Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Libertarianism and the Problem of Evil


I’ve been rooting around the internet for defenses and critiques of libertarian philosophy. This is a dangerous business of course, given the Internet’s propensity to give equal weight to every lunatic opinion out there. In the process though, I think I’m coming to understand what troubles me so much about this philosophy, which is that is that I don’t see any way in which a true libertarian system is equipped to defend its participants from evil.

Evil is clearly a complicated business. About 20 years ago in a state nearby a brother and sister aged 14 and 9 were hit by a car while walking home and killed. The father was a doc who works in my field and a partner of one of my good friend from training, so I got a close account of the relentless destruction these deaths caused in the lives of those left behind. The ambulance took the children to the hospital where the father worked and when he arrived there his kids were already in the trauma suite. The first thing he saw was their shoes piled neatly together, side by side on the ambulance gurney. After they died he never set foot in his hospital again and he and his wife traveled the world looking for a pair of children to replace them. They never found them as far as I know.

The driver was a Cambodian immigrant on his way to gamble at a nearby casino. He had an open can of beer in his lap and the front end of his car met the two kids at 75 miles an hour as he lowered his head take a drink. I learned these details from the  judge who provided over his case, a dear friend and book group member who had  read books in college and then left them behind for the law. The judge seldom spoke but when he did we all listened with great care. He could see the lust for vengeance in my face as he talked about the perpetrator of this terrible crime and he spoke calmly as he explained that he fined him for violating the open container law and for speeding and that was all. He had seen every form of depravity during 40 years on the bench; things that you and I have never seen and don’t want to. And he had come to believe that evil is as much a product of the circumstances we find ourselves in as it is a choice. He quoted John Huston’s character, Noah Cross, who looks down at Jack Nicholson and waves away responsibility for his crime,

“I don't blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything”

I don’t know that I’ve ever accepted the judge’s vision of evil, but I do know that we need to be protected from it.  And I don’t see anywhere in your libertarian system, how  that happens, depending as it does upon a series of a benevolently self interested parties to constantly correct the imbalances amongst themselves.  That simply doesn’t square with my notion of human nature or my experience of it. There will always be cheats and fraudsters, the avaricious, the cunning and the depraved. And most of thesel folks, like Noah Cross, have no interest or capacity to accept the consequences of their acts.

So we need to protect ourselves from those people, even if there is a cost. Because the market will not.


No comments:

Post a Comment