June 5, 2008

"The libertarian dream turns into the totalitarian nightmare..."

In one sense, much of my blogging is just wasted electrons, since I'm often arguing against liberalism, which is incapable of arguing back. Or even thinking clearly. I've never once, since 11/2001, been given a real argument by a leftist. The poltroons carp and sneer, but don't dare think, or express their philosophy clearly

But I have often been counter-punched by my libertarian readers. Actually been forced to think to defend my hasty posts. Thank you, friends!

And in that spirit, this is a criticism of libertarian thinking that puts clearly things I've sort of groped towards...

R.R. Reno, in First Things, writing about the book Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage, by Douglas Farrow...

...In other words, in the old system, the state presumed the existence of a substantive, natural reality that required legal adumbration: the union of a man and a woman, and the children resulting from their sexual relations. Now the Canadian government sees that it must intervene and redefine marriage and parenthood in order to give fixed legal standing to otherwise fluid and uncertain social relations. When the gay friend donates his sperm to the surrogate mother hired by a lesbian couple, the resulting “family” is a purely legal construct, one that requires the power of state to enforce contracts and attach children to adoptive parents.

The result is the opposite of the libertarian dream of freedom. As Farrow observes, with gay marriage we are giving over the family to the state to define according to the needs of the moment. The upshot, he worries, will be a dangerous increase in the power of the state to define our lives in other realms once thought sacrosanct. “Remove religiously motivated restrictions on marriage,” he writes, “and it is much easier to remove religiously motivated restrictions on human behavior in general, and on the state’s power to order human society as it sees fit.” The libertarian dream turns into the totalitarian nightmare. Who can or cannot be a spouse? That’s for the state to decide. To whom do children belong? It’s up to the state to assign parents as its social workers and judges think best...

One of the big "projects" of Enlightenment thinking was (and is) to try to construct morality without religion. "Morality without dogma." As far as I know, it's never worked, never happened. What really happens is that secularists retain a lot of Jewish and Christian morality, and fool themselves into thinking that that's what people can come up with as a matter of course, using reason, without needing religion.

Same with libertarianism, which is an off-shoot of this project. The libertarian assumes that people, if they are free to choose, will choose the good. But in fact each generation of libertarians re-defines "the good" down to whatever reduced level of morality prevails at that moment. A libertarian of fifty years ago would have said that people, if free to choose, will—most of them—form stable marriages of a man and a woman, and raise several children, and act wisely in a variety of similar ways, without those hectoring preachers and restrictive laws. And indeed they did, back then.

Libertarians now probably say that we shouldn't worry; if people are free to choose they will, most of them, marry other human beings. Or at least form caring relationships that can be expected to last for a period of several years.

And I'll bet that fifty years from now, libertarians will be scoffing at those stick-in-the-mud theists with their fear-mongering about the rise of cannibalism-as-entertainment. "Just let the market-place work, and people will choose the good. Most of them, anyway."

Posted by John Weidner at June 5, 2008 7:34 AM
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