Freedom lovers and Freethinkers

One kind reader objects to my last post, saying the libertarians do not deny a moral obligation to help others; he also says freethinkers do not necessarily regard human life as a means to an end. Both comments are correct, but I will stand on my comments as written, even if they should be made more clear: 

First, while it is not necessarily the case that freethinkers view human life as a means to an end, this is as a matter of fact the majority view of the self-appointed elite dominating our culture at this point in history. I am not saying this is logically necessary to be the case: I am saying that it contingently happens to be the case. This kind of utilitarian consequentialism, doing evil in the hope that good might result, is the major theme of Marx and the other philosophers modern intellectuals follow. The other major theme is disinterest in questions of good and evil altogether (see Nietzsche, Sartre, etc.)

Second, I did not say Libertarians deny that there is a moral obligation to help others. What they deny is that there is a legal obligation to help others, a morality enforced by the bludgeon of our stepfather, the Leviathan.

I said that libertarians would say that if the woman could not afford to keep her baby alive, she could not. In other words, her inability to pay does not act as a sufficient warrant for Medicaid, Medicare, or the other welfare-state solutions to the problem. The woman in the article was on Medicaid / Medicare. Libertarians correctly observe that this is a coercive solution: the state is forcing the taxpayer to pony up for her child’s doctor bills.

A true-blue libertarian would say that the moral obligation to help the poor and weak is abrogated, not fulfilled, the moment any degree of coercion or state power is used.  Do you agree? Are we agreed on the basic axiom of the libertarians here?

My own conclusion, from my study of economics, is that welfare state practices so distort the price structure and inflate the currency, that it is impossible to tell how low the price of medicine and medical care might be, if we did away with the FDR style “New Deal” policies tomorrow. A true-blue libertarian might be able to convince me that in a libertarian commonwealth, that woman, supported by her local charities, might be able to keep her baby alive. But no libertarian worth his salt would dare say the hospital had no right to unplug the baby if the mom could not pay the bills.

I am hoping every Christian gentleman would recall the sayings of Our Lord about how better it would be to be drown with a millstone around the neck than to harm a child, or whether one should serve Mammon or God, before he would listen to any argument that the mere loss of money to the hospital allowed them to deprive the child of his life.

The hospital is in no position to shoulder this financial burden alone: they are not a charity ward. If our taxes can pay for public monuments and festivals, public roads and libraries, shipyards, post offices, and other things useful, necessary, and good for a refined and superior sort of life, then they can pay for something like this. You will never hear any libertarian saying the state has a role in increasing the prestige and beauty of the city, not even for spots whose economy depends on tourism. Libertarians would privatize lighthouses: and they can make a surprising strong case in favor of it.   

I am close enough to a libertarian to be mistaken for one at a distance, in a bad light. But real libertarians will stick to their axioms even in hard cases. I cannot fault their logic, as far as it goes. But while I think Liberty is one of the greatest blessings given to man, I do not think it is the only one, and it does not automatically win against other more pressing concerns, particularly in a case like this.

If Robin Hood stuck up a passer-by and used the loot to pay the doctor bill and save the baby, John Galt would condemn Robin with the same sense of justice as he would condemn Dick Turpin. While I might not be as condemnatory as Galt, neither would I allow the poor, merely by being poor, an endless claim on the work of others. There will be poor, always. I certainly cannot follow the logic of Marx, who allows that the poor, being poor, have a right to kill the rich and take their stuff: the obligation to help the poor is not a Cuckoo-in-the-Nest law, that will push the other moral laws out of the nest to die.

The laws have always made some provision for the poor: even the bronze-age Israelite was commanded by Moses not to square off the reaping of his field or glean afterward, so there would be some scraps for the honest poor to live on. Libertarians tend to argue as if leaving a tithe for the poor, as Moses would have it, is tantamount to killing the husbandman and taking his field, as Marx would have it.

Uncomfortable and realistic balances between competing interests, inelegant but workable, are possible in this life.

My real complaint is that the evil being done here, whether it is a necessary evil or not, is being done unmanfully. If we were Spartans, we would just take a shotgun to the head of the baby and pull the trigger. What is good enough for Old Yeller is good enough for Junior, right? If we are in earnest about euthanasia, we should not disguise what it is we are doing. If we suffer moral qualms at euthanasia, let us by all means call the practice murder and treat it as such in law. If we suffer no moral qualms, let us by all means kill the weak and sickly on pay-per-view television, with announcers giving us the blow-by-blow. It is this in-between half serious pretense (mercy killing that is not called killing)I find offensive.