Wednesday, March 16, 2005

MH - Libertarians and Social Conservatism

My late and much-missed friend Duane, who was my treasurer and close advisor during my disasterous state legislative campaign of a few years ago, was one of the nation's foremost experts on ethanol. He was dead set against it.

However, I'm not writing about ethanol today; I'm writing about Libertarians.

What brings these two points together is that Duane once addressed the state Libertarian Party convention on the subject of ethanol, and why the government should not be subsidizing ethanol production. The Libertarians had a great deal of appeal for Duane; he truly was one who felt that "no government intervention" was a good start. The few political disagreements we had were generally about the role of government as a reflection of societal mores - I felt that sometimes the government was obligated to pass laws that reflected those mores, even if the laws themselves weren't totally unenforceable. Drug laws are a good example - conservatives with libertarian leanings, such as Buckley, argue that laws against drugs don't prevent them from being abused, and in fact lead to a black market that does society even more harm. I'll acknowledge that there's truth to that arguement - outlawing drugs certainly isn't going to make them go away entirely - but my counterarguement was that a government that legalized drug use was making a tacit statement about the moral values of the society which it represented.

(Nowadays, perhaps drug legalization would accurately reflect our society's values, but be that as it may, I still think it's a bad idea.)

The point is that law isn't just on the books for enforcement; it also tells us about ourselves - what we value, what we don't. I think the only area of this arguement where Duane agreed with me was abortion; being a good Catholic, he felt that abortion was one instance where the government should get involved. It troubled his sense of consistency, though, to make an exception in that one area.

The reason I bring this up is that recently there were two good articles on Libertarians and Conservatives. The first, from Jeremy Lott at GetReligion, discusses the sometimes tenuous connection between the two groups, and asks whether there's a divorce in the movement's future. In his post Lott warns against "dividing voters into economic conservatives and social conservatives," something that I've started to do in my discussions of Distributism; therefore, I don't know if I completely agree with him.

However, implicit in his arguement (I think) is one that I used to make when I was out on the stump: that bad economic policy often results in conditions that cause the ire of social conservatives. For example, many (if not most) social conservatives agree that one of the reasons for the disintegration of the family is the welfare policy that essentially replaces the father with the government as the primary breadwinner in the family, thus rendering the male (in his mind) as dispensible. Relieved of his burdens of supporting the family, he no longer has any incentive to stick around once he's impregnated his inamorata. Social conservatives, therefore, find it in their own best interest to be economic conservatives as well.

The split usually comes when economic conservatives take the position of being social moderates or liberals; this brings me to the other post, courtesy of Dawn Eden, which argues that "the nature of libertarian philosophy invites strong arguments against abortion." (Emphasis mine.) Dawn links to this very interesting argument from Dr. Joseph S. Fulda, entitled "Abortion: Is Pro-Life a Libertarian Position?" Among his points: "It used to be understood that the laws of nature were not subject to legislative repeal or voiding by the courts and that natural results flowing from voluntary actions are in no meaningful sense 'imposed.' "

This is a very interesting, nuanced argument, one that you don't usually see. Which is one of the great things about the Internet and the blogosphere - it brings information to light, and to people who wouldn't previously have been exposed to them. Read both of these pieces and let them simmer in your mind for awhile.

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