Conservatives And Libertarians: "My Spouse Is Too Goddamn Boring For Words"


The American Conservative puts out a really uninteresting debate about whether libertarians have anything to offer conservatism. Daniel "Neocons Rip My Flesh" McCarthy gets the ball rolling with "In Defense of Freedom," a classic argument for rolling back government, even if it means socializing with weirdos:

The free market sometimes involves things that conservatives dislike, such as pornography. What should be considered here, however, is not how the market performs relative to some idealized abstraction of the state run by wise and pure censors, but how a specific market compares to a particular state. If there is a market for pornography there is sure to be a constituency for it, too. Moreover, the state produces far worse depravities of its own: Playboy may be bad, but one is not forced to subsidize it, unlike public-school sex ed, Andres Serrano';s "Piss Christ" (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts), and Lynndie England's S&M jamboree with Iraqi prisoners of war. One can avoid pornography on the market, but everyone pays for the depravities of the political class.

That is not about to change. The state, since it acts by compulsion, cannot inculcate real virtue in anyone but only a hypocritical and ersatz kind. One can compel action but not belief. No wonder then that as the scope of the state has grown, patriotism has degenerated into warmongering and religion has succumbed to politicization and scandal. The moral muscles atrophy in the absence of personal responsibility. That some self-identified conservatives cannot seem to tell the difference between self-responsibility and compulsion, or between the standards of civil society and those of the state, demonstrates just how thorough the process of crowding out genuine virtue with the coercive counterfeit actually is.

Consider the involvement of the state in marriage. Presently the state defines marriage for all, and there is considerable angst among traditionalists that government will redefine the institution to include homosexual unions. This concern is not misplaced: if gay marriage is given state sanction, the force of law will support demands by wedded homosexuals to receive the same privileges from civil society–including churches and religious charities–that married heterosexuals receive. In the absence of state involvement in marriage and in telling businesses and nonprofit organizations whom they can hire, however, individuals, churches, and businesses could make up their own minds as to which marriages they considered legitimate and could act accordingly.

Robert "Rise of the Coloured Empires" Locke shoots back with "Marxism of the Right," a Dr. Zaius-style laundry list (without a single example, citation, or attributed quote) of vices that will flourish if libertarians are freed from the dank, slimy id:

There are many varieties of libertarianism, from natural-law libertarianism (the least crazy) to anarcho-capitalism (the most), and some varieties avoid some of the criticisms below. But many are still subject to most of them, and some of the more successful varieties–I recently heard a respected pundit insist that classical liberalism is libertarianism–enter a gray area where it is not really clear that they are libertarians at all. But because 95 percent of the libertarianism one encounters at cocktail parties, on editorial pages, and on Capitol Hill is a kind of commonplace "street" libertarianism, I decline to allow libertarians the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when challenged philosophically…

Libertarians in real life rarely live up to their own theory but tend to indulge in the pleasant parts while declining to live up to the difficult portions. They flout the drug laws but continue to collect government benefits they consider illegitimate. This is not just an accidental failing of libertarianism's believers but an intrinsic temptation of the doctrine that sets it up to fail whenever tried, just like Marxism.

Libertarians need to be asked some hard questions. What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free? What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners? What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society? What if it needed to deprive landowners of the freedom to refuse to sell their property as a precondition for giving everyone freedom of movement on highways? What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?…

Libertarians are also naive about the range and perversity of human desires they propose to unleash. They can imagine nothing more threatening than a bit of Sunday-afternoon sadomasochism, followed by some recreational drug use and work on Monday. They assume that if people are given freedom, they will gravitate towards essentially bourgeois lives, but this takes for granted things like the deferral of gratification that were pounded into them as children without their being free to refuse. They forget that for much of the population, preaching maximum freedom merely results in drunkenness, drugs, failure to hold a job, and pregnancy out of wedlock. Society is dependent upon inculcated self-restraint if it is not to slide into barbarism, and libertarians attack this self-restraint. Ironically, this often results in internal restraints being replaced by the external restraints of police and prison, resulting in less freedom, not more.

I find this kind of woolgathering too dull to bother responding to. You may feel otherwise. (Is Playboy really porn?)

Update: I have been advised that just saying "this is too boring to bother with" is a copout. Fair enough:

I didn't think the McCarthy story set the world on fire, and it relies too heavily on the presumption that the Bush foreign policy has spawned unmitigated catastrophe and endangered our country—a presumption that is, at the very least, of questionable timeliness these past few weeks. Nevertheless, I thought it was a nice salute from the paleos, and would have been inclined just to cite it with a kind word, but that it is paired, debate-style, with the execrable Locke piece.

To take merely the parts of Locke's ramble I quoted above (that is, to skip the part where he asserts that libertarians would like to give the green light to child molestation): I don't know who these libertarians are Locke has been talking to, but if there are some illegitimate government benefits I'm supposed to be accepting, all I can say is "Over here, Uncle Sam!" As for the idea that libertarians "need to be asked some hard questions" about the draft, protectionism, public education, eminent domain, and immigration, he's simply revealing (as he does repeatedly throughout the rest of the article) that he not only knows nothing about the subject (which is no disgrace) but can't be bothered to find out (which is). Libertarian philosophers and publications, and even the unscrubb'd "street" libertarians (Yo!) Locke dreads, discuss all these questions at a length that puts the "nauseum" in ad nauseum. As for the claim that a "range and perversity of human desires" will be unleashed by lack of "self-restraint," well Jesus Suckin' Zeus, aren't we the ones who want school vouchers so kids can be taught by nuns?

I could go on, but any effort put into refuting an article that, as an editor, I would have rejected as a lazy, ill-informed, glancing piece of undergraduate posturing would be a waste of time. Conversing with somebody who brings nothing to the conversation is like getting your pocket picked. (And as a libertarian I object to pocket-picking as a violation of property rights.) I'll leave it to our own thoreau, who has cracked the code in the comments section:

As I look some more at the excerpt from Robert Locke's piece I find myself forced to conclude that he is, in fact, a libertarian (gasp!):

-He draws fine distinctions between various libertarian sects
-He castigates self-described libertarians for hypocrisy
-He wants to debate some points that would never occur in the real world…
-I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Locke doesn't like the LP.

Congratulations, Mr. Locke, you are a libertarian!