It’s rocky times for the conservative-libertarian partnership that characterized American right-of-center politics in the second half of the 20th century.
Recent attention has been given to post-liberalism, the rising of right-wing nationalists and Catholic integralists that embrace the use of muscular government for their own ends. However, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that all conservatives are drawn towards big government. Simpler explanations are simpler: Conservatives who reject libertarianism often do so because they have cultural associations with the term.
Conservatives are more likely to be religious than any other ideologic demographic; to say that God is important in their lives and to feel proud and a part of American history; and to have views about personal morality which could be called “liberal”. Socially conservative. They wouldn’t be reluctant to join a group known for its hostility towards religion and licentiousness.
What if these associations are wrong? Libertarianism should be properly understood It has There should be no cultural obligations. This shouldn’t open the door to negotiation. Murray Rothbard, who wrote 1981 about libertarianism as a strictly political philosophy in which violence is limited to social life, seems inspired by such a hope. He stated that libertarianism was not properly equipped to adopt a particular position on morality and virtue.
How convenient it would be—for this Catholic libertarian as much as anyone—if that were the end of that. The big tent of libertarianism is home to many people whose understanding goes beyond Rothbard’s. It is possible to subdue the chaos in our circus tent by asking Rothbard: “Is individual liberty the only highest form of freedom?” Political Principle, what is government? Or is it a philosophy north star that can be used to guide All aspects of our lives? These two groups can be called “political libertytarians” or “comprehensive libertytarians”.
(What of “lifestyle libertarians” who think we should maximize liberty in our private lives but say the state may prioritize other goods—equality, say, or security—ahead of freedom? They aren’t libertarians. They’re libertines. Libertarianism is a belief that liberty should be prioritized in the government sphere.
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Jacob T. Levy, a McGill University political scientist and theorist for liberal traditions, distinguished between two types of tendencies. Pluralism places a high value on individuals’ freedom to form associations that will then shape—even constrain—their lives in diverse ways. In contrast, rationality is concerned about the preservation of individual freedom regardless of whether it is threatened by private or voluntary organizations.
John Stuart Mill might be considered the patron saint for rationalist liberalism. His LibertyLevy said that Levy’s “aims are to defend.” Individuality, not merely—not even primarily—formal freedom from state regulation.” Liberals who are of Millian nature may not be coterminous with comprehensive libertarians. Levy recognizes that rationalists are often in favor of the establishment of a strong central state with the authority to rescue people from oppression imposed by patriarchal structures and religious groups. While it might be considered “liberal”, the widespread support for government interference into private life can not be very libertarian.
However, Levy’s rationalists have a significant overlap with comprehensive libertarians. Libertarians are often told that even though an entity is private, they have all the rights. Legal right to behave in a certain manner, we have an obligation to use our nongovernmental powers to oppose it. It’s not enough that the state allows drugs or gay marriage. Comprehensive libertarians also believe it should be possible to do everything to promote new artistic expression and celebrate living in a more culturally-acceptable way. In this case, we must oppose traditional customs, institutions, and ways of life.
The threat and use of violence is a grave infringement of freedom. However, culture has the potential to limit freedoms in more subtle ways. That is why comprehensive libertarians consider that important.
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Lifestyle freedom, in this view of libertarianism is as integral as political freedom. As Charles W. Johnson, a philosopher wrote in 2008 on a blog about the subject, comprehensive libertarianism is a “thick”, worldview.
Johnson wondered, “Should libertarianism have to be considered as a thinly woven social obligation?” For example, a thick libertarian may believe that libertarians must also be feminists to libertarians are patriarchal.
Yet comprehensive libertarianism and thick libertarianism are not quite synonyms, either. The first is an example of the second, but it isn’t alone. Plenty of libertarians see their political worldview as embedded in a larger moral philosophy that their fellow libertarians ought to share, but they don’t all agree about what that comprehensive philosophy is.
Consider virtue libertarianism, which recognizes “a duty to respect our own moral nature to promote its development in others in proportion to the responsibility we have for them,” according to a 2016 essay by the political scientists William Ruger and Jason Sorens. In some instances, it means allowing people to applaud or reject certain actions that promote a culture conducive to human flourishing and free societies.
Both comprehensive libertarians as well as virtue libertarians have worldviews that combine political and non-political commitments. These bundles, taken as a whole however, are not compatible. While both camps agree prostitution should not be criminalized, the members of each camp may differ on its moral valence. The one side sees sex as liberating and is worthy to normalize or applaud, while the other views it as degrading. This side can also lament or work towards an end via noncoercive means.
Johnson’s thin libertarianism might seem to be political libertarianism. However, it could also include some very thick worldviews. As I believe, a political libertarian could also think that a harmonious society is essential. Political libertarians view our views on how nongovernmental life should be organized as being outside of the purview of libertarianism. This is because for us (as for Rothbard) it’s “strictly political philosophy” regarding “what violence should be used in society.” A libertarian is someone who agrees with all my political beliefs but disagrees with my wider moral perspective.
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At the very least, there is a general consensus among libertarians regarding the role of the government. It doesn’t matter if we look beyond government policy to ask the questions that will help us understand what it takes to create a healthy society and live well.
Comprehensive libertarians believe that a society of good citizens is one where people can be themselves and live a happy life. Comprehensive libertarians oppose both soft and hard infringements of liberty. The only limit—though it is a crucial one—is that someone’s pursuit of happiness can’t forcibly interfere with anyone else’s. (Kinky sex? If that’s your thing, you can go Groovy. Are you a victim of human trafficking or rape? You are not allowed! Are you able to understand libertarianism?
These are not the heuristics that political liberty advocates have to rely on. In the non-governmental domain we may see liberty as one among several competing values. This will not always be the most crucial. Faced with decisions that have nothing to do with the use of coercion—how to structure a business relationship, which causes or community organizations to support, whether to go along to get along with our neighbors—freedom gives us a choice, but it doesn’t help us choose.
Greater cultural freedom is a good thing, it’s true. Irrespective of political views, none of us should live in a society where religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities are marginalized or excluded. This is where our liberal friends can help us not to underestimate social advancements that enable more people to lead full and dignified lives. Women today have more options than ever before to choose from a variety of career opportunities. This makes it a much better society.
However, when other goods are required to be included in the political libertarians’ argument, they do so on a solid footing. Sometimes take precedence. You may be proud to sacrifice certain aspects of your freedom for the good of your family, your country or your religion. A strict, comprehensive libertarianism wouldn’t allow for the appreciation of sacrifices made in loyalty, honesty, bravery, humility, piety and generosity.
Evaluating the realities of people being able to (and are able) to use libertarianism comprehensively does not address this reality. Do not) use their freedom in immoral or destructive ways. Some freedoms are not good choices. Even if the consequences of someone else’s actions have been fully internalized, it is still possible to be devastating: It is not a good idea to lose a life. Don’t be fooled: It is rare that bad choices can fully be internalized. A father who is absent from his children can have a negative impact on them. Cultures that are supportive of men who leave their families will result in more of these dads. Although the society is arguably more prosperous, it seems that men have greater freedom.
Good libertarians understand better than to demand the state solve such problems. However, they don’t have any obligation to do so. A good society is one that does not rely on the state to solve problems. It is a free society and a good life just It is a free life is to miss all of that. It is always good to be free from fraud or force. It may not always be possible to have greater cultural freedom.
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Complete libertarians can provide a default response to non-governmental questions. The parable of the fence is what political libertyarians use to explain their position.
G.K. Chesterton was an English Catholic who asked his followers to visualize a gate or fence that would be built across a street in 1929. Two types of reformers were then described by Chesterton: The moderner type goes up gaily to it and declares, “I don’t think this is necessary; let’s get rid of it.” A more sophisticated reformer would be wise to respond: “If I don’t see it as a use, then I will not let you take it away.” You can think. You can then come back to me and say that you see its use. I might allow you destroy it.
The story provided comfort and aid to many an arrogant conservatism in possession of only half the points. It’s true that it counsels respect for tradition—for the wisdom, dearly bought, of those who came before us. Comprehensive libertarians want cultural freedom, but traditions and institutionalities can be a hindrance to that process. These may also reflect the lessons of trial and error that have led to solutions for real problems. It is a mistake to try and control any culture not fully dedicated to the mission of lifestyle experimentation.
The archetype for soft infringements of personal freedom is religion. Do we prefer a culture without religious belief and passion? It is possible that people become hostile to religion, resulting in alienation, death, despair and toxic politics. People seeking spiritual support invest their identity in cultlike movements, while power-hungry leaders assure them that they are on the right side in a war with the apocalyptic stakes. Such questions should be addressed.
Chesterton’s parable does not imply that traditions are sacred. It is important to utilize our brains. “Go away, think!” His message is to us to decrease our ignorance. looking to the past—at which point we may reasonably conclude that the fence was ill-considered in the first place, or that it once served a purpose that no longer obtains, or that the problem still exists but there are better ways to address it, or that the potential upside to clearing it away is worth the calculated risks. It is important to remember that we aren’t slaves to the past. It is not necessary to follow the same way as always.
Chesterton is calling us to exercise prudence, “the charioteer of the virtues.” That is, he’s calling us to use practical reason to discern the best path forward, ends as well as means, in light of the particular circumstances. While some fences still serve a valuable purpose, others are no longer necessary. Others—like the one that informally barred generations of women from most careers—deserve to come down. A blanket policy of fence removal is what comprehensive libertarians agree to. The possibility exists that political libertynism could be more prudent.
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Rothbard defined libertarianism in 1981 as “strictly political philosophy”. This was in response to the late National Review literary editor Frank S. Meyer, whose ideas, nearly a decade after his death, continued to have outsize in-fluence on the blossoming conservative intellectual scene.
Meyer believed that American conservatives should pledge themselves to two non-negotiable pillars. First, that government exists only to protect life, liberty, and property—nothing more. The second is that humans exist in order to live a rich, upright life, which, as it was traditionally understood, makes the task easier for those who do their jobs well. This philosophy took Meyer’s will against it. fusionism because of the way it joined an emphasis on freedom (in the governmental realm) with an emphasis on virtue (in the nongovernmental realm).
Rothbard was not having it. “The core of the disagreement between traditionalists, libertarians, and Rothbard is the question about freedom and virtue. Should we compel virtue (however you define it), or can it be voluntary and free choice for the individual? He wrote. Frank Meyer was on the libertarian side of this important issue. Rothbard thus concluded, “The fusionist position.” It is simply the libertarian position,” that “Frank Meyer was not a ‘fusionist’ but quite simply a trenchant individualist and libertarian,” and that fusionism “is no ‘third way,’ but simply libertarianism.”
This is certainly not true. Meyer’s first principle is almost identical to political libertarianism. Fusionism, however, seems quite different. It is distinguished from political libertarianism by the addition of a second nonnegotiable pillar. The definition of the word fusionist carries extra information, identifying a subset of political libertarians with a particular commitment to virtue (and a Chestertonian respect for fences) in the private sphere.
While it’s nice to highlight the fact that Meyer’s fusionists have a place under the libertarian top, it’s also important. I too want my small-government-conservative friends to know they have a place in the libertarian movement if they should want it, particularly as movement conservatism continues its frightening post-liberal drift.
Rothbard, however, seems to believe he can erase complete libertarians with smoke and mirrors. He wrote, “only an implacile could ever believe that freedom is either the highest principle or the end of life” Rothbard’s claim is a reminder that he is one of libertarians least favourite libertarians.
Actually, there is a wide range of libertarianisms. Our large tent is home to a multitude of views, for better and worse. You can browse the stalls and find what you like. Welcoming to the event.