Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
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.Published in