Tag Archives: libertarianism

I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means….

Rand Paul has assumed the mantle of libertarianism from his father Ron, and in all fairness, espouses some positions that are consistent with libertarian philosophy. But he’s anything but a genuine libertarian.

Peacock Panache recently reported on a Paul presentation at a private prayer breakfast sponsored by Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network:

Paul told those in attendance at the breakfast he supports an intertwining of religion in government. “The First Amendment says keep government out of religion,” he said. “It doesn’t say keep religion out of government.”

Tell that to any Constitutional scholar who has done even a little research into the workings of the Establishment Clause and see how it goes over.

Continuing his pseudo-sermon Paul continued, “In fact, the moral crisis we have in our country, there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage, there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage.” He continued, “We’re the most disconnected city on the planet from the people. So don’t have a lot of faith in what’s going on up here.”

Paul has the solution though. “We need a revival in the country,” Paul told an attentive audience that agreed with his every word. “We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform.”

There are two ways to interpret this nod to religious hegemony. It may be that Paul really has no idea what authentic libertarianism is, or it may be that he is intellectually dishonest and willing to pander to the prejudices of his audience. (The two interpretations, of course, aren’t mutually exclusive.) Either way, he’s disqualified from holding a government position. (Not that disqualification matters much these days–if we held lawmakers to an intellectual honesty standard, most of Congress would be gone.)

Paul also opposes reproductive rights and  same-sex marriage, for example–positions at odds with libertarian philosophy but virtual litmus tests for the GOP’s Evangelical base.

Just for the record, Rand, the libertarian principle that emerged from the Enlightenment (and upon which this country was largely founded) celebrated individual autonomy: the right of each individual to establish and pursue his own life goals, free of interference by government or popular majorities, unless and until that individual harms the person or property of a non-consenting other–and so long as he is willing to respect the equal right of others to do the same.

Now, I realize we can all debate what constitutes harm, but when you aren’t even willing to respect the right of other people to live in accordance with beliefs contrary to yours, you’re an authoritarian, not a libertarian.

Google it.


The Rabbi Had a Point

One of my favorite stories is the one about the Rabbi of a small shtetl, or village, who was asked to mediate a quarrel between two residents. He listened to one side intently, then said, “yes, you are right.” Then he listened to the other man’s position, and said “yes, you are right.” A bystander protested. “Rabbi, they can’t both be right!” To which the Rabbi replied, “You also are correct.”

What I love about that story is that it underscores a point often missed in our toxic political culture: no one has a monopoly on being right. Or wrong. As I frequently remind my students, reality can be complicated. The right answer will often depend on context, on factual distinctions and how the question is framed.

Over the weekend, I read David Brooks’ new book, The Social Animal and it reminded me of the Rabbi’s lesson. The book is excellent; it deserves the plaudits it has received. I don’t necessarily agree with every conclusion he draws from the considerable research he has consulted about the nature of the human animal, but his is a plausible, reasonable reading of available evidence.

At the end of the day–for me at least–the book made a case for a more social, more communitarian approach to government. I have long been leery of communitarianism, the argument that we are all socially embedded creatures who require an agreement about the ultimate ends of life. (The practical problem with communitarians is that many of them tend to be statists who would hand over to government the power to choose our life goals.   Marxists tried that and it wasn’t pretty.)

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that we have traveled a very long way toward radical individualism, and those results aren’t pretty either.

If the Rabbi were mediating this debate, he might say to the libertarians among us  “You are right that the state should not prescribe your beliefs and social behaviors.” He might also say to the communitarians “You are right that humans need a community to be a part of, a community that you help support and that helps support you”

Onlookers might protest that both things can’t be right, but in this case, I think they would be wrong.