Libertarianism has reached drastic excess


Liber, libera, liberum are the three genders of the Latin adjective for free, as in unencumbered, unrestricted. From them come “liberal” and “libertarian.” Oddly enough, however, these two words are opposite in meaning. The evolution of these derivatives is fascinating. In the 19th century “liberal” meant what we call conservative today, free from government constraints, as in liberal economics, something robber barons wanted when government did what we have government for, restrain the powerful from crushing the powerless. Today “liberal” means open-handedness to the needy, something the needy want when they rely on government to do something else for which we have it: provide for the common good. Reasonable care for the needy includes providing public schools, an armed force, and more. The argument always is what really does the community need.

Libertarianism today means something the opposite of liberal: the reducing of government to the vanishing point because every feature and program for the disadvantaged costs taxpayers. So, better to pay as little tax as we can get away with. It has an appealing ring. Who wants to pay a dime extra in taxes? Are we better people if we are paying a lot of taxes?

Most would agree that both can be taken to extremes. Too much liberal and we are legislating that every citizen get a government-issue Frisbee to play with. Too much libertarianism and we have to muster neighborhood posses of vigilantes for our common defense because the Defense Department is the biggest of Big Government. While that’s true in the abstract, it does not mean that today there is a perpetual, harmonious 50-50 balance between them. I contend that libertarianism has reached drastic excess in the public mind. The inmates have taken over the asylum. The children have seized control of the school. And I contend that this childish, anti-authority greed raises selfishness to an art form.

“Liberal” today is an epithet. It is the dreaded “L” word. Suggest affordable housing for all, for instance, and expect to see outside your front door a crowd of peasants with pitchforks and lanterns. Appeal to people’s basic human instincts for good, calling for progressive taxation to pay for medical insurance for all, rich and poor, and you are dismissed as a flake. Decent housing and medical coverage seem reasonable to most people, but that’s because everybody wants them for themselves. The problem is allotting tax money to see that the less affluent can get them too. There is a 19th century mentality called social Darwinism, according to which only the economically fittest should survive. Let the weaklings die off. Then they will not reproduce and inflict future generations with parasites. Such devotees sometimes even go to church, donating to the collection basket, even if studies show that, proportionately, the poor give more generously than do the rich. The Gospel passage about the widow’s mite has something to say about that.

Why is not “conservative” today an epithet? Why do we hear no corresponding social criticism of stinginess? Why no “C” word? Despite the fact that the United States is probably the lightest taxed nation of the developed world, we bemoan our tax duties. But our duties are so lopsided through every post-war administration, plowing tens of trillions into armaments with the blithe approval of tax gripers decade after decade, that our electorate has developed a split personality.

Jesus was dismissed as a lunatic, a friend of sinners, possessed, a drunkard and a few other nasty things. But he never relented, wanting respect for those on the fringes, economically and otherwise. The respectable people in his times turned out to be the ones shouting loudest for his crucifixion, not the little people whom he helped. The whole idea of his and his Father’s consenting to his being nailed to a cross was that this would be a dramatic show to even the most skeptical of what genuine love looks like. Did you or your child ever ask why Jesus had to be slain that way?

The principle of the insurance industry is that if enough people are in the pool, with everyone paying, everyone is covered, and the outlays for the comparatively few claimants will not exceed the fund. Prosecute fraudulent claims and collect from all. But cover all. Some 16.4 million Americans, youth up to 26 on their parents’ policies, and pre-existing illnesses now qualify, to the inexplicable stingy, tightwad chagrin of some.

Since these things are so, the Second Amendment must be repealed.