Why Libertarianism Fails, Liberalism Lies, and Conservatism Limps

Two of my heroes are Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand, but for several reasons I could never consider myself a full-blown libertarian.  First off is the fact that you can and should legislate morality, and in fact every libertarian without exception does.  His government is an extension of his moral ideas.  He won't prosecute you for stealing a wife, but he'll put you in jail for stealing a loaf, and beyond this he'll do the same thing for murder, and fraud, and kidnapping, and assault — all sins featured in the Book of Deuteronomy, and all 100% within the realm of morality.

Libertarians like fewer laws, and the ones they do like they take too seriously.  In fact, libertarianism is an enforcement of the one commandment nobody else tries to enforce, which is the second-most impossible one after the First.  What I mean here is the Tenth: Thou Shalt Not Covet.  You want your neighbor's property?  Don't be jealous of it; go earn it, they say — a much healthier and manlier proposition than go tax it, but insane when it turns into taxation is theft.  We were prescribed taxation in the same Exodus in which theft was proscribed.  Beyond this, nobody has explained why sex and speech are governed by "morality" (and thus out of law's way), but property isn't, and I think the case could be made that most aspects of life need some laws and morals — especially if you're going into business with somebody.

I would even argue that business needs more laws and morals than other things, since, being hyper-social, it reaches into every aspect of our lives — far more than government, and if we examine the matter fairly, most times even more than marriage.  But the hardcore libertarian implies that economics, the generation and trading of property, isn't a "moral" issue while taking it religiously.  Nearly every other aspect of life, to him, is "your own business" and can be ruined at any moment — but the thing known as property is universally sacred, unlike the environment or the church, and the man who dares touch the altar with unclean hands is anathema, liable to prosecution.  You can ruin a river, but you can't steal the water.  Jesus would whip the moneylenders out of the temple, and Murray Rothbard would whip the prophets out of The Money Tree.

What the libertarian misses is that property rights, just like everything else, are useful only to a point, and every man has to ask himself exactly where the line lies.  There's no one-size-fits-all law here.  "Liberty" is a slogan and an aim, but not a policy.  It's easy to say property is inviolable as it's easy to say marriage is inviolable.  But what happens when someone punches his wife in the face?  Or pumps poison into the air?  Or chains up women and children for 14 hours a day, for seven days a week?  Or sells your kid heroin?  Or gouges you with hospital bills that you would never have agreed upon had you had the opportunity to know about them in advance?  Or an ugly old rich man pays your daughter, who is desperate and out of a job, to have violent sex with her?  Human sentiments eventually get in the way of this all too broad "liberty," and eventually, we find that rich people, who are good at getting rich, are generally terrible at respecting people.  So I agree that property is central to human life — but so is not getting poisoned or mangled, and having a day off, and alongside these some level of dignity.

That's why "liberal" came to mean "leftist."  At first, a liberal meant exactly what it sounds like — a person who's concerned with liberty.  Life, liberty, and property.  A "liberal education" meant learning the things you need to stay free.  Liberal meant owning your own stuff, and low taxes, and freedom of worship and speech.

"Liberal" now means almost the opposite of what it did then, and the reason is that the people trying to protect you from government realized they needed government to protect you from people — a natural assumption, since all government, at bottom, is the attempt to protect the inferior from their superiors.  Large corporations, midway through the Industrial Revolution, began to swallow up smaller businesses.  Many people were reduced from a manly and respectable independence to wage servitude.  People were mangled in factories, and worked seven days a week, and were paid almost nothing for it.  The air was poisoned.  Politicians were being bought out.  The liberals saw far off what we're worried about today: that when a few men own all the grocery stores, "no shoes, no shirt, no service" could turn into "wrong ideas, no fly-by-night vaccine, no service," and people who provided you with mass communication could also easily shut you up.  The basis of capitalism is expansion, and somebody imagined businesses getting too big.

Thus, the people who were terrified of government split ranks with the people who were terrified of fat cats.  Both fears were legitimate, but the first one seemed far off, and the second one was immediate.  So many went into government regulation, and welfare-statism, or became outright socialists and communists.  They had no other means of dealing with international corporations, so they did what they could by expanding our national governments.

The rest of the story is history.  Many of them took it too far.  The quest to make everyone safe and equal and comfortable made them less safe and less equal and less comfortable.  They tried to spread the riches and ended up spreading poverty.  Economies were ruined to protect people from the inevitable thing known as sickness.  Human "equality" turned into the erasure of borders.  Losers were placed above winners to get rid of "inequality."  People who couldn't hold jobs were glorified above people who created jobs.  Many of the best businessmen — i.e., the people who are best at helping people — were forced to move their businesses to other countries.  Whole industries were strangled in the attempt to better the employees.  Free speech was stifled, in schools and businesses and every kind of media, to protect absurd "rights" against the counter-narrative.  Power corrupted the rich men, and then it created a new and far more dangerous class of corrupt rich men — not the kind who were good at making things, but the kind who were good at taking things.  And after all this, they kept the name "liberal" with them, and we got stuck with "conservative" — a label that means only that you hate change, like the donkey, which represents us better than it does them.

We've already had one split, and now, with Big Tech threatening to silence us, and with Big Media trying to smother us, and with corporate America solidly against natives and patriots, we're facing another.  The question today isn't whether we want big government or small government.  Businesses have become too powerful for us to remain free, and small government is dead, along with everyone who ever lived under one.  The question is whether big government is going to maximize life, liberty, and property for the many or for the few — and, more importantly, how we're going to do it without creating another monster. 

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter, and Facebook, and Parler, and MeWe.