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A Libertarian Ticket Hostile to Elements of Liberty

As a classical liberal, I regard libertarianism as I would a wilder, younger brother. Libertarianism is younger because it is largely a product of modernity, while classical liberalism is more rooted in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is wilder, because it posits that the public-good function of the state is more limited and the externalities less frequent than I and other classical liberals believe. Yet the philosophies are close kin: they both see that the state poses a perpetual danger to its citizens, only disagreeing at the margin on when it is necessary to relax the strictures on governmental action. And at least with the most sensible libertarians and classical liberals, these disagreements are largely empirical.

Thus, in a race where the Republican candidate for President is careering away from classical liberalism and the Democratic candidate is flirting with the socialist elements of her party, a classical liberal might find a natural home in the Libertarian Party. Sadly, however, the Libertarian ticket has taken some important positions hostile to liberty. Begin with religious freedom. Amazingly, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the party’s presidential candidate, seems to think it is alright to require people to provide services for religious ceremonies that go against the tenets of their faith, calling such rights of conscience a “black hole.” And he even thinks that it is the federal government’s duty to prevent discrimination more generally. This position is plainly contrary to the tenets of libertarianism and the presumption of classical liberalism that the government should intervene to protect citizens only from force and fraud. Given the history of Jim Crow, I think that presumption was overcome for discrimination against African Americans, but the idea that government has a roving commission to prevent discrimination against the groups it chooses to protect infringes on liberty generally, and infringes gravely when it interferes with the rights of religious conscience.

And his running mate, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld (with Johnson saying they would govern as a team and sitting by in implicit approval) provided Stephen Breyer as a template for justices they would appoint! Breyer is perhaps the most statist of all justices on the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution, like the First and Second Amendments. He pays little attention to the original meaning of the Constitution, which is a great guarantee of liberty, and when he does allude to it, his claims are often fabrications.

Weld also held up Susan Collins of Maine as the model Senator. But she is one of the worst Republicans in the Senate when it comes to cutting taxes and curbing the size of government—issues that true libertarians and indeed the Libertarian Party emphasize, but that this ticket seems unwilling to put front and center.

What is going on here? My best hypothesis is that this ticket is becoming the lifestyle lite-libertarian ticket. What most people know about Johnson is that he smokes marijuana regularly, thus flaunting his position of lifestyle autonomy. Lifestyle libertarians also are enthusiastic about sexual freedoms (Breyer does constitutionalize abortion rights and same-sex marriage) and are unlikely to be religious. They may be opposed to higher taxes but are not serious about cutting entitlements—the dynamo behind the growing size of government.

Lifestyle libertarianism is at most a third cousin twice removed of classical liberalism. It appeals little to those of us who believe the core of classical liberalism in the United States is limited government and adherence to the original meaning of our Constitution, itself now the greatest charter of liberty that the world has ever known.

Reader Discussion

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on August 03, 2016 at 13:44:45 pm

I think the right descriptor for the lifestyle libertarianism you've rightly described in Johnson-Weld is freedom without responsibility.

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Jeff Wright
on August 03, 2016 at 23:31:22 pm

You seem to have missed a few things. A day or two, he clarified his statement on religious freedom. He said that some politicians were using religious views as an excuse to pass discriminatory legislation and that was wrong. He then went on to extol the virtues of the Utah compromise. He said, "The Utah compromise barred discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals in employment and housing. In addition, the Utah law requires the office of every county clerk to be available to solemnize same-sex unions. At the same time, the law provides reasonable protections for the freedoms of speech and association of bona fide religious organizations — and made the religious and LGBT protections inseverable."

This is absolutely 180 degrees from what you said his positions are. It makes me wonder about the rest of your article. Is it just as "factual"? It IS food for thought and I will be doing more research.

Oh, by the way, I don't know your policy on links, so feel free to delete the link if it is a violation, but Johnson's clarification can be found at http://beta.deseretnews.com/article/865659254/EXCLUSIVE-Gary-Johnson-Religious-freedom-and-non-discrimination-laws.html

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Jason
on August 04, 2016 at 13:57:31 pm

Typical one-sided hit piece. Johnson is hardly hostile to the elements of liberty, he is hostile to prejudicial discrimination, as all libertarians SHOULD BE.

Johnson simply smells a rat where there is an actual rat. "Christians" have been openly hostile to gay people for nearly 2000 years, which is detached from the teachings of Jesus, a man who may have been gay himself. A man who preached that people shoudn't be killed over accusations of sin, and yet the church built in his name did exactly that for millennia.

Said "Christians" have been nearly unstoppable in their desire to create laws to punish, ostracize and genreally harm gay people. They have repeat the lie that gay people choose to be gay, in order to rationalize their anti-Constitutional and anti-Christian behavior.

So, now were are at a tipping point, where gays now have finally earned the civil right to be married, and "Christians" are being passive aggressive about it. So, the same people who used laws to harm gays are now crying because they are being harmed. "Christians" argue that they have a natural right to be jackasses. That may be true, but they never had the right to harm gays, which they have persistently done. Do two wrongs make a right? No. But sometimes, two wrongs balances the equation for a brief teaching moment and we are right smack in the middle of that teaching moment. A moment that isn't over because "Christians" still haven't learned that the law is a double edged sword and that oppressing others can lead to your own oppression.

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John Ashman
on August 04, 2016 at 14:12:23 pm

"What most people know about Johnson is that he smokes marijuana regularly, thus flaunting his position of lifestyle autonomy"

This is a ridiculous statement. First of all, no one knows how often he INGESTED marijuana, but he has always said that he uses edibles and generally socially. Prior to that, he used it for several years to alleviate pain from a bad hang gliding accident. And then as a CEO of an edible pot company, he has stated that it would be ridiculous not to actually try the company's product.

He has also said that he recognizes that people shouldn't be forced to do something that is against their conscience, but that is a very fine line that is very prone to abuse. One poorly written law and suddenly we will ba back in the Jim Crow era, with people proudly displaying their religious objections to all kinds and flavors of people. It's not like "Christians" practice the teachings of their religion accurately now.

The First Amendment doesn't exist to protect jackassery. You are free to practice your religion. Doing a gay wedding isn't practicing your religion, it's practicing your humanity. In an ideal world, there will be no need for such laws, because there is and was no institutional discrimination for centuries. But just like we HAD to implement some programs to undo the institutional and unconstitutional government discrimination, gay people need a little protection to make up for all of the evil perpetrated upon them by "upstanding Christians".

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John Ashman
on August 04, 2016 at 14:49:23 pm

The comments by Ashman above are deeply troubling and not a little terrifying - "I'll determine (or the mob and I will determine) what rights you can have and how you can use them according to our group think." It's straight out of dystopian fiction but, sadly, isn't uncommon. The new totalitarianism is here and the totalitarians don't can't understand themselves as such. Scary times for human rights.

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Jeff Wright
on August 04, 2016 at 15:51:09 pm

Now you know how gay people have felt for thousands of years living under Christians and Jews and Muslims.

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John Ashman
on August 04, 2016 at 16:52:19 pm

Well now - THAT appears to SETTLE EVERYTHING. Jesus MAY have been GAY himself.
So if we add Jesus to the Left's roster of gays we would find Jesus right next to Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare. Who else should be included?

You would make a fine candidate for a writing position on Ancient Aliens - you know the program that stretches plausibility beyond its limits with the clever choice of words.

We are of course obligated to believe these claims as opposed to the other claims made by some other Leftists that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a thing going.

BTW: You may want to notice that it is not Christians throwing gays off apartment buildings or beheading them - no that would be those peaceful Muslims who after all have always ushered in Golden Ages of Tolerance.

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gabe
on August 04, 2016 at 17:42:25 pm

A. It used to be Christians beating, jailing and murdering gays.

B. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/apr/20/was-jesus-gay-probably

C. Why does it always bother "Christians" so much, the idea that Jesus might have been gay? Just curious.

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John Ashman
on August 05, 2016 at 08:07:56 am

That others have erred in the future obviously does not condone future errors. However, in taking the position that past evil justifies current evil it shows that the issue was never about ending oppression, only in getting the chance to repress others. I'm hopeful you personally don't subscribe to that, considering how inhuman the position is.

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Jeff Wright
on August 05, 2016 at 08:09:10 am

On C. - probably because it is nonsense. But I'm not someone who gets upset about nonsense so I might not be the best to answer now that I think about it.

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Jeff Wright
on August 05, 2016 at 10:26:29 am

Ashman, you overreach. Others, including Christians are free to discriminate against the gay community, except before the law and especially the public forum. Gays do not engender social acceptance by the vast majority with hostile commentary such as your rant.

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Noirswann
on August 05, 2016 at 11:21:51 am

Excuse me. That first sentence should have read "That others have erred in the past..."

My apologies.

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Jeff Wright
on August 05, 2016 at 15:13:23 pm

Yep - The Guardian is as reliable a news source as the TV show Ancient Aliens is for the study of physics and history.

So I guess I will just have to accept the *truth* of your silly ASSertions.

And it is reasonable to be upset, not that I am, about mindless, unfounded babbling in pursuit of a vicious little slander.

As I said, was Jesus gay? or was he shacking up with Mary Magdalene. I suppose for certain types, it all depends on what specific lie is needed to further one's agenda.

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gabe
on August 11, 2016 at 22:11:06 pm

And you, sir, do not engender good feelings or sympathy while you bellow for mercy from anti bigotry laws while simultaneously attempting to create more laws to oppress gay people.

Anti-discrimination laws will remain until people learn how to be humans first, jackasses second.

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John Ashman
on August 11, 2016 at 22:14:28 pm

I don't condone new laws being written to punish personal choice. But it's hard to rationalize removing a reactionary evil while the original evil is still fighting for supremacy.

"Christians" need to become more Christian and, as their religion implores, seek atonement for past deeds and attitudes. They also need to obey the law as Jesus commands. And confess if necessary.

The current climate shows that these laws are necessary because "Christians" will not stop seeking to oppress others who aren't even a part of their religion.

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John Ashman
on August 11, 2016 at 22:16:17 pm

It is an opinion piece written by a priest. Also, attacking the source is a logical fallacy. You should know better Gabe.

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John Ashman
on August 11, 2016 at 22:16:59 pm

No more nonsensical than virgin births and walking on water. Quite a bit less, actually.

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John Ashman

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.