Libertarians and morality
On my other blog I recently wrote about a couple of political quizzes (see Notes from underground: Taking your political temperature redux) which purport to show where you stand politically. One of them, Political Compass, seemed pretty good, while the other, Political Spectrum, seemed pretty bad.
I commented there on a couple of questions in the Political Spectrum quiz on morality, law and government. One of them was:
A person’s morality is of the most personal nature; therefore government should have no involvement in moral questions or promote moral behaviors.
The question seemed designed to test how “libertarian” one was, but I found the question rather disturbing since it implied that the government should not be concerned with corruption, civil servants taking bribes etc. because these are “personal” matters.
One commentator said that the compilers of the quiz were probably thinking of sexual morality, and that got me thinking a bit more about it. If so, it would imply that the compilers of the quiz thought that corruption in the civil service is not merely a personal matter that the government should not interfere in, but that it is not a moral issue at all, and that morality is only concerned with sexual issues. Otherwise, if the compilers of the quiz had only sexual morality in mind, why didn’t they say so?
As a self-described liberal, I believe in the liberal principle that “the government governs best that governs least”. The difference between liberals and libertarians, it seems to me, is that libertarians believe rather in the anarchist principle that “no government is good government”, and that they also tend to mistake liberty for licence.
The quiz, however, as I noted in my other post, seems biased not only towards libertarianism, but also towards antinomianism.
I have a certain amount of sympathy of anarchism, but not the “right” anarchism of the self-described libertarians, but rather towards anarcho-syndicalism. I mention this so that anyone who reads what follows can be aware of my biases.
My response to the comment that the compilers of the quiz had only sexual morality in mind was to recall that we had, and as far as I know still have, a “Moral Regeneration” movement, which is government sponsored, and indeed our president, whose sexual morality seems to disturb even some of his most enthusiastic supporters, was at one time its patron. I believe it arose from concern that civil servants who took bribes did not seem to have any moral qualms about it, so I think anyone who thinks that “morality” refers only to sexual morality probably lacks a moral compass too.
The history of the Moral Regeneration movement does, at one level, seem to support the contention that the government should have no involvement in promoting moral behaviour. But I am not sure of the corollary implied by the quiz question — that the government should take no disciplinary action against civil servants who take bribes, because morality is a “personal” matter. And that, of course, was the president’s argument to justify his reluctance to disclose the gifts he had been given, as required by parliamentary rules.
But of course, in the libertarian scheme of things, there would be no government, and therefore no civil servants to take bribes, so the question falls away. Instead of democratic rule by elected governments who are at least theoretically accountable to the public, we would have the arbitrary rule of unelected corporations, ruled by the principle of unaccountable, unbridled laissez-faire capitalist greed.