It used to be that I made libertarianism my religion, in that I viewed it as a higher calling, something I could devote myself to. However, when I began making greater sacrifices for it, that was when I discovered its shortcomings.
Libertarianism is all about the sovereignty of the individual, and unfortunately, this works against maintaining unity as a movement. There are going to be times when it’s inconvenient for the individual to stand up for liberty, and it would be more convenient for him to cave in to the statists and let them have what they want.
This is in contrast to religion, which calls on the individual to stand with his fellow believers and keep the faith, even when it brings persecution upon him. Libertarianism would say, “When the state persecutes you, it’s your choice whether you want to obey the state, or resist and suffer the consequences.” (The only one who disagreed with that conception of liberty was Thoreau, who said there was a duty for the individual to resist, even if he could not throw off the state singlehandedly.)
Well, most people are not going to feel it’s their calling to resist the state and suffer the consequences. Most people will feel it’s their calling to obey the state and try to “work within the system” for change.
In contrast, truly religious people will stand firm against the state, when the state calls on them to do stuff that goes against their religion. They will believe in a reward in the hereafter, and they will also be under social pressure from fellow members of their faith to show solidarity. So for example, in prison, if the Muslims were told that it was forbidden to pray together except at certain times and places (e.g. in the chapel during the hours of religious worship), they would disobey the rule and go over to the wall and kneel to Allah together anyway. And the guards, rather than pressing the issue, would leave them alone.
Libertarians don’t show that kind of solidarity because, being atheistic, they don’t believe that there’s any God who will reward them for the sacrifices they make, and the courage they show, in heroic acts. They don’t believe that if they do a good deed that goes unrecognized by humanity, there will be any God who sees and smiles upon it.
That’s the weakness of libertarianism. And because of this lack of solidarity, if a quasi-religion such as leftism arises, it can take over the government without any serious opposition from libertarians. Leftism has a dogma that is just as controlling over the individual as any religion, and it is just as intolerant of opposing viewpoints as any religion.
Unfortunately, it seems like the only way to fight a religion like leftism is with another religion. Atheistic libertarianism has not gotten the job done, because it’s too prone to defections whenever the going gets tough. SJWs are so successful because they ruthlessly persecute anyone who dissents; this is more effective at maintaining cohesion than a “live-and-let-live” philosophy. The ideologies that are more wishy-washy, recognizing ambiguities in the evidence, rather than insisting they know the truth and that everyone else is wrong, get steamrolled by those who are more dogmatic.
We could theoretically be dogmatic libertarians. I was that way. But most people will not remain that way when it becomes inconvenient. Religion calls on the adherent to make enormous sacrifices, investing his time and money in the faith. This weeds out those who are weak in the faith, and encourages those who are strong in it to keep doubling down. Libertarianism has no such mechanism; it says, “Come if you wish, leave if you wish.” Thus libertarians will water their doctrine down to appeal to more people, rather than holding up a standard and expecting others to rise to it, because they demand nothing of anyone.
Hardly any of the libertarian organizations have been able to stand the test of time. They have gone in the direction of watering down their doctrine and becoming irrelevant. This gives the answer to the question, “Can we be good without God?” For the most part, that answer is no. We cannot organize a non-religion-based group that will stay true to its ideals when they’re put under pressure to cave in. The LvMI is really the only organization that has stood strong, and that has been by regarding the works of Mises and Rothbard as quasi-holy texts. The Objectivists have been the same way with Rand’s works.
Part of the problem is that thin libertarianism didn’t get us viable answers to our cultural questions, the way religion does. Libertarianism doesn’t say a lot about the family, for instance, even though it’s the basic building block of society. What happens when there’s disunity in the family, and the mother wants to go her separate way from the father (as happens so often)? Any answer other than, “She needs to stay with her husband and obey him,” is going to contradict natural law. We can’t build a society on a foundation of letting women go their own way, and break up the family, whenever they want; we tried that, and the result is a birth rate that’s below the replacement rate.
Some libertarians will say, if that’s the case, then our species should just go extinct rather than have a system of relations between the sexes that isn’t totally egalitarian. That won’t be what will actually happen, though. If our society gives up on its own existence, then some other society will take its place. Or some other species will take its place. And they will practice whatever principles they have to practice, to survive.
That’s usually going to mean they will be religious. If our secular society goes down the tubes, then probably some other nation, possibly Islamic, will take over. We’re not going to just totally get rid of religion; even if we did, we would have some quasi-religion like what the Chinese Communists have. Libertarianism is ill-equipped to fill that void because it doesn’t ask enough of the individual.