Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Libertarians of the World, Unite!

Some of my most interesting friends have been—are—libertarians. Yet many of them belong to fiercely regulated communities—often a religious community. In my life, for example, most of the libertarians I know are Mormon.

And from what I can tell they see no conflict between their distrust of democratic government and their trust in the intensely authoritarian, aggressively communal religions that govern their ethical and social lives.

And maybe there is no conflict.

Regardless, this apparent paradox leads me to believe that no one is a libertarian vis-à-vis the community by which they define themselves. Our primary communities will always feature robust regulation, a hierarchical structure built to maintain the rule of law, and a fierce repudiation of individualism. For just about all of us, our fealty to the community by which we define ourselves precedes our fealty to ourselves—including those of us who call ourselves libertarian.

So it could be that the difference between conservatives and liberals in this country is not political but social: for conservatives (and for libertarians in particular) a community other than the nation is their primary community; for liberals, the nation is their primary community.

This difference explains the radically different attitude toward government that distinguishes conservatives from liberals in this country.

Conservatives experience the nation as oppressive—as another community attempting to displace their primary community. They seek to avoid that displacement by weakening the nation to the point that it no longer represents a threat to the roles played in their lives by their primary community.

Liberals, on the other hand, experience the nation as their primary community and want to strengthen it to the point that it can do what a conservative's primary community already does: function as a viable social world that provides for the safety, health, and stability that all human beings need to flourish.

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