More Libertarian/Conservative Marriage Spats

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Pejman Yousefzadeh and two-time LP presidential candidate Harry Browne are feuding over the much-discussed of late question of whether a successful libertarian/conservative marriage is possible; Yousefzadeh's first round here, Browne's rejection of the sacred bond here, and Yousefzadeh's latest retort here. A bit from that one:

In response to my citation to Ronald Reagan—who said that "the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism"—Browne caustically remarks that in his opinion, Reagan did not do a good job of living up to conservative and libertarian principles while President. But Browne's rejoinder is, in fact, a non sequitur. Even if one assumes arguendo that Reagan did not do a good job of living up to conservative and libertarian principles, that does not translate into a valid argument against a finding that libertarianism and conservatism have a great deal in common as sociopolitical philosophies. Browne's argument is akin to telling a friend who extols the health benefits of exercise that because that friend only exercises two days out of a week, his claims about the benefits of exercise are undercut.

But what Browne's comments re: Reagan do speak to is the idea that, in any politically significant way, the Republican Party has been about as useful as the Libertarian Party in furthering vital libertarian goals in real-world terms: not at all. And if a marriage with conservatives is not to result in real political victories for libertarian philosophy–and where else is that supposed to happen but in the Republican Party, in this libt/con marriage vision–then what's the point, again?

NEXT: How Many Conservatives Does It Take to Splinter the GOP Right?

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  1. We are now in year 5 of Republican control of the 3 ranches of government, year 11 of Republican control of Congress and laws have gotten significantly less libertarian. Now either Reagan was lying/incorrect about “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism” or Republicans are not conservative. As 100 Republicans which one is not true and the majority will say the former, not the latter.

  2. Mo,

    Another option: There’s something about the state of being in power that drives one toward increasing the power and size of government. Or the state of wanting to remain in power.

    I don’t doubt that the majority of conservatives believe in less government spending. They just seem unable to sufficiently impress the importance of that aspect of conservatism upon their wimpy leaders. Look at those leaders now, cowtowing to an angry, activist minority of the Republican party, which has been deluging them with letters and phone calls. Maybe government shrinkers aren’t squeaking enough to get the grease.

    As bad as the discretionary spending has gotten, we’re very quickly approaching a point where the budget deficit is larger than the entire discretionary budget. By 2015 it won’t be inaccurate to call the US government an organization for the care of seniors, with a couple extra services attached.

  3. At the most abstract political theory level, conservatism (not republicanism) is basically libertarianism, but with a much broader definition of which values should be protected by government. Libertarianism says, for the most part, it starts and stops at natural rights. Conservatism, in its many forms, says that a panoply of other moral values should fall under the purview of the State. In this way, conservatism is just a more statist form of libertarianism.

    However, this whole “marriage” thing has always troubled me, for many reasons, but one in particular: libertarianism is relatively stalwart and steadfast in drawing the line on government power. Conservatism, however, is much less steadfast. Rarely do you see a bold line drawn in the sand; it’s not as if conservatism is just libertarianism taken a little further. Natural Rights libertarianism, that which I have always seen as most compatible with the constitution, draws a line at natural rights, with a solid reasoning behind it. Conservatism, however, takes on various “moral” issues, many of them subjective by nature. Many times, their “moral values” are nothing more than the preference of the majority, masquerading as “traditional values”.

    This would be bad enough on its face, but the problem exacerbates itself by negatively affecting society’s and individuals’ very own moral responsibility—by coopting certain “moral values” into its legislative net, it saps that responsibility from society’s institutions and from individuals. Not only that, but it also is self-propegating, like a snowball effect. As the government becomes the final authority on more things, the more people see the government on the final authority on everything. And, subsequently, government is forced to live up to this responsibility with more and more laws—to “fill in the gap”. While there is little danger of this happening with natural rights laws (how many psychologically healthy citizens only think that killing is wrong because it’s illegal?), the danger is there with conservatism. If you say, “government is the final authority on marriage”, then, it furthers the idea that government is the authority on other related things, like promiscuity. “Well, there’s no law agaiinst promiscuity, so it must be alright”. Now, of course, society can and does teach people better, but, as I noted before, the more the government coopts “teaching” morality, the less effective society is at teaching it.

    It is this vicious cycle that illustrates the biggest difference between conservatives & libertarians. I don’t mean to get too “slippery-slope” on everyone, but, no matter how libertarian the republican platform sounds, their record is speaks much louder. And, sure, conservatism and libertarianism might be distantly related in abstract political theory—but, as Brian notes, what the fuck good is lip service if it never amounts to anything substantive?

  4. Considering the positions we in the LP have regarding sexual freedom, and the actual, if officially denied, positions those in the RP like to assume while engaging in sub-rosa sexual freedom, I propose that the LP simply engage in a little ‘free enterprise’ with the RP, in those activities we find aggreeable.

    For the right price of course.

    We promise not to show the, (aptly named), DP our little black book.

    The heck with ‘marriage’.

    Tom

  5. Trying to find a consistent, logical operating principal that defines “conservatism” is a fools game. The word (like “liberal”) comes from Humpty-Dumpty’s dictionary. The word means whatever the person using it wants it to mean. Which is why “conservative” currently means “activist, pro-state government, emphasizing control of non-economic behavior”. As opposed to the current definition of “liberal”, which means “activist, pro-state government, emphasizing control of economic behavior”.

    When I phrase it like that, the Democrats don’t look so bad.

  6. This is a loveless marriage based on lies. Also, it is bigamous since the Republicans are also married to the non-libertarian religious right.

  7. the idea that, in any politically significant way, the Republican Party has been about as useful as the Libertarian Party in furthering vital libertarian goals in real-world terms: not at all

    I never thought of it that way before. But it makes sense.

    And when Mo says:
    We are now in year 5 of Republican control of the 3 ranches of government, year 11 of Republican control of Congress

    What about May 2001-November 2002, when the Dems had the Senate?

  8. What militates against a conservative-libertarian coalition within the Republican party is that LP voters are not geographically concentrated. Is there a state in the union where a “libertarian-Republican” could beat the field in a Republican primary? In the days of the great coalitions that gave success to the Democratic party, differing constituencies in different regions, notably the slavocrat/Jim Crow conservatives in the South and the immigrant-dominated political machines of the North, united to do national politics, which allowed them to elect Presidents and organize the Congress. The efforts of the Free State Project aside, there’s no state, county or even city where libertarian candidates threaten to supercede Republican ones. Unless the votes we add to the Elephants help push them past their Democratic opponents, they don’t really need us.

    The most that C-L fusion can do is leaven Republican administrations and legislative staffs with libertarian leaning aides. I suppose the occasional pro-life ex-LPer could get appointed to the bench, but if he ever said or wrote anything on that issue – or gay rights, or drugs – that doesn’t toe the line, the god squad will veto him. We will suffer the torture of seeing bright lights of liberty sputter and dim in the Stockmanlike process of selling out their principles.

    I’d rather keep slugging it out as a third party, or abandon the party process altogether for the think tank/pressure group route. If the Dems were receptive to a Jeffersonian revival, I’d even give them a try.

    The one coalition I approve of is cross-endorsement on the New York model. The fear of losing the Conservative Party ballot slot in NY has moderated the Rockefeller-statism tendency of statewide Rep candidates in the Empire State. If other states would allow the X-endorse option, local LPs could support Rep or Dem candidates who are “libertarian enough”, and run someone against the otherwise unopposed and provide an alternative in races where both Big 2 candidates are repulsive.

  9. the idea that, in any politically significant way, the Republican Party has been about as useful as the Libertarian Party in furthering vital libertarian goals in real-world terms: not at all

    The Republican Party has recently quashed the ’94 assault weapons ban, opened ANWR for drilling, and is attempting to partially privitize SS.

    Previously it pushed through welfare reform (signed by a Democratic pres who was triangalizing).

    I’d classify the above as furthering libertarian goals. Vital goals? Well, sure, these were baby steps but they were steps in the right direction.

  10. “But what Browne’s comments re: Reagan do speak to is the idea that, in any politically significant way, the Republican Party has been about as useful as the Libertarian Party in furthering vital libertarian goals in real-world terms: not at all.”

    Whereas the writers and editors at Reason, who seemed about split between Bush, Kerry, and “Why vote?” have been astounding successful in promoting libertarianism. Sort of like…well, Donald Trump’s success in promoting good corporate governance.

    Mark Bahner (straight-ticket Libertarian…at least I ain’t votin’ for evil!)

  11. Let me suggest a different way to look at how libertarians can gain a seat at the table of political power in this article.

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