The Importance of Social Conservatism

So! I think the time has come for me to once again alienate everyone who reads this blog, and raise the ire of conservatives and libertarians alike! 🙂

I do this for a very simple reason. Specifically, I do not think most conservatives understand just why achieving their aims through the coercive power of the state is totally counterproductive, and, more pertinently at the moment, I am rather convinced that libertarians in Australia don’t realise the importance of social conservatism to achieve their aims. Which is not only strategically to our detriment, but something that, on the random off chance of a libertarian revolution, will lead to a social catastrophe of epic proportions.

Allow me to explain.  Even if we ignore the fringe elements of the now thoroughly-discredited liberaltarian movement (those people who seem to advocate rank hedonism as a necessary lifestyle choice) almost all libertarians have taken a very similar position on social matters: “You run your life how you want to, it is no business of mine as long as the state is not involved.” Which is a nice ideology in theory, but in practice, I worry that it is one that shall degenerate into total and utter failure. Because with the moral vacuum caused by the exodus of government, unless something comes in to take its place, society shall go to hell in a handbasket. In the same way that the years immediately following the collapse of communism in the USSR led to morally repugnant economic practices, I fear the same may happen in social matters if we achieve our aims, but are not careful about how we do so. Indeed, the older I get, the more I find the traditional libertarian position unsatisfactory, and somewhat of a cop-out.  To deny the real problems of broken families, of drug abuse, of the consequences of actions – this is naivety at the extreme. Which is why the only possible way libertarianism can succeed in the political sphere is by combining it with social conservatism in the personal/societal one. For if we do not do so, we shall have a world without shame, a world where everything goes. And a world that shall rapidly become a nightmare.

The impetus for this post of mine was Andrew Bolt’s piece today. I quote:

But I’d like to know how she was allowed to so forget herself and her dignity—to forget why it was shameful to get drunk, smoke dope, drive too fast, abuse the helpless or leave our children far behind in our wake.

I can’t believe that she did all this forgetting by herself. Oh no, not at all.

Maybe a generation or three ago, someone like her would at least have had a priest in her ear once a week booming: remember! “Thou shalt not.’’

Now, of course, most priests find the only people who turn up on Sundays are too creaky to need tying down with sermons.

No, these days the young and frisky must get their little homilies from government advertising instead—30-second messages of don’t smoke, don’t be a bloody idiot, don’t gamble, and talk to your children.

Mr. Bolt has a point that I think far too many libertarians ignore. As a society, we need constraints and strictures on people’s behavior. Libertarians rightly believe that these should not come from the State, but most of us pay little attention to the fact that something must fill the void.

Allow me to simply sketch out one example, that of the War on Drugs. The use of the coercive power of the state to forbid people from taking drugs – quite literally at gunpoint – is, in my mind, morally reprehensible. However, no-one in their right mind could argue that a drug-fueled society is one that shall be good for all. Sure, some people can handle drugs in the way there are functioning alcoholics, but for the most part, it is a net societal ill, and the more it can be minimized, the better off we all are. Hence why social pressures are so important. If we, as libertarians, want to get the state out of legislating morality, then we must take care to prop up social structures that take its place.

I have already discussed at length how government regulation is the root cause of most things social conservatives find abhorrent, and  how by reducing the size and scope of government most social conservative goals will be realised. But I really want to go further than that. I want to argue that the only way we can achieve a society free from government coercion  is by buttressing the social fabric of civil society. Removing the chains of government does not mean every individual should be free to pursue every vice. Rather, it ought mean that civil society should grow up.

As such, libertarians ought not endorse drugs, ought not endorse families out of wedlock, ought not endorse rampant hedonism. Rather, they must do the opposite. They must join forces with their traditional foes – the social conservatives – and recognise that the only way to achieve their policy aims is to ensure our civil society is based on a strong social conservative ethos. Because otherwise, the Sodom and Gomorrah society that shall emerge shall quickly fail and burn.

This isn’t only something that is tactically sound, or something that will ensure greater political gains. Rather, it is the only way we will be able to get a great society to flourish.

(Cross-posted at Menzies House)

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10 Responses to “The Importance of Social Conservatism”

  1. Justin Says:

    You’ve assumed that drug users must necessarily be analogous to functioning alcoholics, i.e., addicts. The vast, vast majority are casual users more in the vein of the 90% of the population who have a few beers on the weekend.

  2. Aquinas Dad Says:

    A good start! As a social conservative I get to enjoy classic liberal utter such lines as “Social conservatism has very little to do with actual conservatism” (an actual direct quote from today). The primary impetus of social conservatives is not harshing the mellow of libertarians but pointing out that A) a healthy, stable society is so essential that it trumps piddling little things like a tax on your morning beverage (don’t believe me? Go be a hedonistic libertarian in Darfur for a week and get back to me) and B) socially liberal attempts to ‘fix’ things are destabilizing society and that is as true for socially liberal/economically conservative types as it is for straight liberals. One of the things we social conservatives really worry about is unintended consequences. As Megan McArdle wrote some time ago, we are often right about this

    http://www.janegalt.net/blog/archives/005244.html

    social conservatives and classical liberals should be natural allies, but classical liberals seem to be distancing themselves from us, and I suspect I know why.

  3. oindge Says:

    There’s a weird false dichotomy here that Justin touched upon. Not every drug user is a bong away from committing mass murder, and letting gay people get married is hardly going to unleash hell on Earth.

    I agree with you that government regulation is at the root of some things that social conservatives find abhorrent but I don’t think that many of them are really all that abhorrent to begin with. Fostering a culture of self-responsibility seems more important than simply championing socially conservative causes.

    I also don’t think that many libertarians actively support drug use as being good in and of itself, merely that prohibition is bad.

    And quickly on Bolt’s priest point, again simply encouraging responsibility for one’s own actions seems to be more beneficial that bemoaning declining church numbers.

  4. Tweets that mention The Importance of Social Conservatism « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Andrews, Christopher Renner. Christopher Renner said: And @Tim_Andrews nails this point, without hostility to libertarians: "The Importance of Social Conservatism": http://wp.me/ppMX9-D4 […]

  5. Eddy Jenner Says:

    bleck!

  6. Aquinas Dad Says:

    Oindge,
    But at the same time social engineering in the name of good intentions have really messed things up. “It is unfair to stigmatize single mothers” it was said “we need to accept them; welfare will get them on their feet! Single mothers need the help more so single mothers get more public assistance than couples”. All reasonable, right? The social conservative that argues against it were obviously just reactionaries, right?
    You wish – the removal of social stigma and the actual cash incentives of single motherhood has resulted in a tsunami of single mothers which is arguably a major factor in limiting economic growth and has certainly led to an increase in poverty, violence agaisnt women, and decline in academic performance in children, etc., etc., etc.
    Here’s a tip – our ancestors didn’t have laptops but they weren’t stupid; social norms that are as universal as, say, marriage, stigmas against single motherhood and husbands abandoning wives, and such exist for good reasons. you may not like them, you may not understand them, but there are repercussions for changing them. Heck, no-fault divorce alone has had a tremendously destabilizing effect on social stability!

  7. Eddy Jenner Says:

    @aquinas dad those are some excellent points but surely the real root of the problem is girls receiving school education which only perpetuates this destabilizing tsunami of self-harm

  8. Ben Says:

    Keep it civil Tim.

  9. Aquinas Dad Says:

    Eddy,
    Cute. Social conservatives traditionally support education in general (look to, say, Orthodox Jews and Trad Catholics) and push for it for women since it is valuable in and of itself.
    My point, which you dodged, is that while you may make the argument ‘Gay marriage isn’t going to have negative social consequences!’ you can’t prove that this is the case. And based upon the track record of similar issues (‘Public assistance won’t cause an explosion of single parent households!’, for example) this argument is almost certainly wrong, we just won’t be able to prove it to the satisfaction of proponents for a generation.

  10. Phil Says:

    Tim.

    All of the above are very valid points.

    As a person of conservative/libertarian political and social views, I heartily agree with your view. It is all well and good to remove government regulation/interference from society. That being said, unless a think(logically), THEN act ethos is a part of mainstream society prior to the removal of the aforementioned, then well I think the Sodom and Gomorrah analogy could be a slight understatement as to the consequences.

    -Phil

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