Thursday, May 20, 2010
In a contribution to the 40th anniversary issue of the conservative magazine National Review, I described libertarianism as a "heresy." By that, I meant that libertarianism is not simply false. It affirms a genuine truth---in this case, the value and importance of liberty or personal autonomy---but affirms it so emphatically and indeed singlemindedly that it winds up denying other equally important truths and values. Libertarianism of the Ayn Randian sort emphasizes individualism so strongly that it ends up treating human sociability and the values connected to it (e.g., friendship, marriage, community, solidarity) as purely instrumental goods, rather than intrinsic and constitutive aspects of human well-being and fulfillment. The value of human relationships and associations is reduced to their utility and efficiency in enabling the partners or members to achieve their individual goals. Inevitably, those subscribing strictly to libertarian ideology wind up talking themselves into support for bad policies, such as Rand Paul's (or the late Barry Goldwater's) opposition to civil rights laws forbidding racial discrimination in housing and employment, and the ACLU's support for the abortion license and opposition to the regulation of pornography.