Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is why we can't let libertarians run things

In an article on Talking Points Memo about the Newtown, CT, school shooting, the comments raged — and I use the term advisedly.

One of the commenters, "John Pidaras", is a strong advocate of gun ownership as the only cure for shooting rampages. To another poster asking whether teachers should be armed (itself an exasperated response to multiple back-and-forths with Pidaras), Pidaras replied:

To answer your question, one for every teacher should suffice. Make it a requirement for teaching. The same standards that you want to impose on gun owners should be imposed on teachers, rigorous background and psychological tests as well as firearms competency and safety training. That is, only if we are interested in preventing school shootings, which of course is not the goal here. The goal here is to ban guns, not make schools safer. If it was to make schools safer then you would overwhelmingly support my idea.
Elsewhere Pidaras claims to oppose "pretty much all wars including the drug war and all forms of corporatism", so I'd say that puts him in the libertarian camp. There's something appealing about libertarianism to a nation weaned on the romance of the Western; even I, who dislike Westerns thoroughly and am convinced this country could stand a lot more consideration for the community in its politics, have been seduced on occasion by the individualist's siren song.

The thing is, libertarianism allows only the barest outline of a civil society to exist. Libertarianism requires the greatest self-sufficiency of any philosophy of governing, and a populace accustomed to fending for itself for the most part isn't going to be easy to unify, or to keep unified. Libertarians insist that no government should dictate how they should live their lives, and that's admirable in principle, but what if a group of like-minded folks decides to impose its views on a smaller group? What is the smaller group's recourse?

In a society in which "individual defense" was the watchword — a society in which, for instance, teachers were armed to protect their students (and in some places, I'm sure, to protect themselves from their students) — what would civil society be like? Could you even call it civil society? Wouldn't it simply be an atomized aggregation of millions of mutually suspicious people, or a collection of fiefdoms created by local strongmen who aggregated power by opportunistically creating the biggest gang first?

A libertarian society, it seems to me, could only survive if the populace was extraordinarily moral. Otherwise, the inclination to dominate would eventually leave everyone under the thumb of the most aggressive.

In such a society it might be the norm for teachers to be armed, as much in their own interest as in the putative interest of their students' safety. However, this is not a norm I want to see. It comes from a gun enthusiast who cannot understand that some restrictions on gun ownership and gun capability are rational and not the first stumbling steps down a slippery slope. It comes, in other words, from a raging ideologue who doesn't live in the real world. Kind of like a lot of libertarians, really.

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