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Pope Francis against the Individual

On stage, Pope Francis, like Juan Perón, his predecessor in so many respects, can be a vivid speaker. The same cannot be said of his prose, where his arguments are all too often swamped by jargon, citation and the failed, muddy language of someone who cannot, I am afraid, quite keep up.

In the course of a new screed the Pope turns his attention (as so often) to neo-liberalism, that rarely seen, frequently imagined bogeyman that seems to spend so much time rattling around the papal skull:

A society in which the true fraternity dissolves is not capable of having a future; a society in which only “giving in order to have” or the “giving out of duty” exist, is not capable of progressing. That is why neither the liberal-individualist vision of the world, in which everything (or almost) is an exchange, nor the state-centric vision of society, in which everything (or almost) is a duty, are safe guides for overcoming inequality, inequity and exclusion that now overwhelm our societies. It is a search for a way out of the suffocating alternative between the neoliberal thesis and that neo-state-centric thesis.

Leaving aside the fact that Francis’ description of the ‘liberal-individualist vision’ is little more than stale demagogic caricature—something of a specialty of this pope–his call for a ‘third way’ between free market systems and socialism shouldn’t be missed. In reality, that’s we already have across the West, but what Francis wants is something akin to the corporatism (there are unkinder words) that did so much damage to his native Argentina.

And as always with Francis, his perspective is saturated with conspiracism, often vintage conspiracism:

Almost one hundred years ago, Pius XI [warned of] a global economic dictatorship that he called the “international imperialism” of money.


And then Francis turns his attention to a fresh enemy—demagogues can never have enough enemies—in this case the “invasion…at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools…of libertarian individualism”, an invasion, it must be said, is not immediately apparent to me.  Looking at today’s schools, and even more so the universities, very little libertarian individualism seems to be on display. On the contrary, we see the collectivism of the left, being enforced with ever increasing degrees of rigor, something that this Pope whether by ignorance, malice or willful ideological blindness or a blend of all three has chosen to overlook.

The Pope continues:

If individualism affirms that it is only the individual who gives value to things and interpersonal relationships, and so it is only the individual who decides what is good and what is bad, then libertarianism, today in fashion, preaches that to establish freedom and individual responsibility, it is necessary to resort to the idea of “self-causation”.

But individualism does not affirm (or does not have to affirm) that it is only the individual who gives value to things…

Over at Reason (of course!), Stephanie Slade writes:

As with [the Pope’s] comments about capitalism, then, the problem is not so much that he’s speaking to issues that go beyond the scope of his office; the problem is his speaking to matters on which he is ill-informed. In this case, his statements betray a shallowness in his understanding of the philosophy he’s impugning. If he took the time to really engage with our ideas, he might be surprised by what he learned.

He might, for instance, be taken aback to discover that many libertarians hold beliefs that transcend an Ayn Randian glorification of selfishness (and that Ayn Rand rejected us, too, by the way)…. Or that lots of us are deeply concerned with the tangible outcomes that policies have on vulnerable communities, and that libertarians’ support for capitalism is very often rooted in its ability to make the world a better place. Or that some of us are even—hold on to your zucchetto—followers of Christ.

Most of all, he would likely be startled to find that, far from thinking “only the individual decides what is good and what is evil,” few libertarians are moral relativists. (Except the Objectivists, of course. Or am I getting that wrong?) Speaking as a devotee of St. John Paul II, one of the great articulators of the importance of accepting Truth as such, this one is actually personal.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Pope Francis knows any libertarians. In the event he’s interested in discussing the ideas of free minds and free markets with someone who ascribes to them, I’d be happy to make myself available.

Stephanie should not hold her breath. Locked into his own convictions, and, like many demagogues, both bully and intellectual coward, Francis has shown himself prepared to talk things over with those whose disagreement—a tame atheist or two—runs on predictable lines unlikely to dent his faith, but to be prepared to debate people who offer a serious challenge to his political prescriptions, well…

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The Tea Party: “More Paul than Santorum”

David Kirby and Emily Ekins write in Politico:

The Republican National Convention this week announced speaking slots for libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and social conservative Rick Santorum. Both claim the “tea party” brand. However the 2012 primary season reveals that the tea party playbook is more Paul than Santorum.

Conventional political wisdom for at least two decades has held that Republican primaries are won by emphasizing values issues to placate socially conservative voters. Observers point to Santorum’s strong showing in the presidential primaries. Exit polls, however, reveal Santorum never won a majority of the tea party vote in any primary.

Republican candidates must increasingly win over both Paul and tea party supporters on economic issues. Libertarians and the tea party movement are intertwined in ways the campaigns and the media have yet to fully appreciate.

Tea party supporters are actually united on economics, but split on social issues, we find, compiling data from local and national polls with dozens of original interviews with tea party members and leaders. Roughly half the tea party is socially conservative, half libertarian: fiscally conservative, but socially moderate to liberal.

Libertarians led the way for tea party disaffection with establishment Republicans. Starting in early 2008 through the early tea parties, libertarians were more than twice as “angry” with the Republican Party as social conservatives; more pessimistic about the economy and deficit during the Bush years, and more frustrated that people like them cannot affect government. Libertarians, including young people who supported Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, provided much of the early energy for the tea party and spread the word through social media.

In fact, 91 percent of tea party libertarians are more concerned about taxes and jobs than gay marriage and abortion, according to a New York Times poll. Religious bona fides will not win the tea party vote in primaries. The tea party’s strong libertarian roots help explain why more and more Republican candidates are running as functional libertarians—emphasizing fiscal issues such as spending, tax reform and ending bailouts, while avoiding subjects like abortion and gay marriage—and winning…

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Libertarians and religious liberty

Tim Carney, the influential columnist at the D.C. Examiner, writes as if libertarians have been AWOL or worse when it comes to defending religious liberty from the incursions of the modern liberal-bureaucratic state. I try to set him straight in a new post at Cato at Liberty. More: Carney responds; Jordan Bloom, The American Conservative, Rick Esenberg. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

Of course religious liberty should be a two-way (multi-way?) street. Just as unbelievers should be committed to upholding the religious liberty of the Catholic Church, so, as Andrew Stuttaford reminds us, it would be nice to feel confident that the Catholic Church was equally committed to upholding ours.

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Libertarianism as ends and means

I haven’t had time to follow up my post below on libertarianism. But my friend Jim Manzi wrote something similar, at much greater length, in 2009: The Paradox of Libertarianism. I endorse it, though you may not!

I agree with libertarians on many specific issues. But on a deep level I no longer am in sympathy with libertarianism. Why? The issue can be encapsulated by a conversation with a friend recently. He posited that so long as his own actions don’t impact others then he should have liberty to engage in his actions (e.g., smoking, drinking, etc.). Practically there is a great deal of wisdom in this perspective. But I now believe that this individual focus misses the critical insight that humans are generally social beings, who gain meaning and purpose from being socially embedded. A philosophically liberal, in a broad sense, perspective which focuses on individual rights and utility extracted from a social context ignores this reality of human nature.

But in the period between 1800 and 2000 this viewpoint was operationally very useful, because so many of the public policy issues were addressed rather well by focusing upon the individual. Concerns of material want are preeminent in this case. Food, shelter, and clothing. Basic subsistence is rather easily addressed in a reductionistic moral framework. You can decompose average caloric units, and aggregate them and evaluate the distribution of consumption, treating all individuals as reasonable atomic units.

Now that we are in a post-materialist era in the developed world I believe that these easily reducible and atomized concerns are fading into the background. Though many of the basic “Culture War” issues like abortion or gay rights are framed in an individual rights context, I believe that more deeply they’re really about a collective vision of society. Individual liberty and tolerance quickly cedes ground to a collective moral vision. This is not a prescriptive model, this is for me a descriptive one.

The reality is that for a minority of humans a fundamentally liberal/libertarian moral framework is profoundly appealing. It makes intuitive sense to us. I say us because I’m one of those individuals. But I don’t think it describes most human beings. And we have to begin with the modal human being when generating an empirically informed rich moral framework. Don’t we?

I’m sympathetic to a lot of the specific policy prescriptions of publications like Reason. Though I’m no philosophical libertarian, I converge with libertarians when it comes to attitudes on specific issues. But outside of think tanks like Cato a lot of mainstream libertarianism seems rather glib and superficial. This diavlog between Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie is a case in point of style over substance:

Obviously I agree with Welch and Gillespie on issues like airline deregulation, but who cares about the growing fraction of independents? It’s a robust social science finding that most independents are actually rather reliable partisan voters. On the contrary to the inference made in the discussion, the past generation has seen a rise in the nominal identification of independents, but greater practical polarization. There’s no there, there.

Mr. Hume occasionally explores the relationship between being non-religious and being a libertarian.  If the failure to ban cell phone use while driving results from libertarian pressures, you can count me out as a member.  It is incomprehensible to me that we continue to allow people to drive a 6000-pound killing machine while talking on a cell phone, hands-free or not; the cognitive interference from engaging in conversation with an absent interlocutor is patent. (more…)




The religious support for neoliberalism?

Over at TMP Cafe there is a discussiona bout Red State, Blue State.  This post has an interesting snippet:

…But before we grab on to such a U.S.-centric explanation, it is worth noting that John Huber and Piero Stanig have compiled data showing that poor religious voters in Europe are more likely than low-income secular voters to support parties promoting economically liberal policies (in the European sense of the term). So any explanation of the phenomenon ought to have a passport.


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Libertarians & the Secular Right

Over at Volokh Conspiracy Ilya Somin points to this weblog, and notes:

Although one of the four contributors (Olson) is more libertarian than conservative, the main focus of the blog seems to be on the latter. After all, few doubt that one can be both an atheist and a libertarian. Many of the most influential libertarian thinkers of modern times were atheists or agnostics (e.g. – Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and Ayn Rand). Although there are also some highly religious libertarian intellectuals, including some of my co-bloggers here at the VC, few if any libertarian theists doubt that an atheist can be just as much a libertarian as they are.

I wish I could be a libertarian. But my current understanding of human nature makes me not much of one. My own inclination is to err on the side of liberty, but unfortunately I do not believe that the broad license of liberty which most libertarians believe right and proper would be conducive to the flourishing of human society or the contentment of most individuals.*  I am willing to be convinced otherwise and brought back to the libertarian fold…. (Also, I consider libertarianism a species of liberalism, only tactically aligned with American conservatism, though temporary alliances stretched out may take on an air of permanence)

* Since most libertarians today derive their position from utilitarianism, the disagreement here is about what is more than how things should be (i.e., if most libertarians were grounded in Natural Rights it might be the latter).

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