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    The libertarian question

    Oh, great–this discussion again.

    I’m not sure if I’m a neolibertarian or not, but I think I’m awfully close to what they’re driving at.

    Speaking of libertarianism in general, I’ve long thought of the hard-core libertarians–the really serious, no-compromisers–as the Marxists of the right. Interestingly enough, Scott Kirwin sent me an article in The American Conservative recently which makes that exact point, and makes it quite well: Click here to read Robert Locke’s “Marxism of the Right.”

    Dean’s correct. The article is good. I do think, though, that it only addresses those who are hard think-tank/political-activist libertarians:

    Free spirits, the ambitious, ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual eccentrics often find an attractive political philosophy in libertarianism, the idea that individual freedom should be the sole rule of ethics and government.

    Wacko Libertarian Party types might believe that, but Virginia Postrel, for example, certainly doesn’t. As you read Locke’s article, it becomes increasingly clear that what he’s refuting is only the perfectionist libertarians, who can’t see any grey areas in anything at all. Those people annoy the living bejeezus out of me, as they do a lot of other people, and I found very satisfying Locke’s temperate-but-vaguely-aghast tone in pointing out their flagrant idiocies.

    But still. I voted for Bush. I’m in favor of free markets, private gun ownership, school vouchers, the WOT, strict readings of the Constitution, and social security privatization; I’m against hate-crimes laws, campus speech codes, campaign-finance reform, the push for gay marriage, the ruthless secularization of the public sphere, UN-worship, and Richard Gere. I’ve had plenty of people tell me, “Dude [or sometimes Bitch], whatever you call yourself, you’re a conservative,” and that’s fine if they feel that way, but I persist in referring to myself as a libertarian, not a conservative.

    It’s not something I have a hang-up about. It’s just that, in the grand scheme of things, I think liberty is more fragile and needs more protection than tradition. The reason so many sensible people are calling themselves conservatives is that, at this historical moment in America, tradition has taken a bruising, with insights passed down through the ages flung aside or simply ignored over the last 40 years. Recapturing that wisdom is a big and important job, but I don’t think it’s the vast mission that animates civilization. The world is chock-a-block with societies that respect tradition just fine but offer their citizens miserable lives. It’s our liberty that makes us different and makes us a beacon to them. For the use of the word, it’s worth being occasionally mistaken for a LP head case; and it has the added advantage of alerting people that they’ll have to listen to you to find out what you actually believe.

    9 Responses to “The libertarian question”

    1. Alice says:

      What I like about “conservative” is, it isn’t an ideology. It’s an approach towards whatever ideology is the tradition in that place and time. The founding fathers weren’t conserving traditions of Americanism, they were inventing them, and their ideas grew from on other, religious traditions. I wouldn’t be a conservative if I lived in Iran!

      Also, I don’t think conservatism is just about protecting tradition. In America it’s about protecting a tradition that includes and defines freedom. But the word conservative also defines an approach to moving forward- with care and forethought- and this is good.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Alice, I agree that that’s what conservative approaches to problems, in practice, are. When people call me a conservative as a way of saying that I believe in refining civilization by weighing new information against the wisdom of the past, I have no problem with it. I mean, they’re right.

      Your remark about Iran is interesting–it’s possible that if I were still in New York, I’d be calling myself a conservative now. As you know, the word can mean different things in different political systems, and a lot of people I get into these discussions with aren’t American. Perhaps if it were easier in day-to-day conversation to distinguish between conservatives who believe in a custodial attitude toward civilization and those who just want to return to the good old days, I’d reconsider.

    3. Dean's World says:

      Tired of Labels

      Sean Kinsell is tired of being labeled a conservative.

      I mentioned this yesterday, but I’m going to mention it again because I’m so impressed: the

    4. Dean's World says:

      Tired of Labels

      Sean Kinsell is tired of being labeled a conservative.

      I mentioned this yesterday, but I’m going to mention it again because I’m so impressed: the

    5. Dean's World says:

      Tired of Labels

      Sean Kinsell is tired of being labeled a conservative.

      I mentioned this yesterday, but I’m going to mention it again because I’m so impressed: the

    6. John says:

      You pretty much defined my political positions right there, with the exception of the fact that I’m an eeevil scientist who defends the teaching of evolution in schools, which sets me apart from a lot of the other conservatives from my neck of the woods.

      I think perhaps the conservative mindset is the scientific one: weigh the evidence and only change your theories once the weight of the evidence becomes overwhelming. Most liberals since the 60s (actually since Marx) have been like Ponds and Fleischmann yelling “cold fusion” back in 1989.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      Heh-heh. I was brought up in a creationist sect. Most of the time, I had no problem in classes. Teachers always presented evolution as the best theory to fit the fossil record and talked about how scientists’ views have been modified by new discoveries. I still didn’t buy it–I was a true believer all the way through to junior year of college–but it was never, ever a question of evolution falsely being presented as proven fact.

      Another thing about the church I grew up in: you weren’t supposed to vote, because God had a plan and your ballot might go against it. I wonder whether that’s one of the reasons I’m so blasé over political labels.

    8. Yago says:


      I was once some of those hard-core libertarians (I mean, it’s really thrilling to build the perfect political system in your dreams) but after some months passed I realized that it just wouldn’t work out that easily. 5000 years of history haven’t been that bad for free, it’s just the way things go.

      And we haven’t had 3000 years of philosophy to have now some weird economics professor finding the key to heaven in 3 books.

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yeah, it really is amazing how easy it is to perfect the world at 3 a.m. with beer and yesterday’s pizza. When you’re 20. And your biggest worry is that you have a paper due.

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