American libertarianism

Libertarianism is an ethical theory which has value. Most of us want and enjoy our personal liberty; it sounds appealing to declare that the good is maximized liberty. And, in fact, the constitution has a strong libertarian basis, as was common with the founding fathers, especially Jefferson. The only point where libertarians draw the line is when harm is done to others. Sometimes this gets tricky – defining “harm” is very value-laden thing, one that tries to make the world a bit black and white. But it’s easy to at least identify the extreme situations which constitute harm – murder, theft, rape, etc.

And this is where libertarianism can take on a distinctively American flavor.

When applied to not getting physically injured, sure, that’s harm and a violation of maximized liberty. Or when applied to economic well-being, theft is another violation. But many libertarians are unwilling to go beyond this point. Take what happened to Rand Paul last month.

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.

INTERVIEWER: But?

PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

This is entirely consistent with libertarianism. Again, it is an ethical theory – it is not a moral one. It is possible to favor something out of principle because it maximizes liberty while at the same time finding it immoral. Paul does precisely that. It’s immature – there’s no need to force one’s self to be so ideological (both consequences and intentions matter, contrary to the one-or-the-other principles of most ethical theories) – but it’s still in line with libertarianism. Soon after this, the Libertarian party in Kentucky distanced itself from Paul. More recently, Paul has returned the favor.

The original reason for the distancing was specifically Paul’s philosophical stance on private ownership.

Party Vice Chairman Joshua Koch said Wednesday that Paul has been a black eye for Libertarians because of stands he’s taken on issues, including his criticism of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This was an unofficial position, but it’s the basic reason for the distancing.

Paul’s other positions fall from necessarily being libertarian-derived, but they should still be labeled libertarian – with the qualifier American. It isn’t that the good is maximized liberty, it’s that the good is my maximized liberty.

The Teabagging Party is the epitome of American Libertarianism. The physical liberty of people remains universal – no one should be harmed – but it becomes a my liberty mentality when it comes to economic and social circumstances. Businesses not allowing blacks? Sure, because it’s forcing someone to help someone else. That isn’t complete liberty for the person being forced to do the helping – and just screw the liberty of those darkies. Same-sex marriage? Philosophical consistent libertarian parties favor it, but American Libertarianism is against it. How does that help my liberty, after all?

Give it some thought. Stop a business from having no restrictions, that might help me get something cheaper, help me get paid slightly more, or help me pay my workers (or taxes) less if I open my own place. But allow two consenting adults to have insurance and easy joint custody of their children? How does that help me?

The funny thing about it all is that rights are rights are rights. Currently, marriage is not a right. It’s an arbitrary privilege which can be taken away from any group at any time, should we apply socially conservative ‘principles’ to it all the way to the end. The reason so many are blind to this has a number of reasons: majorities are almost always privileged and that isn’t always easy to see, people are ignorant and thus plainly homophobic, religion is a virus of the mind.

And this applies beyond same-sex marriage. Thirty states allow for faith healing, something which minimizes the liberty of children. American Libertarianism favors this; philosophical libertarianism does not. Or the war on drugs. Again, American Libertarianism, for. Philosophical libertarianism, against. Or restricting abortion. Or the death penalty. Or the immigration law in Arizona.

The list goes on and on.

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