Monday, October 29, 2007

In Defense of Libertarianism (1): Are Libertarians Soulless?

Commenter mnuez expresses the widely held, and misconceived, view of libertarians as soulless. In a recent comment, s/he says:
When it comes to soullessness, I can't think of any group of people to whom that term applies more than to many of you, kindhearted Libertarians...

... I'd ask you to look in the mirrors and note the lack of empathy in your eyes for your tens of millions of suffering American brothers and sisters. THAT'S soulless.

I, of course, disagree. The misconception is that libertarians are stingy and don't wish to give to the less fortunate segment of society. While this may be true of some libertarians (remember, libertarianism is about individuality and non-collectivism, so putting all libertarians in any single basket labeled "soulless" is not going to earn critics of libertarianism much mileage in a discussion with libertarians), many libertarians come from a very different humane angle. To illustrate, here was my response to mnuez (mildly edited):
Heartless is when you outsource charity, caring, alms giving, social consciousness (whatever you want to call it) to a totally soulless entity such as a government which couldn't care less about other people's money, health, or education. I, for one, like the libertarian view since it is honest about what a government can and can not do for the less fortunate.

Above all, I trust myself more than the government in distributing my money and I do give (not only in the form of taxes, which mostly ends up spent on stupid endeavors such as unjustified foreign wars).

A viable alternative is giving money to privately managed NGOs, instead of government, to wisely spend this money on social issues. Such NGOs may be secular or religious (e.g., churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc). While this may not be the perfect solution, it certainly would be better than having government do the job. It will also reinforce the role of religious and humanitarian institutions in society, with the end effect of a more cohesive society with less tensions. These tensions are created because those who give feel that they are forcefully being pushed to give, and because those who receive feel that without the forceful support of government they won't be able to live decently in society. If, instead, we have a system in which all interactions, especially humanitarian ones, are performed voluntarily and with confidence.

An Islamic angle on this is that a Muslim has to pay 2.5% of excess liquid wealth in charity. No taxes are required in Islam. The notion of taxation comes from the same secular source; that there are public demands such as road construction and maintenance, security (police), maintenance of courts, and so forth. These, not being mandated in Quran, have to be done on a local, probably municipal, level as a secular (i.e., independent of religion) societal activity.

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