This started out as a a comment on Becky C’s post Polygamy: Sins of the Brethren over at her blog: Just a Girl in short shorts talking about whatever, but quickly became too long to be contained therein. So now it’s here at Philaahzophy. If you haven’t read Becky’s post yet, please go do so. I’ll wait…
Back? Okay then. I just discovered Becky yesterday and have a whole ‘nother post in process praising her Why I’m A Libertarian post, so don’t think I’m simply hatin’ when I say that today’s post on polygamy has got it all wrong. Nor am I a “supporter” of polygamy. I am, however, a supporter of freedom.
Let’s start with the basics. Fairly early on Becky states: “Polygamy is a tough issue for a libertarian.” No, actually it’s a pretty simple one, though it’s apparently a tough one for her. The government has no business interfering in contracts made between two consenting people. Period. Pretty darn simple. To quote from the Official Website of The Libertarian National Committee–
Libertarians strongly oppose any government interfering in their personal, family and business decisions. Essentially, we believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.
Polygamy is a personal, family, and business decision. The official Libertarian stance is that government should not be involved in marriage. Couldn’t be much simpler.
However, Becky doesn’t rest on that statement alone, she next claims-
For one thing the practitioners of polygamy rarely make a rational liberty-based argument for their lifestyle choice. Polygamists are pretty much religious crackpots and have little concern for the freedom of women—or stuff the rest of us consider child sexual abuse. Their only real concern is for the right of the man to marry as many women as he wants.
Wow. The argument one makes for their right to be free should have no effect on whether or not a freedom loving individual supports their right to be free. The Bill of Rights was put into place not to protect the rights of “the rest of us”, but specifically to protect the rights of those “the rest of us” disagree with.
And, as for her later assertion that all polygamy is based in religion-
“Yet I doubt there is a single case in the United States of a non-religious plural family. I would be willing to wager money that every single polygamous relationship in the US is not secular—but religious based.
A little Google goes a long way here, Becky. From PolygamyDay.com (the second result on my ‘secular polygamy’ Google search result) –
Isn’t Polygamy a religious matter?
Not at all. Polygamy is not limited to being a religious matter any more than monogamy is only a religious matter. Yes, a person should have freedom of religion to choose polygamy, just as much as they would have that freedom of religion to choose monogamy. But just as some people might choose monogamy for non-religious reasons, people may also choose polygamy for non-religious reasons too. It is simply a matter of personal choice for freely consenting adults, either way.
Frankly, I’m not interested in spending the time to find a specific linkable example of secular polygamy in the US (unless she’s serious about wagering some significant cash). But here’s a little hint – 2wives.com
Once done with the collectivism and blanket statements Becky does go on to point out all the problems she sees with polygamy that she would like Mommy Government to come in and “protect” people from:
- Economic issues-
Imagine the economic strain on a family of one husband, ten wives and thirty children. These children are also a burden on society—because you can be sure the parents aren’t going to pay for their education or health care. Unless all ten of those wives are professionals—doctors, lawyers and such—we are going to pick up the tab.
This is actually a Socialist argument, not a pro-freedom one. In a libertarian state we won’t be picking up the tab for anyone unless we choose to do so. The end of welfare is one of the primary planks of libertarianism.
- On the issue of consent she starts off with-
is it true that a polygamist who marries ten consenting women harms no one? The thing is “consent” does not always absolve a person of harming someone else.
A while back I read about a cannibal in Germany who murdered and ate another man with that man’s consent. The two of them even feasted together on the victim’s penis before the cannibal finished him off and cooked him up for dinner. Though there was consent the cannibal was still found guilty of murder and desecration of a corpse. I don’t think I am the only one who thinks this was a correct decision.
Albeit that is an extreme case—but it illustrates that consent does not always absolve the guilt of the perpetrator.
The problem with this illustration is that the cannibal was not convicted in a libertarian society, but an authoritarian one. Under libertarian principles, this man would not have been convicted. Or is she ready to outlaw S&M as well? After all, people get hurt practicing rough sex on a daily basis. That’s kind of the point.
She then continues with-
In statutory rape cases consent means nothing. That is how it should be.
The problem here is that allowing polygamy does NOT allow statutory rape. Polygamy is, by definition, a contract entered into by consenting people. If the libertarian society you envision requires people to be of a certain age in order to consent, then that will trump polygamy every time.
- The full benefit of marriage-
Polygamous marriage denies a woman and her children of the full benefit of marriage with one man. She does not have the complete access to economic resources that a married couple should share—nor does she have access to her husband’s undivided love and attention.
Who are you, or the government, to decide what benefits a person should or should not receive frmo a contract? Personal responsibility is all about making wise choices for yourself. If you truly believe that people are unable to do so, then libertarianism is not the ideaology for you. Again, this is a perfect example of the Nanny State that Becky so often rails against.
- Becky’s conclusion-
In sum—just because I am a libertarian and support gay marriage I don’t think I have to tolerate polygamy. The harm caused trumps any argument for freedom of the individual. Viewed from an ethical and rational standpoint polygamy by its nature degrades the family unit economically and morally.
This is the exact argument that was made against interracial marriage and is being made against gay marriage. Supporting liberty for all does mean supporting polygamy.
I know I’ve spent most of this post picking apart Becky’s arguments, but here’s the simplest counterargument I can make…. Polygamy is currently illegal in the United States, but all of these problems you are so worried about are still happening. The government cannot prevent harm, only punish people (rightly or wrongly) after the fact.
Libertarians believe in smaller government. One of the ways to keep government small is to make as few laws as possible. Therefore the laws should specifically address harm to individuals and not try to prevent situations in which people may allow themselves to become harmed. If you’re worried about child abuse, make child abuse illegal; if you’re worried about economic standing then make laws about economic standing; if you’re worried about ability to consent to a contract, then make laws about that. However, outlawing a practice that may or may not lead to such things in every case is trampling on the rights of others and protecting no one’s.