Statists struggle to understand libertarians on those odd occasions where they actually bother to try to get a handle on the thinking behind non-interventionism and personal liberty.
Patrick Stokes, a lecturer in philosophy at Deakin University is an example of this phenomenon. Patrick seems to think that it is not enough to accept that it is OK to let people do stuff that you might not care to do or might even not like on the grounds that it is non-coercive and doesn’t affect you. You have to have a good reason to leave people alone in his jaded point of view.
Stokes starts off with the antics of Philip Nitschke in the euthanasia field, then attempts to link this with the LDP’s stance on same sex marriage. He demonstrates his confusion on the subject matter by trying to link libertarian thinking to the old left/right paradigm:
This problem isn’t unique to the euthanasia debate. Last week, newly-minted Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize same sex Marriage.
As a libertarian, Leyonhjelm has called for lower taxes and a massively reduced role for government. Yet his position on marriage equality aligns him with a policy more closely associated with the political left. …
… Philosophers such as Richard Mohr have argued that committed same-sex relationships already are marriages in a substantive sense, and the law should simply recognise that.For libertarians (for the most part), the only real substantive good is individual autonomy.
Leyonhjelm doesn’t argue, as far as I can see, that certain types of relationship have a special, substantive value; he simply thinks, “It is not the role of government to define relationships.” (In which case, we might ask, why should governments get involved in certifying marriage at all?)
Those of us who support same-sex marriage can probably live with that tension, if it delivers the outcome we want. But the philosophical tension between approaches is still there.
And the very moral thinness of libertarianism, its refusal to trade in any ethical currency other than liberty, sits uneasily with issues of life and death, where all sorts of other moral considerations are in play. …
There is no explanation offered as to why we should think, “that certain types of relationship have a special, substantive value.” In an argument for marriage equality, it simply makes no sense to claim that one form of relationship is special, something that those opposing SSM claim as a key point. Such a claim is counter-productive.
It is nice to know though, that statists arguing the issue as a special case for SSM as some kind of state granted privilege are prepared to hold their noses and accept Leyonhjelm’s support, even if they don’t really like it.
He then goes on with the following doozy:
One reason death is viewed as normally being a harm to the person who dies is that it deprives us of goods we would have enjoyed had we lived. In a situation where there is nothing left in the patient’s future but pain and loss of dignity, there are no more goods to lose.
For those of us who deal more with the real world rather than academic navel gazing, the biggest reason for death to be considered a harm, is that we don’t get to live longer.
At this point, he exposes the weakness of his argument under the rather dramatic heading of:
Libertarianism’s moral moonscape
If you think, as Nitschke apparently does, that the question here is simply about exercising a right to suicide, why should it matter whether someone is terminally ill or not? If someone wants to die, and they’re clear-headed enough to make competent decisions, who are we to interfere with their personal liberty in order to stop them? …
… When teaching classes on the ethical debate over euthanasia, I’ve found that students often seem to struggle with explaining why it should matter whether the patient is dying (or at least permanently debilitated) or not. Yet from a mercy perspective, it matters very much that there are, in fact, no truly good options left open. …
It sounds like those students have a more consistent view than their teacher. To assume the right to deny a person the right to die, we are adopting the assumption that we have a right to insist that they live, even against their own wishes. No explanation of this position is offered.
Assuming the right to refuse the right to die implies a form of ownership over the person involved which is an anathema to all decent civilized people. The problem most of us have with Nitschke’s position on the recent suicide of a depressed 45 year old is that he didn’t advise him to seek psychiatric advice.
Nitschke is not a libertarian, never was, and never will be. He is a statist leftist who proved in the Western Australian senate election rerun, that he prefers to support leftist parties, even those who oppose his cause to a libertarian party that in the main, supports his single issue.
In attempting to secure some sort of dispensation from the state in relation to his plea for special interest, he has fluked a position where the LDP has a similar morality based position. This does not make him a libertarian in any way, shape, or form.
The LDP policy on voluntary euthanasia can be found here.