Concerning Libertarianism: Libertarianism and Moral Nihilism

Yes, I have been away a few weeks. Much has happened. No, I am not going to talk about that. What I am going to talk about is some comments made by another blogger. As you can probably guess by the post title, this one will be political. You have been warned.

Anyway, the author of the blog Old Right Musings recently put up a post about why he no longer considers himself libertarian. Why? Because libertarians are mostly, he says, “moral nihilists who couldn’t care less about organic society or natural institutions”. This is a problem, he says, because “Anyone who thinks that the ideal condition for liberty is moral nihilism or indifferentism to anything that can’t be classified as immediate aggression is an unwitting pawn at the vanguard of tyranny.” Perhaps not an unreasonable, if somewhat hyperbolic, position to take. So what is the big deal? Well, he also says he believes “that the most effective defense of life, liberty and property necessitates a healthy respect for borders, language and culture, to swipe Michael Savage’s motto.” (Italics his.) What is wrong with that? Glad you asked. I will tell you.

Let us have a little more context for “a healthy respect for borders” first. Earlier in his post he says about the “moral nihilist” libertarians: “They uncritically embrace open borders, while ignoring the damage done to the cultural fabric of America, not to mention the expansion of the welfare state that they supposedly are against.” (Italics his.) So much there to unpack. Let us leave aside for the moment that the evidence of this uncritical embrace, specifically, of open borders is presented without evidence. Damage done to the cultural fabric of America, he says. What damage? He does not specify. I am going to guess from his comments that he is offended, as some other people I have known, by immigrants coming to the U.S. and not deeply assimilating, learning English, adopting our ways and all that. These are complaints that are as old as the U.S. itself. Benjamin Franklin complained about immigrants from Europe being uneducated, low skilled, and not learning English. And he was right. He also complained that such immigrants would ruin the country. And in that, he was wrong. Just as wrong as the people making the complaints now are.

What about immigrants causing the expansion of the welfare state? One, they are not causing that; we are doing it to ourselves. And two, any problems immigrants might cause to the welfare system we have in the U.S. is an argument against the welfare system, not immigration. Let us attack and do something about a welfare system that is on a path to bankrupt the country and leave our children with massive debt, and let us not blame the immigrants for a problem we made ourselves.

To say that a defense of liberty necessarily requires expansive and tight government control over the borders and immigrants, in my opinion, is not a reasonable position. Why? Because it is a position that is essentially saying a defense of individual liberty requires attacking individual liberty. If the defenders of liberty attack liberty, how can they be said to have a sound position? To quote Jesus, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

And do not get me started about not taking ideas from Michael Savage about, well, anything.

So what about this accusation of moral nihilism? Apparently the author of Old Right Musings believes that these libertarian moral nihilists “can’t appreciate a point of view which holds that while not everything that is morally bad should be illegal, it shouldn’t be praised either.” Again, no examples of this position are provided, so knowing just what he means by this is difficult to determine. He uses the word “praised”. Does he mean moral nihilists are praising immoral behavior? I do not know. I suppose that depends on what sort of behavior one calls immoral. But I would venture to guess that the behavior individual libertarians praise is generally not something they actually consider immoral.

Even when he seems to explain his thinking, he causes, for me, only more confusion. He says he considers himself an “Old Rightist.”

The Old Right was comprised of laissez-faire advocates, Southern agrarian traditionalists, radical individualists: the whole spectrum of people whose interests were diametrically opposed to the ideology and regime of “progress” embodied by the Democratic Party and elements of the GOP. That’s where I place myself. We face more or less the same problems today. The same impulse to social engineering and technocracy that animated the New Deal animates today’s social democrats, and the same Wilsonian impulse to meddle in world affairs for the sake of abstract ideals, regardless of the costs, animates today’s neoconservatives.

What is strict immigration control if not social engineering? Throw in concerns about protecting culture and social institutions, and it cannot be else but an attempt at social engineering. And how can one support laissez-faire economics, but seek labor protectionism in the form of strict immigration control? He objects to the “Wilsonian impulse to meddle in world affairs for the sake of abstract ideals,” but seems to favor meddling in the exercise of individual liberty for the sake of abstract ideals.

I say all that to get to a point: there is nothing morally nihilistic about arguing for open borders or the state allowing homosexual marriage or the legalization/use of drugs or the other things for which libertarians generally argue. Moral nihilism basically says that morals do not exist. The libertarian argument for open borders, for example, does not stem from a lack of moral code. Just the opposite, in fact. It stems from a moral code that sees wrong in punishing people because they were born on the other side of a man-made border. It sees moral wrong in trying to control where people may look for employment and who employers may be allowed to hire, all based on an arbitrary desire to protect a culture that has grown up from a fertile ground of immigrants of diverse cultures. There is a moral case here, not moral nihilism.

And accusing libertarians of moral nihilism for apparently no other reason than that they disagree with the author of Old Right Musings while he talks about what they “can’t appreciate” and “refuse to recognize” seems inconsistent to say the least.

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Don’t worry. I have not forgotten about the other posts I have promised to put up. If all goes well, I should be getting more posts up over the next few weeks. It all does not go well, then I guess you’ll just have to wait.

6 Responses to “Concerning Libertarianism: Libertarianism and Moral Nihilism”

  1. Well, I’m flattered to be the recipient of so much attention. I’ll assume that you are interested in what I have to say for myself, and I will issue a reply on my own blog, should you or any of your readers care to peruse it.

  2. […] person responsible for the blog “Liberate One” has penned a critique of one of my recent posts concerning my disassociation from the libertarian label. I don’t […]

  3. A long time ago I read a book by Fiorello LaGuardia. If I remember correctly, he stated that the reason Italians were able to integrate into American society so well was due to the fact that they dropped their language. The reason why so many Italians dropped the language was due to the fear of being put in internment camps during WWII, like many Japanese “Americans.” I spoke with many in my own family and they confirmed that there was a fear of having any connection with Mussolini so many girls bleached their hair blonde and parents and grandparents insisted that English only be spoken. Notice how Hollywood changed many an Italian actor’s name (e.g. Dean Martin). My Italian family hung on to heritage mainly through the food. Our country embraces Italians as “white” people now, but that was not the case once upon a time. Remember Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life referring to Mr. Martini and his family as “garlic eaters?” My naturally blonde-hair/blue-eyed Italian grandmother (b. 1898 in NY) remembers Italians being called the same nasty “N” name as black people.

    Many have integrated into American society out of fear. Jewish refugees coming from Europe were more than happy to drop their Polish, German, Russian languages…again because of what they just survived, but so many here wanted them to drop their religion, too. My mom’s family are Italian Crypto-Jews. It seems to really frustrate some today that many Spanish speaking people won’t drop their language. You are absolutely correct, we need to change the welfare and entitlement system, not take it out on the people, otherwise we create an even bigger government than the Goliath we already have to endure. The big shame is how we’ve helped support a Mexican government that is being run by drug-cartels. Again, not a people problem. It’s a government problem.

    • Many people these days forget or simply are unaware that the ‘N’ word was not reserved just for people with dark skin. In many places, poor Irish immigrants were considered to be just as bad or worse than black folks. How long, I wonder, until we learn that making laws that create black markets in labor, drugs or alcohol does not solve any problems.

      • We are in our state as a country because we do not know our true history. It’s not taught and it’s being rewritten as we speak.

  4. […] One has replied to my reply of his initial critique of my post about the libertarian label. Here is my reply, and don’t worry if you […]

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