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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where fiscal conservatives and libertarians part ways

A textbook example from the news: Today the OSCE criticized the Irish government for a proposed bill that will curtail free speech by reintroducing the crime of ‘blasphemous libel’*.  Why would the Irish be introducing this bill just now?  Because a referendum on the matter is ‘too expensive’:

Last month Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern announced that he would propose a new crime of blasphemous libel in an amendment to the Defamation Bill.

The new section of the Bill will state: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.”

[the OSCE's] Mr Haraszti has written to Mr Ahern and to the Oireachtas committee debating the Bill, calling for it to be passed without the blasphemy provision.

“I am aware that the new article is meant to bring the law into line with a constitutional provision dating from 1937,” said Mr Haraszti.

“Nonetheless, it violates OSCE media freedom commitments and other international standards upholding the right to freely discuss issues of religion.”

He added: “It is clear that the Government’s gesture of passing a new version of the ‘blasphemy article’, even if milder than the dormant old version, might incite new court cases and thereby exercise a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Mr Ahern insists he is obliged to take account of the offence of blasphemy, which is provided for in the Constitution.

Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution states that the “publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.

A spokesman for the Minister said he had two options, either to amend the Constitution, or amend the law.

The spokesman said Mr Ahern was “bemused” by criticism of his proposed amendment.

“He has to do it because he is the Minister for Justice and he cannot wilfully ignore the Constitution. Unlike the commentariat, the Minister does not have the option of wilfully ignoring the Constitution,” the spokesman said.

“He is the Minister for Justice and he is advised by the Attorney General that he has to have regard to the offence of blasphemy.”

Mr Ahern, he added, felt that in “the current economic environment” it was not appropriate to go to the people seeking to amend an article of the Constitution.

That last bit about the 'current economic environment' - those aren’t empty words from Ahern's spokesman.  The Irish government is doing the right thing, cutting back in a big way (€1.5bn), and raising taxes in an even bigger way (€1.8bn) – the net effect will be something like CAD$1,000 for each man, woman, and child in the Republic.  Rather than digging a hole for future generations, they’re digging out of a hole right now.  Take a read through Irish emergency budget and see.

For libertarians and fiscal conservatives, this is the kind of budget, and the kind of responsible action on the economy that we’re all looking for.  But at the cost of free expression?

Let’s take Ahern at his word – that the government is in such poor shape that it has to go forward right now with banning blasphemy.  Would fiscal conservatives accept this as a worthwhile trade-off?  Would libertarians?  Or is this the precise spot where the two sides part ways?

Posted by Robert Jago on May 19, 2009 in International Politics | Permalink


Fiscal conservatives and libertarians normally differ on the roles and size of government. Although neither camp would likely express unanimity on many issues, on Blasphemy laws I don't see why either camp would support it as it only advances the role of intrusive government against the separation of church and state while increasing associated costs. Social conservatives may have an iron in that fire. A balanced budget is something desirable normally but not in isolation of the overall magnitude of state involvement. Size matters, and at some level, presumably much smaller, these two camps part ways.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-05-20 10:45:51 AM


There's one reason why they would support it: religion.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-20 11:28:22 AM


If so, then what differentiates fiscal from social conservatives? I'm sure that there are atheists who refer to themselves as fiscal conservatives who marginally fall over the "acceptable size of state" comfort zone of libertarians. As opposed to what has been said by some of the socons who comment here, atheism has nothing to do with libertarianism.

As for frontally assaulting socons as a libertarian by attacking their (belief in) God, you won't bring them over. Live with them or not, there is no try.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-05-20 12:32:47 PM

I do not think 'libertarian' means what you think it means... no libertarian would condone raising taxes and redistributing hard working peoples money to 'every man woman and child' for any reason.

Posted by: Adam | 2009-05-20 2:30:45 PM

Adam has the right idea. Redistribution of wealth is neither fiscally conservative nor libertarian.

Posted by: K Stricker | 2009-05-21 1:30:17 PM

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