"Transcend and include... this is the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos—to go beyond what went before and yet include what went before... to open into the very heart of Spirit-in-action." Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of people somewhere were for something and against nothing?" Ernest Holmes

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why I'm a Recovering Libertarian

I had no political affiliation until I learned the definition of "libertarian" in mid-life. Then, bam, I became an active libertarian for ten years or so. That means, as shown on my One Chart that Explains all Politics, I put more faith in
  • Individuals over Groups
  • Progress over Protecting what we have
  • Interiors (beliefs) over Exterior behaviors and institutions, and most important
  • Voluntary compliance over Legal Enforcement
It seemed clear that the high road in politics is that government's role is to protect us from force or fraud and to adjudicate our disputes. All other goals are better served by providing information, inspiration, mediation, rehabilitation, and yes, charity. All these must be offered and received voluntarily to be effective, I've believed.

But I was an unusual libertarian in that I was already into personal growth work and alternative spirituality—1st person God. The cross-over was that my highest value was choice in both religion and politics—not only because freedom to choose feels morally right, but because it is through watching the effects of our choices that we grow. And growth was the real goal.

Dropped in the Blender
Then came the series of events chronicled in my book--being dropped into an extraordinary black fundamentalist church simultaneously with discovering Ken Wilber's integral map of reality. Like falling into a blender set to "whip." Living among people whose lives were emerging from red to blue, (in Spiral Dynamics that means raw power to rules and roles), I saw how besieged they were by drugs, alcohol, porn and worse. And then of course, came the world financial meltdown--fueled essentially by gambling run amok.

I became more aware of the harm to the community of these "consensual acts," as we libertarians like to call the vices. If voluntary compliance can't fully protect us from these, what can?

Capping harm to innocent bystanders
One answer is a very specific kind of regulation that caps harm to innocent bystanders--like laws against drunk driving. In the case of the financial meltdown, I have to confess along with former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan that we were wrong in one piece of deregulation--the one that permitted mortgages to be turned into poker chips (via securitization, making stocks out of them--but I'm still sticking to my libertarian guns that several other regulations helped cause the problem.) The idea of capping harm to bystanders still doesn't mean I think we should jail drug users. But it does soften me to the idea we should jail drug sellers--after all other means of information, inspiration, mediation, rehabilitation, and yes, charity have been exhausted. (And even regarding voluntary charity, I'm softening to the idea that our modern era has stripped away most of the traditions that support it, leaving no recourse at this stage but forcing it via taxes.)

The real trouble is we humans find it too hard to use voluntary means. But my new fundamentalist friends had a stunning answer to one part of the problem: community intervention as laid out in Matthew 18:15-17
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
As a libertarian I got a huge laugh about the "tax collector," but I stopped laughing when that line was interpreted as "be polite on the street but stop inviting him to dinner." It made SENSE. It starts with personal responsibility and then builds to a community approach in a very conscious way. It also fits everything I believe about the value of clean interpersonal communication. "We are willing to say what's hard to say and willing to hear what's hard to hear" is how I put it in the personal ad that netted my husband.

A Difficult Ideal to Live up to
Of course, the final step of intervention in the scripture above requires that everyone be a member of a church—or at least a community of shared values. And most of us left churches for applying this solution poorly—with judgment, hypocrisy, and shame. What would it look like if it were applied with love, humility, and dignity? I saw it once, and it took my breath away. In my book I recount interventions on drug abuse, spouse abuse, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. They weren't all handled perfectly. But the ones that were gave me a new vision of what's possible—in community, with action, and based on a sacred tradition.

Integrating the Opposites
So today, I still believe voluntary means are best for achieving our goals. But I'm more interested in balancing the other parts of the equation: integrating concern for groups with those of individuals, protecting useful traditions while making progress, and taking action while shifting attitudes. And the biggest integration of all, of course, is integrating a sense of the sacred with everything else.

Thus I am feeling less comfortable calling myself a libertarian these days, and more comfortable as a "transpartisan"—one whose political views cross or transcend political parties. But my idea of transpartisan is not a mushy compromise on everything. It is a sharp-edged insistence on integrating the best of everything. And that is why I also call myself an Integralist.


Anonymous said...

You don't need to "recover" from libertarianism, but supplement your idealized minimalist government with the civil institutions that minister to your concerns. Libertarianism can clear the ground for compassionate organizations that are conceived with the intention of helping the recipients rather than symbolically placating constituencies. You correctly note that a conscientious and empathetic observer of politics won't see libertarianism alone as a panacea. It points outside of itself, but doesn't necessarily negate itself.

Anonymous said...

Might I suggest another 'libertarian' point of view that is compatible with differences in other political beliefs, whilst leaving no room for excusing state coercion and aggression as I suspect yours may?


Teri Murphy said...

This panarchy idea has a lot of appeal. Your link says:

"PANARCHY: The realization of as many different and autonomous communities as are wanted by volunteers for themselves, all non-territorially coexisting, side by side and intermingled, as their members are, in the same territory or even world-wide and yet separated from each other by personal laws, administrations and jurisdiction, as different churches are or ought to be."

But the practical problems are so overwhelming: what happens when someone from Government "A" steals from his neighbor in Government "B"?

But this does lead me back to the idea that much of the integration and depth we seek can only be found in voluntary, values-based communities, be they churches, ethical societies, or bowling leagues.

Anonymous said...

I am a Recovering Libertarian. It was an infectious worldview when I was in my 20's. I fear half implemented libertarianism as the worse evil. Image legal assisted suicide -- Medicare will pay for your potassium chloride and not your chemo. There is no way you could turn society this far lost into a libertarian utopia at this time. This article references a biblical perspective for the change of views, most libertarian's miss this. In order to have limited government society must have a moral compass. This usually comes from a religious realm reinforced via the family. The family is eroding and hence the rise of ever expanding government to protect us from ourselves. Gov is just filling the void.