Libertines, everywhere. We have conservative libertines, liberal libertines, secular libertines, and religious libertines. We have reactionary libertines, sexual libertines, social libertines, cannabis libertines, economic libertines, and anarchist libertines. Groupie communitarian libertines, solo individualistic libertines, populist proletariat libertines, and ironic aristocrat libertines. Indigenous sovereignty libertines, nativist isolationist libertines, border-crossing pragmatic libertines, and starry-eyed lovely libertines. (Anti)Intellectual libertines, (non)influential libertines, and (post)modern libertines.

Liberty and freedom have imprisoned us, swallowed us whole.

I’m a libertine, too. I am trying to free myself of libertinism. I think we all need to liberate ourselves from the ideology of liberty. Emancipation from the shackles of freedom fantasies, that’s what we need. The details are somewhat nuanced, but hopefully you can see the general reversal.

That’s why I don’t understand the USCCB Fortnight for Freedom very well. Joanne McPortland has written a thoughtful post on the messy implications of taking religious freedom to its logical conclusion. She also notes how the first version of the Fortnight was largely fueled by Republican and conservative energy, running high on election politics. But we need not ignore the other versions of this that seem to be happening everywhere, on all sides.

Some of the American icons of libertinism are especially absurd. For instance: “LIVE FREE OR DIE.”

This gem of a saying implies that there is a choice between living free and dying. Of course, it seems to be using the word ‘die’ to suggest a sort of existential death, a living dead kind of image. The zombie, or something like that. But the more obvious fact is that there is no choice here. This is a false binary. If you live free, you are not excepted from death. There is no immortality, no transcendence, within this libertine exhortation. Live free, if you wish, if you can, whatever that means, and await your death. You will never be free or your mortality. Libertinism has no exit from the morbid beauty of life.

The close cousin of this saying is even more childish and revealing:

I’m not a history buff, but the obvious reading of this suggests that the person objecting to being tread upon is a poisonous snake. If you tread on me, I’ll bite and maybe even kill you. It is something like the more aggressive version of “Live Free or Die” — “Let me live free or you’ll die.” This is not so much logically incoherent or absurd in the way the previous saying is. Instead, it performs a more instructive task: it shows us the aesthetics of libertinism. Poisonous and cranky isolation, threat-riddled and bellicose protestations, coiled and fanged and serpentine. Sour yellow. Pissy.

Although the Tea Partiers and the #tcot-right have embraced these icons, they are just as apt in describing their syrupy, altruistic counterparts on the left. In fact, I prefer this blatant libertinism to the dreamy sanctimony of the John Lennon-esque Left.

Libertines, all of them. All of us.

  • Manic Doodlings

    Hmm. I’m trying to figure where I fit in on the libertine scale. Probably somewhere between populist proletariat libertine & (non)influential libertine.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’m an utter anti-libertine. I’ve seen the damage caused by liberty, and don’t like it one bit.

  • Barfly_Kokhba

    You seem to be confusing ‘libertine’ with ‘libertarian.’ Libertine refers to the personal lifestyle of a single individual, while liberty and libertarian refer to political ideas and manners of jurisprudence. Most intelligent adults understand that unrestrained hedonism is not really the most ‘liberating’ way to live one’s own individual life. However, when thinking about forms of government at the state and national level, libertarianism is a very different concept.

    It’s as easy to mock the Gadsden flag or the New Hampshire state motto as it is to mock any symbol. Yet I’m quite sure that if you had a time machine and set it to 1760, and packed your things up to head back from America’s shores to England to spread the Good News of the Catholic Church to King George’s British subjects (no blogging from the comfort of your home or office, you’d have to fire up the old printing press to disseminate your published opinions from the street corner) then you might remember the Gadsden flag or that idealistic license plate with just a tinge of poignant, bittersweet reflection in the final moments before your face was covered with hot tar and you were rolled in feathers by the local, highly non-libertarian Protestant subjects.

  • Ron Turner


  • SamRocha

    When I use the term ‘liberal’ is get nailed for misapplying it, regardless of the quite clear genealogy that exists from early modernity to the present. So I opted to use the term libertine to describe the general fetish over freedom to be found on both sides, and I guess I should have guessed that it would get a similar reproach. Perhaps neologisms have their uses.