Secular Conservatism, Libertarians, Progressives, and Marriage

 

I take conservatism to be an appreciation and defense of what has been proven to work, and which benefits society and the individual in a balance.

If that seems overly-broad, let me provide an example.  Morality is effective in curbing largely destructive impulses and reactions, therefore morality is worth defending in principle, with some room for debate on many fronts.  Not all morality is the same, and it is not always helpful in the particulars.  But to hold that morality is not a necessary part of society is anti-conservative in my view, as morality is the most tested method for a society to control its own behavior with respect for the society and the individual in balance. 

Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, and progressivism is a radical extreme that places no value on the individual.  Conservatism is the compromise position arrived at through experience, and stored in our cultural traditions as the wisdom of the ages.  To a secular conservative, the Bible is one of many instruments to this end.  Just because there is a religious proscription against adultery doesn’t mean that only religious people can defend a belief that adultery is harmful to individuals and society.  Likewise with other religious proscriptions.

Religion is, of course, a large component of the conservative movement, but philosophically it is not a necessary component of a thoroughly conservative position.  Not even for marriage.  I view the partnership between religion and conservatism as a co-development from a common origin.  Shared predicates yield shared conclusions, and therefore common interest.  Where religion ascribes things to God, secular conservatism agrees to the extent that it is destructive of society and the individual for mankind to mess with certain things.  Progressivism on the other hand is the confidence that a small group of people in the present know better than (on the one hand) everybody else across time, and better than (on the Other hand) God in His infinite wisdom.  Secular conservatism and religion get along just fine as defenders of our culture.

I see value in describing much of libertarianism as allied with progressivism, because conservatism is where the middle is, and to pull us off that mark either this way or that is just as destructive.  If a movement seeks to abolish our traditions as proven over time, it is not conservatism.  Progressivism and libertarianism get along just fine as disruptors of our culture.

There is already a philosophical position consistent with conservatism which enshrines human rights and the liberty of the individual: it is called conservatism.

Now, not every tradition is valuable, and a slavish devotion to traditions which are not good is not conservatism; that’s mechanism, on the process level.  Radical opposition to a flawed and failing government is not anti-conservative, but radical opposition to the institutions of our culture, most definitely is.

For example, you could argue that big spending by government is now a tradition and that it is therefore conservative to defend it and radical to oppose it, but this is wrong for a number of reasons.  First, it may be a tradition, but empirically it has not been proven to be a useful one.  Some spending is necessary, some spending is excessive — making judgements is important, and at any rate, even if all projects were equally worthy, the sheer sum of spending which displaces other worthy but non-government projects must be taken into account and weighed for relative merit.  Big spending is anti-conservative because it is destructive.

Second, the dependencies come to play in that objects and policies are not the only subjects to be appreciated and defended.  The decision to spend less is no less valuable than the process by which we arrive at that decision, and its implications.  If we feel that the accumulated wisdom vouchsafed in our culture is probably more valuable as a guide for society (in the aggregate) than the intellect spawned in a few brilliant fellows, then a process which lends itself to operation gently over time by many rather than abruptly, once, by the few is an inherently conservative method of arriving at conclusions.  Big spending is anti-conservative because it operates through an anti-conservative process.

As the free market is operated gently by many, and government spending is operated forcefully by few, any problem not specifically recommended for government remedy is probably better handled outside of government.  So no matter how “traditional” big spending may have become, it is not conservative in itself, and it is not conservative to defend it merely because it is the status quo.

Marriage pre-dates any law.  It simply is, and it is between one man and one woman.  This may sound circular, or like a “no true Scot” defense, but I assert it as a foundational fact.   Marriage is not produced by law any more than our rights are.  Marriage is enshrined and defended by law in our culture, and if the law should fall, marriage would remain, just as our rights do.  The law does not trump marriage.

This should not be too alarming; conservatism is a platform, a set of positions.  Some planks rest upon others and not all must be as heavily pedigreed.  I hold that marriage is a foundational plank in the conservative platform.  I hold that marriage is an emergent cultural defense against various destructive impulses and reactions, including those of jealous males, engineering females, and hostile out-group sentiment.  Good manners are a defense against some offenses which can become lethal, and marriage is a defense against outrage.

Humans are sexual beings (as our grade-schoolers are reminded every minute by government busybodies), and many of our impulses and reactions are not rational in the way we would like, no matter how logical they may be from a chromosome’s point of view.  As manners are typically maintained by society itself, morality is often maintained by religion as a specific example of a philosophy operating in context.

As the male-female pairing is not up for debate in conservatism (I challenge you to convince me that it is not what has been proven to work), so the societal adaptation which defends it is a necessary component of conservatism.  I realize that many “conservatives” disagree with this, but they are mistaken about either their conservatism or their conclusions.

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  1. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ball Diamond Ball:
    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body,

    Why, for example, are libertarians so interested in economics if libertarians place no value on society as a body? Economic activity is intensely social and interdependent.

    It just takes one counterexample, but there are others.

    • #1
  2. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Not sure if I follow your meaning.  They may be busybodies about things, but they do not feel that society has a right to define or defend itself.  

    I think it’s well-established on these pages that the prevailing libertarian vision places no value on borders, but rather feels that borders are an affront to the individual.  They deny society a right to defend itself because it might infringe on an interloper’s freedom of action.  That is a radical extreme position, and is incompatible with conservatism.

    There’s much wordplay to be had, but I’ll sidestep that and observe that by denying a thing’s right to defense, you deny its right to exist, which is an assignment of zero value.

    • #2
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    But to hold that morality is not a necessary part of society is anti-conservative in my view

    I’d agree that believing morality is not necessary for society is unconservative. But who here do you think believes that?

    Not the libertarian here, if that’s what you were supposing. There is nothing about libertarianism that requires rejection of a traditional moral code. Many libertarians (especially the libertarians here) believe that libertarian politics is the best defense of traditional morality against an overweening state.

    Libertarianism involves (or ought to involve) tireless advocacy for free association, for people’s freedom to choose to bind themselves to one another through ties of mutual obligation. This is the freedom for moral people to choose to only support other moral people, while excluding the immoral.

    • #3
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    [Libertarians] do not feel that society has a right to define or defend itself.

    Are you conflating societies and nations again?

    • #4
  5. user_432921 Inactive
    user_432921
    @JimBeck

    Morning MFR,
    Re. mom ng tube out, coming home today, will be 93 the 21st. 
    Libertarians are valued allies in constraining the ever increasing state, with their articulation of individual rights, libertarians are among the best at pointing to the danger a large state presents.  On other issues concerning society, social capital, how personal responsibility and morality are maintained, the libertarian focus on unfettered  freedom of personal behavior seems to ignore how individuals are woven into society. Libertarians, as BDB suggests, assert that society is over-reaching when it tries to control the drugs one takes, or who you may marry, or if you can avoid the rule of law and come to our country as a squatter.  Societies have defined the rules of membership from the beginning.  The idea that the individual is organizing his life as if he and society were structuring a contract and that through his voluntary rational choices he will choose his responsibilities is not the world as it is.   Societies use the power of the state to enforce morals, as in India, the Roman empire, and the USA.  We and much of the West vote on the rules by which we live.  It seems to aggravate some libertarians that society would vote to control behavior and define responsibilities.

    • #5
  6. user_646010 Member
    user_646010
    @Kephalithos

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: There is nothing about libertarianism that requires rejection of a traditional moral code. Many libertarians (especially the libertarians here) believe that libertarian politics is the best defense of traditional morality against an overweening state.

    Agreed. Libertarianism is a political philosophy, and thus expresses no moral code of its own.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Libertarianism involves (or ought to involve) tireless advocacy for free association, for people’s freedom to choose to bind themselves to one another through ties of mutual obligation.

    I think it is the “flexibility” of the obligations in which libertarians and conservatives differ mostly. A libertarian can wake up on the wrong side of his head one day and opt out of the society which he had previously adhered himself to because by gosh he’s a free individual. There is no stability inherent in such thought. Conservatives would not dispute the right and need to sometimes dissolve the ties that bind, but we put the threshold significantly higher for doing so. It’s not the free association of libertarians with which we have a problem; rather, it is their penchant for free disassociation that gets our goat. Yes, this applies directly to the marriage issue.

    • #7
  8. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, and progressivism is a radical extreme that places no value on the individual. Conservatism is the compromise position arrived at through experience, and stored in our cultural traditions as the wisdom of the ages. 

    This is a false middle worthy of Obama.

    There are some who say the moon should be covered in gravy.  There are others who say gravy should be banned from the Earth.  I take the moderate position that gravy should go on mashed potatoes.

    • #8
  9. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    [Libertarians] do not feel that society has a right to define or defend itself.

    Are you conflating societies and nations again?

     Perhaps you’re conflating me with somebody else.

    • #9
  10. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto: This is a false middle worthy of Obama.

     Assertion, not a counter argument. Demonstrate a libertarian’s placement of value on society please.

    • #10
  11. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Another in the long line of posts describing libertarianism from someone with apparently no understanding of what libertarianism actually is. Libertarianism concerns itself primarily with the role of government. Morality and the institutions that support it, be they family or religion, are not a primary topic of libertarianism because libertarians believe the government has no role in enforcing morals or establishing the institutions that do. This is because The State is uniquely bad at this and any attempt by the state to do so pushes us ever so much closer to tyranny. This does not mean that libertarians are unconcerned with morality or uninterested in the role it plays in our society. They simply believe that the best way to support a shared culture and the morality that arises from it is to get government out of as many things as possible. This will allow the cultural institutions, such as churches, social groups and families, that are best at passing on received cultural wisdom, to do so.

    A better question to ponder is: Why do so many conservatives make this simple mistake?

    • #11
  12. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    The King Prawn:

    Frank Soto: This is a false middle worthy of Obama.

    Assertion, not a counter argument. Demonstrate a libertarian’s placement of value on society please.

    Multiple points here.

    1) Libertarian does not = anarchist, no matter how much easier this would make it for conservatives to dismiss libertarianism out of hand.  If you believe there should be a government, then clearly you believe society has value.

    2) You can place value on something while still considering it less valuable then something else e.g. an individual right being placed higher than a societal concern.

    3) Similarly, the idea that progressives have no concern for individuals is just as poor a caricature.

    • #12
  13. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    This post is libertarian flypaper.

    • #13
  14. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto: Similarly, the idea that progressives have no concern for individuals is just as poor a caricature.

    Their concern only extends to the right individuals. It was perhaps an incomplete characterization, but certainly not caricature.

    • #14
  15. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto: Libertarian does not = anarchist, no matter how much easier this would make it for conservatives to dismiss libertarianism out of hand. If you believe there should be a government, then clearly you believe society has value.

     I’m relatively certain no one has made the claim that libertarian = anarchist. I’ll grant you that “Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body” is inaccurate and perhaps hyperbolic, but in practice this lawn dart lands closer to the bullseye than many libertarians are comfortable with.

    The flip side, of course, is that conservatives must become more comfortable with the devaluation of the individual/liberty that is inherent in maintaining tradition and stability. I don’t think it’s a true zero sum game, but it sure presents as such sometimes.

    • #15
  16. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    The King Prawn: Their concern only extends to the right individuals. It was perhaps an incomplete characterization, but certainly not caricature.

     Libertarians are concerned with individuals as they relate to government. Stop erecting this straw man and pretending it has any meaning. 

    • #16
  17. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    The King Prawn:

    The flip side, of course, is that conservatives must become more comfortable with the devaluation of the individual/liberty that is inherent in maintaining tradition and stability. I don’t think it’s a true zero sum game, but it sure presents as such sometimes.

     The underlying assumption here is that government is the best/only way to support tradition and stability. That is simply false. 

    • #17
  18. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    For those who didn’t feel like reading BDB’s full post, let me summarize it:

    1)  Libertarians are anarchists.  Progressives are The Borg.  From these strawmen, BDB establishes that only conservatives care about morality or the good of society.  Q.E.D.

    2)  Only traditional marriage is good for society because BDB accepts this as a first premise, and it is therefore beyond debate.

    As a libertarian, I disagree.  First let me give my definition of “libertarian”:  Someone who believes that the only proper functions of government are (a) to enforce rules that increase individual freedom to use life, liberty and property, and to pursue happiness (e.g., laws against theft, murder or fraud); (b) to enforce voluntary contracts; and (c) to provide “public goods” (e.g., national defense, police, fire, etc.)  A case can be made for adding a safety net for those who are unable to work (e.g., workers’ compensation).

    Beyond that, there should be no coercion.  Nothing should be prohibited.  Nothing should be mandatory.  All other decisions, from economics to relationships, are better handled by individuals (acting as moral, self-interested, and rational beings), rather than centralized command and control.

    • #18
  19. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    The King Prawn:

    Frank Soto: Libertarian does not = anarchist, no matter how much easier this would make it for conservatives to dismiss libertarianism out of hand. If you believe there should be a government, then clearly you believe society has value.

    I’m relatively certain no one has made the claim that libertarian = anarchist. I’ll grant you that “Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body” is inaccurate and perhaps hyperbolic, but in practice this lawn dart lands closer to the bullseye than many libertarians are comfortable with.

     Close in the sense that it hit the same lawn.  

    False middles are awful rhetorical tricks, not only because of how poorly they reflect reality, but because of the condescension that lays behind them.  It is saying that everyone but those who hold your opinion are not only wrong, but unreasonable.  Only you and those who think like you are in their right brain.

    • #19
  20. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Jamie Lockett: Libertarians are concerned with individuals as they relate to government. Stop erecting this straw man and pretending it has any meaning.

     This was in reference to lefties, not libertarians. RTFQ.

    • #20
  21. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Jamie Lockett: The underlying assumption here is that government is the best/only way to support tradition and stability. That is simply false.

     I’m throwing the BS flag on that one. You have no idea what my underlying assumption is and are supplying your own.

    • #21
  22. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    I have no idea what libertarianism is, but I don’t recognise this utilitarian conservatism, either.

    • #22
  23. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Frank Soto:

    1) Libertarian does not = anarchist, no matter how much easier this would make it for conservatives to dismiss libertarianism out of hand. If you believe there should be a government, then clearly you believe society has value.

     There’s sort of a “Laffer Curve” of political ideologies as much as there is for tax rates.

    Picture the Anarcho-capitalist conception at the bottom of the curve.  Individual liberty is sacrosanct, but society is paralyzed and unstable because while there are some people who would thrive in this situation, the reality is that various criminal syndicates would quickly snatch control in this absence of order.

    At the top end you have totalitarianism, where the individual has been completely subordinated to society.  Society is consequently ossified because almost no one can do anything which requires individual initiative.

    Libertarianism, Conservatism, Liberalism and Progressivism sit in between those 2 in roughly that order.

    • #23
  24. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    I’d agree that believing morality is not necessary for society is unconservative. But who here do you think believes that?

    Not the libertarian here, if that’s what you were supposing. There is nothing about libertarianism that requires rejection of a traditional moral code. Many libertarians (especially the libertarians here) believe that libertarian politics is the best defense of traditional morality against an overweening state.

    Libertarianism involves (or ought to involve) tireless advocacy for free association, for people’s freedom to choose to bind themselves to one another through ties of mutual obligation. This is the freedom for moral people to choose to only support other moral people, while excluding the immoral.

     Agreed.  The freedom of association NECESSARILY implies the freedom to disassociate.  This is where Mill went off the rails in his essay “On Liberty”.

    But it absolutely NOT true that libertarianism places no value on society, it places MORE value on society than government. That is what irks both the left and the right about libertariansism, who both want to use government to enforce their preferred polices.

    • #24
  25. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto: False middles are awful rhetorical tricks, not only because of how poorly they reflect reality, but because of the condescension that lays behind them. It is saying that everyone but those who hold your opinion are not only wrong, but unreasonable. Only you and those who think like you are in their right brain.

    You’re still arguing against a rhetorical device and not against the concept being abused by it. Strain out the point and battle that. 

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body…

    “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.” – Frederic Bastiat

    • #26
  27. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Society as I think you mean it Ball is the emergent product of the actions and values of its constituent individuals. Society essentially represents the sum of individuals and the consensus that they reach however uneasy that consensus maybe. Society is dynamic and changing not just because individuals are dynamic, but mostly because individuals are transient and the consensus propagates through imperfect transmission. So as generations are born and die the consensus in a group can and will shift simply due to transmission errors between generations.

    • #27
  28. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Asquared: But it absolutely NOT true that libertarianism places no value on society, it places MORE value on society than government.

    And when society becomes abusive to the individual and liberty then what? It’s not like pulling up stakes and leaving the western society is really an option. 

    • #28
  29. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Frank Soto:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, and progressivism is a radical extreme that places no value on the individual. Conservatism is the compromise position arrived at through experience, and stored in our cultural traditions as the wisdom of the ages.

    This is a false middle worthy of Obama.

     I realize that everybody gets to define their own terms in whatever way they choose.  This way, homosexual marriage, abortion, welfare, drug legalization, open borders, and big government are all defined as conservatism.  Well, when I tell the story, it’s different.

    I hold that conservatism, with its feet in molasses, is the middle, as every step away from it is movement toward a fringe.  I say that conservatism, with its emphasis on small government and limited government spending, already entails the good parts of libertarianism.  What’s left is the parts that are incompatible with conservatism.

    Continued…

    • #29
  30. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    If the GOP weren’t so comfortable with big government, the libertarian movement would be much smaller.  Frankly, so would the moderate democrats.  There are many people who would call themselves conservatives except they cannot stomach what they see in the Republican party, to include the burgeoning “Christian socialism” of big churches.  The left doesn’t like the Christianity of it, and the libertarians don’t like the socialism.

    The libertarian movement is inflated with people who are actually conservative and I would like to bring them home.  Those who cannot abide the moral societal norms of conservatism (marriage is between a man and a woman, abortion is wrong, etc ) should stop hiding in the acceptability of conservatism.  They will not go willingly, the termites, and the longer we abide their intolerance of our core values, the less core we have, the less value we represent, and the fewer precious elections we will win.

    Conservatism is a big tent, but it’s not infinite and neither should it be.  If there is an extreme of individuality, it is contained within libertarianism and not in conservatism.  Likewise of communality and progressivism.  Sound like a real middle, not a false one.

    • #30
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