Head first towards everything

Libertarianism ≠ Licentiousness

A friend sent me a link in which Lawrence O’Donnell seems to be under the impression that Libertarianism requires having no opinion on the morality of sex —or worse: that it requires a liberal inclination regarding the morality of sex. He quotes Penn Jilette and other libertarians (I count myself among them) who subscribe to the idea that “anything goes” regarding citizens’ liberties surrounding consensual sexual acts. He then labels Ron Paul a fake libertarian because he is of the opinion that sex for pleasure is immoral (thus, according to Paul, the demand for the contraceptive pill is the product of immorality in our society). Apparently, disagreeing with Penn Jilette on the morality of sex somehow contradicts libertarian ideas, according to O’donnell’s reasoning. Lawrence O’Donnell is, like a lot of people —many self-described libertarians included, I’m sure—, unequivocally wrong about this.

Seeking to further regulate and restrict the use of the pill would make Paul less of a libertarian, that’s for sure, but having an opinion that people’s use of the pill is immoral has no bearing on whether he is a libertarian or not. Libertarianism has nothing to say about personal moral convictions beyond that they should be kept out of government policy, because failing to do so would result in government intervention in the private lives of citizens, which is unbecoming of a free society. It defuses moral arguments by rendering them irrelevant to discussions about government. It doesn’t matter to me that many self-described libertarians are extremely religious, socially conservative, and anti-science; it matters to me that, by virtue of the political ideology they claim to subscribe to, they do not wish for government to push those personal values onto me through policy.

Yet the Lawrence O’Donnells of the world often use licentiousness as a straw man in place of libertarianism. Namely, they portray libertarians as necessarily having to subscribe to liberal moral values because they believe government should not impose on the private lives of citizens. It’s a strage sort of reasoning, if you think about it: “if you believe that government should not restrict my liberties regarding sex, then you must share my views on sex”, and I suspect this is due to their inability to separate political ideology from personal moral convictions. They can’t process a person willing to defend their rights to lead their lives however they wish while being opposed their lifestyle, because they themselves are incapable of making such a distinction between what they believe in for themselves and what they believe in for everybody else.

To put it succinctly: they don’t expect anybody to respect and disagree at the same time because they cannot —or refuse to— do it.

This idea that we can —or should— only support government leaders who share our moral convictions (or even associate ourselves only with private citizens who do the same, which a lot of people seem to do these days) leads to polarization, an us-vs-them mentality and politics of outrage. It is the product of a worldview in which we are right and there is no place for the others (who are wrong), no chance for question, and no gray areas in between. It is the product of control-minded individuals who wish to make it their business to examine, mischaracterize and question other people’s morality.

And their rhetoric reflects this. People like Lawrence O’Donnell who make a point of examining conservative moral convictions and painting them as inherently evil or wrong, as if it was anybody’s business to begin with, are no better than the Santorums of the world. These people —both on the left and the right— wish to make a point that other people’s views on subjective and personal matters are wrong, and that this wrongness needs to be addressed in a way that demonstrates the moral superiority of their own views. They believe the only world worth working towards is one where eventually their personal beliefs reign over the land.

This is dogma, and it should have no place in political discourse.