Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Legislate or Not: Condoleezza Rice, Libertarianism, and Morality

One of the biggest problems I have with libertarian political philosophy is its unwillingness to not only call something wrong and personally label a certain action wrong and thus fight for its irradiation.  Take the major social issues of gay marriage and abortion for example.  Many libertarians personally oppose abortion, but refuse to fight against it.  Their commitment to libertarianism prevents them from outlawing the practice even though they agree it involves murder and death.  So they are pro-choice in the truest sense of the word.  They are so committed to moral and political freedom that they refuse defend the innocent lives being taken.

Take former Secretary of State Condellezza Rice's libertarian argument regarding social issues.  Recently Christianity Today was given an interview with Secretary Rice and asked regarding some of her views on social issues.  The interview reads:

CT: In the past you said you worry about the government trying to legislate morality, and you know that evangelicals care very much about the issue of abortion.

Rice: I’m generally pretty libertarian in these matters, because Americans are quite good, actually, at finding a way to deal with these extremely divisive and difficult moral issues. And it’s not that I’m a relativist. It’s not that I believe everybody has their own morality. But I do understand that there are different ways of thinking about how these issues are going to play out in people’s lives, and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in governing their own lives. Sometimes when things are out of whack the government has no choice but to step in. But I’m wary of the government stepping in to too many issues.

CT: Was there a time when you came to a place on that issue, where your faith informed your position on abortion?

Rice: I’m still coming to terms with it. I don’t like the government involved in these really hard moral decisions. While I don’t think the country is ready for legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade, certainly I cannot imagine why one would be in favor of partial birth abortion. I also can’t imagine why one would take these decisions out of the hands of the family. We all understand that this is not something to be taken lightly.

CT: Same-sex marriage is another issue that has captured the country’s attention in recent years.

Rice: I have lots of respect for people on both sides of this divide, because there are really hard issues. I don’t ever want anybody to be denied rights within our country. I happen to think marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s tradition, and I believe that that’s the right answer. But perhaps we will decide that there needs to be some way for people to express their desire to live together through civil union. I think the country, if we can keep the volume down, will come to good answers.

I find a couple of interesting things about the arguments put forward by the former Secretary of State.  First, Rice isn't the most consistent libertarian being that she continues to support the Bush wars.  What one thinks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the War on Terror was fought under the Bush administration is not the point of this point.  However, it is surprising that Rice prides herself on her libertarian views and yet is a national security expert and has and continues to promote American involvement in war.  Most libertarians oppose war.

Secondly, as Denny Burk points out, Rice suggests that she's not a relativists but then makes a relativists argument.  She suggests that there are various ways to think about different issues and how these issues are going to play out in people's lives, and gives people the benefit of the doubt in governing their lives, and yet at the same time (in her libertarianism) believes that at some points government may need to step in when things are out of whack.  How, I ask, is this not a situation where government ought to step in?  Rice was willing to protect the innocent lives of Iraqi's but is unwilling to protect the innocent lives of unborn American children.

The debate over abortion and other social issues remain heated for good reason.  Libertarians simply have no answer for such difficult issues.  Their firm belief in the inherent goodness of man allows them to support dangerous policy beliefs.  Though libertarianism may have a lot going for it in terms of economics and taxes, it falls flat on many social issues that we face.

As Christians we must be careful not to get our priorities so out of whack.  Life is more important than taxes.  The gospel is more important than anything. A right understanding of the gospel demands that we defend life and worry about taxes secondarily.  Though I have great respect for Condi Rice, I must vehemently reject her reasoning and conclusions here.  Life is precious and marriage is central to our culture.  Let us defend them at all cost.  The gospel demands it.

HT:  Denny Burk 

Christianity Today - Interview: Condoleezza Rice's Faith Context for Foreign Policy  

For more:
Blogizomai - Morality and the Role of Government:  Libertarianism vs. Conservatism -  What Rand Paul Has Taught Us 
Blogizomai - Morality and the Role of Government:  The Danger of Libertarianism 
Shortblog - The Short-End of Libertarianism
Blogizomai -  Legislating Morality:  We All Do It, But Only a Few Get Blamed For It  
Blogizomai - Alcohol Today, Marijuana Tomorrow:  When Money Changes Our Values 
Blogizomai - Fox News and 9/11 Truthers
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