Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Social Libertarian

During a morning conversation with my wife about copyright law...yes, we do live inside the Beltway, how did you guess...I was expounding on one of the things that I find most irritating in our culture.  It's that strain of copyright enforcement that requires Jesus folk to fret and worry before we drop a snippet of a praise song into a church video, or that requires us to check in with an organization before we sing a sacred song in worship.

I've never bought this.  If I buy a song, and I want to give it to all of my friends so they don't have to buy the song, well, then I get the concern of the musicians who created it.   I'm taking bread from your table.  Fair enough.

But if you write a song about Jesus, and you tell everyone it's to give God the glory and to bring more people to know His love, then honeychild?  That song don't belong to you no mo.

Oh, I'll still buy it.  I'll still go to your concert.  Well actually, I won't, because I have never trusted highly-choreographed big-stadium mass-emoting as a legitimate form of religious expression.  Too Leni Riefenstahl for my tastes, I guess.

But I'm be [gosh-darned] if I'm going to feel guilty about using it to spread the Gospel without your permission.  Worship is fundamentally free.   If there's a song about Jesus, we can sing it and share it, because it belongs to him.

Well, anyway, I was up on that favorite soapbox, and my wife said, "Honey, you sound like a libertarian."

I'm not sure that's entirely true.  I know and like libertarians, perhaps because that ethos reflects the actual reality of our created nature.  We are made free.

But, bless 'em, I'm not totally there.   In large part, that's because the American libertarian movement seems driven by an ethos that is often best described as "Don't touch my [stuff]."  And by [stuff], I mean either my guns or my weed or that 1961 Buick I've been restoring in my front yard since 1986.

What American libertarianism has never grasped is that we do not exist in isolation.  Because of this, there are inevitably tensions between freedoms.  You may wish to let your pack of hunting dogs out into your yard at 11:45 at night so you can stream your favorite episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.  I may want my colicky infant son to not be woken up by their incessant barking.  If I ask you to bring them in, you are perfectly free to tell me to mind my own business.

But your freedom is no longer freedom, because you have taken away mine.

That's the great challenge for the libertarian.  As an ethos, it works great if everyone is both radically compassionate and shares the same worldview and interests.  Once Jesus gets back, I'm sure that's how we'll roll.

Until then, though, the libertarian reality is a messy one, and one that can dangerously favor the interests of the powerful.   Ownership implies power over something, and as the libertarian ethos focuses intently on the right of ownership and property, it struggles conceptually as it encounters the ramifications of that power.

"Don't tell me what I can do" means one thing coming from the lips of a man just looking to cut through your property as he hikes through the woods, and another thing from the CEO of a multinational conglomerate whose private security forces have seized your land.  That is perhaps why those with power are so very interested in furthering and developing an ideology that would place no limits on their power.

The purpose of good government is to defend the liberty of the less-powerful.  The best governance is that which acknowledges and embraces the tension between liberty and life together.   It acknowledges and challenges both individual power and state power, and demands that they exist in balance.

So no, I'm not libertarian.  Social libertarian, perhaps?  Hmmm.