I ran across this fantastic article regarding classical liberalism (the notion that people should be “free”, embraced both by progressive liberals and conservatives in America today).  The article provides a thoughtful analysis, including the following:

“An idea of liberty is an essential part of the answer to that crucial unasked question [whether humans are prepared to live free]. But it is not the libertarian freedom generally voiced by today’s left and right. Surely liberation from coercion alone does not prepare us for the practice of liberal freedom. To liberate us purely to pursue our wants and wishes is to liberate our appetites and passions. But a person in the grip of appetite or passion can’t be our model of the free human being. Such a person is not someone we would trust with the exercise of great political and economic freedom.

The liberty we can truly recognize as liberty is achieved by the emancipation of the individual not just from coercion by others but also from the tyranny of his unrestrained desire.


This liberty arises when we want to do more or less what we ought to do, so that the moral law, the civil law, and our own will are largely in alignment, and choice and obligation point in the same direction. To be capable of freedom, and capable of being liberal citizens, we need to be capable of that challenging combination. And to become ­capable of it, we need more than the liberation of the individual from coercion. We need a certain sort of moral formation.”

The author’s suggestion is not that the government begin preparation of souls for freedom; rather, it is that the citizens should on their own begin recognizing the soul-forming functions of family, work, and religious organizations, and “sustain[] the space for them, and put[] them within the reach of as many of our fellow citizens as possible.”  Without attending to our souls through family, work, and spiritual relationships, democracy gets ugly.  What is the use of an election when the electorate is a mass of radically self-interested individuals?

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I was in the car with my niece yesterday and noticed two children wearing helmets ride by on their bikes.  I mentioned to my niece that when I was a boy, I rode my bike around town without a helmet because they were not required.  That prompted her very insightful question: “Why do they call America ‘free’ when there are a thousand laws?”

A “thousand” laws is a very modest estimate.  Ask any CPA about the complicated tax code.  Add to that the problems of the thousands of vague or unenforced laws, as noted by James Madison among the many threats to liberty:

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.  Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”
— James Madison, Federalist no. 62, February 27, 1788

The helmet law is probably clearly written, but it is one of so many ever-changing laws that I couldn’t tell you for sure.  My niece’s question stands.  Can we continue to call our nation “free” when we live under a nanny state with an ever-increasing library of statutory requirements and interpretations?

A professor in the economics department at George Mason University has assembled a fantastic collection of quotes from central figures in American history regarding individual liberty and limited government.  Many of those quotes reflect a skepticism of the character of man.  While unregulated man might make evil choices, the governor with power over him is (allegedly) prone to even greater evil choices, and those choices will affect everyone.  Here is a sampling of the quotes that reflect this view:

[I]nstituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States . . . would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.”
— Thomas Jefferson

“All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”
— James Madison in The Federalist

 “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”
— Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854

“We still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping at the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without a tribute.”
— Thomas Paine

While I don’t share the view that government ought not regulate anything beyond the harm principle (the strict libertarian perspective), I share the view that man is so fallen that absolute power will always corrupt him.  Thus, limited government is a necessity for all, and the best way to limit it is to decentralize it as much as possible.  The greater the centralization, the greater the eventual evil.

Libertarians are commonly described as economic conservatives and social liberals.  They typically promote a deregulated, laissezfaire economy, along with a rather extreme (but not necessarily wrong-headed) view of social freedom that permits such things as prostitution and the most harmful forms of drug use.  Thus, many (and probably most) libertarians, as social liberals, favor the Roe v. Wade regime of “reproductive freedom.” 

However, libertarians seem to adopt J.S. Mills’ idea of the “harm principle” (also termed “aggression”) as the sole justification for criminal laws, rather than reference to the common good or a moral grounding for criminal law.  (It is unclear to me whether libertarians generally believe that God-given natural rights obligate the government to limit criminal law in this way, or if libertarians simply prefer this version of social freedom.)  This is why abusing drugs like heroin is legal in a libertarian world: it (arguably) does not harm anyone else, and the law is not to keep you from harming yourself.  This line of thinking, however, would seem to leave ample room for a libertarian to be pro-life, because abortion does harm another human being in the most vicious way imagineable.  Vox Day, a staunch libertarian, provides us with the pro-life libertarian argument:

The reason unborn children have human rights is that they are human. They exist, they are human, ergo they have the same right to life, liberty and property that their mothers and fathers do. As Ron Paul, a fine and upstanding libertarian, has pointed out, there are few acts of aggression more violent and unprovoked than those involved in murderously vivisecting an unborn child.

There is not a single pro-abortion argument that stands up to science and reason. Every single one is not only spurious, but easily demonstrated to be spurious. It is not necessary to bring religious arguments into the debate to conclusively settle the matter in favor of the pro-life position, in fact, the Bible-based arguments against abortion are, in my opinion, weaker than the rational and scientific arguments.

Criminalizing abortion is no more questionable from a libertarian position than criminalizing murder. It is an act of lethal, unprovoked aggression, often state-supported and sometimes state-dictated, of the sort that every libertarian, religious or secular, should vehemently oppose.

Incidentally, as a Christian, I absolutely agree with Vox Day that the Bible-based arguments are weaker than the arguments from nature and reason.  The Bible recognizes the same principles of moral reason that can be applied to the abortion question, but those principles of moral reason do not depend on the Bible.  It is possible to know that murder is wrong apart from the Bible (and indeed impossible not to know that murder is wrong), and it is possible to know that unborn children are human and therefore ought not be murdered through plain reason (with scientific factual support if necessary for rebuttal purposes).  Those who disbelieve in the Bible have no refuge against these arguments. 

(Additionally, note that there is an organization of pro-life libertarians.)