Why doesn’t libertarianism work?
In the philosophy of freedom there are two great ideas: order and liberty. Freedom-loving Americans often conflate the two ideas, ignore one in favor of the other or ignore both in the name of both. In other words, even freedom-loving Americans fail to understand the delicate balance between order and freedom.
Libertarians believe that liberty precedes order. They believe that liberty also creates order – mostly out of thin air. They call it “spontaneous order.” This concept means that the rules of a free society are created simply and solely because the self-interest of billions of people will create cooperation that, in turn, will create the rules by which to play the game of life.
Libertarians use this concept of “spontaneous order” to dictate their notion of human purpose. While libertarians can be very moral people, they rarely apply their sense of morality to help guide societal discussion about human purposes, values and how free people ought to behave to maintain lasting freedom.
Of course, libertarianism as a framework for society runs afoul of human nature and human experience. Not only are human purpose and societal rules for lasting freedom not spontaneous, they are, in fact, part and parcel of what it means to be a human being, and that meaning is unseverably connected to universal, innate and unchangeable characteristics.
Lasting freedom requires human beings to be their better selves, not their self-interested, or selfish, selves. At the core of lasting freedom is the understanding that order precedes liberty.
Many libertarians, though, are not philosophical. In fact, most are political. They believe in limited government and personal responsibility. But without the basic understanding that order precedes liberty, their political libertarianism leads so many freedom-loving people (especially youth who are susceptible to ideologies of selfishness) to champion causes (e.g., “victimless crimes”) that damage freedom.
As with other ideologies, libertarianism doesn’t work because it is not based on human nature and human experience.
Sometimes by “libertarian” many people mean some version of conservatism. But authentic libertarians derive their motivation from philosophical kinships with utilitarianism and objectivism that, at their basis, embrace unadulterated selfishness shined up to sound virtuous.
Libertarianism doesn’t work because its ideal is the individual as the fundamental unit of society. In reality, for any free society, the family is the fundamental unit of society – a social and pluralistic entity, not uniquely individualistic, situated to reflect the realities of living peaceably and prosperously in community. As conservative icon Russell Kirk said about libertarianism, “We flawed human creatures are sufficiently selfish already, without being exhorted to pursue selfishness on principle.”
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