I used to be a doctrinaire Libertarian. I believed in the Libertarian one-liner creed (paraphrasing–I can’t find my Libertarian Party membership card): The only justifiable use of force against other human beings is in self-defense against their use of force.
As I’ve dealt with the real world, I’ve been forced to admit that libertarianism, as clean, bracing, simple and ethical as it seems on first teenage blush, doesn’t actually provide a comprehensive philosophy that Solomonically arbitrates all disputes.
My first intuition that libertarianism might not have thought all things through was when I was witness to a months long debate in a doctrinaire libertarian magazine about this issue:
Your neighbor puts his 2 year old child out in his fenced front yard with NO TRESPASSING signs, and is obviously not feeding the little brat. Is it morally permissible to trespass and rescue the child? Or to cut a hole in the fence? What if the kid won’t come to you, even after you cut the hole?
The debators weren’t just trying to develop a formal philosophical justification for the rescue but were struggling with the morality. Not all were in favor of the rescue and several of the rescue-mongers seemed ashamed or at least abashed by their position. (I’m not the first to point out that libertarian philosophy founders when it tries to address children or other humans who aren’t fully competent adults.)
There are plenty of other cases where it is obvious that force should be used preemptively. Robert Nozick, libertarian philosopher, raised the issue of compelling witnesses to testify in trials. In similar vein, does the state have the right to detain a criminal suspect before conviction? After all, if you are innocent till proven guilty, why should the state be able to imprison a presumptively innocent person?
And it turns out that the boundaries of what constitutes self-defense are not all that clear. Not only do you have to draw lines about how much of a threat justifies how much force, but you must also deal with the limits of third party knowledge. Other people must be able to rule on whether your use of force in self-defense was justified, or else you return to a state of nature where any aggression can against others can be claimed to be self-defense as long as nobody else saw it.
I raise the above issues to make it clear that I do understand the limits of libertarianism, but they are not the main point of this post.
My libertarianism has evolved from a naive philosophy of non-aggression against my neighbors (with wolverine aggression against those labeled aggressors) to an understanding of libertarianism as a fundamental presumption.
People are either fundamentally libertarian or fundamentally criminal. Most Americans are libertarians at heart. Which is why Obama is having such a hard time with his agenda.
Fundamental libertarianism means that you believe (well, it’s a little deeper than just believing) that it takes extraordinary justification for you to forcibly interfere in someone else’s life and choices, even if that interference would advance significant moral, social or personal interests.
Fundamental criminality means that you believe (well, it’s a little deeper than just believing) that it takes extraordinary justification to prevent you from interfering in someone else’s life and choices whenever you think that doing so will advance significant moral, social or personal interests.
Most people think of criminality as purely selfish. I don’t. I see no fundamental difference between ACORN and the Crips. They’re both criminal gangs, though I’d rather get caught out on ACORN territory than wearing the wrong color in a Crip neighborhood. There are degrees, tactics, stages and permissible methods that differ. And motives don’t matter–it’s the wanting to impose your will on other people that’s the fundamental, important thing.
I see Ted Bundy and Ted Kennedy as playing for the same team. Ted B’s killed more people personally than Ted K, but Ted K tried to impose his criminal will on hundreds of millions. Ted K had more in common with Stalin than did Ted B. But let’s keep perspective–Ted K had more in common with the average feckless drunken fratboy than with either Ted B or Josef S. Still, Ted K was definitely a Josef S-style criminal wannabe. Ted K also had a lot in common with Nellie Olsen from Little House on the Prairie.
This is why I’ve turned the corner on Obama. This is why I’m merciless about politicians–I see almost all of them as Nellie Olsen criminals. When they’re children, you can tell criminals because they’re either bullies or little suck-up tattle-tales. I would love to know about Barack’s school days. Which one was he?
Anyone out there with Photoshop and too much time on your hands–I’d love to have a picture of Joker Obama with Nellie Olsen curls.