A friend of mine once remarked, “libertarians are simply ideologically consistent progressives.” As a former libertarian, I felt some disgust at the statement. Libertarianism, at least on the surface, is the opposite of progressivism—a far-right reaction to leftward-realing world. While progressives see the state as a tool to overcome man’s oppressions in both the public and private spheres, libertarians see the state as a dangerous and often counter-productive entity which can make disparities worse. Instead, libertarians have taken on the challenge of unshackling mankind from oppression, but with different views of what constitutes oppression and freedom.
But as I reconsidered my friend’s statement, it began to make more sense. I considered the reasons why I stopped classifying myself as a libertarian. The more I thought about it, the more I came to agree with its premise,especially as I considered the ancient philosophy of hedonism.
Hedonism can be summed up in the phrase, “eat and drink today, for tomorrow we die.” Hedonists place the desires of the self above all else, engaging in as many of life’s pleasures as they can before they die.
While this may seem appealing, it’s dangerous. Immediate gratification of the body leads to enslavement by the basest of desires. The idea of moderation and patience is anathema to the hedonist. Hedonism places individual pleasure as the highest good.
Libertarianism does not necessarily lead one to hedonism. By all accounts there are plenty of upstanding and moral libertarians who simply want to be afforded a little more freedom. But libertarianism also doesn’t have any answer to hedonism. While it may not prescribe to hedonism, a libertarian society would certainly have no problem drifting away into such a society.
How can a Libertarian stand up to a hedonist? In the pursuit of pleasure, one doesn’t need to cross any personal boundaries and agress against a fellow citizen. But a libertarian government can do nothing if one decides that it is best for them to waste away on drugs every night, supposing that they stay consistent to their ideology. The dangers of pleasure, moral decay and wastefulness, would be ever more present and persistent. Because the libertarian ideology places the definition of what is virtuous completely within the individual, it can do nothing to prevent people from chasing unvirtuous lives. Like Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, society would drift away into subhumanity as we make ourselves our own personal gods.
It is already evident that the Libertarian Party cannot offer a virtuous way forward for America. Bizarre events have occurred at the Libertarian Party conventions, leaving many scratching their heads in bewildered amusement. One of their presidential candidates this past cycle, James McAfee, openly admitted to living with seven 16-year-old girls in a Belizean compound, some of which attempted to kill him. The candidate polling behind McAfee elected to have his nomination speech delivered by an erotic services provider dubbed “Starchild,” also stating that 5-year-old children should have the legal right to inject heroin. Another story reveals that one of the candidates for Libertarian Party Chairman stripped to his underwear on stage shortly before leaving a debate. While many members of the Libertarian Party will protest that these are simply outsider candidates who don’t truly represent their views, the fact that they are getting attention at all should be disturbing and indicative of what would come if the party were given further traction.
Even among the mainstream candidates there are disturbing instances. In July of 2016, Gary Johnson, a supposed libertarian leader, was booed due to his support of drivers’ licenses. Libertarian thought is continuing along a downward spiral, casting out its hopes of relevancy.
Our political philosophy must have an answer to the dangers of pleasure as well as the dangers of oppression. By placing individual freedom and perception as the ultimate arbiters of what is good for society, libertarianism and progressivism both fail to account for those dangers of pleasure. If society is to make help man good, it must have safeguards against man pursuing his basest instincts as well as an understanding of what is good for man.