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The failure of libertarianism

By Scott Carpenter
web posted March 24, 2003

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

-- Galatians 5:1

As the crowd milled about the log hall I slipped quietly out the side door to catch a breath of fresh air. A close friend and I had made the long journey that day from the BC Peace to the busy streets of Edmonton to hear a handful of men speak on the importance of the fourth of July to Canadians. All the right names were there. Ezra Lavant, Vyn Suprynowicz, and others. My buddy Mike and I sat through the series of speeches and listened closely to what everyone had to say.

Of course they said all the right things about liberty. What it is, why we don't have it and why we should get it back. The crowd applauded, the speakers took their bow and other important people were thanked for coming to the event. Even my name was mentioned. I was very flattered. Such things are good feed for the human ego. At last I was important.

So I milled about but didn't really talk to anyone. I listened, bought one of Vyn's books, shook his hand and promptly left.

The truth is -- for one reason or another -- I was terribly uncomfortable in that building of conservative and libertarian who's who's. I felt odd and out of place. Over on the balcony were the gun organization gurus. They talked -- I suppose -- about guns and Bill C-68. Inside were the political movers and shakers. Many of them were younger than me and still in university. They seemed to have little trouble mingling with one another and getting close to the folks in more important political positions.

Yep... you might say I was a big old fish out of water in that hall that night. And it wasn't because the conversation was over my head or that the principles being discussed were too off the wall. Heck, I'm a borderline anarchist myself but for some reason I was really put off. In fact this is the first time I have sat down to write since that event. Which is unusual for me because I am, by nature, an argumentative loud mouth type.

But I digress.

I guess the truth is I came to understand, for the first time that night, why Libertarians -- not necessarily the philosophy itself -- are such failures in the political world.

That's right folks -- you heard it here first. The libertarian movement is dead and will remain that way for all time to come for one simple but profound reason: It has no soul.

The First Libertarian....

Before I go any further I want to say there has never been nor will there ever be any doubt in my mind that libertarian/anarcho capitalist political principles are the only rational and correct way for the human race to govern itself. That being said political systems and social life (non political organization and the spreading of ideas) are really two different things... or at least they should be. And therein lies my concern. While libertarians (objectivists especially) in general seem to have their political and economic theory well in order many of them have no concept of what it means to be a decent human being. In short their social skills suck.

And before you start writing letters to me about the evils of 'social obligations' and other nasty collectivist stuff stop, take a deep breath and think a bit. There is nor should there be any law telling us to be nice, kind or compassionate towards one another. Our financial and social interactions can and should be governed by self interest if that is what we choose. I call that the curmudgeon factor. The freedom of any society is measured -- as the great Vyn himself once said -- by how the curmudgeons among us are treated.

But I would add that a society that does not teach its children to understand these principles while simultaneously acting with compassion, grace and consideration towards others is a society quickly headed for the gutter. We may be living in this socialist hell because people with good intentions have a bad habit of dragging us all down to the lowest common denominator but if we end up remaining there it is because those of us who understand the right way are unable to relate that path to our fellow human beings in a way that is neither degrading nor condescending.

And I'm not saying that all libertarians suffer from this ailment either but as an example I recall from that evening in Edmonton one swarthy little fellow who piped up during a conversation with Vyn about how evil the NDP are. His comments were nothing but pure diatribe. And another young man -- whom I respect -- suggested that those protesting the summit near Calgary last year be beaten for their stupidity. Were they serious? Yes and no I would suppose. To a certain extent they were speaking to the moment but it was, in my mind, a clear demonstration of the lack of understanding of how to change our situation in this country and in the world around us.

Indeed, short of going to war over the issue of our liberty there is no other way to make change than to educate others. And educating others is not accomplished by merely standing on our soap boxes and calling those who disagree with us ignorant or stupid. The most important aspect of teaching is leading. We do this by being good examples. Thus educating others is a process that must involve building them up -- not tearing them down. It means that we must be gracious, humble and examples to live by.

Indeed, if charity, not coercion is truly the cornerstone of the libertarian social system then why do so many of us display such an obvious lack of understanding of the concept? Charity is, after all, not simply spreading a little money around from time to time to those less fortunate but rather it is a virtue that includes grace, respect, fellowship and of course leadership.

Charity begins with ministering -- respectfully -- to those who have strayed from the path. It starts with a handshake, a smile and maybe a cup of coffee. It is followed by honest and friendly conversation and is sustained through patience, persuasion and persistence. It is learned from us by others through living it and being it.

I geuss maybe this is where my faith gets me in a little hot water amongst my libertarian peers. In the past I have been content to keep the two things separate and tolerate the vitriol hurled about by various 'intellectuals' towards people of a religious nature. Indeed, I never saw it as being relevant to the debate in general. But I tell you what: the one thing I've come to see over my last eight months of silence is that if being respectful, humble and concerned about the well being of others worked for Christ then it'll work for me too.

As far as faith goes I don't have much left in the libertarian movement these days. But I do know one thing for sure. The first libertarian had it right. If you treat others with dignity and respect even when they're clearly on a path to destruction (and taking us with them) then you're ten times more likely to make this world a bit more tolerable than if you scorn those who display gross ignorance about the nature of human liberty. And don't get me wrong -- it's not that I condone ignorance or even that I'm innocent of having a sharp tongue. I sometimes write with a bit of a poison pen too. But I think for me those days are over. Because in the end His example should be one for us all.

Myself included.

In Liberty,
Scott

Scott Carpenter is a freelance writer living in Dawson Creek, BC.

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