Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Peter Espeut | Libertarianism or the common good?

Published:Friday | June 16, 2017 | 6:00 AM

The LGBT lobby has its allies in the pro-abortion, pro-prostitution, pro-euthanasia, pro-drug-use advocacy groups, and its members have joined together in common cause to assert their 'rights', and they call upon the government to decriminalise, legalise, and normalise their favourite pastimes.

Philosophically, they are all in the same camp: they are libertarians, promoting the idea that consenting individuals should be free to do whatever they choose as long as it does no harm and does not infringe upon the 'rights' of others, but these 'others' and their 'rights', and any possible harm involved, are usually defined in a very narrow and often perverse way.

For abortion to be defensible, the existence of a human being in the womb has to be denied (despite scientific evidence to the contrary), otherwise their right to life would have to be defended. For prostitution to be defensible, sexual intercourse has to be defined as a commodity to be repeatedly bought and sold, implying no emotional involvement and causing no emotional harm. For euthanasia to be defensible, human life itself has to be devalued, especially the lives of the disabled and the terminally ill.

Libertarianism glorifies the freedom of the individual to choose what is good (and pleasurable) and convenient for himself or herself without any regard to the common good.

 

No more Bible thumping

 

It suits the libertarian lobbyists to posit that libertarianism and the philosophy that underpins it are the most logical and sensible way to organise modern society, and that organised religion, whose principles, based on scriptures dating back several millennia (which are in profound conflict with libertarianism), are outdated and are holding back progress. Fundamentalist Christians play into their hands by thumping their Bibles even harder! Asserting the authority of a text Libertarians reject can advance the argument no further, and I wish fundamentalists would stop it.

It does no disrespect to the Bible or the Holy Qu'ran to use well-authenticated, wholly secular philosophical arguments to refute and discredit libertarian philosophy as being pathologically individualistic and selfish, and operating contrary to the common good, which is the end towards which society is to be organised and governed.

To speak about ethics is not automatically to speak of religion. Secular Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote his book, titled Ethics, around 350 years before Christ was born. Aristotle argued that political constitutions were right if they were in the common interest and wrong if they were in the interest of the rulers.

These ancient ideas were developed over the centuries by other secular political philosophers. John Locke declared that "the peace, safety, and public good of the people" are the ends of political society. David Hume contended that social conventions are adopted and given moral support by virtue of the fact that they serve the public or common interest. Jean-Jacques Rousseau understood the common good to be the object of a society's general will and the highest end pursued by government.

The fundamental building block of the society is the family. This is not a religious principle, but a socio-political one. Weak families lead to improperly socialised children, lowering their potential to benefit from education and increasing their potential for dysfunctional behaviour and the development of an unbalanced personality. Anything that strengthens the family strengthens society as a whole; and anything that undermines the family, undermines the integrity of society.

 

For the good of all

 

The common good is the good of all people and of the whole person. No group within society is to be excluded from its benefits, and integral human development includes the intellectual, physical, artistic and emotional facets of the human person. The task of the State is to work for the development of the whole person, and of all the people, and in doing so, the virtues of temperance, honesty, fairness, openness, and justice are brought into play.

The fundamental question we need to answer is, which of these two moral philosophies should we employ to govern Jamaican society? Libertarianism, which is directed towards satisfying the cravings of individuals or the philosophy of the common good?

If we choose libertarianism, how can we blame politicians for taking decisions that line their pockets? They would, after all, be taking decisions that are in their best interests rather than the common good.

The arguments being put forward by libertarians to legalise buggery, prostitution, and abortion should be rejected, not because they run against religious norms, but because they do not serve the common good.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.