Friday, October 24, 2008

Libertarians and Free Speech

I probably shouldn't write this post while I am standing for election as an At-Large member of the National Committee of the Boston Tea Party, but--what the hell--I believe in truth in advertising. People checking out this blog should actually know what I think.

And what I think is that I've noticed a strange paradox in Libertarian thinking, one that sometimes confuses the distinction between having a strong opinion and wanting the State to use its power to enforce those strong opinions on everybody else.

A few months back I wrote a post endorsing Dr Eric Schansberg, the Libertarian candidate for the US House in Indiana's 9th District. Eric is an economist, and he's also an evangelical Christian who is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage. I disagree with both those positions. But I have spent enough time either reading Eric's material or conversing with him to convince myself that he's not out to legislate the particulars of his morality into law--that he in fact understands that any tendency for him to do so makes it more likely that other people will be coming around trying to mess with his morals. I endorses Eric because he's a smart guy, and if you take the time to read up on his opponents, even allowing for our strong disagreements I think he's the best choice.

By the same token, I couldn't see my way clear to endorse Jeff Ober for the state legislature in North Carolina because, while I think he's a nice guy as well, his views against gay marriage are so much stronger than Eric's (and based on factual inaccuracies, as well) that I couldn't go that far.

There are pro-abortion and anti-abortion Libertarians. There are pro-gay marriage Libertarians and anti-gay marriage Libertarians (who, usually at least, cloak their opposition to this in a general opposition to any government sanction of marriage). So while I got some rumblings on these two decisions, they weren't loud.

Two posts [look them up; I'm not in the mood to do links right now], however, drew considerably more ire [I would say fire, but given the nature of one of them, even I'm not going to make that bad a pun].

A few weeks ago I said I thought a gun-toting Mom at a soccer game was an idiot, and that I agreed with the right of the soccer league to enforce their rules on conduct at the games.

Then, a few days ago, I objected to Liddy Dole's campaign ad lambasting her Democrat opponent for accepting money from a PAC that wants, supposedly, to force the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual Scout Leaders.

In both cases I had friends coming out of the woodwork to suggest [usually more in sorrow than in anger] that my stances were somehow ... non-Libertarian.

Well, folks, they may have been wrong [I can always be wrong], but I don't think they were non-Libertarian.

Here's my reasoning. In neither case did I express a wish for State intervention. As a soccer parent myself, i said I thought openly wearing a firearm to a 5-year-old soccer game represented poor judgment [and I clearly stated that the individual did nothing illegal; all the illegal conduct was done by local law enforcement]. I objected to the Dole ad not because dear ole' Liddy was making any sort of Libertarian argument about the sanctity of private organizations, but because she was openly characterizing all homosexual men as potential pedophile predators. As a former Eagle Scout and Scout Leader I strongly disagree with the BSA policy of discriminating against gay men and even gay Scouts. I have expressed that disagreement by public comment and by disassociating myself from the organization. I have never called for the State to "force" such a change, although I have noted that the acceptance of Federal funds puts the BSA on some uncertain ground here.

This is what I don't think a lot of Libertarians get: The fact that I don't support using the power of the State to force other people to conduct themselves as I think proper and ethical does not mean that I give up the right to have and express an opinion about the way I think they should conduct themselves, nor does it mean I give up the right not to try to convince them to do otherwise.

I can condemn a gun-toting soccer mom as stupid, or the Boy Scouts as being homophobic without committing fraud or aggression in any form.

When a Democrat or a Republican says, "I think people should do X" or "I think people should not do X," we all pretty much know they're not just expressing a personal preference, they're getting ready to propose legislation.

When a Libertarian says, "I think people should do X" or "I think people should not do X," we all need to realize that the speaker is only expressing a personal preference, not the intent to restrict the rights of others.

I realize this is a tough distinction, because we have become so defensively habituated to the Dems and GOPers who want to legislate their particular moralities into both the criminal code and the tax code.

But if we're going to be true advocates of free speech and the free exchange of ideas we have to get to the point where (a) we can take the preferences of other Libertarians as just that--preferences; and (b) then have whatever knock-down drag-out fights we need to have over the substance of those preferences without automatically jumping to the conclusion that out rhetorical opponents have given in to the urge to become Statist tyrants.

1 comment:

Midnight Oil said...

This is SUCH and important distinction and for some reason, it is difficult for people to grasp. I notice that people of all parties take issues on a case, by case basis, applying their own opinions to formulate a judgment on what the law should be. For example, someone who is health conscious and worries about the obesity epidemic, wants to see restaurants make nutritional information accessible (aka California). They then extrapolate this want and proclaim that there should be a law forcing restaurants to produce this nutritional information, even if they are a person for limited government.

one of the things I love about Libertarians, is that they are the group MOST able to have their personal opinions, but judge every issue by the same standards, regardless of the perceived benefit or desire of the individual. The pet projects get in the way of rational thinking and while I see too many Libertarians swayed by personal desires, I still think they are, as a whole, the most consistent in this rationality.

It just drives me crazy when someone uses a different set of standards depending on the issue! Let's have some consistency, people!