Before responding to Richard Epstein’s post from earlier today (written in response to my appearance on last week’s Ricochet podcast), I want to say I have been a decades-long admirer – indeed great admirer – of Professor Epstein. Not because he is brilliant – brilliance is not uncommon and it is often used poorly – but because he is an original and important thinker. I have learned much from him.
But he is wrong (and devoid of his trademark clarity) on this issue. And he is wrong precisely because he is a strict libertarian. The idea that the state should have no say in the definition of marriage is what happens when ideology – in this case, libertarianism – becomes an intellectual strait-jacket.
Let me explain my use of the term “soulless libertarian.”
I have had many of the great libertarian thinkers – such as Prof. Epstein and Cato Institute scholars – on my radio show because I so admire their critiques of big government. They render an invaluable service with those critiques.
But the Libertarian Party and libertarians such as Ron Paul do strike me as soulless in at least in one very important area: they have an amoral view of America’s role in the world. As far as libertarians are concerned, if people anywhere in the world are suffering mass slaughter and torture, or even genocide, too bad for them. For libertarians, America’s unique might is only to be used in defending America. The rest of the world can go to hell as far as official libertarianism is concerned. Indeed, I have found no moral difference between Rep. Paul and the far Left on almost any major foreign policy issue.
My read of Americanism – and that of the Founders — differs greatly from libertarians. America is based on Judeo-Christian values, not only on small government. Americanism consists of three core values – “Liberty,” In God We Trust,” and “E Pluribus Unum.” Unlike any of our Founders, libertarians apparently think we can do out without the second value.
And, among other things, the God America believes in demands that when possible – it is, of course, not always possible – the mighty come to the defense of the persecuted. I wonder how any libertarian would defend America’s involvement in the Korean War, when America rescued half the Korean people from the unspeakable horrors of North Korea’s concentration-camp-based Communist regime. Since no one thought Mao or Kim Il-Sung would invade America, what libertarian reason would there have been to sacrifice 37,000 Americans for people on the Korean peninsula? That is what I meant by soulless.
As regards same-sex marriage, if I read Professor Epstein correctly, the government – that is, society – should have no say in defining marriage. That is quite a position. It would be a first in human history. Presumably, Professor Epstein deems America as having been wrong in denying Utah statehood until it outlawed polygamy. And what about incest? Should brothers and sisters of majority age be allowed to marry? Should parents and children? An elderly father, for instance, might marry his middle-aged daughter to take advantage of tax and inheritance benefits for married people. And what about divorce, alimony, and child custody? Who should sort those things out? Who would enforce any ruling? Muslim, Jewish and Christian courts? And who would do so for secular Americans?
If no state definition of marriage is indeed the libertarian position, that, too, is soulless. Not to mention anarchic.
Libertarians are brilliant and needed critics of big government. But small government alone does not make civilization possible.