A few of my comments regarding the issue of conservatism and liberalism were recently taken out of context by a colleague of mine at Being Libertarian, Martin van Staden, our Editor in Chief. Martin’s article, “Social Conservatism and Libertarianism Are Not Mergeable – So Stop Trying” (very pretentious, I know) attempted, yet failed, to demonstrate that conservatism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive. Given that my comments helped inspired Martin to write this article, and given that I’m also a professional editor by trade, I figured I’d take the liberty to provide a point-by-point analysis and response.
Martin writes: “It goes without saying that libertarianism, as a political philosophy, is fiscally conservative – i.e. that on a policy level, the State must ‘conserve,’ rather than spend on a whim. Virtually all libertarians agree that this is technically correct. “
“Virtually all libertarians agree” is an appeal to popularity fallacy. Further, it certainly does not go without saying that libertarianism is a “fiscally conservative political philosophy” because libertarianism isn’t a political philosophy at all; it’s a legal philosophy whose purpose is to avoid and resolve physical conflicts over the use of scarce, rivalrous resources, thereby maximizing peace and prosperity. Libertarianism can’t simultaneously be a legal philosophy for dispute resolution and a public policy for the state given that the state subsists on taxation – i.e., the initiation of physical disputes over scarce, rivalrous resources. An expropriating property protector is a contradiction in terms.
Libertarianism is therefore conservative because it’s about the conservation of private property norms.
Maybe I’m the odd man out here given my unwillingness to invoke the credibility of “most libertarians” to support my case, but I’ve been a libertarian for about a decade and I’ve never accepted the “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” bumper sticker slogan for reasons that I’m about to get into.
Martin continues: “The jury, however, is apparently still out on social issues. Many in the libertarian movement desire a merging between American conservatism (as opposed to virtually any other conservative movement in the world), which includes social conservatism, and libertarianism. Conservatism, as a political position, is quite region-specific, and entirely relative. To be a ‘conservative’ means something different at different times.”
The jury isn’t out on social issues because truth isn’t determined by majority vote. The extent to which social issues overlap with libertarianism is the extent to which social issues result in the subversion of private property norms. Further, I think we can safely table the European idea of conservatism for the purposes of this conversation as Martin himself did when he declared libertarianism to be fiscally conservative. “Fiscal conservatism” is about the minimization of taxation and state spending, two ideals which presume the primacy of private property norms.
Martin: “(Conservatism) is not a statement of principles in and of itself, but a belief that certain principles which are already being adhered to, must continue to be adhered to.”
This is correct. In America (where I live), that means pair-bonded monogamy, careful mate selection, private property norms, high investment child-rearing, not exposing children to sexuality, in-group loyalty, and intolerance for sexual promiscuity.
Martin continues: “This is why a European ‘conservative’ is, for the most part, someone who still desires a strong welfare role for the State, and an America conservative is much more reluctant to support increased welfare.”
For the sake of argument, American liberalism and classic European liberalism would likewise be different, yet Martin has an interesting way of exempting liberalism from this critique (as we will see in just a bit). Also, it’s irrelevant because Martin already invoked the American concept of these terms by declaring libertarianism to be fiscally conservative.
Martin continues: “Roger Toutant recently wrote that apparently, “Libertarianism is, at its core, a fiscally and socially conservative movement.” He says this without much further ado, instead opting to hide behind a facade of pragmatism. His reasoning goes that if libertarians continue to represent themselves as fiscally conservative and socially liberal (not to be confused with welfarist “social liberalism”), we will never win any popular support, because the right will refuse to get on board with our “degenerate and lost” social views, and progressives will never agree to our notion of small government.”
Roger Toutant is right about this, and Martin hasn’t done much here to prove him wrong other than call his assertion a “facade of pragmatism”. I don’t know what is meant by this but it’s clear that Martin isn’t directly grappling with Roger’s argument but is instead calling his character into question by accusing him of hiding behind a facade. It was never demonstrated that Roger’s argument was, in fact, a facade. This doesn’t strike me as the most intellectually honest tactic.
Martin continues: “Social liberalism, which is not under discussion here, but it is worthy to note, is a political philosophy in its own right, with its own economic theories. Being socially liberal, on the other hand, implies a public policy stance, as opposed to personal liberalism, which means that the individual himself behaves in a liberal fashion. Being socially liberal is nothing more than the notion that the State has no right to legislate decency or morality. (And given that we’re talking about American conservatism here, I should emphasize that it does not matter whether it’s a supranational government, a national government, a provincial or state government, or a local government). “
This appears to be an attempt to preserve the possibility of equivocation. Social liberalism is the idea; “being socially liberal” is the condition of subscribing to said idea. Here I think Martin is conflating “social liberalism” with “classical liberalism”, the latter of which is almost extinct at this point. As much as I wish he was right about this, I’m not able to bring myself to agree. I think Martin knows that progressive liberalism is the more popular definition of liberalism these days, as evidenced by the fact that he devoted an entire paragraph to clarifying that he wasn’t talking about welfarism.
Also, I’ve been covering politics for ten years. This is the first time I’ve heard the term “personal liberalism”. I don’t mean to appeal to incredulity here, but one of Martin’s stated goals later in this article is “appeal to a broader audience”. I don’t think equivocating or referencing obscure terms is going to be conducive to that end.
Further, the state is a territorial monopolist on taxation and ultimate decision making. It doesn’t even have a right to exist, and true libertarianism is impossible as long as it does. However, given that it does exist, the libertarian position is that the state should conduct itself in a manner most consistent with private property norms. I don’t know how Martin can in good faith claim that the state shouldn’t legislate morality. Murder is immoral. Rape is immoral. Slavery is immoral. Morality itself arises from private property norms. Is Martin really suggesting that the libertarian position is for the state to stand down when it comes to violent crime? I somehow doubt that Martin would agree with the logical implications of his own argument here.
Martin continues: “The State’s mandate is and always will be fixed to protecting people and property from physical aggression, enforcing mutually-agreed upon agreements, and guarding against fraud.”
Here, Martin directly contradicts his previous claim that the state shouldn’t legislate morality. Morality arises from private property norms. Again, the state is a territorial monopolist on taxation and ultimate decision making. It is impossible to protect people by expropriating their property. It’s a performative contradiction and as such is logically incoherent. Should the state protect people? Sure, as long as it’s going to monopolize protection services. Is it mandated to protect people? Absolutely not, as the state’s own Supreme Court has ruled. Either way, claiming that the state shouldn’t legislate morality estops one from claiming that it should protect people.
Martin continues: “All of this, naturally, must be wrapped up in the doctrine of the rule of law, i.e. the State cannot act arbitrarily, everyone must be equal before the law, people can appeal decisions, etc., etc.”
Except… again, the state is territorial monopolist of taxation and ultimate decision making. There is no appeal beyond the state’s own Supreme Court – even in conflicts the state provokes. Given that the state is comprised of a protected class of expropriators, there can never be equality before the law so long as the state maintains its territorial monopoly on taxation and ultimate decision making. The very existence of the state creates two unequal categories of people and exempts one of them from having to adhere to private property norms, the preservation of which is the entire purpose of libertarianism.
Martin continues: “Toutant’s is not an isolated argument. Indeed, it has become increasingly popular over the last year for conservative-leaning libertarians to defend and emphasize the ostensible compatibilities between libertarianism and American conservatism, while also emphasizing the incompatibilities between traditionally left-leaning positions where progressives and libertarians share common ground.”
Why should this be surprising given that private property norms are the cornerstone of both American conservatism and libertarianism, as evidenced by the British Common Law tradition which persists to this day?
Martin continues: “Christopher Cantwell is the embodiment of this worrying trend, having testified before a New Hampshire legislative committee that the government should prohibit female nudity on public beaches. He used highly-questionable arguments (including “but what about the children?”) in support of this position, but at the end of the day it was clear that his social conservatism was rearing its head in what was supposed to be a matter left to the political philosophy of libertarianism.”
Speaking of highly questionable arguments, I would like to point out here that calling something a “worrying trend” without explaining why it’s worrying is merely concern trolling. Further, Martin has yet to provide a cogent definition of “social conservatism” other than to say that conservatism means different things in different places (which is also true of liberalism).
Martin claimed before that the state has a mandate to protect people. Apparently, he didn’t mean children, or protecting them from early exposure to adult sexuality. Again, the state shouldn’t even exist, but there’s no reason to believe that public nudity wouldn’t still be prohibited in a libertarian social order given that all property would be privately owned in such an order. Why does it follow that victims of tax theft should be forced to share the commons they’re likewise forced to fund with strangers who would expose children to adult sexuality? If protecting people is the domain of libertarianism, children should likewise be protected from such things, thus Chris did nothing wrong here. Libertarianism isn’t about protecting degenerates who expose themselves to children. If anything, the libertarian position is to protect children from being exposed to sexuality, but let’s move on.
Martin: “The founders of libertarianism would not have bothered to distinguish libertarianism from American conservatism. Indeed, if American conservatism and libertarianism are as indistinguishable as many make them out to be, why did the distinction come about at all?”
Because Murray Rothbard got kicked out of the National Review and it rustled his jimmies. Sorry to be frank but that’s how it happened.
Martin: “This is all especially worrying to me as a South African, and, I imagine, to many libertarians across the world (to be anecdotal: my arguably anti-conservative Facebook posts get more ‘likes’ from my European compatriots, over the norm where my American compatriots are mostly in the majority).”
This is more concern trolling and appealing to popularity, thus it can’t be taken seriously as an academic argument. It’s devoid of actual substance and is merely a raw appeal to emotion.
Martin: “In South Africa, ‘conservatism’ means a preference for Apartheid, a highly-socialistic system founded in the very fascist notion that the State is the embodiment of the people and enforces their will. So, when I enter into policy debates, only to have my opponents declare with conviction that “libertarianism is conservative” – no doubt something they picked up from what is happening in America – I am placed at a significant disadvantage.”
This series of statements has literally no bearing on Martin’s original thesis or demonstrated preference for American conservatism, as evidenced by his assertion that libertarianism is “fiscally conservative”. Given this demonstrated preference, oscillating back and forth between American conservatism and conservatism in other countries is merely an equivocation fallacy. Perhaps Martin would have more of an advantage in policy debates if he studied the work of libertarian conservatives instead of cherry picking their comments and taking pot shots at them. Or maybe his disadvantage is more a function of his communication style.
Martin: “The definition of ‘conservatism’ which American conservatives have adopted enables them to relate, even if only at a distance, to the non-national philosophy of libertarianism. This is, however, not the case anywhere else in the world (at least, not to this extent).”
And what is that definition? We still haven’t gotten it. Further, I’m in America, as is most of our audience. Martin doesn’t care enough about America to accept the American definition of conservatism, so why should I as an American care about what it means in South Africa? This is just more equivocation and a contradiction, given that Martin accepted the concept of American conservatism when he appealed to fiscal conservatism. Further, libertarianism isn’t a non-national philosophy. Nations and states occasionally overlap but are two different things in the abstract. The state is a territorial monopolist on taxation and ultimate decision making. Nations are an emergent property of the extended division of labor, which occurs with or without a state. As is the case with all other externalities of private property and cooperation, there’s no reason nations wouldn’t exist absent a territorial monopolist of taxation and ultimate decision making. Ever heard of Red Sox Nation? Nations are as non-libertarian as roads. Should I also move to Somalia now?
Martin continues: “Therefore, when the argument is made that libertarianism and conservatism – or social conservatism more particularly – should, in essence, become one thing, a custom-made American definition is used. This is partly the problem with the assumptions underlying Toutant’s argument.”
Well, we still don’t even have a definition or even an example of “social conservatism” that isn’t circular other than that it’s apparently worrying and bad to protect children from early exposure to sexuality, though I certainly don’t agree. Further, it has yet to be demonstrated why a “custom made American definition” is a bad thing. We aren’t debating public policy for South Africa or Europe. Is this just anti-American bias? I don’t know Martin well enough to say but it certainly seems like he opposes the idea of America having anything less than a universal standard enforced by… what? A totalitarian, one-world, democratic state which chooses definitions by popular vote? How would that be libertarian, again? I certainly hope this is just another case of Martin not recognizing the logical implications of his argument.
Martin continues: “Libertarianism is set apart from American conservatism in one principal respect, which also sets it apart from progressivism, and which is the only justification for it being distinguished from both: individualism. A conservative, such as Toutant, can accept the basic premises of the NAP in theory, as have many conservative-leaning libertarians, but individualism in general is curiously excluded in favor of other values, such as (often bizarrely) democracy, certain social values such as the ‘traditional’ marriage.”
He’s flirting with a definition here but doesn’t quite procure one. As I’ve already pointed out, American conservatism is rooted in the tradition of the English common law. The common-law tradition – keep your word and do no harm – is the entire foundation of libertarian legal philosophy, and is inherently individualist. I don’t understand where he came up with the idea that individualism and conservatism are mutually exclusive, but he certainly isn’t doing much to explain it here. Perhaps his understanding of American conservatism is limited by the fact that he lives in South Africa.
Also, what’s wrong with traditional marriage? Why is the word traditional in quotes? Pair-bonded, monogamous marriages are the best defense against the growth of the state and the safest environment for children. Children require resources. Single parenthood presents a significant challenge to the acquisition of said resources absent a welfare state. How is the protection of children anti-libertarian? How is minimizing welfare spending anti-libertarian? Didn’t Martin already accept the idea of fiscal conservatism? What’s the deal here?
Further, American conservatism isn’t inherently democratic. America itself wasn’t even inherently democratic until the modern civil rights movement, prior to which voting was a privilege granted only to property owners who had skin in the game. And even then, one didn’t have to be a citizen if one didn’t want to be.
Martin continues: “Toutant’s questionable interpretation of libertarianism is most evident in the following paragraph:
(Toutant): “As far as I can tell, the vast majority of Libertarians are conservative in nature. They do not rely on the NAP to provide guidance to their moral behavior, nor to help them define what is good or evil or what actions should be punished, or not, by the state. For that, they rely on their culture and their religion. To many, the NAP is the equivalent of the Christian commandment, “thou shalt not steal”, full stop.”
This isn’t even an interpretation of libertarianism; it’s an interpretation of how “Libertarians” (with a capital L, which means party members, no?) interpret the NAP. Further, calling something questionable isn’t an argument. If it was, I would have just called this entire article questionable and moved on.
Martin continues: “Being a libertarian who is personally conservative, and being a libertarian who advocates social conservatism, are two different things, considering that social conservatism is a public policy position.”
We appear to be getting closer to a definition, but… How so? How are they different? What is social conservatism? Apparently, it’s a public policy position. We know that much. What else does it entail? Morality being legislated? Murderers, rapists and thieves being thrown in cages? Children being protected from exposure to sexuality?
How awful and non-libertarian.
Martin continues: “Jared Howe, a Being Libertarian associate, recently wrote in a public Facebook comment that many Americans view libertarianism as a leftist movement due to “the open border / free movement people.” He went on to write that identity politics is not “automatically invalid,” and that even Hans-Hermann Hoppe relied on “the historical and practical role of the monogamous family” in his work.
Hey, that’s me! Wait a second… My comments are cherry picked and isolated from their original context. How could that be?
To clear things up:
- I’m the Assistant Media Director for Being Libertarian and co-host of BackWordz LIVE! You can catch Eric July and I live on Monday and Wednesday evenings on the Being Libertarian Facebook page.
- Identity politics are not automatically invalid if certain demographics actually are being targeted by state eugenic policies. For example, it wasn’t automatically invalid for the Jews to argue on behalf of their own self-determinism as an individuated people following the Holocaust. It’s not automatically invalid for the American indigenous tribes to do so in America. As a corollary, it shouldn’t be automatically invalid for Americans of Anglo descent to oppose things like “Equal Opportunity” laws given that said public policies create racial quotas which exclude qualified white people from the market on basis of race. However, in the same comment that Martin cherry-picked, I mused that progressive identity politics ARE automatically invalid.
- There’s nothing wrong or anti-libertarian about the monogamous family. The monogamous family is the institution which facilitated humanity’s transition from “hunter-gatherer” to “property owning farmer”. It is literally the backbone of private property norms, as noted by Marx and Engels. Remember, libertarianism is about private property norms – or, avoiding and addressing conflicts over the use of scarce, rivalrous resources. Marx and Engels correctly identified the monogamous family as the primary strategic target in the attack on private property. By undermining the monogamous, nuclear family, they prognosticated that the market would be undermined and that private property would increasingly come under control of the state.
Clearly, they were right, as evidenced by the welfare state and the myriad social pressures which push people into depending on it, thereby disincentivizing the division of labor within the family.
Martin: “I am, as some would know, one of the open borders people. To many, that makes me a leftist ab initio, and clearly according to Howe as well. However, I obviously dispute this line of thinking, especially considering the rationale most open borders libertarians provide for their position, i.e. it is always founded in sound libertarian theory, even if it is not particularly Hoppean libertarian theory. Hoppe’s work is invaluable, but I don’t recall him being declared the final arbiter on what is and what is not correct libertarian thinking.”
I’m sorry… “Sound libertarian theory”? Such as? What is the actual argument? It takes more than a statement of disagreement to dispute something. And yes, it certainly does make him a leftist, or a redistributionist. The present condition of state-controlled resources – like unused land and roads – is subsidized by theft. It does not follow that everyone is equally entitled to the use of these things just because they’re paid for with stolen money. “Open borders” is thus a euphemism for the redistribution of scarce resources from people with superior claims (victims of taxation) to people with inferior claims (latecomers). This is literally welfarism despite Martin’s insistence that “social liberalism” isn’t about welfarism.
If I stole Martin’s wallet and bought a PS4, would everyone be equally entitled to the use of the PS4? Obviously not. If I wasn’t able to make restitution, Martin would have the best claim to the PS4 because he was the one who was robbed to pay for it. Same applies to the relationship between victims of taxation, the state, and the resources the state controls through the use of stolen funds.
Also, no one said Hoppe is the final arbiter of anything, thus Martin is slaying a strawman. Hoppe might not be the final arbiter on what is and what is not correct libertarian thinking, but his arguments still remain unrefuted. The same can’t be said for Martin, here. Further, as I stated previously, truth isn’t determined by popular vote. That’s what reason and evidence is for. Declaring that someone isn’t the sole authority on a given topic isn’t the same as grappling with the logic or evidence which make up that person’s arguments. And indeed, Martin has neglected to tackle Hoppe’s writings. I suspect he’s never bothered to read any of them, though I’d certainly be delighted to be wrong.
Martin continues: “Evidently, it has become problematic to use this description of libertarianism, i.e. that we are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. It causes confusion and opens doors which should not even exist (such as the ostensible similarities between libertarianism and American conservatism).”
Yes, it has become problematic because it’s a bumper sticker slogan that has outlived its shelf life. The purpose of this slogan was to recruit people from the Democratic Party and the GOP into the Libertarian Party in America; the purpose of this slogan was not to serve as a libertarian ideal or a means to bring about libertarian ends. “Social” and “fiscal” is a distinction without a difference. At the end of the day, both terms refer to people, scarce resources, and the relationships between them. That’s it. “Fiscal vs. social” is a false dichotomy. These terms rose to popularity as buzzwords because of the media’s attempt to mislead people. Seems to be working pretty well.
Martin: “Instead – and this has become more popular in certain respects – if we want to appeal to a broad audience rather than philosophy club, we should say we value personal and economic freedom for individuals. In this way, we avoid the confusion between ‘socially liberal’ and ‘social liberalism,’ which is a philosophy with some unfortunate socialist connotations, and avoid the confusion between ‘American conservatism’ and ‘fiscally conservative.’”
None of these things have even been adequately defined at this point, thus it appears that this is merely a series of distinctions without differences which allow Martin to preserve the possibility of equivocation.
Further, the empirical evidence doesn’t support Martin’s thesis about marketing. The most successful libertarian marketer ever was arguably Ron Paul. The vast majority of his political career was devoted to focusing on the overlap between conservatism and libertarianism, and he invested the vast majority of his efforts in appealing to conservatives, as do the similarly successful people who are close to him like Tom Woods, Jeff Deist, and Lew Rockwell.
Martin concludes: “Our victories over the left will be meaningless if we lose our identity in the process, instead becoming part of the authoritarian horseshoe paradigm we naturally must oppose.”
Yet more concern trolling. Also, didn’t he berate me earlier for saying identity politics aren’t inherently bad? Now he’s reversing that position for this conclusion in which he claims that libertarianism is explicitly an identitarian issue? Which one is it?
Just to recap:
- None of the sources Martin cited were successfully refuted.
- Martin’s main argument is that “social conservatism” (whatever that is) and libertarianism are antithetical because of a bumper sticker slogan.
- Martin supported his argument with circular, self-referential justifications for why he should be able to equivocate.
- Martin implied that the rejection of said bumper sticker slogan in America is concerning because of something that’s happening in South Africa – as though libertarians have the power to bring about apartheid as a result of using the words “conservatism” and “libertarianism” interchangeably.
- Martin has suggested that libertarianism – a legal philosophy about dispute resolution – is really about identity politics despite having previously rejected this idea.
- Martin has suggested that Americans abandon their own definitions in favor of the definitions used in other countries, despite the fact that he himself is unwilling to adopt the definitions of outsiders.
- Martin has suggested that everyone is equally entitled to resources which are paid for by theft, which is the implication of “open borders”.
- Martin has suggested that children don’t deserve to be protected from early exposure to sexuality.
- Martin has suggested that “being worried” is cause enough to reject something as being antithetical to libertarianism.
- Martin has tacitly implied that public policy should be the same everywhere regardless of whether or not there is homogeneity of preference among people in different countries.
- Martin never once defined the term “social conservatism”.
- Martin appealed to American conservatism as the ideal fiscal standard for libertarians while simultaneously rejecting conservatism because it is defined differently in different countries (which is equivocation); didn’t use the same standard for liberalism and in fact intentionally and explicitly exempted liberalism from this criticism through the use of equivocation.
Again, I don’t differentiate between social and fiscal issues. At the end of the day, we’re talking about people and scarce resources, and the relationships between them. “Conservatism” in America, as I previously pointed out, refers to the conservation of private property norms, the monogamous family, high-investment child rearing, etc. The degree to which the mainstream “conservatives” (the neocons) have pulled the conservative movement left over the last 50 years is a function of them trying to “appeal to a broader audience”, which is really just a euphemism for pandering to leftists. The purpose of libertarianism and private property norms are one and the same – to avoid and address physical conflicts over the use of scarce, rivalrous resources. As such, conservatism and libertarianism overlap one another almost perfectly. If they can’t be merged, it’s because they can’t be further merged. It’s not like they are oil and water. It’s more like they’re oxygen and hydrogen.
It’s no coincidence that divorce rates and the rate of welfare dependence have ballooned in tandem, as has America’s global military presence. As I’ve written elsewhere, welfare can only be sustained through warfare. The family is the first and last bastion of defense against the assault on private property. As such, monogamous families are inherently libertarian. There is no separating social issues from fiscal issues. Both terms denote people, resources, and the relationships between them. When monogamous families are destabilized through progressive identity politics, social “justice”, and state-subsidized welfare, the state grows in size and power.
I’m dismayed that Martin chose to isolate my arguments from their original context as he appears to have done with the other thinkers he chose to cite, and even more so that he chose to employ logical fallacies and concern trolling rather than address the arguments directly. Martin writes well but he failed to prove his thesis in this particular article, and may have actually accomplished the opposite of what he had intended by demonstrating that some “libertarian” ideas, like open borders, are more conducive to communist ends than libertarian ends.
I don’t begrudge him, I just hope he invests more time in understanding the positions of those who believe conservatism to be inherently libertarian, and vice versa, before becoming contemptuous with them prior to investigation. As it stands now, he’s equivocating and appealing to the authority of others (e.g. “most libertarians agree…”) rather than constructing his own arguments.
Like Martin, I would prefer for the tenets of classical liberalism to be the benchmark standard for what it means to be “socially liberal”, but this sadly isn’t the case.
* Jared Howe is an American-based Austro-libertarian writer, editor, and social media personality. Jared is also the Assistant Media Director for Being Libertarian and co-host of BackWordz LIVE! w/Eric July and Jared Howe, which airs on BeingLiberTV Mondays and Wednesday evenings between 5p and 7p EST.