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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The libertarian culture

Continuing in the coat-tails of my previous post "Socialism, Conservatism and Ann Coulter", the natural progression is to make the case for a cultural libertarianism. 

There is an argument among a growing breed of libertarians that libertarianism is about politics and political strategy, not about culture.  These libertarians--some of them in private e-mail conversations, and others in full-frontal view in the comment section here--have expressed a form of libertarianism which mixes social conservative culture with political libertarianism. A mix made in heaven, they seem to think.

You don't have to get very far in into my post or my subsequent follow-up comments to draw the conclusion that I completely reject this position.  In fact, I go so far as to suggest--insulting as it may be--that these people are not true libertarians at all.

The response to this has been quite a few e-mails from people who I know and like, expressing deep regret and insult at my choice of attack.  I'll quote one of my friend's here. Considering we're not on talking terms at this point, I'll withhold attribution out of respect for his privacy:

"It's very hurtful to see you go after the heart of people's belief the way you did on your blog.  I can only say that I am extremely saddened by the level you felt you had to take this to in order to make your point."

"I am okay with you wanting to live in a Godless world, with your libertarian morals.  I get that.  But apparently you want all of us to live in a Godless world too.  Sadly, you've decided to jump to the socialist position of shoving Atheism down everyone's throat.  That's not very libertarian, Mike."

With all do respect to my friend, who has referred to himself countless times as a "libertarian leaning conservative", I don't know what you're talking about.  You and others are projecting.  My libertarianism is--in fact--highly consistent. I do not ask the state to shove "Atheism" (you don't capitalize that word, by the way) down everyone's throat.

The problem with religious social conservatives is that they confuse a change in relative normativity with an attack on their religion.  For example: if there was prayer in public schools, and it's removed (as it was in Ontario), they interpret this removal as an attack on Christianity.  And when non-Christians point out that they wanted no part in it, they cling to arguments from tradition, or argue that those kids can simply "sit it out". 

When the Gay Pride Parade comes rolling down Yonge Street, social conservatives claim that "homosexuality is being rammed down their throat".  They don't, like they do with the prayer argument, expect themselves--as they do non-Christian children--to look away. They're not arguing from a consistent position, as it pertains to the rights of others to express their moral position.

Make no mistake: the Gay Price Parade is an expression of a moral position.  It is the moral position that individuals should be free to express their sexuality.  It is, on many levels, a fundamentally libertarian expression. 

The change in normative cultural towards one that is more accepting of a plurality of views on morality, particularly sexual morality, has been viewed by Christians as an attack on Christianity.  Or more specifically, an attack on the rights of Christians to not be exposed to other moralities that conflict with their own.

This cultural position is in direct conflict with libertarianism at it's most fundamental level, because if one is to believe that populist morality--as expressed by arbitrary cultural positions--derives legitimacy therein, it is only reasonable to expect that said persons will eventually seek the force of law to reinforce these moral positions.

I make this prediction confidently, as I believe that personal moral positions are the basis for political positions.  They do not exist independently of each other.  Even if they do in rare cases, the distinction is not durable over time.

Cultural libertarianism carries with it the implication that for a truly libertarian society to exist, it's inhabitants must have a fundamental moral grounding in the value of liberty.  If not, what sustains liberty? Law? Law can be changed.

This position has been critiqued by some libertarians as sounding reminiscent of the same kind of social engineering that libertarianism stands opposed to.  And they'd be right. On the surface, there is a bit of a conflict between the need to promote libertarianism in culture and morality while not succumbing to statist tendencies to accomplish it.

My preference is to do what I'm doing now; writing and talking, donating and volunteering.  Trying to convince people on the merits of my argument, as opposed to going to the government and asking them to argue for me.  If I do that, I've abandoned a basic principle of my morality, and I'm not prepared to do that.

The battle for liberty will be fought and won in the cultural playing field.  Not the political one.  The political stems from the cultural.  With shifts in cultural values towards liberty, the political stars will align. 

That isn't to say we do not fight politically.  Of course we do.  We fight hard against further incursions into our liberty and keep pushing back against growing government.  But we must take heed of the cultural tendencies that are enabling these practices in the first place, and start thinking about how we cut off the snakes head; ending statisms biggest enabler: cultural acceptance.

Social conservatism is fighting a cultural war against secularism, feminists against sexism, gays against homophobia, blacks against racism.   It's time libertarians get into the game in a serious way and stake out some serious cultural ground

Note about comments:  The comments have been closed because the blogging system seems to be eating all new posts for this thread.   For those who submitted comments that were not accepted, we apologize.  

Posted by Mike Brock on February 24, 2009 | Permalink



"How much morality is there in saving an Ethiopian child from starvation today, for it to survive to a life of brutal circumcision, poverty, hunger, violence and sexual abuse, resulting in another half-dozen such wide-eyed children, with comparably jolly little lives ahead of them? Of course, it might make you feel better, which is a prime reason for so much charity. But that is not good enough.

For self-serving generosity has been one of the curses of Africa. It has sustained political systems which would otherwise have collapsed.

It prolonged the Eritrean-Ethiopian war by nearly a decade. It is inspiring Bill Gates' programme to rid the continent of malaria, when, in the almost complete absence of personal self-discipline, that disease is one of the most efficacious forms of population-control now operating.

If his programme is successful, tens of millions of children who would otherwise have died in infancy will survive to adulthood, he boasts. Oh good: then what?I know. Let them all come here. Yes, that's an idea."

Posted by: DJ | 2009-02-24 7:02:14 PM

Mike confuses freedom with licentiousness while at the same time supporting the power of the state (judicial activists in this case) to impose specific leftist values on society and individuals, contrary to the majority. The example he gives is the "gay" pride parades. When cities and communities rejected these parades, the judicial activists decided that the citizens had no right to do so. Yet he perceives conservatives and religious people as trying to impose their values on him.

He attacks Ann Coulter's comments about single mothers, yet Ann provides figures and proof of what this situation costs society, both financially and in increased crime. Ann did not suggest that unmarried mothers be criminalised, but she was correct in recognising that as long as we continue to reward bad behaviour we can expect more of it.

If this is libertarianism then I want no part of it.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-02-24 7:21:04 PM


You seem to go through these phases of being semi-intelligible to being outright nonsensical.

Like Stig, you need to read Introduction to Logic , but you might consider starting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-02-24 7:32:38 PM

Quick test.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-02-24 8:48:35 PM

Odd isn't it how when Brock is being bitch slapped on this blog the WS suddenly develops technical problems. Bwahahahahahaha

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-02-24 8:53:22 PM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Posted by: Elaina | 2009-02-25 3:38:03 AM

Hi Mike,

I'm a Libertarian from Québec (yes I know there's not alot of my kind). If I get your message correctly, cultural and political libertarianism go hand in hand. We need to work on the cultural aspect (by being activists) of it in order to influence the political aspect. From what I see, you define promoting the cultural aspect by being "open to" and accepting everything which doesn't infringe my property, my life and my liberty. I totaly agree (or else I wouldn't call myself libertarian) that no one is allowed to force any values and moral conduct upon you. However, it's impossible to be open to and accept everyone's values and moral conducts. Everyone has a natural tendency and need to be with people who share their values and moral conduct. That's why I don't see it as anti-cultural libertarian to associate with like minded people in order to buy some property and start a small town or community with rules based on those values and moral conducts. This wouldn't infringe on the liberty of anyone as people would be free to live on the property with it's rules or leave. If socialists wanted to, they could start their own community and impose an income tax of 90% on their members. The important thing is that people who don't want to be taxed this amount would be free to leave the community whenever they would wish unlike what's happening with our state. These socialist would not be promoting cultural libertarianism but they would not be violating anyone's life, liberty and property. I think it creates far bigger tensions when you force people to accept every value there is. Some set of values are obviously contradictory.

As far as the gay issue goes, the fact someone dislikes a gay parade going through is or her street is not an easy issue to solve. Some people might be tempted to tell this person that he or she has the freedom to leave town and go live in an area with no gay parades or parades at all. However, we need to ask the question if this parade is violating that person's property rights. Is this person's lawn full of trash once the parade goes through? Is the parade making such a noise that the person can't go on with his or her daily activies? and so on...

Posted by: Steven | 2009-02-25 9:47:28 AM

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