Thursday, 17 November 2011

Liberty and community

Libertarians are sometimes criticised that their position favours individualism. For those that promote individualism this is not seen as a downfall; but the complaint, if true, is a reasonable one to make to a Christian libertarian. Christianity teaches the importance of community. The early Christians shared their property, and Christendom views itself communally, as a city on a hill, we talk of the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. We are bondslaves to our master Jesus. Individuals are metaphorically stones in a temple. The goal of man is to serve God, not himself.

I agree that community is important to Christianity, how could it be other if our greatest commands are to love? One can speak to the nature of community which is important and interacts with the political component. Christian community is a community made up of very unique and distinct individuals. Community does not mean we are less ourselves, rather we are more ourselves. Like a family where each individual contributes something different. But I do not wish to address this issue in detail. Rather the question of whether libertarianism promotes individualism, and is it a negative philosophy for those who promote community?

Pragmatically it is not obvious that libertarianism is detrimental. Looking at our increasingly socialised political structures in the West, we are also becoming increasingly individualistic. That is, our politics are more socialist over the decades and our citizens are more individualistic. Certainly there appears to be some correlation, even if the reasons are a little more complex. I note with some irony the complaints about lack of community coming from socialists who argue the solution is more socialism.

It is possible that individualists can continue to thrive in a libertarian environment? Certainly a Christian should be cautious about promoting laws that are detrimental to community—community as defined by God, not by the secularists—but that is the issue, is it not? Are we not to form our own communities? And the law should be such that it does not interfere with this?

Communities are formed by individuals, by common location or common cause. They are not formed by governments. Attempts by governments to do so fail because laws fail to create community. Legal constructs cannot facilitate friendship. Further, laws frequently inhibit the desires and intents of community by placing unnecessary restrictions on them. Whereas laws that are restricted to dealing with disputes over person and property—that is they prevent and punish actions that are anti-communal: theft, murder, rape—help prevent the fracturing of society.

Laws that punish people who damage other people, damage property, or fail to keep promises that they have agreed to with others, are good in that they address issues of justice, but coincidentally punish those who are engaging in anti-community activities. When government otherwise leaves people alone then citizens can form their own community structures, or not, as they see fit. This is a libertarian position. Certainly libertarian government does not create community, but no government action can. People form communities, and I maintain a libertarian position is more favourable to forming and maintaining functional communities.

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