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Don't Misuse the Word "Libertarian"


Libertarianism is rooted in principles of individual freedom and responsibility that are incompatible with some contemporary Christian beliefs.

A rebuttal to the essay Libertarianism is a Christian Perspective by Timothy Bloedow, published here on conservativeforum.org.


Karen Selick

 Author Notes

Libertarian (NOT conservative) lawyer practising in Belleville, Ontario and a columnist for Canadian Lawyer magazine.

Ms. Selick maintains her own web site at which others of her writings can be found.

 Essay - 11/2/1998

I subscribe to the Ottawa Times because I find that it often contains stories about events that aren’t covered in the mainstream press. This information is valuable to me as a magazine columnist. However, as a libertarian and an atheist, I find the conservative and religious viewpoints which colour many of your articles to be quite repugnant.

Particularly annoying was Timothy Bloedow’s article "Libertarianism is a Christian perspective" in the October, 1998 issue. Mr. Bloedow claims to be a libertarian, then goes on to state that prostitution and pornography should be criminalized. He’s not sure about gambling and drug use. Sir, with those views, you are no libertarian. Call yourself whatever else you wish, but please don’t confuse the rest of the world about the policies of libertarianism by labeling yourself something you are not.

One of the most important tenets of libertarianism is that the state has no business telling consenting adults what they may or may not do, so long as they are not initiating force or fraud against others. Behaviour that is only self-destructive, but that does not involve the use of force against other people, would probably be considered immoral by many, perhaps even most, libertarians, but would never be made illegal in a libertarian society.

I do not mean to imply that it is impossible to be a Christian libertarian. I know several individuals who manage to subscribe to both the Christian religion and the libertarian political philosophy… people such as Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, or Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute. Personally, I cannot fathom the thought processes that allow them to hold such a combination of views. I think there are enormous logical gaps in their thinking. Nevertheless, I have found those gentlemen to be consistent advocates of libertarian political thought. Mr. Bloedow’s article demonstrates that he isn’t.

In addition to the prostitution and pornography gaffe, he twice misrepresents the libertarian view of anarchism. In one instance, he states that libertarianism can "deteriorate" into anarchy. Even the most cursory survey of libertarian literature would reveal that many libertarians are unequivocal, unapologetic, anarchists, including some of the most prominent thinkers in the movement such as the late Murray Rothbard. My own guess would be that roughly half of all libertarians consider themselves to be anarchists, and would view the transition to anarchism as an improvement, rather than a deterioration, in the state of the world. Anarchism does not necessarily imply chaos. Libertarian anarchists simply believe that there is no need for a single entity, called the government, to have a monopoly over the crucial services of administering justice and providing defence. This service could be provided by a variety of private firms operating in a competitive marketplace. This need be no more chaotic than having a variety of stores providing the public with crucial commodities like groceries or shoes.

The fundamental confusion which Mr. Bloedow and other libertarian wanna-bes seem to suffer from is a belief that libertarianism is more than it is. It is nothing more than a political philosophy. It is confined strictly to the task of defining the proper relationship between the individual and the state. Libertarianism has no content whatsoever in the philosophical spheres of metaphysics, epistemology, personal ethics or aesthetics. Libertarianism says nothing at all about whether a person should accept Jesus or Zeus as his personal saviour, or reject all religion as a bunch of irrational claptrap. Those are metaphysical and epistemological issues. Libertarianism says nothing at all about whether we should listen to Bach and Beethoven or 2 Live Crew. That is an aesthetic issue. Libertarianism says nothing whatsoever about how an individual should treat himself—whether he should smoke cigarettes or pot, be promiscuous, be straight or gay, gamble away his life’s savings or give all his money away to charity. Those are issues of personal ethics. All that libertarianism has to say on these subjects is that the state must not interfere with such personal ethical choices so long as no-one is initiating the use of force or fraud.

Having called myself a libertarian for more than a quarter century now, I find it irksome to see how many people are trying to climb aboard this bandwagon without really understanding what it’s all about. Yes, the libertarian movement is exciting and alluring. I believe it is the wave of the future. I hope conservatives will study libertarianism. We’re quite happy to tell you about our ideas. Think through the issues. Tell the world when you agree with us. But please, please, don’t misrepresent us by claiming to be libertarians when you aren’t. And please, don’t try to drag this confirmed atheist kicking and screaming into your Christian tent by claiming the philosophy I have held for so long is now suddenly part of your religion.

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Opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily shared by conservativeforum.org or the members of its Editorial Board.