The Art of Context-Dropping

NASA Vacuum Chamber

Wednesday morning, my article focused specifically on the logical problems arising from the libertarian viewpoints on immigration.  As I explained, there cannot be a method by which to maintain a free nation if that nation’s people decide to throw open its borders to all comers without first setting the conditions under which newcomers may enter.  This is a common problem with many of the libertarian ideas, and it explains why although I have many sympathies with their views, particularly in the field of economics, in other areas of human interest, I have clear disagreements.  Those disagreements always stem from what I see as the singularity of unreasonable assumptions into which their born-in-a-vacuum notions most frequently fall.  Their ideas are frequently only valid in a volume devoid of any other facts, and it is this lack of contextual consideration that leaves me flat.  I love the libertarians, and on many issues, it is fair to say I am among their number, but often, I find their arguments to be an attempt to defend the logically indefensible through a process best described as “context-dropping.”

Consider the libertarian view on legalization of drugs.  Absent any other considerations, if you wish to pollute your brain with drugs of varying description and effect, it is no business of mine. While I might pity you based on my own views of the value of my life and my own mind, it is perfectly reasonable for you to be able to exercise the freedom to use drugs.  In a vacuum.  The problem with this idea, however, is that none of us live in a vacuum, and our actions may well have consequences for others.  The school bus driver who smokes marijuana before beginning his route has taken into his hands more than his own life.  The police officer who uses anabolic steroids to build his muscle mass, but then addresses members of the public as though he were a raging bull presents a clear danger.  The drunk, making his way home from the bar who claims the lives of a family of eight in a head-on collision has negated a good deal more than his own future by his actions.  It is in this context that I always insist to my libertarian friends that precisely so soon as they come out in support of absolute liability laws that leave drug users’ lives, properties, and all they value in full exposure to the law should they enact such a thing on others, I will be satisfied.  The moment we have capital punishment for drug-impaired driving that results in vehicular homicide, I will get behind the move for legalization.  The problem with many libertarians is that they want all the freedoms, but they’re not nearly so interested in taking responsibility for the choices, so that they avoid this problem by ignoring the context of the freedoms they seek.

A close examination of many libertarian ideas reveals that rather than viewing the task of civilization as the cooperation of billions of individuals, they seem instead to view mankind as an assembly of 6.5 billion dictators, each permissively directing his own course without regard to others.  The question at which they never seem to arrive is what happens when any two(or more) of those personal dictatorships happen to collide.   It is this context-dropping that harms their arguments.  The problem with this is that to enjoy a right, it must be something one can perform on one’s own without the intervention, assistance, or consent of another.  Consider “assisted suicide.”  The moment one claims a right to assisted suicide, what one is claiming is really the right to obligate another as part of their own self-destruction.

I might claim a right to kill myself, but I cannot impose on another an obligation to help me accomplish that end.  It’s a preposterous misconstruction of logic to say on the one hand “all mankind must be free,” but then claim on the other that “some other(s) must be compelled to help me obtain my wishes.” If you wish to kill yourself, I might consider it a loss or a waste, but it’s your life, and it’s your choice, however, claiming the right to have assistance in that endeavor by medical practitioners(or anybody else) is a preposterous encroachment on the liberties of others.  What if you can find no person who will willingly assist you?  How then do you exercise a “right” to assisted suicide?  In this context, you cannot, thus the claim of such as a right is negated. In a vacuum, I might well have a right to end my own existence, but there can be no right to impose such an obligation to act on others.

On the issue of abortion, most libertarians are enthusiastically pro-choice. Their vacuous assumption is that the only party with an interest in the matter is the would-be mother. As a matter of logical consistency, however, this is hardly the case.  There is a father, somewhere, and there is that growing life inside the mother.  Libertarians claim an a priori right to life, a right not created but only guaranteed by government.  I share that sentiment, but if one’s right to life is a precondition to life as man qua man, there can be no authority by any person to interfere with its development.  Human beings fully vested with the natural rights of man do not simply pop into existence.  In fact, even carried to term and successfully delivered, a person is not vested with the full rights of a person until obtaining 21 years of age.  This being the case, in logically consistent constructs, libertarians should be fine not only with abortion, but also retro-active abortion. One could only imagine how in this culture, some parents my get two or three years into the job and decide “Never mind, let’s start from scratch.” One might blanch in horror at that suggestion, but it has been proposed by any number of scholars, most infamously, Peter Singer.

If a person is to have a right to life, that right must have originated at some moment in time. Which moment? When one obtained the legal right to drink? The right to vote? The 6th grade? When? At birth?  That is where it seems we have temporarily drawn the line, but since under our laws, one may only arrive intact at birth with the gracious consent of one’s mother, is it the argument of the context-droppers that a mother establishes one’s right to life?  This too is a preposterous argument, but the matter becomes even more clear when we consider laws aimed at punishing those who commit homicides that result in the death of children in utero.  According to the pro-choice crowd, that isn’t a human life, thus no homicide is committed, but this too evinces a preposterous standard of reason.  If the right to life exists at all, it must commence in its earliest moments, and that moment is defined by that event in which ova meets sperm, a genetic blueprint is established, and a new human life actually begins. Losing all of this context, one can imagine almost any conceivable but patently absurd standard for when a human life begins, and with it, the right to life.

Let us admit that libertarians have many good ideas, and they’re right on many more things than many conservatives may be willing to admit, but let us likewise remember that the context-dropping they practice in some issues creates a vast hole in the ideological consistency they claim to practice.  It’s important for we conservatives to understand that like libertarians, we ought to seek more individual liberty, but as we do, we must insist also on the personal responsibility that makes liberty workable on Earth.  One absent the other is every bit as impossible as the statist desire to eliminate both.



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5 Responses to The Art of Context-Dropping

  1. the unit says:

    Don’t mean to be off thread. Seems like collateral damage of libertianism to me.

    Yep we are losing George Washingtons, Ronald Reagans, Sarah Palins and Martin Luther King Jrs. By the same token we are losing Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons, and Tingles Matthews. Crumbling cookie you know…not internet cookie.
    On the other hand, the unclean one, we are not losing Osamas. Woman quoted at last years Muslim Day Parade in NYC…paraphase here…our wombs are incubators for future Jihadists. Uh-oh! Well they are blowing themselves up later, but lots remain and more to come.

  2. the unit says:

    Hate to be hoggin’ comments. But just received this from old retired Air Force Unit. I think it fits about individual in conjunction with all the rest of us. Not old stick stuck in the mud. :)

  3. JohnInFlorida says:

    You say … ” It is in this context that I always insist to my libertarian friends that precisely so soon as they come out in support of absolute liability laws that leave drug users’ lives, properties, and all they value in full exposure to the law should they enact such a thing on others, I will be satisfied. The moment we have capital punishment for drug-impaired driving that results in vehicular homicide, I will get behind the move for legalization.”

    And that, Mark, is the crux of it … RESPONSIBILITY and LIABILITY for ones own actions … IF those things are put in place then Libertarianism makes sense, without them Libertarianism is just mental masturbation. We must deal with the world AS IT IS, not as we wish it were.

  4. Victoria JohnGalt Montgomery says:


    I have to agree with you here on all points. We’re all familiar with just how conservative Republicans AREN’T.. Hence my gravitation to the libertarian side of the political spectrum. It frightens me, however, that as pro-choice/pro-individuality libertarians claim to be, they still ignore the rights of the unborn children slaughtered every day.

    Fellow conservatives seem to commonly land in a state of shock when I present them with the notion that, in my opinion, it should be perfectly legal to grow marijuana in your back yard or have a meth lab in your barn- I then follow up with the idea of partnering responsibility with the proposed action, i.e. if you get high off of meth and go kill a family, you should face the death penalty along with damages, etc. The same rule should apply to a drunk who murders in today’s society, however it is dubbed “vehicular manslaughter” rather than what it truly is, murder. No, you didn’t necessarily plan to kill someone when you became intoxicated, but at the moment that you made the choice to throw responsibility out the window by placing yourself in a situation wherein such a thing could occur, you chose to accept the consequences of your actions- drunk or not. A wise man once told me, accidents don’t happen, everyone makes a choice. Intent is irrelevant, the choice was still made.