Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Problem of Libertarianism and Why UKIP Should Lose the Fashion Label

The problem of Libertarianism is that it believes in an abstract form of freedom and they all differ greatly with each other on what that freedom allows.  Which is the trouble with the word – it invites all sorts of people of kinds of philosophical backgrounds, with no consistent ideology.  They use words like freedom, liberty as buzzwords to further their own usually selfish agendas; words like ‘statist’ and ‘socialist’ used like insults.

So different they are that they normally call themselves something else like classical liberal, Thatcherites, Ron Paul worshippers, Mises school adherents, free market anarchists…. List goes on, but they all call themselves ‘libertarian’ just to oppose statism.  If they are in the same room together they would be arguing in minutes be the conversation be economics or (more explosively) social issues (though better yet just watch them argue online).

Libertarians rightly concede that one’s freedom must end at the point at which it starts to intrude upon another person’s but they severely underestimate how easily this happens. No man is an island.  So even if the libertarian principle of “if it harms no one, do as you will” is true, it does not permit the behaviour libertarians claim.

For example with pornography: a libertarian would say it should be allowed because if someone doesn’t like it, they can choose not to watch it. But what others cannot do is choose not to live in a culture that has been vulgarized by it. I apply this with drugs too, I will be forced to live in a more dangerous, miserable and (as I have argued before) more authoritarian world.

Some libertarians I have come across rarely live up to their own theory but tend to indulge in the nice parts while declining to live up to the difficult portions. Such as those who ignore drug laws but continue to collect what they deem “socialist” government benefits they consider illegitimate such as child benefit, and free NHS care. Many also bemoan taxation on other threads of this forum but it is considered ok to tax legalised drugs and/or for drugs to be available through the state for some reason.

Funnily enough I think most people don’t want absolute freedom which is probably why democratic countries haven’t elected a purely libertarian government.  Ironically people don’t seem to choose absolute freedom.  This also refutes libertarianism by its own premise that people will choose to do good, as libertarianism believes that people will freely choose goodness, yet people do not choose it. Paradoxically, people exercise their freedom not to be libertarians.

Society is dependent upon taught self-restraint if it is not to slide into barbarism, and libertarians attack this self-restraint along with the liberal classes of the last 40 years. Ironically, this often results in internal restraints being replaced by the external state led restraints of police and prison and the innumerable petty extra laws brought in by Nu Labour, resulting in less freedom, not more.

Libertarianism has a lot to say about freedom but little about learning what to do with it. Freedom without order is dangerous at best and useless at worst.  If find libertarianism too dogmatic in because of its belief that all free choices are equal, which it cannot abandon except at the cost of admitting that there are other important ideals other than freedom.  With no transcendent sanctions for conduct libertarians are left with only the utilitarian method of applying the cost/benefits analyses and calculators to social issues.  With economists as their clergy they can now see that anything that generates tax and economic growth as “good”.

I can see the word "libertarian" quickly losing its meaning and fast become nebulous in years to come, and to mean just something "liberal".  Just like the word "fascist" has lost its meaning and used in place of the word "bad" and hurled like an insult - I think libertarian will be the inverse.  That is meant to be something "good" and worn like a medal of righteousness.  It is happening now already being used a buzzword for liberal.

UKIP labelling itself liberal could indeed get it more votes, but in my opinion UK politics does not need another liberal party - we have too many of those in Westminster at the moment.  Britain needs to return to proper parliamentary politics whereby we have two or (preferably) more parties of opposing ideas.  There is no dissent or major disagreement in the Commons, and it is this what is killing true parliamentary politics for everyone.

By jumping on this "libertarian" bandwagon (which does stink of a ill thought out PR marketing move), UKIP have now forged its own chains and manacles.  Bhurka bans (No, I was not in favour of it) and stance on gay marriage will now look foolish and contradictory.

UKIP was better off unlabelled with no ideology.

Thoughts on the Death Penalty

I am for the death penalty.  However it must be clear that it should only be used in cases of premeditated murder, especially multiple murders.  We also need to look at why we are sentencing these people to death as I would also say we should not bring in a death penalty for the utilitarian purpose of “cost cutting” and making room in prisons either.  The idea of killing someone on this basis alone I find slightly disturbing.  The death penalty was also an excellent deterrent when it was in use in Britain.  I cannot help but think that if it was back in force, murder rates would drop instantly.  If life sentencing meant what its names suggests then I would be in favour of trying that out before the use of capital punishment.

We have to remember that what we are punishing is murder (the Commandment is not, as so often said 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' but 'Thou Shalt do no Murder').  All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery.  And murder is the deliberate, premeditated, merciless (and can often be drawn out and physically cruel in the extreme) killing of an innocent person, generally for the personal gain of the murderer.  There is no comparison between such an action and the lawful, swift execution of a guilty person, after a fair trial with presumption of innocence, the possibility of appeal and of reprieve.  

If we are to have capital punishment, we must also ensure that it is not done in state privacy.  Some people may be against the whole ritual of the death penalty itself.  For all its horror, hanging is preceded by a jury trial with presumption of innocence, and followed by the possibility of appeal and reprieve.  It is also a trial held in public possibly under the scrutiny of the free press (although not television).   I would be against any execution that does not have these safeguards.  When I say jury trial, I mean a jury of responsible well educated grown-ups, and a unanimous verdict, not on a majority verdict.

To those who say we should not have the death penalty because of the risk of an innocent person being hanged I would say this:   This is why we should ensure that the death penalty should be well thought out.  Nobody should be hanged except on a unanimous verdict of mature and educated juries.  I will say the world is not perfect, and yet we do not let this concern for the innocent stand in the way of a lot of other issues such as sending troops to war where innocents maybe shot or bombed.  We also now have the use of DNA evidence to make convictions or clear an innocent’s name.

We also have to bear in mind that the death penalty should not be a revenge act either.   We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.  We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it.  Surely one of the purposes of such a stern penalty is to prevent revenge by making it clear that the law has real guts and conviction.  A gutless law will lead to the return of revenge among people.  The bargain we strike with our rulers is that we give up the right to personal vengeance, and the endless blood-feuds that would follow it, in return, we ask our rulers to enforce a stern law, dealing with wrongdoers in such a way as to teach the moral lesson that no evil deed goes unpunished. It is a simple contract.     

A civilized and law governed society rests on this contract.  I think the political class has not got the moral guts to take responsibility for sending a murderer to his death.   It is this gutlessness among them, more than anything else that led to the removal of the death penalty because they did not want the responsibility.  The result I think the is that responsibility is increasingly handed down to an armed police force, which shoots people without trial, appeal or the possibility of reprieve, and could get it wrong; and to Judges who will issue life sentences where the change of early release where the convicted may then re-offend.

I will conclude that under the current criminal justice system we have now I could agree to the idea of the death penalty should be shelved for the time being.  The idea of capital punishment should only be looked at once a government has de-politicised the current police force and assured its allegiance back to the crown and not the state.