I Used to be a Libertarian
For some of you, it won't come as a great surprise that I carry a Libertarian Party ID. It might be new information to confirm it though. Just as it will likely be new to know that I was the party secretary for the SouthWest Washington Libertarian Party in Vancouver.
Like many in the party, I was initially sucked in by The World's Smallest Political Quiz. This quiz is remarkable because it introduces a new axis to give a two dimensional view of politics. You have the standard left-right, but you add a new dimension to give height. The designers of the quiz are very clever. Libertarian is on top of the grid, for example. Cleverer still, is the selection and phrasing of the questions. Three years ago, I scored strongly in the Libertarian spectrum. I think the only thing non-libertarian was my stance on the legalizing drugs question--which is important so bear that in mind.
So I felt pretty at home in the Libertarian Party. Libertarians are big on self-determination. Since I am pretty blessed in the abilities department, it's a comfortable ideology. And I'm comfortable accepting responsibility for my own charitable giving and feel strongly that government tends to get it dreadfully wrong when they get involved in 'helping' people. I still feel that way.
So why 'used to be' and not 'am'? Well, it has to do with that pesky drug question. At least, that was the start of it. It turns out that though it is only one question on the quiz, it's actually a large part of the party platform. Much of the effort of the Libertarian Party is centered around legalization of currently illegal drugs. I don't want heroin or LSD or cocaine legalized. I don't support the wildest excesses of the war on drugs, or some of the laws that violate the constitution (IMO) in the name of that war (some of the confiscatory laws are draconian). But I very much don't want that level of narcotic freely available to anyone who wants to use it.
In thinking this issue through, it forced me to figure out why I am so much dedicated to individualism but want to restrict individual choice in this instance. The problem is, my conclusions force me to abandon the Libertarian Party (leaving me party-less for those keeping score).
The problem with individualism (self-determination if you wish) is that we aren't lone individuals in this world. I wrote in an earlier post that the evil of money is that it obscures our dependency on each other. The same problem exists with un-checked individualism. Libertarianism denies the effects we have on each other. On the road, we are only as safe as the least safe driver. That's why we license the privilege to drive. While our personal lives aren't nearly so dangerous as the highways, we are dependent on each other for our comfort and upkeep--a relationship crash won't often kill you, but the long-term fallout can be as life-altering. We are bound to one another in an inexorable net of need.
Libertarians often ask what possible meaning it could have if someone chooses to destroy their life with drugs? Like the sulky teen, they are essentially saying 'It's my life, you stay out of it.' What they don't understand is that there is no such thing as an individual choice. All of our choices affect the people around us. Often deeply. The pregnant woman on crack is only the most obvious example of this dependency. It is obvious to me that certain forms of individual expression are damaging enough to warrant the intrusion on individual choice.
If you are at all religious (and I assure you I am), then you might believe that a large part of our test in mortality involves how well we make our choices to uplift those around us. My religion puts a strong emphasis on 'moral agency' for example. We are on the Earth to learn to choose what is right--informing our choice in the Spirit of God and our love for each other. We also believe that God goes to great length to protect this freedom to choose, going so far as to sacrifice his Son to pay for the spiritual consequences of our failures.
Some would say that in order for choice to have meaning, the chance to choose wrong has to be available. Certainly, history shows that much harm comes when good people attempt to force others to choose good. Many libertarians choose to interpret this historical force as a mandate against using force in any situation, and ask us to implement punishment for wrongs rather than prevention.
Obviously, I disagree. Some actions are so obviously wrong that they should be prevented. If there were a way to prevent murder, I would strongly advocate for it. So yes, there are times when government needs to step up and say that we can't do certain things. I don't think it is good to try to force people to do good. But I do think that it is imperative that we actively prevent people from committing irreparable harm.
The founding fathers acknowledge the benefits of enlightened self-interest. Not unhindered selfishness.