As stated in Edwin Lyngar’s 2013 Salon article, there is a widespread belief concerning Libertarians which assumes that our party is comprised of hedonistic, egotistical, greedy bastards. That we hold “selfishness and cruelty [to be] fantastic personal traits.” Although some of this criticism is warranted, due to the inevitable social Darwinism which follows a too-strict adherence to Objectivist philosophy, the criticism is by and large due to the public’s misunderstanding of our philosophy of altruism.
The benevolent statist mindset of the public has difficulty comprehending charity taking place independent of the government’s influence or coercion, and too often assumes that an opposition to government assistance is an opposition to assistance altogether. There is a default assumption that opposition to the nanny state is indicative of a selfish or evil heart and that this objection is borne of greed, rather than principle.
I reject this notion, and I entreat other libertarians to waver from the dogmatic response that “the free market will solve all.” Unless we wish to become stagnant and always remain a fringe party, contemporary libertarianism has a moral and principled mandate to actively participate in charitable assistance and volunteerism. These activities are imperative to realize our ideals of voluntary association, limited government, and prosperity.
Each person must engage the idea of altruism on his or her own; while I do not know if it is possible, and I routinely question my own motives for charitable giving, I seek regardless to insist upon the urgency of this imperative without the typical emotion espoused by progressivism or compassionate conservatism. Even if one subscribes to psychological egoism, it in no way diminishes the reason to give, or, if you will, invest in one’s community.
Apart from compassion, genuine altruism, or faith, the primary reason libertarians must give is that by doing so, we gradually dismantle and oppose the government’s moral grounds for its entitlement programs: that the government must keep these programs to take care of its citizens because citizens do not take care of each other.
Therefore, according to the benevolent state, coerced taxation and redistribution is vital to impoverished citizen’s survival. However, each time a libertarian, or any individual, gives, volunteers, or otherwise looks after his fellow man, his or her act act defies this statist notion. Every time one gives voluntarily, it is a step towards declaring the nanny state’s irrelevancy, a truth which could be realized if only more of us would voluntarily give. Each time one gives, the state’s moral high ground, the righteous platform of the progressive erodes. That we can and will look after our fellow man without the coercion of the government becomes the norm, and declares the redundancy of the state.
The individualist focus of libertarianism is greatly exaggerated, with some going so far as to label it as anti-social behavior because we resent the threat of violent force and confiscation behind tax law. But Ayn Rand was a firm believer in community; in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt argued that man was meant to live in community; but an organic kind, not the type that the government socially engineers.
Direct citizen to citizen charity reinforces communal ties and fealty, whereas government entitlements encourage communal breakdown and dependence upon the state, rather than the community. This is why it behooves the state to continue entitlements. Entitlement programs do not encourage community interdependence; if a person receives assistance from some disembodied entity without a face, they do not feel an intimate tie to that entity. They look to this entity to provide assistance instead of the community, which would require individual dealings with faces and names.
The community and the family has been allowed to reject its responsibility to the less fortunate member when it is their responsibility – not the government’s – to look after these vulnerable citizens. The government’s ever-expanding function has only served to further allow individuals to become alienated from the community, keep them from gaining self-sufficiency, and never create ties of interdependent mutualism. This, too, is a cause of the well-documented breakdown of the family unit; there is decreased incentive to keep the family together (Heritage.org). By giving voluntarily, we create real, not artificial community.
Deliberate, well-planned charity also empowers the recipients. There is no true charity without empowerment, and empowered individuals make a community prosper. Further leading to the redundancy of certain government entitlements, charities which seek to train, equip, heal, and mentor individuals lead to empowered producers, rather than dependents. By contributing and volunteering to charities like Ronald McDonald House or New York City’s Women in Need (WIN) which equip and educate the people they serve, we can assist in the reclamation of tremendous potential as these individuals become self-sufficient contributors who can then go on to empower others.
Everyone benefits from such activity and is much as an investment in oneself as we go on to reap the benefits of a prosperous community unshackled from government dependency.
Only through our tenacious, yet voluntary giving, can we hope to realize a system which will allow more libertarian ideals to come to fruition. By continuing to perpetuate a narrow-minded philosophy of self-interest, we inadvertently affirm the government’s gigantic role as a benevolent patriarch.
If we, as private individuals, do not take our rightful place as the stewards of our own communities, the Fed will continue with rightful license and full moral warrant to meet the community’s needs in its own misguided, if not out-right malicious way. For the government revels in creating dependents.
If we are to ever see libertarian concessions to be taken seriously, we must see that it is, indeed, for one’s self-interest to voluntarily invest in his or her community, to empower would-be partners to work alongside of, trade with us, and form mutual ties with us. If we continue to fail in this regard, we will be subject to the whims of the government’s dream of social engineering and complicity perpetuate generational dependency rather than self-sufficiency. We must change our definition of self-interest to include the benefits gained by the self from the empowerment of the community without the interference of coercive government entities.
* Brian DeLoach is a high school teacher in Cleveland, Tennessee, a flyfisherman, gun owner, conservationist, former Republican, and an advocate of minimal government and maximum freedom.