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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.Published in General
OK with me.
Not quite that, but something a bit more concrete than: SSM will cause attitudes toward marriage generally to change over time (an assertion I dispute, for reasons stated above) and when attitudes change actions do too, so SSM would (probably, since you’ve conceded we don’t know for sure) be harmful to society.
Narrow in what sense? My impression is that anything the government does (even the issuance of marriage licenses to male/female couples who volunteer to apply) is “harm” to libertarians — the old libertarian “get the government out of marriage” argument. That seems like an application of a hammer to a wrongly perceived nail wrt traditional marriage, imo. It’s an over-broad concept of “harm,” if anything.
It’s one of the first questions I asked of libertarians on this thread and has remained unanswered for some 690+ comments. What harm comes from government licensing of male/female marriage?
Well, it took nearly 700 comments, but I’m glad you’ve both found something to agree on.
I think the reason it went unanswered is that it misunderstands how the harm principle relates to non-harm based existing law. Though state involvement in marriage generally isn’t justified by the harm principle, since we’re not going to do away with it the question becomes what harm is prevented by excluding same-sex unions from the institution of marriage.
None whatsoever. I was going to write something longer, but Sal hit all the points I was aiming for at #698.
That said, there are libertarians who will argue for SSM on the grounds that anything less is a horrible injustice. I don’t agree with them on that.
Well, I think it is obvious that changing the definition of words has powerful implications. If changing the definition of words didn’t have powerful implications, the cultural marxists wouldn’t be so focused on political correctness.
FWIW, I don’t find the “Trust us, nothing bad will happen” argument particularly convincing either.
As I said earlier, SSM is an inevitability. In 2008, I told my friends who were Obama Supporters that I hoped Obama would become the President they hoped he would be, not the one I feared he would be. I think the same way about SSM. I hope it has the positive consequences you hope for without the negative ones I fear.
Like Obama, I sincerely doubt it. Regardless, I will be dead or out of this country by the time the chickens come home to roost, so good luck.
To me, this ignores the connection between marriage, family, children, and the future of the nation, but I get that the SSM movement doesn’t want to address that connection.
To be fair, we both agree that all politicians are buying votes, we both want to remove government from the marriage recognition business, and we both think that SSM should be implemented slowly at the state level and not by federal or judicial fiat. We just disagree on the relationship between marriage and children and the implications of that relationship as it applies to SSM.
Asquared- I think we’re at an underpants gnome sort of impasse here. I know this is an uncharitable characterization of it, but your argument seems to boil down to Step 1) SSM alters the established definition of marriage; Step 2) ?; Step 3) societal doom at the hands of cultural Marxists.
I do genuinely appreciate your well wishes.
I recognize that there are other justifications that may be put forth for the state’s regulation of marriage, but I was responding to WC’s query about the harm principle and marriage.
In The Avengers, Tony Stark (or maybe Steve Rogers) asks Loki, “Are you afraid of a little lightning?” Loki responds, “I’m not overly fond of what happens next.” Meaning, of course, Thor shows up.
So it is with government licensing — I’m not overly fond of what happens next. Government has no reason to license an activity, except to regulate it. What happens next is subsidies, and penalties, and taxes, and granting benefits to favored groups while withholding them from others. Power corrupts, and licensing an activity is exercising power over it.
Perhaps. You think the government forcing everyone to treat SSM as equal in every way to traditional marriage has no impact on people’s attitude and behaviors towards marriage, and therefore you consider any argument to the contrary as “underpant gnome” worthy.
That’s fine. I don’t really care. One of us is right and one of us wrong. Only time will tell.
The real problem is, the destruction of the American family is coming either way. SSM is symptom of that destruction, but not its cause.
As you and Larry have pointed out, the concept of marriage that Ed and I believe doesn’t exist much anymore. Government is largely responsible for that. I take that destruction as the best possible argument get government out of the marriage business. But SSM supporters want the government step up its involvement in marriage. That boggles my mind.
Oh, and I think we are facing societal doom at the hand of cultural marxists either way.
Our educational system and cultural norms are controlled by cultural marxists. As a result, otherwise intelligent people unthinkingly adopt much of marxist thinking, both cultural and economic.
People routinely use words like “exploitation” when talking about employers giving unskilled people gainful employment. People routinely say that the only reason to oppose Obama is racism.
And yes, otherwise intelligent people say the only reason to oppose SSM is homophobia.
It seems to me that the human race did a pretty good job of breeding, forming families and creating civilization before government got involved in the process. Left to their own devices humans seem to muddle on just fine. When government gets involved in family formation, family support, child rearing, etc. things tend to slouch towards Gamorrah.
The really difference as I see it is that conservatives see the long train of abuses that government intervention has wrought on the family and have decided that they need government intervention to fix it. Libertarians see this and think, well maybe if we got government out of the family business all together, families will be better off.
I agree with much of that, but I view SSM as getting government deeper in the family business, not further away from it. As I said earlier…
A^2 as Sal has already pointed out, the first principle position for many libertarians is that the government should not be involved in the licensing of marriage at all. However, since that is unlikely to change libertarians hold that government shouldn’t be in the job of sanctioning certain relationships over others.
Sorry, I don’t see SSM as fulfilling the second sentence. The government will still be in the job of sanctioning certain relationships over others, it will just be sanctioning one additional type of relationship. The only way to get government out of the job of sanctioning certain relationships is to get it out of sanctioning relationships altogether. Adding one additional type of relationship to the list of government sanctioned relationships is more social engineering, not less.
Aren’t child tax credits / deductions sanctioning certain relationships over others?
Here is a question for the more hard-core libertarians, given the current political environment in this country, what do you think a post-government SSM recognition world will look for those that disapprove of SSM?
Will we wind up in a similar place as we have with every other minority group, with firms counting LBGT noses and being forced to engage in affirmative action to expand their outreach to the LBGT community. Will we be talking about a “Glass Ceiling” and listening to news reports about the under-representation of the LBGT community in the Boardroom / CEO suite? Will Hobby-Lobby be allowed to exclude SS couples from its workforce? Will regular people be allowed to disassociate with SSM couples either socially or professionally? Will religious small business be forced to serve SS weddings? Will their churches be forced to perform SSM ceremonies? Will Catholic schools be forced to teach that LBGT sexual acts are morally acceptable?
Note: I’m not asking what you want to happen, I’m asking what do you think will happen.
As for me, I think Government-forced equality of SSM will reduce overall freedom in this country, not increase it.
A^2 So because liberals act badly that means conservatives should too? This is what I never understand about that argument. SSM doesn’t necessarily lead to any of those outcomes, PC thinking and liberal government overreach do. Fight against that.
How are conservatives acting badly? By resisting SSM?
I don’t view that as acting badly, even if you do.
I would rather fight the root cause of the problem, not tinker around the edge by allowing the government to use SSM as a tool to beat religious people into submission with.
I will fight for things that actually increase freedom. I will not fight for things that appear to help small groups while reducing overall freedom.
FWIW, the simple fix to all these problems is a flat tax on all income with no deductions (other than a personal deduction) and no gift or estate taxes. If we implement this, virtually all of the fight over marriage goes away overnight.
I know many SSM supporters want the same thing, but government-recognized SSM moves us closer to government social-engineering through the tax code, not further away from it.
The other thing that I find interesting about your response is that it is a fairly plain acknowledgement that you believe that most, if not all, of the things I listed will happen once government starts forcing people to accept SSM. So, you support SSM because you are a libertarian, but you acknowledge that SSM will reduce freedom overall.
It sort of like the libertarians that acknowledge that you can’t have open borders with a minimum wage and a welfare state, but they go continue to push for open borders even though we still have a minimum wage and a welfare state.
Sometimes you have to step back and look at the forest of overall freedom, not the individual tree of whether an individual policy would be present in Galt’s Gulch.
A^2 I don’t know where you’ve been but most of that parade of “horribles” had already happened well before SSM started gaining momentum. The issue isn’t SSM but rather the liberal propensity to force conformity. It is a specific rebuke of the notion that SSM leads to these things. Also the government acknowledging SSM is not even remotely the same as forcing people to accept it – this kind of backwards thinking is endemic to liberals not conservatives
It wouldn’t necessarily need to be the same, but it looks very much as though, starting from our current reality, it *will* lead to the government forcing people to accept it.
You probably think that prediction is wrong; time will tell.
I don’t know what “acknowledging” means, but I would agree that recognizing SSM is not the same as forcing people to accept, but my point remains, this government WILL force people to accept it. To deny that is to not be aware.
Agreed. And SSM will be another just another thing that the left forces everyone to conform about.
What I hear you saying is that you don’t care if SSM takes away other people’s freedom, you are for it. That’s a fine opinion, but at least acknowledge what is sure to happen. You are already seeing it with the bakers and photographers. I get that the Rico SSM crowd doesn’t endorse that, but that will be the reality, whether you approve of it or not.
Well here’s a blast from the past.
I don’t know the number of hours I wasted on that thread at the time, but now you’ve gone and forced me to waste hours more rereading every last comment on that thread. You have found the perfect kryptonite for Ed G.
Old Ricochet nostalgia.
Libertarianism vs Conservatism
in-the-weeds discussion which turned out to be hopeless in hindsight
Several interesting things rereading this.
The slippery slope is real! (again). Without Trump’s SCOTUS picks that slippery slope may have been slippier and slopier sooner than any of us had thought back in 2014. Without the great TDS unmasking, the Republican Establishment undoubtedly was spun up to start conserving the new normal. Despite all that, we’re still slipping down that slope.
Santorum was right: we (i.e. conservatives) should not let libertarians control the levers of our machinery. We’re sometimes allies, but we’re fundamentally different.
Both progressives and libertarians are utopian, just in different directions.
It’s difficult enough discussing matters on which there is fundamental disagreement. It’s way more difficult when there’s fundamental difference on top of your interlocutor being…. flawed in addition to being wrong.
I clearly used to have at least one foot in the tut-tut wing of the Republican/conservative debating club. 2014-2016 was a whirlwind, what with all the masks falling away and such.
I miss Ricochet 2014. We were much closer and friendly as a community, despite some heated conversations and a few exceptions.
Yes, politics is downstream from culture, but culture is also downstream from the law. A Stream is not the right metaphor. These are all multidirectional.
Conservatives shouldn’t scared off of using political means to achieve cultural ends. We;ll get teh name-calling from both ends, but the alternative is decay and destruction otherwise.