Freedom, Abortion, and Guardrails

Michael Barone, whose journalism I admire, seems to make a common mistake on libertarianism and abortion in a piece titled “More freedom, fewer guardrails.”  In that article, he points out that, “Young Americans, contrary to their libertarian leaning on same-sex marriage, are slightly less pro-abortion rights than their elders.”  But at least Barone realizes the possible tension between liberty and abortion when a sentence later he writes: “from the point of view of the unborn child, abortion is the opposite of liberating.”  I’ve written before on the relationship between libertarianism and abortion (see here and here).  In short, there is nothing in libertarianism that demands a particular position on the issue of abortion policy.

If you read the Barone piece, you’ll see that he and others on the Right are (rightly) worried about a world of greater freedom without some of the social guardrails of the past.  But perhaps rather than restricting (or keeping legal restrictions on) freedom today we need to build (or rebuild) more guardrails to go along with that freedom.  Part of how we get from here to there is that libertarians have to be more accepting of “scolds” and elite shaming of bad/irresponsible uses of freedom.  Indeed, they might be wise to participate in that guardrail building.  Moreover, as we increase the realm of liberty, our freedom should naturally lead us to develop some of these guardrails on our own – assuming that the state doesn’t interfere with the internalization of costs!   When the cost of too much drinking is a bad hangover, we soon learn to be more moderate in our consumption.  Likewise for other decisions in our lives. 



2 thoughts on “Freedom, Abortion, and Guardrails

  1. A fascinating and provocative subject: Where do “guardrails” come from?

    Of course they come from many different places but here’s the most important one: They come as a learning process from the natural consequences of freedom.

    You are a habitual drunk and therefore cannot keep a job, save money, or get a girl? Then straighten up and fly right.

    You love sleeping in so much that you can’t be bothered to get to work on time in the morning? Maybe you’ll learn to respond to your alarm clock during your long stretch of unemployment.

    You are a serial womanizer and have earned the reputation of cad who probably carries diseases various and sundry? Good luck trying to bed any of the local ladybears who are fastidious about their sexual health.

    The overweening state has two(2) mirror-image problems:

    (1) It prohibits us from doing what we ought to be able to do
    (2) It shields us from the consequences, both positive and negative, of our actions. It thereby impedes learning from experience (broadly speaking, the most valuable type of knowledge).


    As for elite moralizing: it’s fine as far as it goes but it should take care to avoid hypocrisy or misinformation (e.g., the 47% comment).

  2. Bill O’Reilly wrote a provocative article about a similar topic. As usual with BO’R, there is wisdom and non-sense in equally bold colors. Here are the best passages:

    Here’s what I know. It is not easy to be religious in a culture that encourages individualism and materialism at the same time. Little children are by nature selfish; they want what they want. They must be taught to be generous and to think about the needs of others.

    But many parents do not do that. They don’t have time. They are too busy getting stuff for themselves. Thus, the urchins grow up to be selfish and insensitive.

    If you believe the Gallup poll, Americans want a religious nation because they know a strong moral foundation brings much more freedom than a free-fire zone of self-absorbed behavior. Once upon a time, most Americans did not have to lock their doors or watch their children every second of the day. Now, drug addiction and other destructive behaviors have driven crime and degeneracy into almost every American neighborhood. Religion opposes self-destruction and criminal activity. It is sinful. It does not lead to prosperity in this world or the next.


    The full article is here

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