is gods and to Caesar what is caesar. What many christian statists fail to recognize is the simple relationship between public life and private morality. In other words, obscenity can hurt individuals but it’s a two way street and inner change would solve most problems. So the blame lies with individual christians who are unfaithful. And we should simply recognize that in this age, the debates over evolution will forever hamper christian revival . Therefore we are ultimately dependent upon gods grace for him to pour forth his Holy Spirit. as I started this , we should realize the downward trends in religious practice and form strategic alliances with libertarians liberals and even libertines against totalitarianism . Peter kreeft of Boston college once wrote a book shortly before 9/11 in which he called for ecumenical jihad against liberals or a Christian muslim alliance. That has been turned on its head and now we need a general Liberal alliance against mainly jihadists forces but also russia/China neofascist/post communist totalitarianism

  • Barb Renner

    Libertarians lose much of their credibility when they espouse sexual freedom. They do not oppose homosexuality but see it as ok as long as it does not affect them personally. It is a very me-centered philosophy and the libertarian support of drug legilization is another example of their not seeming to care how abuse of drugs can become very troublesome for society as a whole. They lack a firm moral center which can only be achieved through adherence to God’s Commandments.