TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Flaws in the Libertarian Ideal, Part I

One of the primary — if not the primary flaw in the Libertarian ideal is found in this picture taken from

10460537_824532824264274_428967002644018697_nOn the surface, the message in this picture may seem reasonable, but it isn’t.  In fact, it is deeply flawed, mostly because it is based on fallacious reasoning.  In this case, Randy Barnett has purposely constructed his statement so that it affirms his conclusion.  You cannot do that — not according to the rules of logic, anyway.  You especially can’t do it when — as in this case — you have based your conclusions on a false assumption.  But more than this, the fatal flaw in this statement flows from the fundamental flaw of the Libertarian ideal: that there shouldn’t be any laws at all.   If you will indulge me, I’ll do my best to explain.

First, Barnett claims that the belief that punishment can restrain criminal activity is ‘utopian’ in nature.  By definition, utopian means that it is not possible: that it is a fantasy with no founding in reality.  If we are intellectually honest, we shouldn’t have to go very far to find objections that prove this claim false.  Just think back to your childhood.  Did you ever not do something because you were afraid of getting caught and punished?  If you try, I have no doubt you can think of many examples where behavior can be and actually is controlled by the threat of punishment.  If you need an extreme example, there is always Ahmadinejad’s claim that there are no homosexuals in Iran.  Now, I am not claiming they do not exist simply because it is against the law there, but I am telling you that you will not find anyone openly admitting to being homosexual in Iran.  The point here is simple: as to the first part of his claim, Barnett is demonstrably wrong!  The threat of punishment does reduce crime — period.

This brings us to the flaw in the Libertarian ideal, which, though concealed here, is still implied in Barnett’s statement.  The flaw — the fatal flaw in the Libertarian ideal — is the implied belief that there should be no laws at all.  Now, I am tempted to allow some grace to those who believe this, especially since our modern understanding of what liberty means has become so perverted as to no longer bare any resemblance to what our founding fathers understood the word to mean.  However, where I am willing to allow grace, I am unwilling to extend forgiveness — not when it is so easy to discover the truth.   In today’s society, this is what the majority of people think liberty means:

Full Definition of LIBERTY

1:  the quality or state of being free:

 a :  the power to do as one pleases
 b :  freedom from physical restraint
 c :  freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
 d :  the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
 e :  the power of choice

However, there is little difference — especially in application — between this definition of liberty and that of libertine:

Full Definition of LIBERTINE

1usually disparaging :  a freethinker especially in religious matters
2:  a person who is unrestrained by convention or morality; specifically :  one leading a dissolute life

In fact, I would argue that libertinism is actually what the vast majority of our social media means when it claims to promote and defend individual liberty.  It is all about the desire to be free from the consequences of our individual actions.  For example: how many people do you know who believe drinking and driving, and second hand smoke are both harmful to others, yet smoking pot presents no harm to themselves or those around them?  I can provide many similar and equally valid examples if you need them, but then, I am proceeding under the assumption that you are being intellectually honest here — at least with yourself.

Now, I fully understand that most dedicated Libertarians will object to my characterization of Libertarianism as being equal to libertinism, but the evidence is implied in Barnett’s own words.  How can one claim that punishment has no effect on behavior while still arguing that we should have laws?  That would be a logical contradiction.  But, if the Libertarian admits that we do need laws, then he is admitting that the threat of punishment does affect behavior, which then undermines Barnett’s claim.  This is the Catch-22 inherent in the Libertarian ideal: a catch-22 from which they have no escape.  Now, if I ask a Libertarian how they would resolve this contradiction (and I have, many times), I would expect that answer would be something similar to this:

“The individual is responsible for policing himself and, therefore, has no need of laws.”

Well, that sounds nice, but this is a utopian ideal, not the belief that punishment deters crime.  For one thing, if the individual is left to decide what is or isn’t right, then society will be faced with a different notion of what is right and what is wrong for every member in it.  In short, we would run smack into the problem I wrote about in my post, The Creator: a Necessary Fallacy.  Even then, we are still dealing with laws and punishments, it’s just that we are dealing with God’s laws and punishment.  This only serves to drive home my point about the flaw in Barnett’s words.  According to Scripture, God commands death for certain crimes, and repeatedly, we are told that this is so that we can “remove the evil from among us!” Now, where is the allowance for the death penalty in Barnett’s words, or anywhere in the Libertarian ideal, for that matter?  I’ve looked.  I have yet to find it, but I have found countless Libertarian arguments against the death penalty — which brings us back to the reason I am not alone in accusing Libertarians of being libertines in disguise.


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