These were 2 of the big questions examined last night in a lively debate held at The Cato Institute, sponsored by that libertarian organization and the conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation. Yaniv Nahon, a graduate from American University who will be entering George Washington Law School, and Grace Pyo, a junior at Wheaton College, represented the conservative viewpoint while Regan Opel, a junior at the University of Texas, and Caleb Gonzalez, a senior at Harvard University, presented the libertarian point of view.
Prior to the debate, the panelists were given 8 topics to prepare. Four were then chosen for the debate. They were:
- The U.S. should use military force to stand for liberty in other countries
- The state should have a role in defining marriage
- Individuals should be free to move across the US border
- The government has a role in promoting virtue
During the 30-minute long exchange, clear differences between the 2 philosophies appeared. With the conservatives contending that the libertarians were naive in their beliefs that absolute individual freedoms could be afforded without ensuing anarchy, the libertarians countered that conservative curbing measures actually were counter to their supposed calls for limited government and personal liberty..
"We're not anarchists, well not most of us are anarchists," Gonzalez said in a laugh-inducing response. He was supported by Opel who said laws should be designed solely "to protect from other people, not form ourselves."
Hahon called Opel's beliefs naive. "If men were angels, there would be no need for government," he said.
On the question of military intervention, Pyo maintained that the United States has a responsibility to defend its allies. "Without a strong military, they are no freedoms," she said. Gonzalez countered by saying "I don't believe we should run the world by military agendas. If Afghanistan is a success story, I would hate to see what they would point to as a failure."
On the issue of marriage, Pyo said laws are needed to define marriage as that between a woman and a man "for the sake of children and future generations," adding "good laws establish norms and norms effect culture." Gonzalez countered that same-sex marriage would be a benefit to society. "It is not competing with heterosexual marriage. It is competing with no marriage at all," he maintained.
On opening the borders, Opel said such a move would "fill gaps in our workforce, not take jobs away."
Pyo said that while the immigration system should not be abolished, it should be reformed. ""I think we need to control who comes into our country to protect our liberty.," she said.
On the idea of government promoting virtue, Yanov contended that any law "is establishing a moral code." He added that the government could, and indeed should, promote such values as work by "requiring work to receive government assistance." However, Opel countered that government "is not the proper place to promote virtue. Virtue is highly arbitrary. There is a danger that one's own virtues are those to be promoted."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As a far, far left-leaning liberal humanist, I found last night's debate engaging and enlightening. Of course, I believe both philosophies lacking, but I think the broader libertarian social ideas are better than those more limiting ones espoused by the conservatives. Due to time constraints, it couldn't happen, but I would have liked to have heard the articulate young people offer their views on the other 4 issues initially proposed. They were:
- Religion should be restricted to the private sqaure
- All drugs should be legalized
- The defense budget should be cut
- Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be privatized