January 17, 2014

Conservative and Libertarian

By In C.Jay Engel

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I am a conservative and I think that conservatism should not be made out to be “unlibertarian” at all. Of course, all of this assumes a certain set of definitions.  When I say “conservative,” I am talking about values and society.  If I ever mean conservative in the political sense, I will use political conservatism.  While I have some important disagreements with political conservatism due to my libertarianism and also my Protestant convictions (political conservatism, as we will show in a coming post, is so very Catholic!), I do find political conservatism more bearable than modern liberalism.  But mostly, that stems from my cultural and societal preferences.

So whenever we say things like “conservative libertarian,” we must be extremely careful for many reasons.  First of all, we don’t mean “libertarianism light,” or “libertarian-except-for-war-or-drugs.”  No, when it comes to libertarianism, we take the Non Aggression Principle to its logical conclusion.  Secondly, when we say “conservative libertarian” in this context, we are not mixing our philosophy of the state with our cultural and societal outlook.

Rather, for us, conservative libertarianism means that we adhere both to radical libertarianism and conservative social preferences.  Thus, it perhaps brings more clarity to say that we are “conservative and libertarian” rather than “conservative libertarian.

With that background, let’s look at a recent post over at the self-described leftist anarchist site: Center for a Stateless Society (CSS).  This is probably the most well known scholarly leftist anarchist source.  The author of the post, one Natasha Petrova, is commenting on Jacob Huebert’s Libertarianism Today.  She writes:

On pg.39; Huebert states:

Some libertarians argue that libertarianism is not just about property rights and the non-aggression principle, but requires promotion of certain liberal social values.

This left-libertarian market anarchist supports a thick approach to libertarianism. One that emphaizies a broad conception of liberty requiring the promotion of liberal cultural values.

Huebert’s “some libertarians” clearly points to people like those who write for CSS; that is, those who support a so-called thick libertarianism.  What is thick libertarianism?  Simply put, the “thickies” extend their “libertarianism” beyond the issue of NAP to comment on social values and cultural trends.  It is important to note that they actually apply their “libertarianism” beyond the theory of the State.  This is what makes them “think.”

What makes us “thin,” on the other hand, along with people like the great Tom Woods, is that while we do have opinions on society and culture and do enjoy commenting on such things, we do not think that we should be applying our libertarianism over into that realm.  Libertarianism is strictly limited to a theory of the State.  When it comes to the promotion of certain social values –whether liberal or conservative — this, in my mind, is a conversation beyond the jurisdiction of libertarianism.  I cite my religious convictions and other things in defense of traditional social values.

Thus, I am not attracted to a “liberty” as defined as the promotion of moral relativity and anti-Biblical activity.  Not only am I completely not attracted to such a promotion, I do consider it wrong –sometimes morally, sometimes pragmatically.  Liberty has a variety of different contexts.  When it comes to the State, liberty means that the State does not coerce against the individual.  Wherever the State is not, there is liberty.  In theology, or soteriology more specifically, however, liberty means that one has been set free from his sins.  There is really no mention of coercion in this specific context.  I think that it is wrongheaded for Petrova to indicate that the broad conception of liberty requires the promotion of liberal cultural values.  Perhaps one wants to be free from the consequences of their actions.  Such a desire is tempting, but not meet the demands of reality.  Especially in lieu of what we know about God and theology.

More importantly, if we require, like the Ayn Rand cult of her day, that libertarians look beyond NAP and have a formalized opinion on societal manners and cultural values, we are actually, and remarkably, destroying the meaning of libertarianism.  Libertarianism a statement and a position about the role of the State in society.  We must never conflate that with political correctness trends of the masses, nor moral approval of all kinds of lifestyles.  We are allowed to have preferences and opinions on all sorts of things and still be libertarians!  There is no libertarian Bible saying otherwise.

The reason we are cultural conservatives though is that we do have a Christian Bible which speaks into issues of lifestyle and the like.  Thus, libertarianism qua libertarianism has nothing to say about morality.  But Christianity qua Christianity does indeed have much to say about an honorable and virtuous life.

Our author quotes the book again and then offers a comment:

These thinker’s liberal social views may or may not have merit, but they are not part of libertarianism per se. Again, libertarianism itself is compatible with both liberal and conservative social values.

Is it really? Insofar as conservative social values tend to promote collectivist conformity, deference to traditional or established authority, or self-sacrificial dutifulness, there is a conflict with the individualistic orientation of libertarianism.

Huebert’s statement is consistent with my own.  Firstly, conservative social values have nothing (per se) to do with “collectivist conformity.”  Look, cultural conservatism is the underdog in this fight.  It is the unpopular position.  It is the minority perspective.  Thus, to call it a promotion of collectivist conformity is actually the opposite of the truth.  In our current world, to be a cultural conservative is many times to stand alone.  But whether standing alone or standing with the crowd, conservative cultural values, at least those stemming from a Protestant Christian worldview, have more to do with finding authority in the never-changing Bible rather than the current trends.  Sometimes, we do have the benefit of being in the majority.  More often, it seems that we stand alone (or at least with our family).

But we must also say that conservative cultural values are about the principles, not about the collective opinion.  When we put forth our perspective, on say, homosexuality, we are speaking to principle, not collectivism.

Is there a “conflict with the individualistic orientation of libertarianism”?  By no means!  In fact, it is my contention that Christianity establishes individualism!  Only individuals act, reason, are responsible, and are saved.   For more, see here.

But again, our author is simply making the mistake of misdefining libertarianism.  Such is the source of her refusal to admit cultural conservatives into the libertarian movement.  Libertarianism is a position on the State.  Nothing else.  We look to our world views to go beyond that.

 

 

 

 

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com