Who ya gonna call when the libertarians come?

A recent post on FiveThirtyEight arguing that US Republicans are moving towards libertarianism and away from cultural conservatism got me wondering. If the New Atheists do get their way and religious influence is greatly reduced in western politics, are they really going to like the outcome? If Religion as the Source of All Evil is removed, is political life really going to become the kind of paradise that Richard Dawkins/Polly Toynbee believes it will be?

It’s possible, at this point to get into arguments about whether or not true libertarianism would be a good thing or not, but I don’t have the energy. The US (and thus indirectly the world) is not going to get some Platonic ideal of libertarianism, if it does go in that direction. It will get the bastardized version, along the lines of ‘government’s role is solely to protect property rights’ and ‘I owe no-one else anything’. Or in other words, the overall result will be Georgian London with assault rifles. There are certainly groups who are currently oppressed who may benefit from libertarianism, as opposed to religious right-wing conservatism (particularly users of illegal drugs and those with non-standard sexual preferences), but against this, people who are poor or in any way dependent (ill, a child, old etc) would almost certainly lose out big time. (I’m also not sure what libertarianism might mean for US foreign policy).

The problem for the anti-religious is that the main ideological opposition to libertarianism has traditionally been religious. The idea of Christian brotherhood was basic both to trade unionism and also to the Evangelical paternalism that from the Victorian period started to improve the lot of the poor and regulate business. The same bonds of solidarity and concern for the poor are also basic to many other religious traditions. In contrast, other than the busted flush of Jacobin/Marxist fraternity, secular ideologies don’t offer as secure a basis for arguing for helping others. In particular, evolutionary thought has often been perverted into Social Darwinism and used to justify neglect of the weak. This doesn’t mean that left-wing atheists can’t successfully oppose libertarianism, but I think it is going to be harder for them to do so, if as they want to, they eliminate all religious ideology from public discourse.


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