Writing in the National Review in 1956, Frank Chodorov, a noted libertarian thinker of the time, stipulated that the “free market … is mechanistic and amoral” (Source). This was meant as a defense against charges that libertarianism’s individualistic philosophy is selfish, materialistic, and hedonistic. In Chodorov’s screed, he dismissed the charges by claiming that it is all just a “bag of semantics” set toward the “besmirching of individualism,” but what he failed to do is show that modern libertarianism’s philosophy is not selfish, materialistic, and hedonistic. In fairness to him, however, it must be said that doing so would be an impossible task because libertarianism is not amoral, but it is rather immoral.
To understand the flaws of libertarianism, we must first dispense with the No True Scotsman fallacy. At its most basic, libertarianism is defined by the OED as an “extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens, (Source)” but this fails to fully capture the essence of the modern libertarian movement. For that, we can turn to David Boaz of the Cato Institute—the premier American libertarian think tank, co-founded by Murray Rothbard himself—who wrote in 1999 that the key concepts of libertarianism include individualism, individual rights, spontaneous order, the rule of law, and limited government (Source). Interestingly, Boaz also felt the need to stipulate that libertarianism “is not libertinism or hedonism,” which shows that the criticism stuck despite Chodorov’s efforts in 1956.
Even if entirely unfamiliar with libertarianism, one would have to question its underlying philosophy when faced with such consistent criticism. As the age-old adage suggests, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Indeed, one need not look any further than the Libertarian Party itself to find support for abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, multiracialism, multiculturalism, open borders, and so on (Source), and this cannot be dismissed as Boaz himself has said that “members of the Libertarian Party are much more committed to the libertarian philosophy” than those who “hold broadly libertarian views” yet do not identify as such (Source). A libertarian might defend all of the above by saying that what people do in private is their own business, but must society accept degeneracy in its midst simply in the name of individualism? According to the philosophy of Chodorov and Boaz, both of whom have cited classical liberals such as Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers as being representative of libertarianism, society must indeed accept degeneracy.
The problem with such an assertion, however, is that libertarianism has virtually nothing to do with the thoughts or actions of the men who founded the United States. For example, as John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (Source). The Libertarian Party’s platform certainly is not representative of the “moral and religious People” to which he was referring. Furthermore, the Founders were not above severely punishing what they saw as degeneracy. For example, in 1778, Thomas Jefferson proposed that Virginia should treat both sodomy and polygamy the same as rape with perpetrators being castrated (Source). If modern libertarianism is representative of American ideals, why then is it so vastly different from anything the Founders believed?
As another example, let’s consider that David Boaz has criticized Donald Trump for his supposed “nativism” whereas Boaz asserts that “America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices” (Source).
That is particularly funny considering that Thomas Jefferson wrote that “[blacks’] existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. … Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous” (Source). Jefferson was in favor of the eventual abolition of slavery, but he also said, “”When freed, [the black] is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture” (Source).
The latter view was shared by James Madison who said that “freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population” (Source).
Benjamin Franklin was actually opposed to blacks having ever been brought to the Americas, writing in 1751, “All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. … And while we are … clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red?” (Source)
It makes sense then that in 1790 the First US Congress limited naturalized citizenship to whites even though the free population of the new nation was already 98.15% white at the time. It also makes sense that this “whites only” policy was reinforced in 1795 and again in 1798. Again, however, David Boaz says that it is un-American to deport illegal aliens, to bar Muslims from entering the nation even temporarily, and so on. Libertarians claim to be classical liberals like Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, but it is quite clear that the former would denigrate the latter as “racist,” “xenophobic,” “nativist,” “homophobic,” and so on if they were alive today. It appears that this boils down to the Founders understanding that individual liberty must be balanced against the good of their nation and also the good of their people in a more general sense. After all, they did not seek to limit naturalized citizenship to fellow British people, but they instead stipulated “white.”
Modern libertarianism lacks any such balance. It is quite common to see libertarians dismiss anything and everything as “collectivism,” and that shows us that the highest concept of their philosophy is unbridled individualism. Also intrinsic to libertarianism is the belief that people are inherently selfish and materialistic, motivated solely by personal gain and benefit. We are told that this is why an unrestrained and unregulated global free market is needed so that people will find ways to consume and also meet the demand of other consumers in the most efficient way possible. The problem here is that it is not “amoral” for a philosophy to posit such about human nature because to do so is to actually encourage people to believe it not only about themselves but others, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where personal desire is the only true calling. The Founders’ Americanism understood that there was something greater, but libertarianism does not.
To further understand this, consider that libertarianism primarily hinges on the notion of “natural rights,” or rights seen as intrinsic to a person in a moral sense, and limited government that cannot infringe upon those rights. This is taken to the extreme by saying that abortion must be legal because it is a woman’s body, or that sodomy must be legal because they are consenting adults, or that people should be free to cross borders because they are artificial constructs of collectivism. In this sense, modern libertarians are again more radical than those they claim to be emulating in the United States. The Founders clearly did not share the view that anything and everything must be accepted by society in the name of individual liberty.
In another example of libertarianism being more radical than its supposed historical antecedents, we can contrast the modern philosophy with the writings of John Locke, who they also reference as an early proponent of their thinking. In Two Treatises of Government (1689), Locke posited that a man has the natural right to own property insofar as he cultivates it and can use the product thereof (Source). In his estimation, one cannot complain that another has enclosed land or taken water from a river so long as there is still other land and water for the next man’s own use. If we make a different set of assumptions and apply the same principle, a man would not have a right to take land or water for his own use where he entirely deprived others of the same. The implication being that said man still has some obligation to others even if it runs contrary to his personal desires. Libertarianism, on the other hand, espouses a sort of rabid individualism where there is no higher calling for a person than to do what they wish and when they wish it. This includes people buying far more land than they intend to cultivate or use, companies being free to pollute air and water so long as the market allows it, and so on. If there is a sense that there is nothing greater than oneself, the inevitable result must be hedonism with society breaking down as everyone chases their next pleasure.
To quote Adams again, the “Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” How can anyone claim to love America as founded and to hold to the nation’s original ideals while espousing the acceptance and normalization of hedonism? Indeed, the rabid individualism of libertarianism flies in the face of the Christian faith that so defined the lives of the Founders. After all, 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God’s sake: whether it be to the king as excelling; Or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of the good.” Similarly, both Matthew 22:21 and Mark 12:17 say, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” As can be seen, we are called to submit to proper authorities, but we are also called in James 5:19-20 to protect our comrades: “My brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him: He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.” How can one reconcile rabid individualism with the Lord calling us to obey the laws of secular authorities and also to be our brothers’ keeper, saving them from their own sinful desires?
Rabid individualism with its complete rejection of any form of collectivism is wholly at odds with the ideals, morals, and values of the United States and the men who founded it. They recognized the fact that individual liberty can only truly exist within a narrow set of parameters, and they set out to protect the high-trust, homogeneous society necessary for their envisioned limited government to work. Unbridled individualism, however, must always result in a steady march towards hedonism and debauchery in the name of personal desire, which is itself cultivated by this wicked philosophy. If you care not for your family, community, nation, people, and religion, then what do you care for? Answer: only yourself. That is not some moral higher calling for the truly enlightened. It is the lowly call of the debased and debauched, no different than leftists.