Thus, A Traditional Conservative

The following is a response to DrewM’s post “To L(l)ibertarian Or Not? That Is The Question” over at the Ace of Spades HQ:

     For me, it was actually opposite direction.

     I used to be quite libertarian, but I’ve found myself agreeing more with traditional conservatism (Burkean or Stephensian).

     Why? Because there are a lot of things, philosophically, that libertarianism gets wrong… which the Left also get wrong.

     In both cases they start from “first principles” that they derived (or were handed), and base everything off of those necessarily flawed “first principles” even when it conflicts with reality. Society and humanity are so complex that we are no where near (if we ever will be) so thoroughly grokking it to the point were our derived “first principles” would actually fit the complexities of society.

     The main reason why libertarianism is better than Progressivism is not the way they construct their philosophical tenants, but that the libertarians “hands off” tenants are massively better than the Progressives’ “interfere with everything” tenants.

     There are other parallels: A propensity to blame things on a “boggie-man” that, once vanquished would lead to a utopia, since reason and such perfections are presumed to be the default of humanity.

     Take, for example, Drew’s mentioning of our society being built on Lockean principles. This is false. Our society, just like all others, are not build upon any principles; Lockean principles are derived by our society with its mores, folkways, and social norms.

     Societies evolve and develop evolutionarily. Those mores, folkways, and customs that are conducive towards propagating that society are strengthened. Those mores, folkways, and customs that are destructive against society will either be lost, or cause the degradation and downfall of society.

     This is the difference between conservatism and libertarianism (as well as with Progressivism): Conservatives recognize that society is organic and evolutionary — that society can not be built from scratch and that those conditions that allowed for both virtue and liberty to coexist are rare, and could never be reconstructed from scratch — thus the wisdom of being skeptical of fundamental changes and a desire to preserve those conditions that led to liberty being viable to begin with; in contrast, both libertarians and Progressives believe hubristically that they can simply set up society upon their “first principles” and that it will work.

     In effect, conservatives have an evolutionary view while both libertarians and Progressives believe in a social equivalent of Intelligent Design.

     A problem with some libertarian thinking is that it boils down to wanting to not only do what they want, but to do so without criticism. A perfect example of this John Stewart Mill’s “On Liberty.” Therein, Mill not only wished the government to keep out, but “society” to do so as well. In effect, he doesn’t want the squares to harsh his mellow. What right, he muses, does “society” have to proactively oppose what “society” believes is immoral? The obvious problem with this is that if one has a right to not have other individuals oppose them in the private sphere, then it follows that one has a right to use the state to protect their rights by constraining society. “Society,” however, is just the interplay and interaction of many individuals. This is seen in the modern day with Progressives wanting to force bakers, florists, and photographers to provide their services to same-sex weddings in order to prevent the same-sex couples from being denied their “right” to live their lives exactly how they want without “society” harshing their mellow.

     A good counter to Mill’s libertarianism is James FitzJames Stephen’s “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” that was written in response to Mill’s work, but goes beyond that.

     I would also add that I recently read Yuval Levin’s “The Great Debate” where he traces the origins of the modern “right” and “left” from Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, respectively. The seemingly libertarian Paine ended up in life believing in the power of the state, that the people could act as a collective and conscious will through the state, and that is was necessary to knock down society periodically so that through reason alone utopia could be achieved. As such, I often fear the “libertarianism” will readily devolve into libertinism and thus be a stalking horse for socialism and Progressivism.

     Thus, I am a traditional conservative.

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