MAR 7, 2018
What Kind of Libertarian Are You?
by Aaron Ross Powell Facebook
Libertarianism comes in many varieties. Here, Powell sets out his own off-the-beaten-path version, with intellectual roots among the Ancient Greeks.
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I was recently asked on Twitter whether my libertarianism is of the consequentialist or deontological variety. For those not hip to the terminology, the question is about what sort of moral theory underpins my political theory. Those two—consequentialism and deontology—are, for many, the default choices when it comes to libertarianism. You can believe in political liberty because free people in free markets lead to the most wealth and happiness—and so liberty is valuable because of that, in which case you’re a consequentialist. Or you believe that there exist hard and fast, unavoidable moral rules—about obligations or prohibitions or rights—that we must respect, and doing so demands, at least in part, respecting the liberty of individuals. If that’s your line of thinking, you’re a deontologist.
My answer to the question-as-framed is “Neither.” I’m not a consequentialist, nor am I a deontologist. I believe, of course, that the consequences of actions and of political systems matter a great deal. But I don’t believe that consequences are all that matters in moral or political considerations. And I believe, of course, that we live with certain obligations towards others, among these a respect for rights. But I don’t believe that articulating a set of rules and then following them is the most fruitful or psychologically authentic way to think about morality.
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My libertarianism, with its virtue ethical foundations, thus boils down to a deep conviction that good people, acting out of virtue, will treat each other will kindness, benevolence, respect, and so on. They will seek to engage each other through our most human of faculties, namely conversation and persuasion, and will not seek to get their way as animals do, with violence and threats. A political system built on that will be one of liberty, not coercion. That’s the kind of libertarian I am.
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My libertarianism is rooted in my early Catholic grammar school being taught by the good Christian Brothers. These war vets were definitely scared by that experience and communicated it to their students. Not that they were pacifists, just that any war should be for only great reasons. And, that we all had a moral duty to the Works of Mercy — charity is one. It was emphasized that it was an individual; not a collective obligation. They were very contemptuous of Government “charity” as immoral, ineffective, and inefficient.
I’m not so sure I drank the Kool Aid of “religion”, but the “morality” did stick. In my lessons, I distilled that “capitalism” has lifted humanity out of the abject substance poverty around the globe. Hence that led me to Austrian economics and the whole travesty of Government abuse of Constitutional “money”.
That’s my journey to Libertarianism.
I’m not sure what kind of libertarian I am.
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