I’m talking about civil libertarianism today. I’m going to try to not be obnoxious about it, but I can assure you I will be. Most of the time when I talk about politics, it’s about stuff that makes me angry. Well, civil libertarianism is something that makes me happy, so here you go. Also, please excuse my cheesy Lion King references.
Civil libertarianism is a broad range of thought that encompasses both left and right wing libertarianism. It’s probably the most important aspect of the classical liberalism school of thought.
Now that all that pretentious sounding stuff is out of the way, what actually is civil libertarianism? It’s the view that people’s personal lives and decisions should not be subject to government legislation. So basically, it means no worries for the rest of your days.
It’s not specific to the Libertarian Party, either. I’d say, in fact, that the Green Party is also a civil libertarian party. The difference is that the Libertarian Party extends the concepts to the economic and environmental realm. But we’re not talking about those issues today. We’re talking about the civil realm.
The Nanny States of America
Civil libertarianism isn’t something you see even the slightest bit of in either major political party in the U.S. The new norm in American politics has become competing nanny government legislation, for both Democrats and Republicans. Bill De Blasio, the Democratic mayor of New York has been pushing really hard to ban the New York Yankees from chewing tobacco during games, on account that it’s unhealthy and sets a “bad example.” It’s a super insignificant example, but that’s exactly the point. Since when is something that insignificant open to be the subject of legislation? Here in SC, legislation was passed through the state senate and sent to the house that would hold private companies liable for crimes committed by immigrants under their care. The senator who introduced that legislation was Kevin Bryant (incidentally, Anderson friends, he’s up for re-election this year). There’s a lot of other examples of this sort of thing throughout the U.S. (especially in New York and California). Laws like this stem from the mentality that if something’s wrong, it should be illegal.
That kind of mentality is not even remotely what America’s Founding Fathers had in mind. Now don’t let me lose you here. I know that I personally zone out when I hear people talk about the Founding Fathers intent, because when they do, the next words out of their mouth usually aren’t even close to what the Bill of Rights or the Preamble say. The general principle of those documents is this mentality: each person should be free of government constraints until they violate another’s freedoms.
The consistency and practicality of this principle is surprising. Is someone free to murder? No, they’re violating another’s right to life. Is someone free to steal? No, they’re violating another’s right to possession. When you think of the role of government in this context, things can make a lot more sense (including the U.S. constitution).
The type of government that this sort of thinking produces is one that exists solely to protect its citizens’ rights. This government answers to the people before the people answer to it. It’s made of representatives who are employees of its citizens, since they are paid by the citizens’ tax dollars and chosen by the citizens. I believe this model was the original intent of the founders, and it’s a major contrast to the sort of parent-child relationship that many now think the government should have with its citizens.
Why it matters
We’ve all heard the mantra “power corrupts,” and it’s become a catch-phrase that Americans and others use when talking about government. It’s interesting, then, that so few are concerned about the scope of authority held by the government. Nothing is off-limits for legislation. In the 20’s and early 30’s, alcohol was illegal. During the Vietnam War, several young men were legally forced to enlist in the military. During the Second World War, Japanese-Americans were held in internment camps. In South Carolina, marriage between blacks and whites was technically illegal until 1998. To top it all off, Cuban cigars are still illegal for Americans to purchase. These are only a few examples of the bizarrely wide-reaching scope that U.S. laws have.
The founders of the U.S. definitely would not have been ok with the insanely micromanaging government we have today. No, it’s nowhere close to Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany, but why on earth should we use those countries as the measuring stick? It’s like saying “sure, I killed one person, but Jeffrey Dahmer killed seventeen people. So I’m not that bad.” The point is that if the government has power to govern people’s personal lives, then it has room to expand, and increase that power. The purpose of civil libertarianism is to keep the government out of those areas to start with.
Arguments against civil libertarianism (and why they don’t work)
Some of these arguments will be based on political theory and some will be based on religion.
- But doesn’t Romans 13 say that the government is supposed to promote good and guard against evil? (I’m not going to quote the entire chapter, so look it up yourself).No, it doesn’t say that. It’s a chapter about how Christians are supposed to relate to the government in power. It basically just says you shouldn’t break the law. However, we also see passages elsewhere where people break evil laws because they violate their conscience, so that’s the catch.As for biblical prescriptions regarding the establishment of government, I don’t believe there are any. However, if someone has a biblical worldview, then that would naturally effect the way they think a country should be governed. I would say that the numerous examples of brutal, oppressive kings in the Old Testament should serve as a warning against a particularly powerful government.
- But we need to protect American values!First, no. Just no. That’s Donald Trump crap. Second, if by American values, you mean life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then yes we do. Other than that, there are no “American Values” because America has always been a melting pot of different cultures. Also, America isn’t a Christian nation, and it never has been. The constitution is a document that was inspired by classical liberalism and enlightenment thinking, not preachers.I’m obviously not disrespecting Christianity here, since I’m a Christian myself, but Jesus very clearly said that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). So for the love of Christ (literally), let’s stop pretending that it is. Also, the great commission wasn’t referring to government legislation, it was referring to personal actions.
- But won’t a libertarian government make it difficult to defend us from terrorists?Well, not really.Naturally, though, it would be easier for the government to fight it if they had unfettered access to phone records and browsing history, and they already sort of do because of the Patriot Act (which was supported by both major parties). However, that kind of authority is so blatantly unconstitutional that it makes me want to vomit. Most things about American politics make me want to vomit, but the Patriot Act does more than almost anything else.Also, if the U.S. practiced international libertarianism, then terrorism would be much less of a problem. It’s common knowledge that the U.S. was one of the chief sponsors of the Taliban during the 80s. This was because we had a common enemy: Soviet Russia. So the good ol’ U.S. of A decided that it’d be a good idea to give these crazy people guns, because they didn’t like communism, and anyone who doesn’t like communism is our friend, right? Wrong, obviously. Now, almost thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. lawmakers are ticked-off that Russia is killing ISIS members in Syria instead of us. According to senators like McCain and Graham, it somehow violates American sovereignty to be involved in a country halfway around the world from the U.S.Now the U.S. is arming “peaceful” rebels who are fighting the Syrian government. What’s that verse in the bible about a dog returning to its vomit?
- But if you’re a Calvinist, then don’t you believe that man is totally depraved, and therefore unable to govern himself?Well, even if a non-libertarian government was in place, the leader would still be a totally depraved man. So man would still be governing himself.I do believe in man’s depravity (you’d have to be blind to not believe in at least some form of human depravity). However, that’s one of the main reasons I am a civil libertarian. No matter how well-intentioned, a single person’s efforts to do good will fail if he is granted absolute power. In the same way, if people of the same mindset are the sole possessors of power, they will be corrupted, no matter how noble that mindset is, and will trample on the rights of those who don’t share their views.
- But don’t civil libertarians think that gay marriage should be legal?Yeah, so? Even if you don’t agree with a specific practice, at the end of the day, if that practice is not harmful to other people, there is no reason for it to be illegal. If you follow the principle of legislating morality, the laws become subject to perceptions of morality, which vary a great deal from person to person and worldview to worldview. I’m not making this argument from a moral relativist standpoint. I believe conflicting systems of morality are mutually exclusive, but again, that’s the reason that no one view of morality should become law. If each person is free to practice their religion freely, then you avoid excessive conflict. That’s why the first amendment exists.Also, one of the arguments I hear most from people opposing the legality of gay marriage is “the government doesn’t need to redefine marriage.” Well, this argument makes no sense at all, because in order to redefine marriage, the government would have to have the power to define marriage in the first place, and that’s just foolishness.However, there’s a right-wing and left-wing problem when it comes to this issue. Right-wingers often think that these practices should be illegal (or at least restricted). However, occasionally left-wingers go further than the protection of civil rights when it comes to these issues. Hillary Clinton, towards the beginning of her presidential bid, said that mindsets needed to change. Well, when it comes to loving people you disagree with, yes, mindsets do need to change. My question is, why is a presidential candidate talking about mindsets? Is she hinting that she will do something as president to change those mindsets? Since when does the government have authority over mindsets? Oh right, it did have that authority during the McCarthyism-era, when it was a crime to be a communist (or for people to think you were a communist).Basically, legislating people’s mindsets is a two-way street. The religious right often pushes for the legislation of a Christian culture, but the radical left (at least the ones who aren’t libertarian-leaning) push for the legislation of a secular culture. The government should not legislate ANY type of culture.
As I said before, neither of the major political parties here in the U.S. actually fight for civil liberties. This is especially true of the two major presidential candidates that will be facing off this fall. Trump is a textbook right-wing fascist with no soul. Hillary is a corporately owned populist with no soul. The only way either of these parties will lose power is if people vote for different parties. I’m not saying people shouldn’t vote for Republicans or Democrats, but blind party loyalty will eventually kill American democracy and civil liberties if people don’t cut it out. Look really hard at Trump and Clinton. They’re genuinely horrible people. And they’re fascists. Use your brain and vote for someone else.
If anything in this article has offended you, I apologize, even though it was probably on purpose. If nothing else, hopefully you’ll at least start thinking more skeptically about the policies and ideas put out by both major political parties here in the U.S. Keep the ideas of civil libertarianism in your head, and you’ll notice the consistency it has when applied to the role of government. I guess you could say it’s a… problem free philosophy.