Libertarianism has always been attractive to me. The idea that we just let people decide what to do on their own without government intrusion sounds great. Dictionary.com defines a libertarian as “a person who advocates liberty, especially with regard to thought or conduct.” That sounds wonderful!
As a political philosophy, however, it falls flat.
The problem with libertarianism is that at some point there is always a value judgment to be made about whose liberty. At what point does my exercise of liberty became a problem for you?
Take pot, for example. The argument is that it’s non-addictive, safer than alcohol, and relatively harmless to the smoker. Well, perhaps that’s all true (although I don’t really agree with any of those three points). The bottom line is that I don’t want my kids to grow up in a society that offers easy access to pot. I want it to be hard to get. If, in the name of liberty, it’s legalized than I am no longer free to live in a (more) pot-free culture.
Abortion is particularly thorny for libertarians. Ron Paul’s recent machinations on the topic are an example of why libertarianism cannot be fairly applied. He signed a right-to-life pledge on the basis that he scientifically believes that a fetus is a person, thus, it qualifies for human rights. At the same time, he added an addendum declaring that states should be able to pass their own laws regarding abortion. Of course, if he really believes that a fetus is a person than he evidently values choice over life. It’s inconsistent.
So whose rights are more important in this case: the rights of the unborn child or the right of the state to have its own laws? It seems pretty evident that a moral decision is being made by Paul and that his moral decision is then impacting others. These decisions cannot be limited to ones’ self. They have ramifications for others.
So, while I tend toward libertarianism, I can’t go “all in.” at some point, the issue of whose rights make it an impossible philosophy.
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