Libertarian Thought at the Dawn of the Third Millennium:
A Reply to Fukuyama
On May 2, 2002, "libertarianism" mistakenly appeared in a rather official-sounding obituary.
Francis Fukuyama, who has previously written of "the end of history" (it was quite some time ago), now claims that:
the liberal revolution of the 1980s and ‘90s, having morphed from classical liberalism to libertarianism, [has] crested and now [is] on the defensive.
Today, the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Nobel prize-winning Austrian economist F.A. Hayek, it must be observed that Professor Fukuyama is completely wrong.
Like the silver-tongued Saruman in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, perhaps Fukuyama hopes that libertarians will simply be seduced by his words and give up their quest for a better world. Perhaps Fukuyama actually believes in "the end of libertarianism," but if he does, then such belief must rest upon a failure to consider the big picture.
First, the specifics. Fukuyama claims that "The libertarian wing of the [Reagan-Thatcher] revolution overreached itself, and is now fighting rearguard actions on two fronts: foreign policy and biotechnology."
Where foreign policy is concerned, Fukuyama seems to want the United States "to promote democracy and freedom abroad." In that regard, he rehashes the claim that the tragedies of September 11 were "a reminder to Americans of why government exists."
No, they weren't. And repeating this mistaken sound-bite will not make it so.
Next, Fukuyama contends that "Libertarians argue that the freedom to design one's own children genetically — not just to clone them, but to give them more intelligence or better looks — should be seen as no more than a technological extension of the personal autonomy we already enjoy."
Predictably, the word "Nazis" shows up alongside those who defend the individual rights to life, liberty and property, i.e., the libertarians. Never mind that libertarian political defenses of life, liberty and property are directly contrary to the political beliefs of the National Socialists (the Nazis), who wanted government control of all aspects of social life.
Fukuyama closes by writing that:
To say, with libertarians, that individual freedom should encompass the freedom to redesign those natures on which our very system of rights is based, is not to appeal to anything in the American political tradition.
And now the libertarian response.
The article's most basic, and perhaps most prevalent, error is the error of incorrect generalization.
Is it philosophically necessary to the idea of liberty that eugenics be applauded? Of course not.
For example, I am a libertarian, meaning that I view the modern state as anti-liberty and therefore antithetical to human flourishing properly understood (i.e., in an Aristotelian-Thomistic sense). Eugenics and cloning are objective moral evils deserving of the harshest possible condemnation.
Note that Fukuyama does not appear to oppose human cloning in and of itself. Instead, he appears concerned that someone, in the process of cloning, might attempt to make a few changes. God forbid. Once the moral line of cloning has been crossed, it is difficult to see what might be immoral about making alterations to an otherwise identically-cloned being. But I digress.
Notice that Fukuyama's discussion of biotechnology fails to reference the publications of any particular libertarian. Instead, Fukuyama makes a blanket, unqualified claim that "libertarians" (all of those maniacs!) favor eugenics. Nonsense. And empirically false.
While on the topic of eugenics, however, it must be noted that Fukuyama alludes to the "liberalism of the Founding Fathers" and "the American political tradition." He is Mr. Apple Pie, Mr. Mom. Hardly. Notice that Fukuyama also opines that:
Even if one does not share the view of religious conservatives that embryos have the moral status of infants, and are therefore entitled to the same legal rights, there are reasons to be skeptical of arguments that say that genetic engineering is just another choice.
Question: exactly how different, biologically and ontologically, is an embryo from a larger, out-of-the-womb infant? Where does Fukuyama conceive (bad pun) that infants come from? How different, genetically, is the five month old fetus from the five month old baby from the five year old child from the fifty year old man? Hint: babies begin as embryos, which is to say that a baby is an embryo that, well, grew bigger, and was not killed in the meantime.
It is beyond unreasoning to contend that the same child is human or non-human "tissue" to be shredded based upon whether or not the child has passed through the birth canal. The baby which the new mother cradles in her arms is the exact same baby which hours before was cradled in her uterus. Biology 101.
Later in the article, matters get worse, as Fukuyama refers to embryos as "something unquestioningly human, even if that something doesn't have the moral status of an infant." At this point, it is necessary to ask: "What is an embryo, if it is unquestioningly human, and not an infant?" Is an infant somehow "more" than human? Of course not.
It appears that Fukuyama's position with respect to embryos is a function of not wanting to believe in the human existence of unborn children.
Additionally, what is a "religious conservative"? A Republican that goes to church? Are we supposed to conclude that "religious leftists" have a theological justification for aborting babies?
If this is not enough (or if the end of history wasn't, for that matter), here is a tip-off that Fukuyama is not quite the defender of liberty and tradition that we might be led to believe. At one point, near the middle of the article, where the reader's eyes are thickly glazed, he wonders:
But do we really know what it means to improve a child?
I am guessing that Johns Hopkins, where Fukuyama is a professor, does not include this query with its tuition bills to parents.
(Before moving on to Fukuyama's discussion of foreign policy, a paradox must be noted. On the one hand, Fukuyama worries that China and India are birthing 20% more boys than girls. On the other hand, he wonders if eugenics would "improve" children by eliminating a propensity towards homosexuality, or, as he calls it, "gayness." It seems that his two worries might solve one another. If not, then the Democracts can appoint Joycelyn Elders — uniform and all — to be a "special ambassador" to teach billions of Asians to masturbate, and call it "foreign aid" of course. Should there be a World Sperm Bank to guard against deflation?)
Where foreign policy is concerned, Fukuyama's statist take on the tragedies of September 11 was given a terminal thrashing on LewRockwell.com (and elsewhere) on, well, just after September 11, after the writers recovered from the shock of the attacks (at least after this writer recovered). Here it is May 2002, and the mantra continues unabated: "the free market didn't screen the airliners." One suspects that the survival of the mantra is due, in part, to an unwillingness to consider other possibilities.
Yes, the free market didn't screen the airliners. Exactly. The government did the "screening." And it failed miserably.
To those ensconced in the establishment, it may be that no historical events will cause them to reconsider accepted orthodoxies.
This does not mean that accepted orthodoxies are therefore correct.
Libertarian political thought is alive and well. And it has not yet begun to fight.
May 8, 2002
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2002 David Dieteman