Big “L?” Or little?

One of the online communities I am a member of, one which happens to be “hyperlocal,” i.e. its participants are mostly within 5 miles of my home, has a very active political forum. Although there are few people in my area who would characterize themselves as Republicans, there is a vocal (at least online) minority who espouse Libertarian positions (note the large “L”) and love to spar with those who they see as their ideological antitheses – the liberal/progressive left.

There was a rather heated exchange with a user who I’ll refer to as RQD, where (prompted by a post lauding Senator Rand Paul) I described the Libertarian credo as being, essentially, “Piss on you, Jack – I got mine!” After some back and forth, wherein RQD laid out his view of Libertarian thought and how it advances “liberty” – as opposed to “my” President (Obama)’s current tyrannical course, I set forth my own feelings about what “large L” Libertarian thought means to me vis-a-vis “liberty” and being a “small l” libertarian:

RQD, I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to our little tete-a-tete re: Libertarian philosphy – too busy at the moment to spend the time on it.

However, I will say this – I think we agree on far more things than you might imagine. I believe in personal liberty, IMO, quite as much as any Libertarian. The difference (as I perceive it) is that, unlike Libertarians, I believe that in many cases individual liberty can only be advanced through delegation. The power of the State is sometimes required to defend my liberty against the exercise of other peoples’ liberties (one small example: if a restaurateur is free to sell tainted food with the market as his only check, that impinges on the freedoms of the people to whom he sells, and makes sick, BEFORE the market can correct the situation). In general, Libertarians seem to acknowledge the value of such delegation only in regards to national defense, but national defense is really not so different from the defense of smaller groups from depredations at a scale smaller than military warfare.

What I find objectionable about many Libertarian positions (such as some of those advanced by Rand Paul) is that they pretend that everyone has equal amounts of power – that there are no weaker, less-able people, that people with smaller incomes (and, consequently, less power) do not have less freedom, in practice, than do those who are wealthy, that corporations, as aggregate entities, are not able to wield more power and hence prey on individuals with less. Again, IMO, the only (or, perhaps better to say, the best I know of) means of leveling the playing field and advancing the most individual liberty for the most people, is the State. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” (I know, I know … the recent and current governments of the United States have not been particularly good at protecting or defending personal liberty – still better than many and also worse than some – but, sadly, moving in the wrong direction).

My earlier description of Libertarian philosophy (“Piss on you, Jack – I got mine”) is, I admit, a bit glib, but it gets to the heart of Libertarianism – at root it is deeply solipsistic. It assumes that the best of all possible worlds is one in which “I” am at the center and “my” freedoms are the only important ones. [edited to add] This is why I get so cranky when presented with Libertarian doctrine – its solipsism renders it, in the end, mean-spirited rather than elevating.

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