Monday, May 9, 2016

Bork and the libertarians

Robert Bork was an American law school professor and jurist. He is perhaps the greatest American legal scholar who was never on the Supreme Court; that is the greatest crime of the Democratic Senate of 1987 and the greatest mistake of the Reagan Administration. If anyone should have been on the highest court in the land, it should have been Judge Bork.

He wrote a nifty little book back in the 1990s titled Slouching Towards Gomorrah. In it he opines on what has become wrong with America, and the book is chock full of good ideas and excellent ruminations on what has gone wrong with the US body politic as well as its legal system. We intend to explore a few of those ideas in the coming weeks. Today we will begin with this one: his view of libertarians.

If we understand the man correctly, he argues that libertarians lack a sense of social obligation. If we understand that correctly, we agree with him. Libertarians fail to grasp that there are more injuries possible to people than those which are physical or material. People can be harmed in ways beyond that, and we have an obligation to avoid that sort of harm as well.

Take illicit television or vile and despicable music, for example. All that is defended on the the First Amendment right to free speech. On that basis the libertarian says if you don't like the show or the song, simply change the channel or don't listen. Yet that argument is ultimately shallow and indeed insulting to the person who is trying to make themselves, their children, and their world better based on rational and objective standards of decency. One parent can turn off the radio, yes. But other parents might not, and it is a practical impossibility to keep our children away from every worldly influence. Society has the obligation and parents the right to expect the cooperation of society in raising their children well. This means making decisions on what ought and ought not be broadcast, and that society has the right to make such decisions. They do not involve physical or material harm, but they may well harm folks just the same in making them effectively less than human, again by rational and objective standards.

No man, it is said, is an island. What we do affects what other people do; what we think affects how other people think. Without a proper consideration of that we risk harming the people around us and damaging our own spirits as well. We are all role models whether we think so or not. Circumstance forces that upon us. We have no right to say, as the libertarian too often does, that I own myself and am therefore not responsible for anyone else. They forget that a very important part of ownership is stewardship, which demands that we do what is best for all involved and not merely for what suits our perceived immediate needs. Such needs may only be vile and contemptible. A rational, reflective, self aware being surely recognizes that. They must also know, in their hearts anyway, that ownership means not only self interest but also responsibility.

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