Liberty Doesn’t Hinder Moral Conduct: It Rewards It

by Ali Massoud

The standard Social Conservative argument against Anarcho-libertarianism has been this: It is a nihilistic, amoral, philosophy that supposedly holds every one as an isolate, free to pursue all sorts of deviant or immoral behavior so long as it's voluntary. To be “free” is to break away from the societal shackles of morality, tradition, and religion.

Anarcho-Libertarians, Social Conservatives say, are naïve at best and probably much worse. Anarcho-Libertarians they say, believe that humankind is inherently good and therefore no restraints on people are needed. People are good at heart and will be in practice too, for the most part, given the opportunity. Social Conservatives make this argument with the fiery vitriol of a Lot condemning Sodom and Gomorrah. And with a Biblical sense of self-righteousness as well.

So says the standard Social Conservative critique anyway. And like most of critiques that seem thoughtful, it does contain a small iota of truth. There is not enough space on my hard drive for a detailed and complete rebuttal, but I would like to examine the three main criticisms these critiques posit and attempt to rebut them.

1. Anarcho-Libertarianism is really Radical Individualism

This argument goes back to the Old Testament book of Exodus. Moses goes to Mount Ararat to receive God’s word and what happened? The Hebrews stop worshiping their God and became idolaters bowing before an idol of a golden calf.

Skip ahead two thousand years. Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan that people must be, “held in fear and awe” or the ensuing chaos and violence would make for a typical life that was “nasty, brutish, and short.”

While not all Social Conservatives rely on religion and God to make the argument that Anarcho-Libertarianism is Radical Individualism or hedonism as a political philosophy, many do.

Doubtless there exist Anarcho-Libertarians who endorse the above-mentioned description of their views. “Just as there are conservatives who are pro-choice and pro-drug legalization”, says Jude Blanchette a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education”, doctrinal differences exist within any group of freethinking individuals. Yet most libertarians I have contact with hold a deep reverence for what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things”1 as well as a pronounced faith in God. In this sense, there are many similarities between libertarians and conservatives. The difference is that libertarianism resides only in the realm of political philosophy: it holds that the individual should remain at liberty to pursue his subjectively defined goals with as little government coercion as possible. 2

Notice this does not mean that he is free to do anything he pleases. Society does and should exert pressures on the individual to conform to a moral and cultural code. It should not be able to compel moral conduct though.

2. Anarcho-Libertarianism encourages Radical Individualism, which will lead to anomie and alienation.

This is a very old and unreliable critique of Anarcho-Libertarianism. Many Anarcho-Libertarian scholars do refer to themselves as “individualists,” I think in part because they assumed their readers would have the imagination to understand what it was they meant. The term was fostered and used during a time when citizens had no individual worth and were prized only inasmuch as they satisfied the goals of the State.

Individualists are not hermits, but men and women who refuse to be lumped together into a government-sanctioned collective. Societies, communities, neighborhoods and families thrive when free from government compulsion. To allow autonomy is to allow the individual to expand his or her social relations. And we believe that as with flowers in the sunlight, they will flower and bloom, and that it will be beautiful to behold.

3. If there is not a State with the power to compel, immoral behavior will reign unchecked.

Should a man be jailed for having an extra-marital affair? Anarcho-Libertarians would say no, and the reason isn't because they endorse this immoral behavior. Rather they understand that these are matters for which government involvement is unwise and, indeed, unwarranted. Society should refrain from legislating or imposing morality, not because an objective morality doesn't exist, but because morality thrives in a free society.

A society that protects a fool from the consequences of his folly, the saying goes, will soon consist of nothing but fools. What separates Libertarians from Statists is their understanding of the nature and function of a government. By granting extensive powers to a government we happen to agree with to enforce a given moral code, we also give these powers to a government in the future that we may not like. That scenario nicely describes the devolution of the Liberal Democratic societies of Europe and North America into coercive welfare states during the second half of the 20th century.

I would agree with the observation made by some critics of Anarcho-Libertarianism that point out that most Americans disagree with Anarcho-Libertarianism over the issue of morality. However, this is not because Anarcho-Libertarians in general hold an alternative set of beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.

I welcome a rigorous debate over the principles of Anarcho-Libertarianism, but for too long Social and Religious Conservative critics have made and then re-made the same arguments, apparently not bothering to read the numerous detailed responses by libertarians. We resent this too.

 “Permanent Things - The norms of courage, duty, justice, integrity, charity, and so on - owe their existence, and authority, to a higher power than social good.“  Attarian, John. Russell Kirk's Economics of the Permanent Things < 23 Dec. 04.

  Blanchette, Jude. Freedom and Morality. < 05 Nov. 04.

 published at Endervidualism on  December 31, 2004

Ali Massoud is a father, political theorist, apostate Muslim, small business owner, college graduate, crack rifle marksman, a blogger, cat lover, shrewd investor, US Army veteran, and currently single. He lives in Michigan.