Libertarian Solutions to Communal Difficulties

Devon, PA. R.R. Reno writes on the First Things website this morning,

I’m no libertarian. St. Paul was clear that government is ordained by God, and St. Thomas helps us see that a robust public sphere protects us from the consequences of our sinfulness, as well as helping us achieve the goods only possible in community. However, as Yuval Levin recently argued in National Affairs, at this juncture of history, if we care about persevering the goods of government, then we need to recognize the limits of government—and we need to gather the political will to impose those limits.

After he was invited to speak at Catholic University last spring, Catholic academics wrote a letter denouncing John Boehner’s efforts to reign in government spending. Perhaps Boehner’s ideas about tax policies are mistaken. Perhaps his spending priorities are misguided. Perhaps everything about the Republican Party’s economic analysis misses the mark. Prudent, reasonable people can disagree. But the Catholic academics who signed the letter failed to recognize that an insolvent government, however large and well meaning, can do very little good for it’s citizens. Today that’s not an insignificant danger.

Reno’s qualified endorsement of those Republicans who are calling for an aggressive solution to America’s ongoing deficit and debt debacle is well taken, and resonates with a reflection I have been meaning to share with FPR readers for some time.

Some readers will recall that FPR helped host Philip Blond’s visit to America more than a year ago; and some will recall, also, that a person in the audience of Blond’s Georgetown address wrote Patrick Deneen to suggest that a more libertarian-oriented version of Blond’s Red Tory, Big Society program would be suitable at the present moment.  I agreed with much of what the anonymous author proposed, as I did with his characterization of his program as sharing in the spirit of libertarians.

On this website, which has often given voice to both libertarian and Austrian economic ideas, to distributist, social democratic, and — much to the scandal of some — monarchist ideas, let me add the following claim after the fashion of Reno’s.  I believe that libertarianism grounds itself upon a naive, perverse, and frequently dangerous anthropology — one that lies to the human being about his political nature and may rob him of the vocabulary necessary to understand and find means of fulfilling that nature. (Among other things, modern psycho-analysis testifies to the failure of human beings to be able to talk productively about community; we have all but displaced politics by dividing it into psychological self-adjustment and therapeutic social work).

Monadic individualism is a modern heresy in which libertarians persist.  As such, libertarians may also claim — justly, in most respects – to be heirs of the classical liberalism of the Eighteenth Century, and so, their extreme minority status in our society testifies to just how far liberal society has strayed even from the errant dogmata of its origins.  As Russell Kirk was fond of observing in the nineteen-fifties, liberalism has long since ceased to promote freedom and has taken on the yoke of massive technocracy in the service of a centralized administrative state.  Kirk delighted in quoting Santayana, who once wrote that liberals have little interest in loosening men from any bond save that of marriage; and, in our own day, debates about homosexual unions further validate the old arguments (voiced most prophetically in Papal encyclicals on the family from the nineteenth century) that the dissolving of the marriage bond is consistently the front line in the liberal war to conquer all of private life for centralized administration.  It is easier to render every person a ward of the state, when one does not have cohesive and sovereign institutions like the family getting in the way, and rendering the family a nonspecific, merely affective, juridical fiction may quite effectively neutralize its social function and natural integrity altogether.

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