June 15, 2015

Libertarianism and the “Social Liberal”

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

I really don’t want to spend too much time providing gossip commentary on confusing statements by bloggers from the greater “Big Tent” libertarian world.  I’ll leave that up to Robert Wenzel🙂

However, Reason.com’s chief editor Nick Gillespie notes that the “future belongs to socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidates.”  He connects this prediction to his title: “Libertarian Moment Update.”

As if the definition of a libertarian was a unique mixture of socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  But, perhaps only in seeing a teaching moment, I think it should be remembered that libertarianism is a theory of the role of the state (the institution of coercion) in society. Thus, whether or not one is “socially liberal” or “socially conservative” is besides the point of libertarianism.  Now, if the question is whether the state should enforce, by way of coercion (it’s only true tool), certain socially liberal or conservative preferences, the answer is neither and libertarianism’s position stands clear.

But this doesn’t mean that the libertarian cannot have conservative, traditional, even Biblical values, it just means that the libertarian recognizes that these values need to be promoted by means other than the gun.  It is therefore misleading to cheer the highly predictable and enormously boring trend of embracing progressive cultural outlooks, in connection with the libertarian moment.  Any “libertarian moment” that may or may not be happening can only be judged by considering the mentality that the populace-at-large has toward the state as the means of social organization (and in my cynical estimation, the booboisie in recent years couldn’t be more delighted to offer up their liberties to the Golden Calf).

Libertarianism’s hope is not to be found in candidates who, seeking a political opportunity, declare themselves to be socially “open-minded” and culturally liberal.  Gillespie mentions that “it’s also worth keeping in mind that NYC money men Daniel Loeb and Cliff Asness (the latter a rock-ribbed Ayn Rand-digging libertarian) were responsible for the Empire State’s legalization of gay marriage.”

But on libertarian grounds, who cares?  Not only is the state still managing marriage, but now there are many more of these relationships that the state manages!  Long live the marriage bureaucracy!  Was Rothbard right when he observed that it seems that all the left-libertarians care about is drug legalization and gay marriage?

In any case, the idea that libertarianism is becoming mainstream because some politicians, devoid of morals as they are, seek to extend the right-sounding messages to the voting masses via publicly “backing” various social trends, is silly.  Libertarianism must be considered as a set of standards by which to compared the state, not some hip “low tax liberalism” and “social activist” game.

I’ll close with Rothbard, from our recently published essay of his:

The change has developed to the point where the word “libertarian” has a new connotation when used in the media. The word used to mean opposition to all forms of government intervention. Now, however, “libertarian” in the public mind has virtually come to mean adherent of “gay rights.” Thus, the favorite presidential candidate for 1996 of all libertarians who will not rigidly confine themselves, in thought and in deed, to the Libertarian Party, is unquestionably Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld, who even refers to himself as a “libertarian.”

The reason for Weld’s embrace of this term is not his alleged “fiscal conservatism.” Weld and his acolytes have depicted him as a heroic slasher of the state’s taxes and budgets. Weld’s so-called “budget-cutting” amounts to taking Michael Dukakis’s grotesquely swollen last budget and cutting it by a very modest 1.8 percent, but even this toe-in-water cut has been more than offset by big budget increases every year since. Thus, the next year Weld made up for his fiscal conservatism by increasing Massachusetts expenditures by 11.4 percent; and this year he is raising it again by an estimated 5.1 percent. In other words, William Weld’s gesture in cutting his first year’s budget by less than 2 percent has been more than made up by his raising the budget in the last two years by 17 percent. That’s “fiscal conservatism”? The story is the same on the tax front; Weld’s loudly trumpeted piddling tax cuts were more than offset by large tax increases.

But this is all window-dressing to sucker the conservatives. Weld’s “libertarianism,” in the minds of himself and his left-libertarian admirers, consists almost completely of his passionate devotion to “gay rights,” as well as his practicing gay affirmative action by appointing to high state positions a large number of open gays. To round out the picture, I should also mention that Weld is a fanatical adherent of environmentalism, and its despotic crippling of the living standards of the human race.

But recently, left-libertarians have not confined themselves to backing liberal Republicans; they have also made a foray into the Democratic Party. Several leading Cato libertarians leaped into the Doug Wilder campaign in Virginia, one of them actually becoming a member of Wilder’s finance committee. Presumably the attraction of Wilder over liberal Republican Coleman is that Wilder, in his person and in his life, embodies both the racial and sexual “diversity” so beloved by left-libertarians. It is typical of their political acumen, however, that they jumped enthusiastically onto the Wilder ship just before it sank without a trace.

The virtual mantra for all left-libertarians in weighing candidates to the Libertarian Party has become: “fiscally conservative, but socially tolerant.” “Fiscally conservative” can and does mean very little, usually spending, or proposing to spend, a bit less money than their political rivals, or not raising taxes by a great deal.

“Socially tolerant,” a murky phrase at best, seems to be a code term for a package of several policies and attributes: devotion to gay rights, to civil rights, and generally and above all, to not being “hate-filled,” like the Christian right, Pat Buchanan, and the Triple R.

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