BY NICHOLAS NEAL
"The consistent right-to-life position should be to protect the unborn and oppose abortion, to reject the death penalty, and to firmly oppose our foreign policy that promotes an empire requiring aggressive wars that involve thousands of innocent people being killed. We would all be better off for it, and a society dedicated to peace, human life, and prosperity would more likely be achieved." --Ron Paul, Liberty Defined
The above quotation -- the closest that any candidate of a major party has come to endorsing a consistent life ethic -- was uttered by one of the standard bearers of libertarianism in American politics. Is there some overlapping relationship between the philosophy of libertarianism and the philosophy of the consistent life ethic, two philosophies that are both considered outside the standard American political camps? I will argue that there is. In fact, the overlap between the libertarian principle of non-aggression and the consistent life ethic principle of non-homicide is generally what makes up my own political worldview.
I probably started down the path of libertarianism when discussions of a national ID card began to take place on the political scene. I was already a consistent life ethicist, but was inclined to accept Mary Meehan's version of the consistent life ethic, which focuses mainly on opposition to legalized homicide, rather than Joseph Cardinal Bernardin's version, which includes concerns not only about legalized homicide but also about social conditions. What I thought about the right to life was (and still is) pretty firm, but I had not yet formed a firm view on the right to liberty and property. I knew I was firmly against the national ID card, yet, to my surprise, many "small-government" conservatives seemed sympathetic toward it. They claimed it would help solve the problem of illegal immigration. It was from that experience that I gained a healthy distrust of the state which led me to study libertarianism. I looked into Ron Paul's career and saw that he was the only candidate of any major party that was anti-abortion, anti-war, anti-death penalty and anti-euthanasia (I should note that this is not an official endorsement of Ron Paul by Life Matters Journal; it is merely how I personally found a connection between the consistent life ethic and libertarianism). It was through studying Ron Paul that I stumbled upon Lew Rockwell's blog, which had several articles that were sympathetic to the consistent life ethic. Finally, it was in those articles and essays that I found out what the heart of libertarianism was.
Photo by fixermark on Flickr; some rights reserved.
Libertarianism is not, as many have claimed, being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. There are both pro-life and pro-choice libertarians: it is a very divisive issue among them. Libertarianism is based on the principle of non-aggression, which prohibits the initiation of violence, theft, or fraud against other human beings. This is why libertarians have such a negative view of the state: because when it jails people for non-violent activity, takes money from people by threat of force, and kills foreigners, it commits aggression. While libertarians do not support making laws against non-violent activity such as drug use, we do support laws against violent activity. Even anarcho-capitalists believe in laws against violence (though they want the enforcement of said laws to be paid for voluntarily). This is why legal protection for the unborn is in line with libertarian principles: it is merely a prohibition on violence.
However, it is not just the homicide of abortion that libertarians should be opposed to. All the forms of legalized homicide that our society has endorsed are a threat to our natural rights. This is where libertarianism and the consistent life ethic overlap. Libertarianism opposes the violence of the state, and the consistent life ethic opposes the violence of legalized homicide. These are both anti-violence philosophies. While libertarians probably cannot agree with all of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin's version of the consistent life ethic, they can agree with Mary Meehan's version, which focuses on the core of the consistent life ethic: opposition to legalized homicide. I am not saying that these two groups outside the political mainstream will agree on everything. However, I have no problem calling myself both a libertarian and a consistent life ethicist, because I dream of a society in which both legalized aggression and legalized homicide are a thing of the past.