Blogs > Liberty and Power > Libertarians and the Conservative Movement

Nov 7, 2006 1:57 pm

Libertarians and the Conservative Movement

For many years, I've wondered why so many libertarians seem so willing, if not eager, to align themselves with mainstream conservativism, especially as it manifests itself in the Republican Party. I've certainly never seen the principled reason, but I've never been convinced by any strategic alignment arguments either. And with the horrific record of the Bush Adminstration (bad on civil liberties, bad on economics, and all whooped up for that old health of the state - war), the case seems even more pathetic now.

But when I think I can't abide by conservatives one more moment, they do something to top themselves.

Consider this post by David Frum at National Review Online about the Ted Haggard affair (HT: Andrew Sullivan). The key bit is this:

Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse.

One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives.

The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.

Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue - or at least as a mitigation of his offense?

After all, the first man may well see his family and church life as his"real" life; and regard his other life as an occasional uncontrollable deviation, sin, and error, which he condemns in his judgment and for which he sincerely seeks to atone by his prayer, preaching, and Christian works.

Yet it is the first man who will if exposed be held up to the execration of the media, while the second can become a noted public character - and can even hope to get away with presenting himself as an exemplar of ethics and morality.

How does this make moral sense?

NRO's Kathryn Lopez called Frum's argument"excellent."

When mainstream conservativism not only countenances but gives a moral standing ovation to a man who threw his own family under the bus while loudly proclaiming his moral and political opposition to all the consensual behaviors he was engaging in, it's time to wonder whether people like Frum and Lopez have, literally, lost their minds, not to mention libertarians who have any patience for people who make arguments like this.

Haggard has wrecked the lives of his wife and 5 kids, risked giving her any number of STDs by fooling around with a drug-using prostitute, and lied to and abandoned thousands of parishoners he had an obligation to serve. Yet because he toes the party line on the evils of homosexuality and drugs in his public pronouncements, he is more moral than the man who lives an openly gay life and who supports drug legalization, never harming a loved one or anyone to whom he is legally or morally obligated?

Why in heaven's name would ANY libertarian want ANYTHING to do with these people? Frum and Lopez are not little-known extremists - they are major columnists for, arguably, the central voice of modern conservatism.

Can someone please explain to me why a libertarian should even think about voting Republican?

(And if you want to read something worse, check out the fellow pastor who suggests that Haggard's wife bears some blame for what he did because she, like many other pastors' wives,"is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about." Thus though she"is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.")

Like Andrew Sullivan, my jaw remains on the floor.

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Flato Saavetra Morena - 11/10/2006

I never suggested that you “regard anything nonaggressive as morally OK” and apologize if I gave the opposite impression. And thank you for acknowledging that there are tensions among libertarians with respect to homosexuality. There are many libertarians on the other side of the fence from you on this issue, and they are the ones who would find Frum’s comments (in this case) less troubling. Are you conceding this point?

Also, remember that not all criticism of homosexuality is homophobic. I certainly did not discern that in Frum’s argument, but you apparently did. I only discerned that he considered homosexual acts immoral—a point about which reasonable people, and even libertarians (do I again repeat myself?), can disagree.

Steven Horwitz - 11/9/2006

Let me just say that I concur with Roderick completely. I don't need (b) to make my point, but I, like Roderick, would defend it.

And I would also echo the point that not all nonaggressive actions are morally acceptable. I simply would not put homosexuality or homosexual acts in that category, as I simply do not see how they "cause damage to the human person." Seems to me that "struggling against urges" that are part of what it can mean to be human is both ignoble and more likely to "cause damage to the human person" than is acting on the urge itself.

Did our friend Mr. Haggard cause more damage to himself by struggling against his urge than he would have by not just "giving in" (which after all he did!), but by acknowledging its very humanity? I'd say the answer is an uniequivocal yes.

Roderick T. Long - 11/9/2006

Of course I am aware that some libertarians think homosexuality is immoral. Obviously I think a) that they are seriously mistaken in this, and b) that their being so mistaken is in tension with libertarianism. Note that Horwitz's point only depends on (a), not (b); but I do defend (b) also. When I defend (b), however, I'm not saying that the libertarian nonaggression principle directly entails the wrongness of homophobia; that's why I referred to "thickness" considerations. For what I mean by "thickness" considerations, see:

Incidentally, I most emphatically don't think (as you may perhaps be supposing) that I regard anything nonaggressive as morally OK. On the contrary, if that were my position then I couldn't regard homophobia as immoral.

Flato Saavetra Morena - 11/9/2006

You seem to be implying that criticism of homosexuality is (a) homophobic and (b) contrary to libertarianism qua libertarianism. (Why?) Remember, many libertarians who believe in natural law, while strenuously opposed to the state and state controls on human action (or do I repeat myself?), note that some actions, freely made, can cause damage to the human person, and that one person who struggles with the urge to engage in such actions is to be preferred, if only relatively, to another who doesn’t. I’d feel better about you if I knew that you (say) struggled with a desire to use crystal meth relative to another who didn’t, even if I might take heart that both of you are acting in ways that reflect self-ownership.

I contend that those of this stripe of libertarianism would have less of a problem with Frum’s basic argument. And I am not knocking Professor Horwitz for making his argument. I am merely reminding readers that it is not anti-libertarian to be less appalled than he to Frum’s interpretation of the Haggard affair.

Roderick T. Long - 11/8/2006

Even leaving aside a) the fact that Frum includes advocating legalization of drugs, prostitution, etc. as immoral, which a libertarian obviously has to disagree with, the point of the objection is not that b) libertarianism necessarily implies the wrongness of homophobia or hypocrisy (actually I think it does, via "thickness" considerations, but leave that aside for the moment) but rather that c) homophobia and hypocrisy are in fact wrong, whether on libertarian grounds or not, and that Frum's quote is blatantly, bizarrely on the side of homophobia and hypocrisy. Why isn't that a valid criticism?

Flato Saavetra Morena - 11/8/2006

For the life of me, and as no supporter of Frum, I do not see what the objection to this excerpt could be unless you believe that being a libertarian means that one must consider conventional sex, anal sex, or even hand-holding as morally neutral acts.

Roderick T. Long - 11/6/2006

Even if one were to grant -- as of course one shouldn't -- that homosexuality is a sin, I seem to recall that Jesus had a rather more positive attitude toward open sinners than to hypocrites. Something these pontificating Christians might do well to remember.

Aeon J. Skoble - 11/6/2006

Wow, Steve. That's amazingly stupid reasoning (NR's, not yours!), and you're right -- libertarians have nothing to gain by aligning with folks like that. That's a new low in end-justifies-the-means hypocrisy.

Gus diZerega - 11/6/2006