artium and moribus, intellego ut credam, Novus Ordo Seclorum, Politics, Status quaestionis



By David Beilstein

KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, roving correspondent over at National Review, recently sat down for an interview with Michael McKay, of Radio Free Market.

In the interview, McKay quoted from Dr. T. Patrick Burke’s book No Harm, where Dr. Burke’s thesis unpacks the idea people should be able to do whatever they want as long as they don’t physically harm other people. This is essentially the libertarian and classical conservative political position (more on that later).

Dr Burke’s point via McKay’s explication, says the “physical” part of the political aspect of libertarian’s “no harm principal” is important — in that if someone buys a BlackBerry cellular phone instead of an Apple iPhone that “harms” Apple Inc. — in a sense — but it is not physically harmful, but an expression of one’s economic liberty.

Interestingly enough, Williamson explicates the idea libertarianism’s “no harm” political principal is ergo, a political principal.

This is wholly important. And often overlooked in the superficial bog of hysterical, fringe libertarianism.

Williamson unpacks the idea that positive rights according to libertarianism cannot be impeded by individuals or government  (a person cannot have their life, liberty, property, truncated by people, or governments, whether a private party or state). In a word, civil government’s duty is to protect life, liberty, and property.

Such a model of government is indeed enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. But Williamson goes on explain how the “no harm” principal of government within libertarianism, nevertheless, is an inadequate way to “govern” a broader society.

Government should only protect life, liberty, and property — but society needs private citizens within our civil freedom to do far more if society is to improve and progress — quality of life expanding rather than retracting.

And it’s important to understand why. When it comes to the state, to avoid tyranny, the idea a citizen can do whatever they desire except hurt or impede other people’s Constitutional rights is a good idea.

At the same time, such a philosophy Williamson says is not enough to build a society — certainly not a good society. The “state” should protect our rights, but the broader society requires more — as society needs more than what a government is shaped by.

The question Williamson asks rhetorically  is whether there are better ways to take care of the economically marginalised and those whom cannot help themselves by the modern welfare state — which it must be admitted based upon empirical evidence perpetuates the failure rather than improving of life for more people.

Williamson destroys the idea the “no harm” moral principal of libertarianism is the only libertarian principal. Often times, Williamson goes on to explain, this is the no harm principal that Ayn Rand libertarians often solely focus on.

Such a limited conception of libertarian principals mimics the error of progressivism, Williamson intimates, which is, a utopianism of the political right — that is, a perfect society in which nobody needs help or assistance, except maybe children.

But that is not life. Even if everything goes storybook well in life — no guarantee — most people need assistance at least medically, once the costly consequences of ageing begin in later life.

Society, in the aggregate, and the individual within society, needs more than individual’s doing whatever it is they desire.

We admit this regardless of whatever ultimate authority we claim when we realise there are better (or more effective ways) to do all sorts of things, financial, marriage, raising children, vocational progress, etc.

The philosophical objective of classical liberalism was to decouple value judgments and ultimate authorities from civil magistrates to impede and prevent the ability of civil authorities from becoming the State, i.e., tyrannical over the citizen.

Think George Orwell’s novel, 1984.

In U.S. Constitutional government, citizens acquire the rights of Kings and Queens, each citizen coupled with his or her labor (intellectual or physical), and their property, are considered their own, unique province.

Like the older Monarchy, the citizen of the United States is therefore above the civil authority, but everyone theoretically is below the rule of law.

Hence, the libertarian believes people should be able to do whatever they desire within and with their own “province.” Consequently, since moral law is “uniform” — often times called natural law — not everything a person does with their province will be good — and additionally, will have an effect on the overall character of society.

Yet, if it is government that enforces these standards, the Founders understood the end result of this, historically, was tyranny. In such a schema, what first becomes doing well becomes doing that which empowers the ruling class and government at the expense of once-free citizens. Subsequently, good for one group of people is often times not good for others.

The point of the Constitution was to decouple such judgments from the coercive nature of government, which is the primary role of government.

Government coerces people to do things.

If such is the case, the acreage in which government can tell people what to do by threat of force should be limited — which is exactly what the Founders did by enumerating limited powers to the Federal government.

But society, in order to be productive, needs a cohesive foundation to run smoothly. This is why Edmund Burke’s mediating associations (Burke’s little platoons) — often written about on this website — are so important.

Mediating associations are the private, societal means in which the good society is preserved by handing down custom, traditions, and community; developing virtue in citizens, decoupled from ruling authority.

The role of mediating associations is to develop virtuous citizens for the sake of virtue, of the good, not for power to lord over friend and neighbour.

The reason this is important is that libertarianism is not a philosophy for life, but of government. To ignore this, is to ignore the multifarious ways in which society is enriched and preserved; which, as it were, libertarians do, and should, be concerned with.

We do need to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, and those who have hit a rough patch in life. We have the resources to educate every child in America with a good education.

The libertarian does not deny this, nor walk away from those in need. What he or she does argue is a top-down; centrally planned approach has failed, leaving behind far more than an individual, market-based approach.

As good gentleman Mr Williamson says, we have 700 shampoos, smart phones with thousands of features, literally, but basically one way we pay for healthcare, help the poor, and educate children k-12.

And if results mean anything, the conventional, centrally planned option, is not progressive, but regressive, and we ought to be able to admit such empirical verity, and approach solutions from different perspectives.


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