Liberty is Justice
by Ari Armstrong, posted December 17, 2001
This article was originally published in the Colorado Statesman.
State Senator Ken Gordon perplexes me. He is the guy who induced Robyn Anderson to testify at the capitol on behalf of more gun restrictions. Yet he also says he believes the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms -- though of course with restrictions he deems necessary for safety.
Sometimes I get the feeling he is more interested in playing political games -- such as when he killed a sentencing reform bill in order to appease Bill Owens and open the door for his own committee to address the problem. However, it's obvious that Gordon really cares about that issue and wants to reduce the severity of penalties for victimless crimes. [Note: I've since learned the legislation Gordon plans to introduce based on the findings of the committee is worthless.]
Even though I've been pretty mad at the guy at times, I like him. I think his heart is basically in the right place, even if his party loyalties sometimes prevent him from following his heart.
At least Gordon is a good sport. He invited me to address Second Amendment issues for his class November 19 at the University of Colorado at Denver. (Well, actually he invited David Kopel, and Kopel passed along my name as a back-up.) Gordon also invited Republican Senator Mark Hillman, who is generally considered to be at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Hillman and Gordon discussed the differences between Republicans and Democrats.
I reviewed the basics of my perspective for the class. The Second Amendment protects individual rights. The commerce clause should not be interpreted to overrun the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which were intended to place severe restrictions on federal power. Disarmament laws in the United States are largely rooted in racism. Today, gun restrictions generally fail to stop crime but are effective at disarming potential victims, thereby empowering criminals.
But to me the really interesting discussion revolved around the realignment of the political spectrum.
As I explained to the class in my introduction, the issue of civil arms is really a liberal issue. The right to bear arms springs from the right to life and the right of self-defense. It is about individual empowerment and about diminishing oppression.
The old left-right political spectrum is outdated, I argued. This is obvious in the aftermath of the September attacks on America -- groups thought to be from the left and the right are forging new alliances to protect civil liberties.
Hillman said he has libertarian leanings. Gordon's work to reduce the severity of sentences for non-violent drug offenses is compatible with libertarian aims. I told the class the left-right line is in the process of folding in on itself, such that civil libertarians from the left and right will form coalitions to protect individual rights, while statists from the left and right will join to promote increased authoritarian power.
"Left" and "right" will be increasingly meaningless: the new division will be between civil libertarians and authoritarians. As this shift occurs, more people will begin rethinking their basic political beliefs and will move toward the new polls, in turn speeding along the shift.
Gordon said that the distinction he sees between Republicans and Democrats is that the former emphasizes liberty, whereas the later stresses justice. Hillman said that Republicans indeed desire liberty in such areas as protecting property rights.
I answered that Gordon's distinction is false. Republicans tend to be civil libertarians only on economic issues, while Democrats promote civil liberties on personal issues. (We're talking generalities here which admit many individual exceptions.) The proper approach is to advocate civil liberties on all fronts.
I liked my answer, but later on I thought of an even better answer. The problem with Republicans and Democrats is that they both accept the dichotomy between liberty and justice. Republicans seek to limit liberty in an attempt to achieve greater justice on personal issues. For example, President Bush recently blasted new forms of medical research on the grounds that it is "morally wrong, in my opinion."
Democrats seek to limit liberty in an effort to achieve greater economic justice. Unfortunately, the Democrats rely on an implicit assumption that Marx' theories of value and exploitation are correct, when in fact they are false.
Libertarians hold that, in political terms, the attainment of liberty is precisely the attainment of justice. The two are more than compatible: they are literally the same achievement, or two faces of the same coin.
When Republicans seek to curb liberty on personal issues, they achieve injustice. Similarly, when Democrats seek to curb liberty, they achieve economic injustice.
Alexander Berkman said, "Be it never forgotten that the cure for evil and disorder is more liberty." The cure for injustice is liberty.
Members of the right are more accurately called traditionalists. They put tradition -- or at least their own traditions -- before liberty. Leftists are really constructionists. They hope to construct a better society through a blind faith in more government action. Their schemes are utopian in nature and they often ignore unintended consequences of state action.
Libertarians reject traditionalism and constructionism. They reject the left-right spectrum. They reject the dangerous bifurcation of liberty and justice. Libertarians are "conservatives" when that means conserving existing traditions of liberty. Libertarians are "liberals" when that means rejecting traditions of authoritarianism in exchange for greater individual liberty.
The broad libertarian movement (which includes the Libertarian Party) is at the nexus of the political change which is already in progress. We will continue to see new coalitions of civil libertarians on one side and authoritarians on the other. Fewer people will identify with the old left/right, Republican/Democratic distinctions. New lines will be drawn in the sand, and I believe civil libertarians will win out in the end.