Over at The Daily Dish, Jim Manzi has an interesting post on the two strains of libertarianism that he sees, libertarianism-as-means and libertarianism-as-goal (as he dubs them). The two aren't mutually exclusive, but, when pressed, he suggests that libertarians will tend to fall into one camp or another. He says he's a means guy. I'm definitely a goals guy (if I were to be classified as a libertarian).
I should probably clarify; the way Mr. Manzi describes them, I can't, for my political philosophy, separate the two.
I think the problem that I have shoe-horning myself into Mr. Manzi's paradigm is that I don't think I see the same goal as he does. Libertarianism-as-means is perfectly useful for developing efficient government, and economic and social well-being. Federalism, subsidiarity, "laboratories of democracy" - these will help lead to the best outcomes for most political/social questions. In this sense, I'm squarely on board with Mr. Manzi. Libertarianism-as-means is the better method for determining political outcomes. Freedom for freedom's sake (which is how I believe Mr. Manzi is defining libertarianism-as-goal - and I should mention that he admits these to be somewhat cartoonish descriptions) is no grand wonderland.
However, in the manner that I approach libertarianism (or, at least, my version of libertarianism), freedom for freedom's sake isn't freedom for freedom's sake. Libertarianism as a goal is not libertarianism as an ends. Further, the optimum set of social and economic outcomes is not the ultimate goal either. The ultimate goal of the human experiment should not be measured on some macro level, where the welfare of all people is optimized (however you happen to measure that). The ultimate goal resides at the individual level and it has nothing to do with economic success or social status... in fact, it has nothing to do with freedom.
When I first started this blog, the little tag line underneath the title was a fairly purple sentence about going Galt, metaphorically. A while later, I changed it to the current, Without Choice, There Can Be No Virtue. This idea, which I do not claim to be particularly original, has come back to me again and again. It has come to me when I have thought about my political philosophy, when I have thought about social conventions, when I have thought about my faith. When trying to determine if I fell more in the libertarian camp or more in the conservative camp, it has been this idea that has guided me (and is the reason that I can't fully commit to either). For this is the goal, the chance at virtue. Virtue cannot be legislated; it cannot be lectured; it cannot be imposed. People can be led to virtue, but they must choose to follow (and they must choose not to be led astray).
(I realize that the introduction of my faith might be a complete turn off for many, and could have numerous libertarians shunning me from libertarian society - I read far more libertarians who reference their atheism than reference their faith - but my political philosophy, though not derived from my faith, cannot be completely separated. All that being said, I am perfectly willing to defend my political views on grounds other than faith, and, in fact, feel that it is imperative that I do so.)
For me, libertarianism-as-goal equates to an opportunity at virtue for all. This transcends the ordering of society. Economic outcomes do not, intrinsically, play into this. Mr. Manzi's advocacy for libertarianism-as-means is a fantastic argument for a political/economic/social system that deals with everything up to, but not including, virtue; however, I cannot support an ordering of society that cares not at all for the virtue of its citizens.
An advocate of libertarianism-as-means could easily shoot back that the creation of the virtuous citizenry will result in the creation of a virtuous society, consequently, libertarianism-as-goal (as it applies to me) is still libertarianism-as-means, i.e. by offering the choice, we get the best result. The argument has some merit, but it just doesn't quite jive with me. Any grand society that virtuous people create is merely a benefit. The goal resides at the individual level. It would be a little simplistic to suggest that I am arguing that it is better to suffer in freedom than to prosper in oppression, but it's not that far off. The prosperity of an individual might be greater in the latter, but the prosperity as an individual would exist only in the former. It is this prosperity that I most cherish.
When those in power make blatantly false claims that could lead to less freedom for the least advantaged members of society, it is imperative that they a...