Notes On Libertarians and Responsibility

 

Not wanting to hijack genferei’s response to Rachel Lu’s article on libertarianism and private morality I thought I’d start a second thread.

First, I wholly agree with Rachel that 1) small government requires private morality among its citizens to work; 2) that bourgeois, Judeo-Christian principles have proven themselves to be an extraordinarily robust, well-tested, and effective means of ensuring that morality; and 3) that some flavors of libertarians don’t appreciate either of the former points.  As she puts it:

Small government will not succeed unless people have a strong ability to govern their own affairs. That requires a culture that provides people with clear norms and expectations, and replaces the hard and impersonal boundaries of law with the softer forces of social approval and sanction. What we need, in short, are traditional morals. These tried-and-true norms for good behavior were developed precisely for the purpose of ordering human life in the context of families and small communities…

That said, it’s a little difficult to respond to her accusations about “libertine libertarianism” prone to “nihilism” without the benefit of a single example. In my experience, these accusations rarely pan out as advertised. More often than not, they’re more a matter of serious and substantial disagreements over specific moral principles — or how best to encourage them — rather than a debate about whether such things exist in the first place. Outside of The Big Lebowski, nihilists are a rare thing.

Stipulating — as Rachel does — that many libertarians value and promote traditional values, there are more socially liberal forms of libertarianism that disagree without warranting the “libertine” label. That’s because libertarian morality tends to be condition-based while traditional morality tends to be category-based.  For instance, a SoCon is more likely to disapprove of heroin use out-of-hand, while a libertarian is more likely to ask what harm the heroin is causing under particular circumstances.

Both approaches have their problems if left to their own devices. Too much categoricalism leads to injustices that take no account of actual situations involving actual people and can ignore circumstances not foreseen by the rules. This sometimes leads social conservatives to present nuclear families not only as a well-adjusted, well-tested, and effective means of raising the next generation, but as the best and only way of doing so.

On the other hand, too much emphasis on the particular circumstances of every situation — a tendency that afflicts many libertarians — leads to absurdity and foolishness. Just because some parents can raise well-adjusted children despite attending drug-laced swingers’ parties once a month doesn’t mean drug use and swinging are utterly benign. Statistics may not be destiny, but those who claim “It can’t happen to me!” are taunting Fate.

Socially liberal libertarians and social conservatives are unlikely to agree with each other, and needn’t do so in order to work together. That said, libertarians should generally put greater emphasis on responsibility in their rhetoric, especially when it comes to distinguishing responsible risk from recklessness. SoCons, in the meantime, would benefit from adopting a greater tolerance for alternative lifestyles, so long as those choices can be shown to lead to good outcomes for all involved.

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  1. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’m really curious to know what you think my goals are in this.

    ” SoCons, in the meantime, would benefit from adopting a greater tolerance for alternative lifestyles, so long as those choices can be shown to lead to good outcomes for all involved.”

    You tell me.

    • #61
  2. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Gödel’s GhostI personally find it funny to see terms like “teleological” and “progressive” used almost as cursing, including via guilt-by-association with Marx. Thanks for the trenchant reminder why I cannot identify as “conservative” and why the Republicans are “the party of stupid.”

    Perhaps you feel I have misused the terms?  You got anything beyond name-calling on that?

    • #62
  3. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’m really curious to know what you think my goals are in this.

    “ SoCons, in the meantime, would benefit from adopting a greater tolerance for alternative lifestyles, so long as those choices can be shown to lead to good outcomes for all involved.”

    You tell me.

    I did:

    Socially liberal libertarians and social conservatives are unlikely to agree with each other, and needn’t do so in order to work together. That said, libertarians should generally put greater emphasis on responsibility in their rhetoric, especially when it comes to distinguishing responsible risk from recklessness. SoCons, in the meantime, would benefit from adopting a greater tolerance for alternative lifestyles, so long as those choices can be shown to lead to good outcomes for all involved. 

    • #63
  4. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’m really curious to know what you think my goals are in this.

    “ SoCons, in the meantime, would benefit from adopting a greater tolerance for alternative lifestyles, so long as those choices can be shown to lead to good outcomes for all involved.”

    You tell me.

    I did:

    Socially liberal libertarians and social conservatives are unlikely to agree with each other, and needn’t do so in order to work together. That said, libertarians should generally put greater emphasis on responsibility in their rhetoric, especially when it comes to distinguishing responsible risk from recklessness. SoCons, in the meantime, would benefit from adopting a greater tolerance for alternative lifestyles, so long as those choices can be shown to lead to good outcomes for all involved.

     That’s not a goal in bold, that’s a method, or a means, or a tactic.  I won’t belabor this point.

    • #64
  5. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    I’m always amused when socons get lectured about tolerance.  My goodness, living in this culture we are nothing but tolerant!  But there is a difference between tolerance, which by definition means putting up with something you disagree with, and approval.  Most of us are Christians and know that people have to choose to be good or goodness and belief mean nothing.  But that does not mean that we can’t create and lobby for and try to preserve a culture that upholds the things that make it easier to be virtuous, like religious freedom and marriage.

    • #65
  6. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Perhaps you feel I have misused the terms? You got anything beyond name-calling on that?

     I can’t recall mentioning you by name at all, actually. If you’re talking about ideas or your own name-calling, then I stand behind what I said. Regarding teleology, I highly recommend The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Regarding associating belief in progress with Marx, that’s just blatant intellectual dishonesty that doesn’t warrant a response beyond straightforward dismissal.

    I’m feeling generous, though, so I’ll elaborate a bit: what’s the alternative to belief in progress? How do you square the obvious progress, e.g. in scientific knowledge, material well-being, etc. with a disbelief in progress? What is the positive program for humanity arising from a disbelief in progress? Finally, what is the scientific evidence for disbelief in progress? (Hint: read the book linked above before attempting to answer.)

    Was Marx a “progressive philosopher?” Yes, he was. But Marx’s problems—and for that matter, the rest of “Progressives”—don’t lie with their belief in progress, which is why their suborning that word is so pernicious, and “conservatives'” failure to effectively counter it so damning. They lie with their belief that progress is predictable, manageable, amenable to human planning and execution (the latter, in historical practice, to be taken literally). To the extent “conservatives” reject, not the central planning, but the belief in progress, they should and will be consigned to the scrap heap of history, in terms of all of, but not exclusively: science, economics, psychology, sociology, and politics.

    That seems like a lot of field to cede to the enemy.

    • #66
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