My dear friend Don Quixote retired with his beloved to warmer climes. I miss him a great deal. I especially miss our lunches together. We still talk on the phone, but it’s not the same as the wandering conversations we had about politics, morals, philosophy, law, Dancing With The Stars, computer games, and whatever else seemed interesting on a given day. One of our most memorable conversations was about government’s role in morality. Don Quixote is more of a libertarian than I am, although I consider myself fairly libertarian. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but my takeaway was that government legislation should not be hostile to traditional morality, but it’s not responsible for morality either. Citizens are responsible for morality, through peer pressure and, yes, shame.
I still believe that today, so I was very gratified to read Nick Gillespie’s post about libertarians and morality. What prompted Gillespie’s post was a New York Times piece, by Richard Reeves, a liberal writer, that had a throwaway line about libertarians being, not immoral perhaps but amoral. In many ways, Gillespie agreed with Reeves, who agreed with me, albeit from a liberal perspective. Some shame is necessary to curb teen pregnancies. So Reeves, Gillespie, and I are all in sync.
Where Reeves parts ways with Gillespie and me, and where Reeves inspired a masterful post from Gillespie is the bit about libertarian amorality:
Libertarians might want a world without moral judgments, in which teen pregnancy carries no stigma at all. And paternalists might want the state to enshrine judgments in law — perhaps by raising the age of sexual consent or mandating contraception. True liberals, though, believe we can hold one another to moral account without coercion. We must not shy away from shame.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, Mr. Reeves! I’ll let Nick explain why:
I submit to you that few statements are more wrong than saying “libertarians might want a world without moral judgments.” From my vantage point, one of the things to which libertarianism is dedicated is the proliferation of moral judgments by freeing people up to the greatest degree possible to create their own ways of being in the world. To conflate the live and let live ethos at the heart of the classical liberal and libertarian project with an essentially nihilistic dismissal of pluralism and tolerance is a gigantic error. It’s like saying that because religious dissenters want to abolish a single state church that they are anti-god.
Really, you should read the whole thing.