April 7, 2010


What Am I?, By John Stossel

I used to be a Kennedy-style "liberal." Then I wised up. Now I'm a libertarian.

But what does that mean?

When I asked people on the street, half had no clue.

We know that conservatives want government to conserve traditional values. They say they're for limited government, but they're pro-drug war, pro-immigration restriction and anti-abortion, and they often support "nation-building." [I won't get into the drug war (needs its own essay) but on the other two Mr Stossel is confused. He can be "libertarian" on immigration only because he is depending on others to stem the flow. If a billion people were moving to the US next month he'd change his mind in a hurry.

And abortion SEEMS libertarian only because of a failure of vision. Suppose we put it this way: "A powerful government entity, unaccountable to voters, can declare that a particular sub-set of humanity is 'not-human,' and can now be killed with impunity. And the power of the State will protect the killers." How's that sound, Mr Libertarian?Or suppose that the Supreme Court declared that women had a "right" to kill their husbands? You're cool with that? As a libertarian, I mean? Only those stuffy conservatives will complain?]

And so-called liberals? They tend to be anti-gun and pro-choice on abortion. They favor big, powerful government -- they say -- to make life kinder for people.

By contrast, libertarians want government to leave people alone -- in both the economic and personal spheres. Leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don't hurt anybody else. [What's the problem with that last phrase? The question to ask is, "Who defines 'hurt?' And who defines 'anybody else?'" One does it for oneself I assume. Suppose I define 'hurt" to not include poking Mr Stossel in the eye with my eye-poking stick? Does that make it OK to poke you, Mr Libertarian? Of course not. Stossel is in fact relying on TRADITION and RELIGION to define the terms, and not admitting it. And if the definition changes in a way that hurts HIM, he'll come begging Conservatives to help him fix things.]

Ironically, that used to be called "liberal," which has the same root as "liberty." Several hundred years ago, liberalism was a reaction against the stifling rules imposed by aristocracy and established religion.

I wish I could call myself "liberal" now. But the word has been turned on its head. It now means health police, high taxes, speech codes and so forth.

So I can't call myself a "liberal." I'm stuck with "libertarian." If you have a better word, please let me know.

I say that the real libertarian is the Christian conservative.

Why? Trouble is, freedom sometimes has to be fought for. And freedom requires morality. And those only come from something beyond libertarianism. People don't fight or sacrifice for a nothing, they fight for a positive philosophy, something bigger than the self. Something more important than ME. And libertarianism has never offered that, and never will. Libertarians are coasting on the virtues inherited from past generations, mostly Christian and Jewish. These have created a culture that is very moral and law-abiding, and so the Libertarian can just take a lot of basic decency for granted, and pretend that people will always act that way when government "leaves them alone."

Mr Stossel, I would guess that you assume that firemen will rush into a burning building to save you. Why would they do that? What Libertarian idea would cause people to act that way?

Also, there will always arise conflicts that can't be resolved by "live and let live." Before 1860 Southerners made libertarian arguments in favor of government not interfering with private property in the form of slaves. Do you agree? If not, what principle rules? Is there something bigger than libertarianism? Something that, maybe maybe maybe, you OWE allegiance to?

Libertarians are freeloading—sponging—on virtues inherited from the people who built this country, and those were Christian conservatives. (Almost every American before, say, 1950 was what we now call "conservative." The word really just means "normal American." JFK was in many ways what we think of as conservative; tax cutter, anti-communist, patriotic.)

But those virtues are in decline. You are living off a shrinking capital, and not re-investing anything. To the extant that you are really a "libertarian," you are a parasite.

Posted by John Weidner at April 7, 2010 4:55 PM
Weblog by John Weidner