Adam Graham
Social conservatism is fiscal conservatism #2: The folly of social libertarianism
By Adam Graham
May 13, 2010

In our first part, we began to look at the essential nature of strong families and strong faith communities to the resolution of fiscal problems. In this number, we examine social libertarianism.

In critiquing libertarianism, one has to be careful. There are multiple definitions of the term. It is often used by lazy media people to apply to pro-choice Republicans, even if their positions on other fiscal and even other social issues would not fall in line with libertarian thought. Calling a pro-choice, pro-gun control fiscal moderate a "libertarian" is inexcusable.

In addition, it ought to be owned to that many libertarians make a solid contribution to conservative causes. John Stossel's reporting on government waste and mismanagement are extremely helpful. However this doesn't negate the basic flaw in the belief system applied to society.

The fundamental problem with libertarianism is that it is not a practical philosophy of governance. Ayn Rand and Karl Marx both lacked insight into how human beings actually function. Both proposed interesting philosophies on paper that fall apart in the real world.

This is in contrast to the theories of the Founding Fathers. Adams stated that the Constitution fit the religious and moral people of his age, but that a less disciplined people would require a larger government. The philosophy of pure libertarianism which would leave us believing that you would need no more government if your city were full of drug-adled maniacs and you had an 80% illegitimacy rate and a house of prostitution on every corner than if every citizen was as staunch and sober as a stereotypical puritan. The reality is that you would have more government because people would demand it.

I would argue that libertarian aims on fiscal and social issues are at war with each other. Let's take the issue of legalizing hard drugs, something that many libertarians favor. The libertarian conclusion on the issue would be that people can use the drugs and they suffer the consequences. If they end up homeless, destitute, and addicted to drugs, it was their own choice, and really none of our concern.

In practicality, if hard drugs were legalized, crystal meth would became as easy for teenagers to obtain as alcohol is today. This would lead to a great increase in the number of drug users. Would Americans let their family members, neighbors, and children die or see the streets filled with a never-ending supply of homeless and dangerous derelicts? Or would they demand that the government step in to provide rehabilitation and help to bring people back from the darkness. The end result would be an expansion of the welfare state. The short-term gain in personal liberty among drug users would be paid for by a lost of economic liberty by all taxpayers.

Poet John Donne was right when he observed that "no man is an island." The social libertarian position disputes this as well as the basic human experience.

It is my contention that the proper role and function of government is the preservation of liberty. If a behavior or activity undermines liberty and will endanger it, then it may be appropriate for government act.

Here, I make a limited argument. My purpose in this piece is not to define what actions government may take or when it is appropriate for government to act, only to say that government may have an appropriate role in the preservation of the culture. The Founding generation recognized as much when they approved the Norwest Ordinance declaring in Section 14, Article 3, "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

As a footnote, I know that many libertarians love to cite Ronald Reagan's stated in an interview with Reason Magazine, in which he said, "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism." If the quote is examined in context, Reagan was speaking to a libertarian magazine, and trying to encourage libertarians to join with him, he declared, "The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is." He hastened to add that he didn't agree with what everyone who identified themselves a libertarian said.

What Reagan stated was good politics and an almost successful attempt at co-option, but in terms of using Reagan, a staunch drug warrior and, in 1975, a strong pro-life advocate, as an argument for the libertarian social view is ahistorical.

In the next series, we'll turn our eyes on the left as we begin to examine the dominant force of our times and how it fits into this debate..

© Adam Graham


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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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