A Gay Libertarian’s Viewpoint: Limited Government, Social Justice, and Personal Freedom
It’s Time for a Right to Privacy Amendment
For Ground Zero News,
Technology has brought many of us in the “middle class” unprecedented opportunity to discover “ourselves” and to craft lives that our uniquely our own. So the role of government, particularly federal, in running our lives is increasingly under question.
For three decades, until about the time of Stonewall and the Moon Walk four weeks later, people accepted many of the tenets of Liberalism. Government, which had stabilized the banks and had led us to Victory over Fascism and nationalistic mysticism, needed to provide a safety net to the most disadvantaged, to manage retirement for the elderly, and to break up the social blockade against minorities with affirmative action. Indeed, the immoral “class” abuses of the past, from slavery and child labor to segregation, might not have been overcome without activist government through the 1960s.
A rising standard of living, made possible both by individual inspiration and by the toil or ordinary people raising their families, has indeed made credible the basic premise of convservatism—that government should withdraw from redistribution of wealth and micromanagement of social justice, and create—rather allow—an “opportunity” society where people take care of themselves—again. There has been an increase in personal autonomy and a proliferation of “lifestyles,” all with different interactions with society; so individuals and subcultural groups are less willing to trust “the will of the people”—the best sense of liberal democratic government if this majoritarian “will” could (inadvertently) affect them.
Conservatives emphasize and agree that individual persons must be held accountable for their own actions and, as a corollary, parents must be responsible for raising their own children. “Modern” liberals (Bill Clinton??) even concede that previous governments were far too permissive in letting criminals blame their circumstances.
But Conservatives form a schism between Libertarians and “social conservatives” over the real-world observation that, if government is to do less, then families, churches and communities will have to do more first, to raise today’s children into tomorrow’s responsible adults, and, with more difficulty, to help those adults who really are not in a good position to maintain their personal autonomy. Therefore, government would have to promote “the traditional family,” even at the expense to persons disinclined to identify with biological kinship.
Libertarianism, in order to maximize freedom at the most personal levels, operates off of “freedom to contract,” and on the notion that, once individuals do voluntarily enter into contract, government should hold them strictly to their promises. This kind of fidelity (essentially to Joe Steffan’s observation that “personal honor is an absolute’) should make society stable and safe. Therefore, government should not regard as criminal any behavior that does not have specific adverse consequences for specific unwilling other individuals. Government should not criminalize private, consensual adult intimate behavior or stigmatize the adult choice of “significant other.” Government should not penalize private consumption of controlled substances unless harm actually occurs. Government should not interfere with a woman’s control over her own body.
Of course, Libertarians admit that private interests may regulate behaviors that are technically legal, and effectively constrain “free choice” of many private behaviors. Government might decriminalize the use of certain drugs, while employers could still test for them. Libertarians might draw the line on private interventions to other behaviors that can be “observed” while avoiding talk of “discrimination.” Hence employer questioning about sexual orientation might still be forbidden. The end result might be some inconsistencies with the goal of maximizing individual liberty.
Social conservatism recognizes first that some behaviors have consequences not always immediately apparent. Sexual behavior might, through “chain lettering”, amplify new diseases. Drug consumption might destroy personal motivation or might lead one through temptation over the “reality cliff.” A second, more subtle socially conservative concern is the dissemination of “values.” Pornography and violence are disturbing to children, and even the most conscientious parents might not be able to screen it out when it is so widely available, as on the Internet. Sexually explicit culture may interfere with the ability of men to care for their wives as their partners age. The devaluation of traditional gender roles, which includes “gay liberation” will, according to writers like George Gilder, undermine the importance of courtship, marriage and fatherhood in the minds of disadvantaged young men who need the anchor of their own fatherhood to become productive, rather than merely expendable, adults. In earlier times, through Vietnam, gender roles were vigorously defended because a free society allegedly depended on the willingness of men to expend themselves defending their progeny—women and children (a ukase that broke down with student military draft deferments in the Vietnam era, ironically as a result of the “need” for more scientists and engineers to meet the demands of the Cold War). The important observation is that some behaviors and expressions will inevitably but indirectly harm some children and some disadvantaged adults (such as inner city young males) even though harmless when analyzed from an individual viewpoint only. Social conservatives believe that it is necessary to define some behaviors (“sodomy”) and expressions as crimes, not because prosecutions are likely but because there is no other effective way for children and other less advantaged people to know that certain things are “wrong” and that even certain associations and inclinations re (supposedly) really not acceptable in a civil society.
Lesbians and gay men are beginning to discover that a libertarian strategy in public policy is more likely to maintain their level of personal opportunity that the previous “liberal” paradigm. In the past, association of gay rights with the Left seemed to make sense because the Left viewed “the family” as the transmission vector of social and class inequality (in the worst case maintaining slavery and feudalism), and because the temptation to structure gays as another “suspect class,” like African Americans, seemed to tempting and easy. No we realize that liberalism subjects everyone’s rights to coalition building and political barter; they can be blown away by the next political wind.
The perspective of lesbians and gay men will also be helpful in encouraging the “general public” in appreciating a libertarian policy approach. One reason concerns the “gay” understanding of the potential government abuse that can come from its “presumptive” powers, as we saw first with sodomy laws and now with the military ban. A second, more telling way drives from the Darwinian character of today’s workplace, which requires unprecedented individual agility, accountability and flexibility, as required to compensate amount and format. Finally, through countless individual histories from buddies of persons with AIDS to people in the military, gay men and lesbians have indeed shown that increased personal freedom and reduced government interventionism does not preclude living one’s life according to deeper moral values, such as integrity, commitment, and capacity to care about others regardless of immediate comfort, gain or gratification.
Gaining the benefits of libertarian policies will indeed require beating Pat Buchanan at his “cultural war,” which is largely becoming a communication gap between those adults whose identities are expressed largely through raising children in traditional families, and those who express themselves by spending resources on themselves. Gays, yuppie singles and divorced parents, in Buchanan’s view, are cheating on the basic purposes of life (connected to procreation, parental nurture, and sexual intercourse) for their own self-expression and self-transcendence. Gays, allegedly, are “freeloading” and “getting away with it.” The incentive for “barbarian” young men to become dependable fathers (and trustworthy adults) is discredited by counterexample. Indeed, Henry Hyde has asked Congress to allow employers to restore “family wages” and implement family-friendly policies admittedly at the expense of those not raising children. (How many of these employers would want to?) And the “per child” tax cuts proposed as part of the “Contract with America” sound (once one faces the real cost of welfare reform and doubts the budget cuts) sounds like an attempt to channel wealth to “families with children” from adolescent singletons. But a culture that forces adults to define themselves through nuclear families does not guarantee itself prosperity. Indeed, many of the “working poor” are traditional families with children, where the parents simply fell into the “love and marriage” trap before they had prepared themselves for this brave new information entered world, indeed as they grew up with the rhetoric about the rights of “families” as if men and women outside of families were just workers and drones.
Lesbians and gay men are indeed in the position to teach the rest of the world a lesson about adulthood that, as the late Rev. Larry Uhrig put it, “There is no better half.” They can challenge “Conservatives” as to whether they really believe that the individual must be responsible for himself. And they can force conservatives do differentiate between fact and subjunction.
With more space I could relate, from personal experiences, the double-edge of personal autonomy, how often I have been dependent on others without realizing it, and what it feels like when the shoe is on the other foot, when the buck stops with me. Freedom, paradoxically, requires one to know one’s limits, to sense when fantasy or self-indulgence will interfere with meeting the real needs of others, both in the workplace (where personal “entrepreneurialism” must balance against “teamwork” in a new kind of “partnership”), personal relationships, and personal expressions. But freedom also requires that one not hide behind artificial constraints of social convention, self-handicapping behavior motivated to disarm the potential for personal failure. All of this requires a fundamental faith that individuals, when truly motivated by “enlightened self-interest” will do the right things and act with honor. For the temptations to ask government to intervene in the psychological incentive of individuals are very great; liberals want to assist the motivationally disadvantaged by playing Robin Hood with taxes, quotas, and “affirmative action”; “conservatives” want to do it by imposing psychological conformity (to gender roles in the nuclear family) on everyone.
Any major political system must acknowledge the “reality”
that people inherit different opportunities, capabilities and circumstances,
not always “deserved,” and certainly influential on a person’s potential
autonomy. Liberalism wants activist central government to level off the
inequities, ironically sometimes freeing people from personal commitments.
Social conservatism wants the “family” to deal with the inequities, and sees
prosperity maximized when “family units” can act in their own best interest
through free markets; government must prop up the “family.” Libertarianism
criticizes government zero-sum barter between “interest groups”; and it applies
“free markets” to individuals and whatever “familial” associations, and holds
individuals strictly accountable for themselves (and for raising their children
if they choose to have them) and can certainly bring out the best in some of
us. When carried to penultimate limits, libertarian objectivist individualism
can simply transform society into a Darwinian game of rollerball
(leading to “
The most affirmative step toward a more appropriately libertarian future will be to clarify the Right to Privacy, as now inferred only indirectly from established provisions in the Bill of Rights and in the 14th Amendment. We should add to the Bill of Rights an explicit right to private intimate association with consenting significant others, we should protect a person’s control over his or her own body, we should preclude governments from enacting laws that they cannot legitimately enforce; we should prevent governments from conscription and from requiring registration for the draft or for “national service”; and we should limit government civil seizure of property without due process.
Given the current political climate encouraging government
to be reduced, the times are right for a spirited debate on the Right to
Privacy, the Right to one’s own unique existence (including choice of “family”
association), and whether we have enough faith in human nature—in the capacity
for personal accountability and even personal honor, to pull off this major
social advance. The writer is working on a detailed “manifesto” to show how
this can be done. We ought to have it in place, as an Amendment to the United
States Constitution, by