I saw this quote being floated around by libertarian tweeps this morning, and while I was hoping it was quote-mined or otherwise fake, I was able to track it down to this CNN opinion piece, confirming its veracity – and the reason why, yet again, so many people hold libertarianism in contempt. From Penn Jillette (again, sadly), after explaining that he’s both an atheist and a libertarian because he “doesn’t know”:
It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.
People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we're compassionate we'll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.
So, voting to have your elected representatives take a pathetically tiny slice of the overall financial pie and use it to provide critical assistance to the poor, homeless and starving is actually a form of “immoral self-righteous bullying laziness”. Because we’re all totally able to end poverty right this minute if only we’d stop being selfish prigs and give our own money to the poor. I mean, sure, ending government intervention in the matter and relying on private citizens to provide the only aid to the downtrodden would only result in a catastrophically inefficient quagmire with thousands and millions of the very poor suffering and dying in even greater numbers, but hey, at least we’d experience “great joy” for our “moral credit” in refusing to “forc[e] other people” – who we elected to do just that – to “do what [we] think is right”.
Look, I’m all for encouraging people to take personal responsibility for their own actions and to do things themselves rather than rely on others, but this sort of libertarian “government is bad and shouldn’t be relied on for nothin’!” rhetoric is as ridiculous as any other fringe schtick. Living in society is a contract: You are protected and served by the collective, with your interests watched over by an overarching organization of, by and for the people; and in turn, you must donate some of your own resources (in time and money) in order to keep the wheels turning for everyone. Of course, there will always be faults and points of failure – that’s inherent to any system that relies on people, and the bigger the system (and the more people in it), the greater the problems. But acting like it’s morally condemnable for the more helpless classes of people to rely on said system to do essentially the very job it’s intended to do – keeping them alive and safe to the best of collective’s ability – is more than just irrational; it’s frankly bizarre (not to mention incredibly petty).
The government is, essentially, an extension of all of us, formed by people we select to work for us. What sense does it make to then turn around and condemn this very group we create and task with the responsibility of watching over us for doing just that – and even moreso, to accuse those who demand just that from it of being “lazy”, “immoral” “bullies”? Or do libertarians really believe that we’d all be better off without any real governing entity and left to our own devices? As caricaturized as that sounds, it’s increasingly similar to the inevitable logical outcome of so many of these ridiculous deregulation and “free market” arguments. (No, the people will not always choose the right thing. In fact, they mostly seem not to. Seriously, what planet do these naive bozos come from?)
It’s becoming remarkably difficult to defend libertarians when the irrational attacks aimed at them are proving increasingly on the mark.