Socially Conservative Libertarianism

I have always balked at calling myself a libertarian. In Australia, I would eschew the title completely, generally calling myself a conservative, or, if pressed, a ‘classical liberal’. Here, where the political nomenclature is somewhat different, I describe myself a conservative libertarian, or libertarian conservative (as my mood may take me).

This might come as somewhat of a surprise to those of you who do not know me that well. After all, my political views are what would be considered fairly doctrinaire libertarian (albeit tempered somewhat by pragmatism). To those of you who know me a bit better, however, I am sure that this is not that much of a surprise, for the image of the stereotypical libertarian (irrespective of how far from reality this may be) seems to conjure up tattooed and overly-pierced radical quasi-anarchists toasting “f**k authority” and “smash the state”, or as persons wishing to overthrow the established social order with their own libertine utopia of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Neither of these images suit me, to put it rather mildly.

Instead, my libertarianism is rooted in deep conservative principles, and a deep-seeded belief that if social conservatism is to flourish and prosper, then it is only by libertarian means that this can be achieved. I take very much to heart the words of Ronald Reagan that I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianismThe 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”, and indeed go even further in my belief that a return to a society based on socially conservative principles can only occur through what is now deemed libertarianism.

As such, it is not simply, as John Humphreys writes in Menzies House, a case of separating  personal views, and political ones. Rather, it is because these views are so interconnected, that the only way I can envisage a true conservative society emerging is where we rid ourselves of government interference, and allow institutions of civil society to once again take the rightful place in shaping cultural mores.

For in every area where we have witnessed what social conservatives term moral degeneration, it can be directly attributed to the corrosive actions of the state. Whether it be the decline in marriage caused by the 1974 Marriage Act, a welfare system that rewards and indeed promote single-parenting, or the government-run education system abolishing the stigma and shame immorality causes under the relativist banner of ‘everything goes’ and ‘accept everyone for who they are’ – all are results of government action.

Indeed, it is because I am both a libertarian and a conservative that nothing disturbs me more than how traditions that have stood for centuries are being dismantled. How codes of conduct that have stood the test for time are deemed illegal by the state. And how the enforcers of sound behaviour and a strong society in the past are piece-by-piece being dismantled by the state.

Because I find that generally, if a tradition or institution has existed for a few thousand years, then it probably had a good reason behind it, and we should think twice before rushing to change. This is by no means to defend all practices simply because they are handed down from the past (slavery springs to mind). Rather, it is a recognition that we need to accept the fact that we do not know everything, and change ought be undertaken with temperance and restraint, and radical innovations treated with suspicion. As such, conservative libertarianism for me, is as much a mindset, as an ideology. It recognizes tradition, and defers to institutions of the past, whilst simultaneously recognising that these institutions stem from voluntary interaction, and not the state. Despite my disagreements with Prime Minister Howard on many policies (guns, middle class welfare etc), his success in ultimately ending the culture wars cannot be denied. Just look at early 90’s Australian television, and see the seeping cultural cringe that permeates, the black-armband view of history that engages in little more than destructive self-flagellation, seeking to destroy all that has gone before us, and replace it with little more than relativism and nihilism. Now, at least, this mindset is banished to the dustbin of history where it belongs, and we are beginning once again to embrace some of the lessons of the past.

For it was always the left that sought to ‘reshape’ man, and build him up in their own personal vision. The dreams of the high-modernists, as expressed in their greatest triumph, the attempt to create a. communist Heaven on Earth, however can never be realised, for man can never be perfected; their unconstrained vision of humanity shattered upon the rocks of the Gulag archipelago.

But this left-wing viewpoint also fails to recognise the key aspect of society that conservatives and libertarian grasp intuitively: the power of invisible forces to shape our lives. Just think how many times a day we follow codes of conduct that spring not from the government, but from society. How to stand in an elevator, how to walk down the street. There are a myriad of social interactions that take place every instant that can never be governed by the state. A rules-based system of governance that attempts to micromanage our lives is invariable doomed to failure (just think of how a work-to-rule strike can paralyse a business)

The failure of many people who erroneously term themselves conservatives in current times, is that they see the problems that the state has wrecked, and then, curiously, seek to use the state to cure them, a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Such social authoritarianism (as distinct from conservatism), is a radical departure from traditional conservative thought, and, like an alcoholic seeking the hair of the dog as a cure for his symptoms, by emboldening the state, we simply fuel our further destruction.

In order for conservatism to truly triumph, we must avoid the easy road of legislating morality.  Rather, we must remove the government from the personal sphere, and return our attention to engaging with society. The churches must once again have the courage to lead, social groups must have the authority to guide, and we must return to a culture where societal shaming is a more powerful guide of behaviour, than the authority of the state. In doing so, we must never forget that the absence of government coercion will not lead to an absolutist freedom, but rather a freedom restrained by the forces of society.

It is only be gradually dismantling the Leviathan of government, and replacing it with tradition, and a truly functioning society, that we shall begin to reverse the unfortunate course of history.

And conservatives and libertarians both should be happy with that.

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17 Responses to “Socially Conservative Libertarianism”

  1. Jake the Muss Says:

    “for the image of the stereotypical libertarian (irrespective of how far from reality this may be) seems to conjure up tattooed and overly-pierced radical quasi-anarchists toasting “f**k authority” and “smash the state”,”

    Mmm I’m so in love with my stereotypical self. I want to oil myself up and use myself as a slippery slide.

    “I have always balked at calling myself a libertarian. In Australia, I would eschew the title completely, generally calling myself a conservative, or, if pressed, a ‘classical liberal’. Here, where the political nomenclature is somewhat different, I describe myself a conservative libertarian, or libertarian conservative (as my mood may take me).”

    Dude did you get this backwards? This is exactly the opposite of what I’ve seen from you and what we’ve discussed of your actions on this very topic. In Australia you corrected people when they called you a conservative and did call yourself a libertarian (except maybe when you were licking Clarke’s jackboot). In the US however you have thrown away the moniker of libertarian for ‘conservative’. In fact it makes more sense that you would do just that where in the US ‘conservative’ is a term that is much more synonymous with libertarianism than it is in Australia.

    Explain.

  2. Tim Andrews Says:

    I actually thought of you when I wrote that line about tattoos!
    In any event, you are mistaken. I corrected people when they called me a conservative in the sense of social authoritarianism, but (outside of ALSF where the term was more properly understood), back in Australia I really did downplay that term.

    The point there though really was more about style, as opposed to substance

  3. Susan Says:

    Enjoyed the essay, you gave me some interesting things to think about. I’ve wanted to create a list of political ideologies for an educational project. I found the ones you listed interesting. Do you have an interest in specifically defining them?

  4. Tim Andrews Says:

    Susan – care to elaborate more on what you mean?

  5. Clint Uden Says:

    Good piece of writing! Thanks for sharing it. I too contain vociferous support for a methodical eradication of Big Government. If some sort of social, political and economic revival is not done shortly, I fear that the motion of a society as a voluntary association of enlightened citizens may have died forever. Although, I think a new generation is marching forward who is seeing through the pseudo-intellectual policies which were predominately created by weak and decadent cultural Marists saboteurs, and this new generation I believe, may soon have the power to revive and restore “balance”, with a robust and organised resolve!

  6. Jake the Muss Says:

    I was more thinking out side of ALSF, non Liberal Students was where you’d correct them and you would say libertarian.

    Don’t you think it makes more sense though to call yourself a libertarian in Aus and a conservative in US? That bit you’ve agreed with me on before.

    Dude you know me, I love my tattoos and being that guy so I’m not doing this as a deflection but isn’t the stereotype of a libertarian a fat loser who plays video games in his mums basement, or Ed Koch?

    I like this essay, your stance is a good way of dragging in the social conservatives. Chipping away at them with the non-aggression axiom or economics takes a looooong time. Coming at them AS a social conservative is useful. You’re like artillery.

  7. B. P. M. Says:

    I absolutely love this essay! Actually, it’s probably one of the best blog posts you’ve ever written.

    I’m even more radical and more doctrinaire than you are in terms of politics – I’m not going to pretend otherwise – but I agree with what you’ve said wholeheartedly because I detest and loathe the ‘libertine libertarian’ stereotype more than just about anything. I suppose it’s because I’m personally about as far removed from ‘libertine’ as I could imagine despite being very libertarian politically and so I find the conflation of the two absolutely absurd.

    (Though admittedly I love piercings and eccentric clothing and hair. But then, in amidst the geekiness and the religiousness, I *am* eccentric so it’s only a reflection of my personality.)

  8. Jake the Muss Says:

    FREE LOVE!

  9. senexx Says:

    Do conservatives and Libertarians have stuff in common? Yes. Economics. That’s it. Every other situation – probably with a few exceptions I haven’t thought of – they are opposed.

    Conservatism is closer to Socialism than Libertarianism. Conservatism is Social Authoritarianism as far as I can tell. Perhaps you really needed to define the distinction here?

    Any member of the now ironically named Liberal Party of Australia that is a Liberal/Libertarian is a hypocrite. It is a Conservative Party and Liberal in name only.

    Also, you seem to have a problem identifying yourself, one minute you’re a Conservative, next you’re a Libertarian and finally you’re a Conservative Libertarian. I have no issue with anyone being what they choose to be but a Conservative Libertarian is more akin to being in the mold of a Classical Liberal than a Conservative, I would have thought.

  10. B. P. M. Says:

    I think there’s plenty of examples of so-called ‘conservative libertarians’, though I certainly agree with you that most modern conservatives are big government authoritarians.

    The kind of conservatism Tim is referring to, as far as I’m aware, is what you’d call ‘Old Right’ conservatism – a similar (but not identical) kind of morally conservative, politically libertarian/small government viewpoint as people such as Ron Paul, Thomas Woods, and a fair few other Mises scholars that I’m aware of. (even if Tim has ideological disagreements with those guys and also is much more pragmatic than they are. They’re more my kind of intellectuals than his. But you see my point.) It’s the kind of conservatism that characterised the right prior to the ascent of neoconservatism, and yes, it was largely rooted in natural law and classical liberal principles.

    Don’t know if you’ve read Rothbard’s ‘Betrayal of the American Right’ but you should – it’s the story of that Old Right and how it was usurped by the modern big government conservatism that predominates today.

  11. B. P. M. Says:

    Though you are correct about the Liberal Party. I’m not defending them in the slightest, just Tim’s position on being morally conservative and libertarian. You can hold certain moral beliefs without wanting to force others to follow them!

  12. trin Says:

    Quick question.:

    Is it libertarian to make smack, pot and speed legal and let peoples’ own moral compass decide about doing such drugs? (and, in doing so, dismantling the cornerstone of criminal financial backing)

    OR do you stay Conservative, a confused state of mind which, according to shifting moral tides labels some drugs okay (alcohol, tobacco, valium etc..) and others the work of the devil?

    help me out on this one..

  13. Tim Andrews Says:

    I personally support ending drug prohibition (as I believe most libertarians would)

  14. trin Says:

    Right, so as a libertarian we should have access to all kinds of information, experiences, and choose where to go based on our own morals and personal codes?

    BUT when it comes to history we must ONLY teach a heroic version, filled with boys-own tales of white men climbing mountains and dying in the desert because to do otherwise would be to crush out oh-so fragile love of country? We are no allowed to use our minds to understand that nation building, any nation building is also built upon deal-making, murder, theft, rape, hard work and mundane tasks?

  15. JaketheMuss Says:

    In fact, it is mandatory libertarian ideology to say that that is the ONLY version of history that can be taught and any deviation shall be met with the firing squad.

    …I may have replaced your text with a tale of my glory and libertarian ideology with ‘Jake ideology’.

  16. trinna Says:

    Prove it Jake.

    Alot of conservatives running round arm flailing screaming “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FORMATION OF PARLIAMENT?! WHAT ABOUT BLAXLAND?!WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!

    I’m yet to actually see the evidence that these topics are NOT covered in the classroom.
    It’s much perferable to have the warts and all AKA -Deadwood study of our history than the sanitised “Soverign Hill Histoprical Villiage” one.
    Or are you just a bunch of Communists wanting nothing but faultless victories and triumph studied in school?

  17. JaketheMuss Says:

    Prove it?

    I’ve never been asked to prove my gibberish before. Is it not self evident gibberish?

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