Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Power of Freedom


Whenever my politically active friends discover that I am a Libertarian, they are always disappointed. Then they tend to ask, “Why?” The long answer I give them has to do with philosophy; the short answer has to do with expedience. “I have no choice!”

Republican friends usually accuse me of throwing away my vote, or worse, casting a de facto Democrat vote. Christians don’t understand how I can be a Libertarian and a Christian at the same time since, “don’t Libertarians want to legalize drugs??” Democrats think that being a Libertarian is just cover for anti-government zealotry, one step away from anarchy. So, it’s sort of a mess.

As a Libertarian I can freely admit to a variety of contradictions and conflicts in my views. A belief in individual freedom will do that to you. In this regard I am on the far end of the universe from my Democratic friends who simply cannot admit to any limits to what benevolent government can accomplish. When you’re a hammer, everything you see looks like a nail. Underperforming schools? Raise taxes, increase teacher pay and reduce class size. Unemployment too high? Raise taxes, and extend unemployment insurance for life. Being a progressive Democrat is the easiest thing in the world. Just throw money at every social problem that exists and bask in the glow of your moral superiority. If anyone questions the effectiveness of your policy proscriptions accuse them of wanting to starve children and throw grandma into the street.

My Republican friends, since the days of Dwight Eisenhower, have served as the tax collector for the welfare state built by FDR. Even Ronald Reagan who showed such promise, failed to reduce the size of Leviathan. In fact, he barely slowed its growth. Republicans talk a good game about desiring smaller government, a government which does fewer things more efficiently. But in practice they simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titantic. They are perfectly fine with a robust, powerful government when it comes to stuff they like, the military comes to mind.

But Libertarians aren’t without faults. Ours pop up when theory collides with the depravity of human nature. For example, I can believe without reservation that the government’s war on drugs has been a colossal failure which has resulted in the waste of billions of dollars, the criminalization of millions of our citizens, and the creation of a prison-industrial complex that exists nowhere else on this planet. And yet, I can also see what drug addiction has done to millions of my fellow citizens. Here’s the thing…when I look at the 4000 years of recorded history, I find nothing more conducive to human flourishing than the idea of individual freedom and liberty. Allowing men and women the freedom to pursue their own interest and dreams and allowing them to keep the fruits of their own enterprise has ushered in more invention, discovery and happiness than all other theories of government ever conceived. It is the one unique aspect of the American experiment, a country that has garnered more greatness, wealth and power in a shorter amount of time than any nation in the history of the Earth. So, if I err, I prefer to err on the side of liberty. The down side of all of this freedom is that we humans, in our freedom to choose our own way, often choose poorly. The results can be horrifying. Greed, exploitation, envy, strife, racism are largely the fruits of human freedom. So, conflicts and contradictions abound in a political philosophy which proposes to tell the government to butt out of all but its most central, constitutional responsibilities.

Still, I would rather take my chances with flawed human beings living in freedom, than a world ruled by government elites in far off capitals telling me how to live my life. Perhaps if Democrats showed more humility and restraint and Republicans demonstrated more resolve and commitment to their alleged beliefs, I could be persuaded to support them.