I’m sure to some I’ve been labeled CV’s token libertarian and, thus, a bad Catholic. But, I guess one nice thing about being Catholic is that you can get labeled a bad Catholic for following pretty much any political party or philosophy.
I mentioned earlier that I would point out some libertarian faults as I see them. This isn’t a post about capital-L Libertarians vs. Republicans or Democrats, and it isn’t about any of the minute details of libertarian philosophy that I’m sure will flood the combox. This is simply about discontent with modern liberalism and conservativism and the search for an acceptable (to a faithful Catholic) alternative by which I could describe myself.
E.g., it is easier in some circles to describe myself as libertarian than it is as one who believes in free markets, even if I intend the same thing by both terms. Conservatives tout free trade until the domestic steel industry wants tariffs, to cite only a relatively recent example under GWB. Further, conservatives like Pat Buchanan or Michael Savage tend toward the same protectionism (or economic nationalism that Dan mentions) that Adam Smith sought to expose for actually hindering the wealth of nations it attempted to promote. In a nutshell, modern conservative capitalism has become crony capitalism. What is good for big business isn’t necessarily best for promoting free trade, as Adam Smith himself knew:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.
Note that though Smith recognizes collusive tendencies among people in business, it is also contrary to liberty and justice (and practically impossible) to legally prevent such abuses.
Conservatives cannot be trusted to be free market even though they claim to be. Liberals usually outright despise the free market so there’s no need to argue the numerous flaws in their economic policies. So, I am not free market because I am libertarian; I call myself libertarian because it most closely encapsulates the free market philosophy, the economic system that has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other system.
But before you go all Leo XIII on me and tell me that capitalism is worse than Arianism and Justin Bieber put together, I fully acknowledge that free markets don’t lead to utopias. Markets are not organic entities with minds of their own, always seeking freedom from the state in order to increase the moral decay of citizens. Markets are people; if we think markets lead to immorality the problem is not with markets, it’s with our immorality.
But, speaking of immorality, if libertarianism can be vindicated for its economic position, it falls short on the moral position. I’ve stated my objections earlier on “fundamentalist libertarians” who think rights trump life. The libertarian is presumed to be pro-choice on abortion because, well, they’re pro-choice on everything else. This emphasis on freedom is supposed to be limited by an emphasis on nonaggression: do what you want as long as no one else gets hurt. On abortion, though
I don’t see how, after the two haploids become a diploid, this being is anything but human, and thus deserving of the rights any other human has. So, in that sense, abortion violates the nonaggression axiom that virtually all libertarians profess. Sure, some humans are born with genetic defects just as some are born with attached earlobes, but to me that makes them no less human.
A second sticking point is the fundamentalist libertarian hatred of altruism. These fundies see Mother Teresa as a social leech; she and her nuns extracted money from the productive people in society for uses that reduced wealth (since, likely, the money the Sisters collect went to care for the sick and dying who had little to no hope of recovering and becoming productive themselves). In these fundamentalists’ eyes, most of our saints were relatively worthless members of society at best.
Clearly, this elevation of selfishness rubs against common(?) human decency, but it would seem to fail libertarian utilitarianism too. If people should be free to direct their money where they see fit, and if someone gains great (nonmonetary) benefit from investing in charitable efforts and would find it less optimal to spend that money solely on himself, then a policy of zero altruism would fail the goal of utility maximization. A principles microeconomics class will tell you that utility is subjective; I derive great utility from donating to my parish, working in our pro-life group, or spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, all ridiculous endeavors to the fundamentalist libertarian. But why should they prevent me (even if just in an argument) from sending my money where I see fit?
If libertarians should be totally selfish, why convince anyone else to be libertarian? The only justification would be if the effort spent to convince resulted in greater happiness for the proponent than spending that effort on other pursuits, which is by no means certain. It’s hard to see how a libertarian writer who sacrifices utility in spending dozens of hours writing a book on the evils of altruism would yield even more utility if the book and its ideas were adopted by society. I suppose the book could be either written in a very short amount of time or have a tremendous impact such that the economic benefit outweighed the time and effort cost, but I don’t think such a book could conceivably be written.
Conservatives automatically disregard any liberal idea, while liberals disregard any conservative idea. “Fundamentalist libertarians” automatically disregard any religious idea, while many religious people disregard any libertarian idea. Can we not adhere to Catholic principles and morality while also recognizing the huge material advantage that the free market provides? In blindly adhering to a “no libertarianism!” policy, do we sacrifice our and our children’s economic future? For some people, this might be worth it since “the poor you will always have with you,” but I’ll choose a libertarianism that recognizes the overwhelming empirical evidence of the benefits of the free market on all people, rich and poor alike, even if I reject its ridiculously anti-religious biases.