L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 184, July 29, 2002
Response to "The Menace of the Libertarian Materialist"
Exclusive to TLE
As a Libertarian "atheist who believes in evolution," I found myself not only taking great exception to Bob Wallace's essay, I also wondered what his point was.
Mr. Wallace seems to be laboring under some misconceptions of those who do not believe in some sort of god or heavenly authority. He appears to believe that without outside guidance, we as a species will regress back to the "might makes right" caveman days--or even worse, we'll never get government off our backs!! Well, I'm no philosopher, but I'd like to try to refute Mr. Wallace's statements:
"People can believe what they want; they should be very careful before they act on it. Ideas have consequences, as Richard Weaver wrote. The truth, I believe, produces goodness. False ideas produce evil. The Truth, as the saying goes, will set you free. Simple cause and effect."
Okay. I'm with him so far. Here's where it starts getting off the track.
"When I ask, "What if everyone believed in materialism?" I see only catastrophe in the future. It has certainly produced catastrophe in the past. It hasn't set people free, but instead enslaved and murdered them. When I say "materialism" I mean philosophical materialism, which is the belief that matter is all there that exists. Everything else-- life, consciousness, self-consciousness--is just epiphenomena."
Well, Mr. Wallace, if you take a look at history, there have been many catastrophes due to people wanting more land, goods, money, etc. I can't argue with that. But there have been even more hideous things done in the name of there being "something more." Ever hear of the Crusades? The Spanish Inquisition? World War II? Yes, WWII...Hitler not only believed in his "Master Race," he was a Catholic, convinced to his dying day that he was doing his god's work by killing those who had murdered Jesus, ie; the Jews. How many wars have been started, how many people have been tortured and murdered, because of something higher than material goods? If someone is just looking to steal, I can persuade them that I'm not the best victim they could choose. If they're fired by religious pathology, there's little I can do to reason with them. The fanatic is by far the more dangerous.
"There are libertarians who are materialists. Usually, they're atheists who believe in evolution. Personally, I believe they are, in that particular way, leftists, but don't know it."
Mr. Wallace, please. Lack of belief in a spook in the sky, and a realization that facts, logic and reason are the best way for personal and species progression, does not a leftist make. Leftists believe that if we just make ourselves slaves to The Collective, we'll have Utopia. Religionists believe that if we just make ourselves slaves to their god, we'll have Utopia. I don't believe in Utopia, I just don't want people stealing my money and telling me what to do.
"I also believe materialism is a menace not only to libertarianism, but to freedom and peace. Ultimately, to humanity. Protest all that you want, but it essentially reduces Man to an animal. From there, it's but a short step to a cockroach. From there, it's even a shorter step to squishing him. That's why 177 million people died in 20th century wars."
First, Mr. Wallace...Man IS an animal. No matter how much you might wish it otherwise, that is a fact. Now, we're a very highly evolved animal. We've taken the evolutionary quantum leap of being able to think. We don't live just by instinct and environmental stimuli. That is what sets us above other animals. And that ability to think is what makes us responsible for our actions. We cannot blame instinct for our actions, because we have choices. A scorpion will sting you, not out of malice, but because that's what scorpions do. It's their nature. The scorpions that have stung me didn't consciously hunt me down to attack me--they just felt provoked and followed their instincts.
Secondly, the reason "177 million people died in 20th century wars" was mostly due to a belief in something greater. "My country is better than your country." "My race/culture is the superior one." "My god can beat up your god." I'm an atheist who will step on a cockroach, but if you mess with my cat, I'll stomp you into street pizza. Different creatures have different values, and humans are the most valuable of all. The surest way to devalue a human is to portray him as a threat to your life, liberty, property or country--or worse, as an infidel. Hey, now you can kill him and you're doing "God's Work!"
"'The Children of Darkness have always been more clever than the Children of Light,' writes Kuehnelt-Leddihn. And materialism is a clever little philosophy. The materialistic, atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins, for a well-known example, is a clever little writer, one who I think protests just a little too much against those who disagree with him. Usually I find such people are protesting against their own tendency to want to believe."
Well, considering that religionists have ever been quick to call anyone who attempted to introduce them to reason and logic a "Child of Darkness"(while they, of course, are the "Children of Light"), the fact that we're smarter is pretty self-evident. By the way, that "if you protest my nonsensical arguments, you're just denying that you really want to believe them" thing is getting pretty old. Wasn't it the same Freud you condemn that came up with, or at least defined, that whole concept?
"Materialism believes life, thought and emotion are nothing more than products of matter and evolution. "Reason" doesn't really exist, not as objective truth (hence such silliness as feminist or Marxist "logic"); empiricism is what really counts."
Now, this just boggles the mind. You start out with a sentence that is absolutely true--after all, everything is a product of matter and evolution--and then you non-sequitur into this weird second sentence. Of course reason exists. The stove is glowing red hot. I don't have to touch it to reason that I might wind up with a nasty burn if I do. Why? Because I got burned last time. I believe that's called empiricism: "The view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge." Since when are experience and reason at odds?
"Then there is the denial of personal responsibility. This is one of the main characteristics of modern liberalism. When someone does something bad, it's not his fault; he's just the product of his environment. A libertarian materialist does believe in personal responsibility, but he's stuck with explaining how this can be when we are just the amoral products of meaningless evolution. Ultimately, what's wrong with murder or stealing? Animals do it all the time. They evolved that way; they're not responsible for what they are. Why should we be? Why should I act responsibly? I'm just the product of my environment. "
I covered this one a few paragraphs back. The ability to reason is what makes you responsible for your actions. Why should you act responsibly? Because if you act irresponsibly, the consequences will be dire. If you choose not to learn from those consequences, to continue to act irresponsibly, fine, but don't expect any help from me straightening out your messed up life. You see, Mr. Wallace, once one learns to think like an individual, and figures out exactly what qualifies as Your Problem as opposed to Someone Else's Problem, most of your suppositions tend to fall apart.
"And certainly objective moral truth doesn't exist. Different moralities evolve in different cultures. One is no better than another. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It's leftist multi- culturalism. Libertarian materialists will deny multi-culturalism, but still prove themselves to be moral relativists by saying such things as, "I see nothing wrong with a single woman having a baby and raising it without a father." (This is also related to the denial of self- responsibility, as when they claim the extended family should help. This is saying, "Since I was selfish and irresponsible and can't raise the kid by myself, the extended family should help out and be responsible whether they want to or not.")"
Objective moral truth does exist. Here it is: what humans do that contributes to individual freedom is good. What humans do that interferes with individual freedom is bad. If a single woman raises a baby alone, that's her right. When she demands help from extended family or government handouts, that interferes with the rights of others. Different moralities do evolve in different cultures, but as far as my culture is concerned, morality equals freedom. Period.
"Last, we have the encouragement of coercive utopianism. No one who claims to be a libertarian can believe in the coercion of the State. But some libertarian materialists -- leftists, as I said -- do believe in a Utopia on Earth. We just need to get rid of the State, and religion. Then we will all be "free." Kuehnelt-Leddihn called the typical leftist "a utopian dreamer without honor." If this is true, then typical libertarian materialists would have a strong tendency to be dreamers lacking in honor and trustworthiness, and who would savagely attack (attempt to coerce, maybe?) those who disagree with them. Objectivists, and some anarcho-capitalists, are like this. They consistently attack others and attempt to coerce them in believing in their utopian fantasies."
No one who claims to be a Libertarian can believe in ANY sort of coercion, state, religious or otherwise. If you believe for one second that freedom equals Utopia, I have some disturbing news for you. Freedom is just that--freedom. It's up to the individual to make the most of him/herself under any circumstances. The only thing that freedom will do is remove some of the obstacles placed in one's path by a bunch of people who think they have the right to tell others what to do and how to live.
I don't know who this Kuehnelt-Leddihn is, but he sounds a bit full of it to me. I am a Libertarian materialist atheist. I do not dream of Utopia. I act with honor. I keep my word. I do not lie, cheat, steal, rape, or murder. I do not "savagely attack" those I disagree with, but I will take them to task if I believe their arguments are illogical. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid, but I find Mr. Wallace's essay to be a not-so-veiled attempt to insert religious influence into the Libertarian agenda, much as the Christian Coalition has hijacked the Republican Party.
"The Founding Fathers, classical liberals (the precursor of libertarianism), were either Christians or very sympathetic to religion (with the exception of Thomas Paine, obviously). It was a good base for a country. Since they thought there was a transcendent order, they believed in Natural Law and Natural Rights. If one is a materialist, ultimately the only right one can believe in is that might makes right. That's not only materialistic, it's pagan."
Not this again...do I have to go find the tons of quotes from our Founders that make it exceedingly clear that Christianity and religion were not not not the basis for this country? Do a search: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams come to mind for several examples...
"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved ... the cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!" -- John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson
More with John Adams: "The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity."
Adams signing the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11 states: "The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
"History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose."
"Question boldly even the existence of God."
"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."
"Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these free inquiry must be indulged; how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse ourselves? But every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two, say I, have established the same. Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments?"
"Religions are all alike, founded on fables and mythologies." -- Thomas Jefferson
And so on. I have others, if you'd like. The point is, our Founders were exceedingly careful to keep religion of every description OUT of this country's law. They had a great respect for the science and reason that you decry.
"For all its problems, the US has lasted for over 200 years, because it wasn't founded on a materialist base. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, on the other hand, were."
We have lasted for over 200 years because we told the "divinely appointed" King George and his Church of England to take a hike, and we were smart enough to leave religion out of the new land. There are nations that have been around for millennia that are still third rate powers, while we have basically taken over the planet in a historical eyeblink. Why? Because we were one of the first nations to put reason and science and logic ahead of a bunch of witch doctors babbling about their angry gods. And the only thing that's held us back from being even greater are the remnants of ancient superstitions that still cling to our country today.
Can you have Libertarianism based on materialism? You can hardly have it based on anything else!
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