The Eternal Adolescence of the Libertarian Mind

There is a time in a young man’s life when Reason, the pure, demanding goddess, awakens, shining in her dawn with all the certainty of early faith.

As he matures, other voices arise to balance Reason’s demands, lest she drive him to inhuman lengths of rationalization. Reason should not be a master; she is a servant who does her best work in the cause of Truth and Love.

Not long ago, when I was a young teenager, I became a Calvinist through participating in online forums, which I think is also where most young libertarians are minted. The guiding principle of Calvinism is God’s total sovereignty over all that is and everything that happens. Libertarianism’s hardly less absolute doctrine is the utter sovereignty of the individual over himself, and the injustice of all forms of compulsion.

Looking back, I have been able to moderate my Calvinism, even to the point of admitting the reality of human free agency. In the same way, most young libertarians mature as they gain experience with other people and the world they live in. Opinions mellow rather than changing entirely.

But some never grow up.

This week, Catholic libertarian journalist Tim Carney wrote an endorsement of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, pointing out the Attorney General’s consistent stance on personal and economic freedom issues, even to the point of opposing big business interests who collude with the government, opposing busybody laws like smoking bans, suing the Feds over the unaffordable healthcare bill, and being guardedly open to legalizing marijuana.

Predictably, Internet libertarians tried to hack Carney to pieces. They claim the candidate is dangerous on “social issues.”

Image: outline of a cannabis leaf
The Libertarian Sacrament

These libertarians have all the depth of teenage potheads, and are almost as feeble-minded. They are remarkably gullible. They are always credulously repeating left-wing slanders against conservatives who supposedly want to “ban” contraception, as if that were even a remote political possibility. They are unserious and dishonest.

As Carney points out, libertarians seem content to throw away tangible political goods for imaginary hypothetical gains. Robert Sarvis will never get enough votes to give Virginia libertarians a strong third-party influence; meanwhile, in effectively voting for Terry McAuliffe, libertarians will serve themselves a nice big dose of the cronyism, taxes, and corruption they hate.

Lying, cheating, and slandering are the well-known tools of today’s Left, which has no principles besides a desire to consolidate all powers in a war against good. Libertarianism, though, is based on principles, and one of these is the principle of prudence. The fractious, self-destructive libertarian attitude is especially unbecoming.

If Libertarians wish to gain more political influence and respect, they are doing it wrong. Libertarian hero Ron Paul had the right idea. By staying in the Republican Party, he slowly developed a libertarian grassroots GOP base in Virginia, as we saw in the 2011 Republican presidential primary, where he gathered a significant minority of the vote. I voted for him myself.

This is the reason the Tea Party or the Christian Right is so scary to the Left: They have strategically decided to work within the Republican establishment to nudge the party in a certain direction. They pick fights and make a stink about the issues, but they also usually play ball and deliver the votes. With patience and realism, libertarians too could be winners in this game.

But the libertarian imagination is in a state of arrested development, occupying a merely imaginary world, unable to embrace the personal realities of society and politics.

It is true that the two-party system is flawed and corrupt. But to separate from a party does nothing but nullify any influence you might have had within it. I admire, in theory, the multi-party parliamentary systems of Europe, with their coalition governments formed through alliances of larger parties with smaller, issue-based voting blocs. Greens, Socialists, and far-right groups are not entirely shut out of the political process, as they more or less are in the U.S. But our situation is different. Until we rewrite our constitution, wishing we could be a European republic is a waste of time.

Another difference with American splinter groups is that they tend to be in the thrall of sexual ideology to a degree that their Continental counterparts are not. A French socialist can be strongly pro-family, oppose abortion and marriage revisionism without being ostracized. In America, it is practically impossible to have any kind of respect as a Green, a socialist, or even a Libertarian, without speaking the required shibboleths of abortion “rights” and “gay marriage.” This extremism drives away people of strong morals who would otherwise be sympathetic to the party’s central concerns.

Let us be honest. “Social issues” is the evasive Libertarian code for Cuccinelli’s sincerely-held traditional Christian beliefs about sexuality, and the Libertarian opposition to those beliefs. They appear to think that opposing Cuccinelli’s religious beliefs is even more important than making progress toward the positive libertarian value of personal freedom.

The essence of this kind of libertarianism is cutting off the nose to spite the face.

These libertarians are Russell Kirk’s chirping sectaries. They are the cracked reeds of the political swamp, distinguished only by the noise of their continual chatter.

The writer does not hereby endorse any political candidate or party.