We Fly Too High
I received an email…not recently. This one is from Scott Thomason, from March 2017. I have kept it in my inbox all of this time; it was too important to archive and forget, yet I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I would someday do with it. I have decided now, obviously, to do something with it. Thomason has given me permission to give his name. To his email – but only snippets; I have considered posting the entire email, but I cannot bring myself to something approaching a guest writer….
By this point, I had been writing on the intersection of libertarianism and culture for a couple of years, with some intellectual prep work done even before that on the issues I saw coming from left-libertarianism. I was quite focused on the aspect of a cultural foundation if one wanted to achieve and maintain something approaching liberty.
But I hadn’t yet connected it to this idea of an “incomplete…human identity,” as Thomason had done – in other words, I hadn’t connected it to the meaning crisis engulfing the West today. Of course, in a society where life is given no meaning, we should not expect liberty to bloom. I have come to understand this over the last year or two.
Thomason looked at this loss of meaning – the fruits of leftist thinking, where “leftist” means anything opposed to traditional morality and values.
This will be their undoing, eventually. In the meantime, we all must suffer. And what of libertarians? Let’s just push the hypothetical button – Thanos does his deed, but only aimed at those who lord over us. Does this result in happiness for the libertarian, a fulfilled life?
It is a topic that C. Jay Engel has tackled – or, I should say, is in the process of tackling. Libertarians are sucked into the political game of the state; everything is politicized today, therefore libertarians look to the problem being political and the solution to be found only by using the political to eliminate the political.
This is where I have come to the idea that the cart is before the horse. Without purpose, meaning – built on cultural tradition and Natural Law – it will not be liberty that survives the pushing of the button; the mainstream culture cannot support this. Per Thomason, the left looks to scientism as savior. He also points to libertarians who lean on pure reason – reason without tradition, without God.
Shortly after the time of this email, I posted a few of these “real questions” that many libertarians would not ask or would ignore. I am not sure that I had Thomason’s email in mind; obviously the subject was in the air at the blog at the time.
There is no room for culture, tradition, or what is labeled metaphysics. If it cannot be tested, proven, falsified, etc., it means nothing in this enlightened world. Where does it leave this enlightened libertarian – leaning on scientism and pure reason – now that the button has been pushed?
Libertarianism gives us something akin to the Silver Rule, but it is the Golden Rule that offers some hope of preserving liberty. Relativism, when it comes to ethics, is a dead end for liberty.
There is also no comprehension of the need for an objective ethics, ethics derived from the nature of man – Natural Law. One need not speak of rights – even the right to not be hit first or the right to property – if one first does not have a theory of law, a theory built on principles that one is not entitled to look beyond – principles that are only to be accepted as given.
It is on this intersection of objective, given ethics – to be discovered, not invented – where one will find both C.S. Lewis and Murray Rothbard. We cannot see through first principles; an objective ethic is required – an ethic we are not qualified to or entitled to look beyond. Thinkers from Aristotle to Aquinas to Rothbard have developed this string.
But beyond “don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff,” pure libertarianism offers no such theory of law and we must not expect it to. Further: libertarianism cannot offer a reason why even this simplification of the NAP should be accepted. On what basis?
There is no answer in libertarianism to such questions. Well, I guess there is one: let the property owner decide. For example, if the property owner next door decides to have sex orgies on his front lawn while you are taking the family to church, tough luck. This is liberty if one is to strictly consider the non-aggression principle; yet will liberty survive in such a climate?
There is no libertarian defense against these, and many (most) libertarians are happy for this. But is there liberty at the end of this road – a road where man works against his ends, purpose, telos? What is liberty if it is not liberty toward the purpose for which a thing is made?
We recoil (or at least question the morality) whenever we see anything of creation hindered from moving toward its purpose, its ends…well, anything of creation except for humans. We take pity on the lion in a cage while at the same time condemning the father of the seven-year-old boy who believes one so young should not be forced into such a decision.
Rights come from a theory of law. If the only theory of law is “don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff,” then all manner of behavior is a right. But liberty without a moral compass is a one-way road to hell – I am not even speaking of the Biblical hell; we live this hell on earth, today.
We see where the conversation is headed: there is a meaning crisis in the West. It has brought forth an alliance of certain atheists and certain Christians. What the atheists in this alliance don’t see (or won’t admit) is that it is the Christians in the alliance that have the answers to their questions.
This alliance is opposed by an alliance of certain other atheists and other Christians, those for whom cultural foundations and traditions – and the Natural Law that is derived from these – stand in the way of complete liberation.
There is war on all of these, but this game is coming to an end as the woke will end up consuming the woke. Assigning points for the myriad intersectional ways that one is a victim of the privileged class will turn victim against victim – all in a race to the bottom to prove who deserves to be on top.
This is where Engel is taking his work, via his magazine, Bastion. In fact, Engel turns the question on its head – as I have done: looking to the culture as more important for liberty than is the NAP.
Icarus was warned not to fly too high, putting himself in the place of God. For Icarus – and for libertarians who lean left – this was a choice that led (and will lead) to the loss of life and liberty.
We should remember that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low – a place with the devil. “Anything peaceful” – in other words, the low bar of the non-aggression principle as the only ethical bar that is meaningful to man’s liberty – ensures that the sea’s dampness will clog our wings. When “anything peaceful” is all we have, there is nothing to prevent us from sinking into the abyss.
Jonathan Goodwin is a retired attorney in the rural Southwest who enjoys reading and writing about history, economics, and the state. He blogs at "Bionic Mosquito.
Send this article to a friend: