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Monday, May 30, 2011

My Kind of Libertarianism

Disclaimer: My ideas for this subject began at a meeting of UConn Students for Liberty this past semester. Many of these ideas may not originally have been my own. If you came up with a part of this article, feel free to take credit for it in the comments. I apologize if anyone is offended by my use of an adapted form of their ideas as my own - this is truly how I feel.

I have mentioned before that I consider myself libertarian. However, unlike many libertarians, I do NOT feel that an individual is ONLY responsible for his or her actions and welfare. While I absolutely do not support an individual "controlling" another individual's life through unnecessary restrictions, people are responsible for other people in certain ways. That being said, however, I definitely feel it should be a voluntary responsibility.

For instance, consider the following scenario: you are walking down the street and you see a homeless person begging for money. Many libertarians would say that said homeless person is responsible for his own decisions and therefore you should not give him money. Certain supporters of social welfare would argue the exact opposite - that it is your DUTY to give him money if you can. I disagree with both arguments. I feel that you need to weigh your individual responsibility (i.e. your responsibility for yourself) with your collective responsibilities (which I will discuss later) and decide for yourself whether you should give money to him or not.

So what are your collective responsibilities? It varies from person to person. Mine are listed below, in order from closest (biggest responsibility) to farthest (least responsibility). I will discuss what I mean by this after the list. Note, however, that in certain cases the order may not remain constant (for instance I may feel greater responsibility to my best friend than to my distant cousin who I haven't seen in eight years).  Let me stress that your lists may be different - I know some people who feel more loyalty to their close friends than to most of their family.

  • Me (personal responsibility)
  • Immediate family
  • Other family
  • Close friends
  • Distant friends
  • Local communities (Poughkeepsie and UConn)
  • Semi-local community (New York state)
  • Country
  • World
Also, I feel other responsibilities in certain areas only - for instance my loyalty to my religion (Judaism) extends only so far as religious affairs (which would include the state of Israel). As another example, I would feel more loyalty to help a Yankees fan than a Red Sox fan in a baseball-related issue, but other than that, the team which the other individual roots for has no bearing on my responsibilities (other than the fact that statistically speaking, a Yankees fan is more likely to fall higher on the list than a Red Sox fan is).

So what are these collective responsibilities? Some would argue that it is as simple as supporting the person, but it is not that simple. If my mother (immediate family) were to get into an argument with my cousin (other family) then yes, more likely than not I would support my mom. However, this is not to say I would blindly support her due to my allegiance. If I legitimately believed the cousin was right and my mom was wrong, I would side with my cousin. That being said, if it were a situation were I was unsure, I would give my mom the benefit of the doubt.

Also, that is not to say I would blindly provide financial support. If my friend turned into a crack addict, I would not give him money to fuel his addiction. Instead, I would attempt to offer him help to end his addiction, whatever that meant. But financial support is involved too. Since I believe in VOLUNTARY responsibility, I do not support collecting taxes from everyone to support public interests that will not be used by everyone. That being said, I still support collecting taxes to fund essential services such as police, fire, roads, and courts, but not for much else.

Other public services would be funded using voluntarily contributing funds from people who feel they have a responsibility to contribute. For instance, if my fellow Poughkeepsie residents and I think Poughkeepsie needs a new park, we would each contribute money, then buy the land and build the park. That being said, of course everyone would be welcome at the park, should we so choose. Of course, if we want to use our money to build a country club for ourselves, that is our choice as well. But supposing we each feel a collective responsibility to help the town, we would build the park and open it to the public to serve the greater good.

I can't really think of a good name for this philosophy, so if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments. But basically, we all would have our allegiances, and would have responsibilities accordingly. But that being said, the elected government's only focus would be to ensure protection of the three basic principles - life, liberty, and property. Any choices beyond that would be out of the government's control and in the individuals.

Of course, if someone who we have an allegiance/responsibility to is making destructive decisions for themselves which pose no real danger to others, we need to ask ourselves if they truly are choosing their actions. If they are (for instance participating in bungee jumping) of course we can express our opinion that it is dangerous, but beyond that, not only do we not have a responsibility to stop them, but we have a responsibility to let them continue and make choices for themselves. We may discourage it, but we should not prevent it. That being said, many individually destructive decisions, such as drug addiction, are not truly choices. In that case, we should help the individual see that there is a problem and if they refuse to seek help themselves, if we truly feel an allegiance/responsibility, we should get help for them.

You may have noticed that for the second half of this post, I was using "allegiance" and "responsibility" interchangably. This is because I am not sure which term is better. On one hand, "responsibility" means that we are responsible for their actions, which is not the case. But in a way, we are responsible for supporting them. But, we choose whether we are responsible or not, which in a way seems more like an allegiance. Basically, the best way for me to describe this is through a voluntary individual and collective responsibility. Therefore, for now (until I think of a better name) I will refer to my philosophy as VIACORE libertarianism. VIACORE is, of course, short for "voluntary individual and collective responsibilities".

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