CJay Engel

October 23, 2019

More on Leaving the Libertarians Behind

Even if it were possible to achieve some hypothetical libertarian victory (this won’t happen), is it worth abandoning the very people around us that most libertarians absolutely despise? Most libertarians mock Norman Rockwell America; most libertarians have no regard for Western Civilization, for the nuclear family, for religion, for social traditions, for the maintenance of the past’s memories and transmission of these memories to our children who have yet to come.

In response to the recent Elizabeth Warren moment (she mocked someone for expressing the natural, traditional definition of marriage), one libertarian said: well the state shouldn't be involved anyway, who cares? There it is again: libertarian nihilism.

Is this the horse onto which we wish to hitch our wagon? I will not tell my children that this is what their father fought for.

One realizes, when he considers these things, that liberty is worth aiming for and propagating, but the pursuit of the abstract version of it is not worth giving up civilization for. It is not worth partnering with the cultural enemy in order to achieve some potential libertarian progress. It is not worth trading social stability for the pursuit of an ideal abstraction. The imperfect world of Constitutionalism and federalism is much preferable to the pursuit of a speculative libertarian society. By all means, nullify and secede! But remember, these are distinctly Anglo-American principles from our historical context, not context-less abstract ideals. That's why they'll work.

Rather than being a statement against “libertarianism” and its true principles, this is instead a statement about priority and the real and present dangers of destroying the good in pursuit of overcoming the bad.

In light of our wide array of values and commitments and the realism of political change, we must not abandon the beautiful for the sake of political idealism. In the process, we would lose the world and gain nothing. This was the lesson Edmund Burke offered in his opposition to Paine’s enthusiasm for the ravage terrorism of the French Revolution.

By having this approach, we don’t need to abandon libertarianism as a measuring stick, but we need to be honest about the realities of social change, the dangers of social upheaval, and the consequences of blindly tearing down the world with the assumption that tomorrow’s builders will share our blueprints. This was the terrible Achilles heel in Thomas Paine’s lust for revolution in France.

Burke's common law-sourced rights are far more stable than Paine's universal abstract rights. The argument is so often: "well the French had the wrong definition of rights." No doubt. What makes you think the libertarians have an improved definition? They don't. With the exception of the Mises Institute, the libertarian movement has a "let man be free from social constraints" definition of rights.

To place libertarianism within its proper boundaries, therefore, is not merely to think of it as “thin” and allow us to find other interests, it is rather to motivate us to face the true historical battles for a meaningful, workable, and realistic social theory. Libertarianism alone does not constitute a social theory.

This is what must be done not only to preserve and pursue liberty, but so many other important aspects of civilization as well. We must not let our libertarianism be the enemy of our social-well being, or society will die, and liberty with it.

About the author

C.Jay Engel is the founder and publisher of Bastion Magazine. He has written for, LRC, David Stockman, and related. He owns several consulting business, actively works on the magazine, and lives in Northern CA.

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