National Conservatism’s Fatal Conceit

Finally, conservatives have freed themselves from neoliberalism, or so one might say after last month’s National Conservatism Conference in Washington D.C., in which conservatism’s independence from libertarianism and classical liberalism was declared. Indeed, for many of the speakers, the three-day event was, in the words of Oliver Wiseman, “as much about owning the libertarians as it was ‘owning the libs’.”

I won’t go through the core conclusions of the conference, which have been analyzed possibly a gazillion times since. Rather, I want to look at two separate yet similar speeches of the conference — one, titled Beyond Libertarianism, by Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, the other by Mary Eberstadt, a former Senior Fellow of the EPPC — as they give insight to some of the core ideas of “national conservatism” and its opposition to the principles of individual liberty and free-market capitalism.

For Eberstadt, “the case for national conservatism is self-evident.” The national interest, i.e., the “well-being of our country as a whole,” should be at the center of attention for conservatives and it is here where “the default answer has been laissez faire social and economic arrangements” for a quite a while. Vance agrees, arguing that in a time of so many crises, including “family decline, childhood trauma, opioid abuse, community decline, the decline of the manufacturing sector, and the loss of dignity and purpose and meaning that come along with it,” conservatives have, for the most part, “outsourced our economic and domestic policy thinking to libertarians.”

This outsourcing has resulted in complete relativism when it comes to these crises – a “so what” attitude. As long as choices – regardless of the merit of those choices – are made freely by individuals, we can’t do anything about it or have an opinion about the choice, both Eberstadt and Vance equate libertarians with saying. For the former, “libertarianism is like moonshine. If your health is otherwise good, you’ll experience it as a tonic. But if anything about you is impaired, it could hurt or even kill you. And that is exactly why libertarianism alone cannot be trusted to guide nationalism. Because it regards citizens who can’t handle the moonshine as acceptable collateral damage.”

Once more, Vance approves of Eberstadt, arguing that while he doesn’t think that libertarians are heartless, they will most often say things like: “Well that choice comes from free individuals. If people are choosing not to have children, if they’re choosing to spend their money on vacations, or nicer cars, or nicer apartments, then we should be okay with that.”

Crucially, conservatives should not only dismiss this, they should also, in an unexplained conclusion, use political power to reach their goals:

If you think those things are problems—if you think children killing themselves is a problem, if you think people not having families, not getting married, and feeling more isolated are problems—then you need to be willing to use political power when it’s appropriate to actually solve those problems.

As Vance already indicated in a speech earlier this year, this essentially means (significantly) more government action on the national level.

Of course, what libertarianism precisely means can often be difficult to assess. Similar to any other political movement, there are more versions of libertarian ideology than one can count (and nobody can agree on a single account). And the “so what” creed that the two critics attack so mightily is prevalent among some libertarians. It should be noted, nonetheless, that this description of libertarianism is still in many regards a straw man.

Just take Eberstadt’s description of what libertarians supposedly think:

So what if working-class Americans can’t find jobs. So what if people are crossing the border illegally and endangering themselves — sometimes dying, in the process. So what if flyover countries are plagued by drugs, health problems, even a drop in life expectancy.

This description may hold true for someone who is libertarian simply to “legalize it” so that he can finally get high legally. But the moral relativism of some hardly translates into the moral relativism of all. Where do, for example, F.A. Hayek, Adam Smith, Lord Acton, Adam Ferguson, and others fit in this description?

Hayek, for instance, always made sure to not be misunderstood in this way when he said that “freedom has never worked without ingrained moral beliefs.” For the Austrian economist, it was clear that a free society as well as the market economy needed to be supplemented by a moral foundation, or it would inevitably fall apart — or, as Yuval Levin put it recently, a free society “must remain rooted, because man does not live by bread alone, and because both the market and the larger society depend upon other formative institutions that help us all become better human beings and citizens.” In this sense, there is no way someone like Hayek would have said “so what” to a weakening of social institutions, mass unemployment in rural areas, or the opioid crisis.

The libertarian straw man is, however, crucial to Eberstadt and Vance so as to argue for more power to the state. For if those opposed to the all-intrusive state are completely indifferent to the concerns of the people, then, both argue, that means that our anointed nationalists —who never tire in telling us how much they care — are allowed to use the coercive force of government, and it would be quite dumb if they weren’t allowed such force. But what separates Hayek, for instance, from Vance is not that one is indifferent about social crises and the other not. The difference is a matter of what method should be used to solve them. Should it be government attempting to solve a crisis? Or should it be the people through voluntary cooperation and their own decision-making in civil society?

It is here, though, where it is rather shocking how many of the national conservatives have become strangely ignorant of the dangers of centralized power. Sure, they can rail against ‘Big Tech’ and large corporations, but little can still be heard about the dangers of Washington D.C., or Brussels, Berlin, or London making decisions for hundreds of millions of people and picking winners and losers in the economic arena. Cases such as Budapest, Rome, or Warsaw, where the rule of law, freedom of the press, free association, and any sense of fiscal prudence, are increasingly attacked, are meanwhile even defended.

As Steven Horwitz writes in another reply to Vance over at EconLib, simply because Vance thinks government should solve all of the crises he has diagnosed, does not mean it would be successful in it. In fact, the state in all likelihood will fail (think of public choice economics, false economic premises when it comes to protectionism, or that whole cronyism thing as just a few examples why). Instead, national conservatives “will likely exacerbate the very social ills they hope to remedy.”

There is, of course, a long history of how centralized power over society’s local decision-making will lead to disaster. Power corrupts and power corrupts absolutely, said Lord Acton. Edmund Burke, the great father of conservatism and by no means a friend of Big Government either, wrote that “Many of the greatest Tyrants on the Records of History have begun their Reigns in the fairest Manner. But the Truth is, this unnatural Power corrupts both the Heart, and the Understanding.” The question certainly arises where this fear of centralization, which is so naturally conservative, has gone in the minds of national conservatives who argue for dirigisme in a wide variety of social and economic affairs.

Of course, many of the crises that national conservatives want to, rightfully, fix were, in part, created by government, by politicians thinking they can solve every malady in the world. How the state can destroy the social fabric and further social disintegration has already been pointed out throughout the decades and centuries by the likes of Robert Nisbet or Alexis de Tocqueville, where social institutions between the individual and the state, grown organically from the bottom-up, were replaced by this “immense and tutelary power” which is “absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild.”

That J.D. Vance himself knows this can be clearly seen in his own Hillbilly Elegy, which strikes a surprisingly different tone when it comes to politics than his recent speeches do. In his bestseller, he praises the “libertarian mistrust of government policy, which is healthy in any democracy,” and writes that there is no “magical public policy solution or an innovative government program” that could solve the problems that “family, faith, and culture” are facing today. He appeals to self-responsibility when he argues that we should “stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”

Indeed, at one point in the book, he provides a great example of how government is actually causing problems for the family:

For families like mine—and for many black and Hispanic families—grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles play an outsize role. Child services often cut them out of the picture, as they did in my case. Some states require occupational licensing for foster parents—just like nurses and doctors—even when the would-be foster parent is a grandmother or another close family member.

To quote him one final time, in Hillbilly Elegy, Vance realized that government could not be the solution: “I’d curse our government for not helping enough, and then I’d wonder if, in its attempts to help, it actually made the problem worse.” Indeed.

This goes to the core of the advocacy for government action by national conservatives. Of course, a “so what” attitude is highly damaging. We should be ready to tackle the social crises conservatives have diagnosed and put all of our efforts into solving them. Yes, globalization — especially the political sort — poses new kinds of questions that will need further considerations, including on what place the nation, local identities, and the common good should have in our society.

Yet, this is in many regards a discussion over method. But national conservatives seem to not only have declared independence from libertarianism, but also skepticism of political power, without having provided any explanations for why these age-old arguments against state power are not valid anymore. The fatal conceit is now their own.

Instead of arguing for all kinds of government policies, national conservatives would do well to follow the example of J.D. Vance, the entrepreneur, to argue for voluntary means to solve these issues, for decentralization and local governance to return agency and power to the people in neglected areas, and for a revitalization of civil society so that it, ultimately, can be left alone by the state.

As Patrick Deneen wrote in his own bestseller, “what we need today are practices fostered in local settings, focused on the creation of new and viable cultures, economics grounded in virtuosity within households, and the creation of civic polis life.” Centralization can’t get this done.

Reader Discussion

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on September 13, 2019 at 09:53:17 am

On the strawman claim: "this description of libertarianism is still in many regards a straw man.."

It is, I think, not a strawman to say that at least some self-described "libertarians" believe one or more of the following:
(1) that the supreme political good is "liberty," --hence the term "libertarian," disciplined by equality, such that public policy should seek to mazimize the degree to which people can do what they feel, subject only to the rule against aggression;

(2) that centralization is bad insofar not so much because it doesn't work but because it involves governmental interference with liberty;

(3) that therefore, it is entirely good to rely on centralization where it can serve the cause of such liberty, including reliance on centralized federal judiciary to invalidate state and local laws that reserves the status and rights of marriage to the lifelong union of man and woman;


(4) true rights are reducible to liberty, so any claims of "wrong" are wrong unless referable to the governing rule against interpersonal aggression--that is, that libertarisanism is about the meaning of right and wrong in general, and not just a rule of limited government.

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David Upham
on September 13, 2019 at 10:53:48 am

Because Conservatism prefers the familiar to the unknown, the tried to the untried, the actual to the possible and the concept of Constitutional limited government it is the nature of Conservatism that it can not offer alternatives to the direction we are moving. The power Conservatism craves is that of a brake on government more than a steering wheel or as William Buckley said it "Stands Athwart History Yelling Stop ". Basically the reason candidates run for elected office is with the intention of making things better for people. Conservatives however run with a consciousness of things lost, but also in a consciousness of things not yet lost but needing to be protected and preserved like the principles and traditions that founded our great nation. They run for office on individual liberty, Constitutional limited government, the sanctity of life, shrinking the administrative state, free trade, and self reliance. Needless to say the Conservative argument is hardly charismatic and doesn't attract many voters besides the hard line Conservatives in todays materialistic society.

If there is a failure in Conservatism it lies with the snake oil peddling politicians and media hacks who supposedly expounded their own doctored variations of Conservatism and not the ideology itself. As for the movement we are a prisoner of our own conscience and therefore still believe in our fundamental principles. We believed in them when we were much smaller and weaker and if we become that small and weak again we will keep on believing in them. We fight with the idea of not only keeping the movement alive but with the expectation that it will triumph again. Principles don't follow election returns, neither does the need to uphold them.

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Bob Manderville
on September 13, 2019 at 12:44:49 pm

" “what we need today are practices fostered in local settings, focused on the creation of new and viable cultures, economics grounded in virtuosity within households, and the creation of civic polis life.” Centralization can’t get this done."

Quite correct!

And if I may add, if we are serious about "re-instilling" in the populace those practices, virtues beliefs essentail to the sustenance of a civic polis, we may want to consider the role of education in the dialectic.
How is it that one can expect such a viable political life when our young have been inundated with decades of prescribed "self-hate"?, when all that was cherished is now characterized as evil, vile, oppressive?
To attempt to "re-enact" those formerly salutary behaviors / beliefs can now only be seen as an ill fated attempt to reconstitute the "hegemony" of Western Privilege.
One could go on but.....

Would such an effort to counter the suicidal indoctrination of our young be possible without some form of government intrusion?
Consider the current brouhaha over the Internet Platform Giants. Left to their own devices, these "woke" corporations will continue to "discriminate" against both conservatives and those libertarians whose views on "income inequality" may differ markedly from that professed by the Platform Giants.

Who will stop them.

The point is that to argue that ALL government interference is improper or that it is always destined to fail is false. It is as Edmund Burke always asserted - a question of Moderation.

Apply the stick as appropriate; dole out the inducements as also appropriate.
But more than anything else: Do NOT abandon the young to the vile proselytizing of the Academy (and this may include some of the more radical "personal autonomy" teachings of libertarians, as well as "laissez faire" conservative support for "homo economicus").

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on September 13, 2019 at 13:15:04 pm

"Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality.

[T]he most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it - or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism.... I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution....

Connected with the conservative distrust of the new and the strange is its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism.... The growth of ideas is an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence. It is no real argument to say that an idea is un-American....

The anti-internationalism of conservatism is so frequently associated with imperialism. [T]he more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to 'civilize' others...."

F.A. Hayek,
Why I Am Not a Conservative (1960)

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on September 13, 2019 at 14:18:19 pm

"“Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality."

Uhhh! Could this not also be a description of the modern day progressive with ITS belief in the "power of ideas" and ITS own sense of "self-arrogated superiority:

Recall, please, that it was not conservatives applying the descriptor "deplorables" but rather the Proggies (formerly known as liberals).

And why is Nationalism always preceded by such prejoratives as strident. Let us not place Hayek in the pantheon of saints. Recall also that as as a corollary of his extreme "laissez faire" economics, he also advocated for "Open Borders" and question the very value of nation states. All this one presumes so that no mere and (hopefully) enfeebled construct such as a nation state could interfere with the Free flow of goods and markets.

I don;t buy Hayek.

As for imperialism being conflated with "anti-internationalism" Hayek may have been too fearful of a new rise of Nazi Germany. while this is understandable, and is, and has been quite evident in the "nation-state destroying" policies of the EU for the past five decades, it dismisses the behavior of the majority of nation states that ARE NOT NOW, NOR HAVE THEY EVER BEEN IMPERIALIST.

Nice sound bite, nobody really believes this nonsense.

As for "new knowledge", no doubt the questioning of "Climate Change" as the consequence of human behavior is what is currently lauded as conservatives hostility to new knowledge. Gee, the science is settled -OR IS IT. It is not conservatives (see Michael Mann et al) who have manipulated thier "science" in order to advance all those NEW and exciting "science-ey" ideas.

MY Gawd, Edith - you must be writing for the Times or WAPO.

BTW: My comment on your comment "Can Israel remain Jewish and A dEMOCRACY" PROVED CORRECT as (forgive the caps) AP put out just such a story today which was "regurgitated" in many local scandal sheets such as The Seattle Times.

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on September 13, 2019 at 14:43:52 pm

Own the Libs???

Demented and Deluded Donald six times bankrupt ass couldn’t even keep ownership of casinos and other failed businesses he tried to own.

Good luck with that owning the Libs the next time Conservatives’ too low tax on the parasite class and lax to no proper financial regulations inevitably crashes the economy (and in two instances, 1928 and 2007/2008 also crashed the global financial system.)

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on September 13, 2019 at 14:59:12 pm

As Rome was in its ascendancy, it organized its centurions into tight phalanxes, armed with shields, spears, and short swords that soldiers could wield in tight formations. But as the empire declined, military discipline and training broke down. The phalanxes grew sloppier, and the length of the Roman swords grew longer. Yes, this meant that soldiers had a greater risk of hitting each other. But each soldier found himself in a long retreat, having to cover a larger bit of terrain than his predecessor had. This is the nature of empires in decline: They sacrifice discipline and restraint in a desperate gambit to slow their collapse.

And this is what we saw on display at the National Conservatism Conference, and in the debate between David French and Sohrab Ahmari.

It is all well and good to embrace libertarian discipline and constraints when you feel your side benefits from those constraints. This dynamic fueled the fusion between libertarians, Christian conservatives, and white supremacists. These groups could unite in opposition to busing, civil rights, and the social safety net. But as racism, sexism, and homophobia became more stigmatized, as immigration became more common and controversial, as the labor market produced ever greater disparities on the basis of education and location, and especially as religious affiliation declined, the Christian Conservatives and the white supremacists concluded that the libertarian discipline was no longer delivering the goods they had come to expect. If the free market of ideas no longer produced the desired outcome, why not resort to compulsion? The only people to object would be the libertarians—and it was only a marriage of convenience anyway.

But it is not clear that the libertarians were the first to be abandoned. Arguably as the ship began sinking, the first bit of baggage to be tossed overboard was Christianity. So-called conservative Christians are now in thrall to an abject vulgarian. Moreover, Conservative Christianity is increasingly populated by rural people who do NOT attend church--that is, people who have a faith that is both dogmatic and unschooled. It has devolved into white nationalism in everything but name.

This is truly the death rattle. Republicans have held North Carolina's 9th Congressional District for the past half-century; Trump won in that district by 12 percent. On Tuesday, the Republican Congressional candidate prevailed--by 2 percent. Similarly, senators in Republican strongholds such as Georgia and Texas have each faced a near-death experience. And the three swing states that provided Trump his victory in 2016--Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin--now all have Democratic governors and secretaries of state.

Every day, more elderly white rural Americans pass away. Every day, more people of color reach their 18th birthday. Every day, more northerners move to Arizona, Florida, and Texas for jobs or retirement--and bring their voting preferences with them.

What, exactly, does libertarianism have to offer white supremacy now? The libertarians gather in their coat and tails, drinking a final snifter of brandy as the Titanic goes down, while the white supremacists toss women and children aside in a mad scramble to get on the last lifeboat. They have no use for the consolations of dignified stoicism and principles in the face of an unmistakable and unavoidable doom.

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on September 13, 2019 at 15:10:43 pm

But national conservatives seem to not only have declared independence from libertarianism, but also skepticism of political power, without having provided any explanations for why these age-old arguments against state power are not valid anymore

Since libertarianism CLEARLY violates the Constitution , your argument is a shot in the dark. Federalists and democrats said over and over, any law that violates the moral law and scriptures is null and void:

"In short, when human laws contradict or discountenance the means, which are necessary to preserve the essential rights of any society, they defeat the proper ends of all laws, and so become null and void."

Alexander Hamilton. Farmer Refuted 

No arguments against State power? How about the Soviet union, china, Vietnam, Venezuela, Argentina, the French revolution,, nazi Germany and every Catholic nation for the last 2000 years. The Catholic church has murdered 100 million people?

The only foundation for any people to unite together in social covenant, resulting in a blessed nation of justice, wealth and equity is Christ Jesus and His word found in the bible. All others are a false foundation.

All the progress of freedom, human rights, science, medicine, equality for women and minorities, etc., has come from the gospel.

Instead of arguing for all kinds of government policies, national conservatives would do well to follow the example of J.D. Vance, the entrepreneur, to argue for voluntary means to solve these issues for decentralization and local governance to return agency and power to the people in neglected areas, and for a revitalization of civil society so that it, ultimately, can be left alone by the state.

That's what conservatism is, but alone, revitalization of civil society can never be until the sin nature is suppressed by a new nature in Christ Jesus, where the law and the gospel is supreme. This will never happen. Thus, the world will get much worse.

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on September 13, 2019 at 15:57:11 pm

MY goodness, nobody. Here again we see the oft mentioned but rather infrequently seen white supremacy- and, Surprise, Surprise - according to nobody it is resident only in those quarters which house conservatives, Christians and libertarians.

what sheer and utter BALDERDASH.

Curiously enough in my home state of Washington comes news of a series of allegations made by a Democrat State Assemblywoman in which she alleges that members of her Democrat Party Caucus were heard repeatedly to issue ethnic, racial, sexual and misogynistic comments.

This comports with my own observations that the most racial and insensitive comments appear to come from adherents to the Democrat party who are perfectly fine with "stickin' it to Big Business and the F'ng Rich (as they say) but have absolutely no tolerance for racial and sexual minorities.

Yep, nobody will ask for data BUT observation IS data, especially when it has been repeated over many decades.

Nobody really prefers to propagate the never ending narrative that anyone on the right, by definition, is a racist, sexist, homophobic "white supremacist.

As Marx (Groucho, that is) said, "Who ya gunna believe - me or your own lyin' eyes?"

I still have pretty decent vision, my friend!

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on September 13, 2019 at 21:48:53 pm

[…] Law & Liberty, Kai Weiss has written a piece called “National Conservatism’s Fatal Conceit.” You recognize the title: a phrase from Hayek, building on Adam Smith (who wrote that “the man […]

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‘You Don’t Care, You Don’t Understand . . .’ | National Review | Smartguns
on September 16, 2019 at 17:04:44 pm

The primary contributor to the collapse of social values lies less in the hands of the government than it does in the forces of the market.Unregulated or loosely regulated capitalism is essentially corrosive to social relations and humanism. This is especially true in an age of mass media and an age of atomization of society through mediums such as "social" media.

The market is supported in this destructive agenda by government at all levels. Power has become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands through both active measures (laws and norms) and by the requirement for wealth (and the influence that wealth buys).

These problems are not new--humanity has struggled with them constantly since the beginning. We have a greater awareness and fear of the power of centralization through government as this is more historically visible. Concentration of power in non-governmental hands is as bad, if not even potentially worse.

The morality of inter-person relations is replaced by the morality of profit and of power. People increasingly become means and not ends. I do not think any currently existing political ideology (especially those expressed THROUGH US political parties) has a solution to this problem. Not sure there is one. Looking backwards is certainly not going to solve our problems.

You need a set of generally acceptable humanist principles as a basis. You need a neutral (or as neutral as you can get) arbiter that is not subject to popular forces... and you need multiple, competing centers of power that are responsive to popular forces (either through elections or through market forces)--and that are a mix of local and national.

The Founders set up a system that had some of those features, but they could not account for future developments and also failed to create a true separation of powers.

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r mercer
on September 17, 2019 at 16:57:05 pm

Since this essay and associated comments refer to libertarians, and what libertarians think or are supposed to think, and I consider myself a libertarian, I trust this site will indulge a lengthy explanation for a particular libertariann perspective.

It is a virtual certainty that the spectrum of beliefs and ideas held by libertarians is very wide, as are the processes by which different individuals come to embrace libertarian values. It is not the case that all libertarians begin with the premise that all people should be free to do want they want, have no social obligations other than those that they adopt voluntarily, and others should have to fend for themselves. For many people libertarianism is something that they adopt through reason, rather than something they default to because of insular attitudes.

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on September 17, 2019 at 16:58:47 pm

One basis of libertarian thought begins with the observation that consequences are unavoidable, and in most cases, natural. There are certain natural consequences that obtain from actions and decisions, apart from any abstract concerns such as fairness, equality or compassion. Nature does have a significant influence on human affairs, at all times and in all places, and this cannot be undone by ideology, wishful thinking, or emotionally appealing doctrines that are the modern descendants of magic. There are many phenomena that are simply part of the real world, i.e. facts. Such phenomena include the concept that specific expertise produces, on average, more efficiency that generalized competence, or that a businessman who regularly defrauds his customers will develop an unfavorable reputation, or that infants must be cared for during the first years of their lives. Because of this, libertarian thought, at least a particular version of it, makes a distinction between design and prescription. Designers must necessarily consider the processes and natural phenomena by which actions produce reactions, stimuli produce responses, and decisions result in outcomes, often unintended, unexpected and unwelcome. Prescribers, on the other hand, simply decree that outcome occur, and try to will it into happening despite human nature, history or the natural influences that affect human affairs. Prescribers tend to view the relationships between wants and outcomes the same way young children do and, not giving significant regard to the natural forces that intervene between the two, must inevitably resort to the use of force.

Aversion to prescriptive solutions for human problems is not only a reaction to the prospect of force and coercion that such solutions imply, but also results from historical evidence that such attempts do not work. They leave the vast majority of people worse off. The rejection of the use of force as the basis of producing particular outcomes is inherently libertarian. The libertarian aspect is not necessarily the rejection of the intended outcome, but rejection of the ineffective, dehumanizing and ultimately destructive means of attaining it.

The rejection of the use of force does not itself make for a libertarian world-view. As mentioned above, the libertarian understands that natural phenomena influence outcomes. There are two ways to view these phenomena, pessimistically or optimistically. The pessimistic view is that nature is essentially degenerative, that left on their own things will only get worse. The optimistic view is that nature, whether one wishes to consider it divine natural law, or a cosmic accident, contains within it the essentials of human progress and ultimately human happiness. Human choices affect whether nature allows humans to thrive, or decline. A libertarian view is the optimistic one, and moreover it is the constellation of individual human choices that result in human flourishing. This helps explain the libertarian affinity for individualism. Each individual has unique talents, needs, biases and opportunities that permit him or her, with sufficient liberty, to not only see to their own happiness, but to contribute to the general welfare. A libertarian view is that people are generally good, that on average, they do care about others, and that it is individual liberty, rather than social homogenization, that allows individuals and their wider societies to flourish. Libertarians understand that societies cannot prescribe the works of Beethoven, or the insights of Newton, or the creativity of Shakespeare. These are all the results of individual attributes that have to be allowed to flourish. The libertarian understands that these attributes, and these remarkable people, are part of nature and are much more likely to produce human flourishing and human happiness if they are given the liberty to do so.

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on September 17, 2019 at 17:00:29 pm

Many libertarians do not reject, as they are often accused of doing, social responsibility. They understand that people should be respected regardless if their circumstances, and should not have to suffer from neglect. Libertarians however recognize that dependency not only results from vulnerability, it also creates it. Libertarians recognize that, just as the circumstances of those in need vary significantly, so do the appropriate responses to those needs. For this reason, libertarians are disposed to the notion of subsidiarity, that social responsibilities should be fulfilled at the lowest level of social organization possible. Many libertarians do not believe that there is no social responsibility to those in need, but recognize that half-baked and well-meaning programs imposed by detached authority are prone to unintended consequences that do more harm than good. As with the good of society in general, the welfare of the needy is best served, even of imperfectly, where individual rights and liberty flourish.

Libertarians generally recognize that human circumstances are determined largely by interactions between people and their environment. As a result, circumstances vary, and will always vary between different regions and different groups of people. The best way to accommodate these differences is to allow enough liberty for people to adapt, to do what is most beneficial in response to discrete and particular circumstances, rather than some some grand vision imposed by remote functionaries.

Libertarians believe what they do, because those beliefs are largely consistent with the nature of the world, and the dignity of the people within it.

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on September 17, 2019 at 19:25:30 pm


Nicely said.
By YOUR definition, I would probably be a "libertarian" but I do not so identify.

Temperance in all things AND THAT INCLUDES "political prescriptions" put on offer by those who believe (erroneously, I would contend) that THEY have the solution to life (nature's never ending cornucopia of human responses) problems / inequities. Ultimately, this prescriptive *imposition* devolves into FORCE.

On this we agree.

I differ from the RADICAL individualist libertarian when it comes to a seemingly callous disregard for what in past ages we termed "a virtuous life" and on their disregard for natural law. Yep, a fuzzy wuzzy concept, indeed.
Then again, How much more "fuzzy-wuzzy" can we get WITHOUT "natural law" / morals / behavior?

Like you, I prefer that social responsibilities should be both fulfilled AND GENERATED at the lowest level of social organization and not imposed from above by those who are putatively "smarter" / better educated" than I.
Failure to recognize this has proven disastrous for social comity ever since the rise of the Bourbon Monarch;s use of "bureaucrats" to micromanage every aspect of village and provincial life.

See any similarities? - I do. The same sucking sound as the spirit of community is vitiated as a never ending stream of countervailing and unwanted obligations is placed upon the citizenry.

It IS the nature of human beings / world for people to expect dignity and ordered liberty. (sorry for the shorthand(s) - but you get it.

If that be a libertarian then I suppose there is some in me.

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Image of gabe
on September 17, 2019 at 20:44:19 pm


I respect your point. I think a lot of the criticism of "libertarian" comes from a tendency to equate it with "libertine." There are undoubtably those libertarians for whom liberty is an end in itself, but there is also a group for whom liberty is an essential means to a greater end. I do not intend by saying so to resurrect last weeks discussion of telos

Pretty much everyone is libertarian when considering their own wants. What distinguishes libertarianism from both its progressive and conservative critics is the view of other people's liberty. It is quite fashionable to argue that someone else's liberty must be limited for the greater good, or for the good of the person so constrained. The libertarian view, on the other hand is that liberty is essential both to the greater good, and to the individual who responsibly exercises it. The fashionable view is one of cynicism and lack of nerve. It arises not from a rational acknowledgement of human nature's dark side, but from an irrational fear and superstition regarding it. Many of the the most destructive doctrines in history, and those that many progressives are trying to resurrect, have at their core a distrust of and hostility toward other human beings, and suspicion of liberty.

As an aside, a good illustration of the difference between design and prescription can be found in the collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge last year. The laws of nature and mechanics determined the mechanical stresses in the various structural members, but these considerations, i.e. how do they affect the likelihood that the bridge might collapse, were subordinated to "aesthetic" concerns. They were compromised by the prescription that the appearance of the bridge convey an image that the university administrators desired. This prioritization of prescribed interests over considering risks of failure in the design process resulted in the deaths of six people.

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Image of z9z99
on September 17, 2019 at 22:32:48 pm


"This prioritization of prescribed interests over considering risks of failure in the design process resulted in the deaths of six people."


the same may be said for the deluded parents who ( as a recent photo and article from the Telegraph (I think) illustrates wherein we observe an British mother "triumphantly' displaying a sign that "she (HEARTS) HER TRANSGENDER CHILD - WHO JUST SO HAPPENED TO BE younger than what the old RC church had prescribed as the Age of Reason. The bloody kid was 4 years old. This is what i remember as the old 1960's (pre-libertarian) act of "Making a Statement."
The aesthetics of it for the mother were undeniable. She could posture as a lover of liberty while simultaneously committing child abuse.
Harsh - NOPE, not really.

Just another example of letting "doctrine" or DOGMA obscure ones' vision while willfully ignoring BOTH the "design" of a young child (a biological male) with all that entails hormonally, DNA-wise, etc in favor of the aesthetics of "The progressive Liberty Loving" / "Free to Choose Understanding Mother.

This is where I part company with both the Proggies and the Libertarians.

As you indicate there is a nature to human beings and part of that nature is biological sex.
Unless, of course, one is willing to accept Ashar'aite (sp?) Islamist theology which entails a completely anti-rational understanding of Allah as predicated upon "voluntarism" (a misnomer, if ever I have encountered one) whereby Allah decides everything single thing extant - now to include transgenderism - Allah did it - not the human spirit.

You want nihilism - there it is.
As you say, some opposition to libertarianism is based upon fear of "worst" human motives.
On the other hand, some concern about certain strains of libertarianism is based upon a fear of the underlying, and MOST profound NIHILISM implicit in some of radical libertarianism.

BUT you I like, brudda, Ya got a good, no - a great mind. I flatter myself by thinking I understand you.

Anyway, take care - now back to PBS's Country Music series and putting the grandchildren to bed. Gawd, I luv it! One BOY and one GIRL - to remain so!!!!!!!!

take care

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Image of gabe

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