The Limits of Libertarianism

One my saddest realizations happened on the day I decided I could not swallow libertarian doctrine. That moment was sad for me because I had found the essence of libertarianism to be so positive.

Libertarians see the best in other people. They see humankind in the way that an artistic landscaper might view a giant garden: a wonderful expression of sizes and shapes and colors, all contributing their unique differences toward a greater collective good. They view government as spoiling all that. Government, according to them, is at best unnecessary and at worst an organized force that acts against individual freedom.

There’s a lot of truth in that. Unfortunately, there’s also a good chunk of truth left out.

There are three major historical facts that keep me from joining the Libertarian Party: (1) the amazing freedom to travel that government provides to me when it exercises eminent domain and taxpayer dollars to fund the interstate highway system, air traffic control, highway regulations (better drive only on your side of the road!) and international comity (passport acceptance), among other transportation benefits; (2) the massive use of governmental force that has been necessary to end slavery and continue the painfully slow process of breaking down barriers that prevent minority citizens from exercising their basic human rights; and (3) the need for consumer protection in areas of life that are too complex for a single individual to understand, like the safety of our air, water, food, drugs, automobiles, and other necessities of life.

Note that on all three counts, my heart is in favor of more personal freedom. The part of me that was a history major in college tells me, however, that government is too often necessary to counter the anti-freedom tendencies of greedy operators who care nothing about the misery they impart upon weaker people. So long as bullies exist–and I think they always will–governments will be necessary to ensure the rights of the weakest among us.

Am I therefore in favor of a nanny state? I don’t think so. I want the smallest government necessary to maximize the personal freedoms of all of us. But I guess I’m old enough to know, through hard experience, that my freedom and your freedom are not always compatible, and fair mechanisms (i. e. democratic processes) are needed to determine the winners and losers.

The aim of the Spirited Reasoner is to seek solutions that can maximize personal freedom for the greatest number of people while costing the least in terms of limiting the freedom of the remaining few. I’m just optimistic enough to think that win-win solutions are possible in almost every case. That is, if we would just take the time to sit down with each other and talk things out.