Politics makes for strange bedfellows and perhaps the oddest trend in modern American politics has been the parallel rise of the Tea Party and the American Libertarian movement. Both movements have predictable potential for disaster for the majority of American citizens. But while the Tea Party's hypocrisy, big business-corporate backing and the sheer number of leaders within the movement who have extreme religious fundamentalist views that well overstep the borders of zealotry, foreshadow the movement's eventual collapse, the modern Libertarian movement is less understood. Even so, American Libertarianism has similar markers for institutional failure.
The crux of Libertarianism is that personal liberty is the most important aspect of any political action. Crying "liberty!" appeals to a wide range of Americans, so long as citizens do not consider the larger ramifications of using "freedom" as a catchphrase. Libertarianism appeals to Second Amendment advocates, who champion the right to create a personal arsenal without considering that there is an inherent human right to not get shot while buying groceries, attending religious services or get a public education. Libertarianism has appealed to both gay rights advocates and opponents of marriage equality who claim that government acknowledgment of gay marriage somehow infringes upon their religious freedoms. And the current incarnation of American Libertarianism has been dominated by politicians who are supported by big business interests who want the government to help maintain their influence over the population.
Regardless of the propaganda and catchy slogans utilized by the modern American Libertarians, virtually all of their policies and positions have already been proven to be disastrous to the United States. Three key areas where the Libertarian pursuit of "liberty" has already been a proven failure are with marriage equality, public health, and the environment.
Freedom is a laudable goal. All human beings should have freedom. They should also have equal rights under the law. No one group should have the ability to assert dominance over any other group to determine what rights that group possesses. The laissez-faire approach to human rights has almost always led to struggle within the United States. Since the founding of the United States, the Federal and State governments have recognized the institution of marriage.
During the Civil Rights Movement that led to the abolition of slavery and the rise of equal rights under the law for various ethnic groups within the United States, the Libertarian approach to the law led to the continuation of segregation and inequality. With marriage equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals within the United States, Libertarians have generally taken the position that the government should not be involved with marriage law. That notion has been bolstered by the religious extremist view that if the federal government acknowledged the rights of LGBT citizens to marry it would somehow undermine the practice of religions that discriminate against non-heterosexuals.
In addition to creating a system of inequality where the government grants a right to one group, but not another, the Libertarian approach of begging the government not to get involved led to actual religious oppression. While Catholics who accepted Church dogma and Biblical literalism remained free to practice their religion while not accepting or allowing their LGBT parishioners to marry, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Unitarian couples who were married in their church but did not receive benefits or rights acknowledged by government agencies and public institutions actually suffered the effects of religious oppression. In short, the Libertarian approach of "the government should not define what marriage is" led to institutionalized religious oppression and less freedom for LGBT citizens.
The Libertarian approach failed to protect the rights of American citizens.
Freedom comes with consequences and the biggest consequence of having the freedom of choice is that people have the freedom to make the wrong choice. The "wrong choice" is the subject of intense, longstanding debate within the United States. While in recent years, "choice" has become an unfortunate buzzword used by religious zealots to demonize women, "choice" is championed by Libertarians as an important component of freedom. While that is philosophically admirable, it eliminates any sense of societal responsibility and is predicated on the concept that the populace is educated and engaged.
Unfortunately, public education is under almost constant attack, including by many Libertarians. Freedom is an interesting issue to discuss when one brings up public health. Freedom falls along a continuum of having dominion over one's own body and the choices one makes with it and being a member of a society, which should lead to a reasonable discussion of the freedom to not succumb to contagion by being part of a group.
In short, clearer terms, one of the greatest accomplishments of the last century was the elimination of some of the most contagious and devastating diseases through vaccination. Vaccination and the elimination of communicable diseases rely entirely on group dynamics. Vaccination to eliminate communicable diseases only works when a certain high percentage of the population gets vaccinated to act as a firewall against the spread of diseases (i.e. infected people interact with vaccinated people who stop the spread of the disease, thus protecting others from the spread of the disease).
Vaccination works. Countries that have high vaccination rates have the lowest rates of child mortality from disease and similarly low rates of death among the elderly who have similar vulnerability. The Libertarian view that the government limits individual freedom by requiring children to be vaccinated to attend public schools is demonstrably destructive. Anti-vaccination activists fail to take into account the freedom of public school workers and parents to not get infected by children who carry diseases.
The Libertarian view undermines the greatest public health victory humanity has ever achieved.
The Libertarian viewpoint on property is simple: any unclaimed resource can be claimed by whomever discovers or dominates it first. That is a viewpoint that leads to the rich and big business to exploit any resource or property they encounter. Big business and unrestrained capitalism follow a simple model: do what is profitable. Protecting the environment is not usually the most immediately profitable approach for a business.
As a result, until the government stepped in and began to create and enforce laws that protected the environment, businesses abused the environment and destroyed public resources for private gain. The Libertarian philosophy is that individuals and businesses should be free to pursue their goals because they have the resources and property under their control. A more progressive attitude is that clean air, clean water, shelter, food that is not poisoned or creates an addiction to sell more, are inherent human rights. Those who do not possess the means of production should have the freedom to have their basic needs for survival met without being exploited.
The Libertarian approach does not protect the freedom of citizens to possess the basic elements of life itself.
Libertarianism appeals to a large segment of the population that is swayed by catch-phrases and a simplistic ideal without the accompanying complex debate. Modern American Libertarianism is predicated on the idea that big government is bad. Libertarians treat the government as monolithically bad and infringing upon the rights of citizens. Libertarians deny the concept of good government.
But in a nation where bad business practices and rampant exploitation of workers are the status quo, the sensible alternative to protecting the rights of citizens is not less government; it is an engaged government that protects its citizens from destructive economic influences. A Libertarian world is not one where people are more free; it is a nation where the elderly die on the streets, children's educations are put on hold at the mercy of contagions, and workers struggle their entire lives working for corporations that adhere to no public good, nor laws that protect those who toil for them. History has seen that world and we evolved out of it; Libertarianism would only send us back to it.
For other social or political articles, be sure to check out:
Facebook Is Not What You Think It Is
An Open Letter To Senator Elizabeth Warren
The Corporate Powers Limitation Amendment (A Proposed Constitutional Amendment)
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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