Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Response to Moser: Can the Twain Meet

Thanks to John Moser for his post on whether one can combine social liberalism with fiscal conservatism.

The article by Brian Janiskee was about Arnold. The point of Janiskee’s article is that one seldom or never finds an office-holder with real responsibility who combines these two qualities well. Janiskee expresses skepticism, which I share, about Arnold’s ability to combine his social liberalism with his fiscal conservatism. One can rest assured that Arnold will not compromise his social liberalism and that if he compromises anything it will be his fiscal conservatism. Let’s hope he sticks to his stated purpose not to raise taxes. Let’s hope President Bush’s praise of him bears good fruit.

Moser points to libertarians as the example to prove that my post was "demonstrably false" but then agrees with or reiterates the main point of Janiskee’s article: There are no state-wide office holders in this country, whether Senators or Governors (are there any?), who combine social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. He blames this on the fund-raising that is necessary to win state-wide elections. Fund-raising is certainly a problem but, I think, fund-raising is not the cause of the problem but more an effect or symptom of the disease. The need for extraordinary fund-raising these days is due to the size of the modern administrative state. The size of the modern administrative state follows from the premise of social liberalism or progressivism.

Moser suggests that libertarians prove that one can combine social liberalism with fiscal conservatism. I think Moser is mistaken when he equates the classical liberal/libertarian with the social liberal. The classical liberal, whether a follower of Von Mises or Hayek or a follower of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, believes that government’s purpose is limited to securing the individual’s rights to life, liberty and property. As Madison writes, government is a reflection on human nature which is fallible. The social liberal or progressive believes that government’s purpose is unlimited because he believes that the human condition is perfectible. Thus, the social liberal believes that government has an obligation to do social justice, especially by intervening in society or the private sector to overcome the inequities or injustices there. So the social liberal/progressive denies one of the fundamental premises of classical liberalism, the distinction between state and society.

The social liberal’s principles are fundamentally different from the classical liberal. The reigning dogma of the social liberal is found in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in ’Planned Parenthood v. Casey’(1992) which was repeated in ’Lawrence v. Texas’ in the most recent term of the Court: The mystery clause states: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of life." A more popular expression of that dogma is Hilary Clinton’s "We are free to redefine what it means to be a human-being." This is democratic nihilism. In other words, the most radical expression of social liberalism or Progressivism is that man has become his own maker. So if I want to trans-gender myself (I can since I’m infinitely malleable/perfectible), government must not only protect me in that right but also it must fund that right. In the classical liberal understanding, the individual is held to be responsible and self-governing, in the social liberal understanding, the individual is liberated from all traditional notions of morality and the government must protect him/her/it from victim status. To use just one example of social liberalism, the family must be redefined in an idiosyncratic way. The demand for same sex marriage, or the legal recognition of domestic partnerships, and even in the end, polygamy, and bestiality, is simply one policy consequence of this radical social liberalism. For the social liberal, government must protect these radically autonomous expressions of free will from any restraint. That requires the end of any traditional notion of self-government, federalism or local control, and the separation of powers. In other words, social liberalism is incompatible with Constitutionalism, including fiscal conservatism. I don’t think that is the position of classical liberals.

John J. Vecchione makes a good point in his Comment on Moser’s posting. Vecchione writes: "One cannot long be both an economic conservative and a social liberal because the policies of social liberalism encourage social breakdown that is then addressed by massive government spending on prisons, health care, ..." etc. The Classical Liberals I have known stridently argue for the legalization of drugs, while they themselves don’t indulge in such things. I make the point that Mr. Vecchione makes, that those who indulge in drugs today, as a practical matter, become in one way or another wards of the state. As Tocqueville argued, this radical individualism requires or demands a centralized administration.

An aside on Ron Paul, he is the exception who proves the rule. When he ran for Governor of Texas (I believe it was in 1982), he lost the Republican Primary. He then won the Libertarian Party nomination for President in 1984 (his main rival, if I recall correctly, was Sista Boom Boom). He then found a district in Texas where he could be re-elected to Congress, running as a Republican. So the Libertarian must run as a Republican, even in Texas. He is one of my favorite Congressmen because he is principled and bases his actions on the Constitution (sometimes a too narrow reading of that document, I think). The Libertarians have something like the status of Epicureans at the time of Vergil. Interesting and, in many cases, admirable but there’s just not enough of them to go around to be politically relevant.

I’m getting long-winded (well, it’s this or blue books). I think Janiskee’s point stands: It is impossible to combine social liberalism with fiscal conservatism in public life today. I argue that’s because they have two diametrically opposed starting points.

Thanks to John Moser for provoking me.

Discussions - 1 Comment

"The Classical Liberals I have known stridently argue for the legalization of drugs, while they themselves don’t indulge in such things."

I am afraid you are confusing "Classical Liberal" with Libertarian.

"Classical liberals firmly believe that both persons and property should be protected from physical harm."

As such, Classical Liberals would see nothing wrong with societal sanctions (laws) concerning illegal drug use and abuse, or laws restricting suicide, pornography, public drunkeness, or public nudity. Arguably societal strictures against killing oneself, whether rapidly with a "bullet to the brain" or slowly with a "needle to the arm" is fully consistent with "the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God" which instructs the "self evident truth" of the UNALIENABLE "Right to Life".

"unalienable adj. Not to be separated, given away, or taken away; inalienable: ’All of them... claim unalienable dignity as individuals’ (Garrison Keillor)."

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