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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Whigs and Tories

Or libertarians and conservatives. Daniel Hannan splits the difference:

Set aside a couple of slightly recherché issues, such as drugs. On the biggies – school choice, Euroscepticism, tax cuts, welfare reform – we all agree. And the reason we agree is that the current state of Britain is so far removed from what either a conservative or a libertarian wants that any disagreements can be comfortably postponed. It’s as though you were driving from London to two adjoining streets in Aberdeen: almost the whole route would be identical. As my old history tutor used to observe, the differences between Tory and Whig can safely be deferred to after the grave.

Hannan makes a very important point. Even once an idea has achieved a critical mass in the culture, it usually requires a broad tent political party to implement. The sort of freedom that libertarians and classical liberals are seeking is far removed from the modern political consensus. In this they do share common ground with conservatives. Yet the differences, even at this stage, do matter. In planning how to decontrol, you need to prioritize. 

One of the first things a libertarian / classical liberal government would do is end the Drug War. In terms of the sheer wastage of life, liberty and property, there are few things that quite rival the Drug War. It is also the one major reform that would incur the lowest immediate social cost. As the experience of Portugal strongly suggests, ending the Drug War will have very few, if any notable negative side effects. Scrapping the welfare state immediately, on the other hand, would impose an enormous cost on its dependants. In the long run they are better off as independent members of society, or as wards of private charity. A humane approach to social policy reform would, however, allow time for adaptation and adjustment. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on December 9, 2009 | Permalink


At his point Publius, I don't even know if I agree with conservatives regarding tax cuts. Did you catch the Stossel / O'Reilly debate?

Conservatives seem to live in this alternate universe where we are always on the "right" side of the Laffer Curve.

I reject cutting taxes if we don't cut gov't spending. Conservatives seem to want tax cuts no matter what.

I do agree with you that the war on drugs should be ended immediately, whereas the welfare state needs to be dismantled in such a way as to limit short term suffering.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-12-09 7:26:36 AM

"One of the first things a libertarian / classical liberal government would do is end the Drug War." - Publius

While I don't disagree with ending the Drug War, I doubt very much that a successful libertarian polity will accomplish that goal. As a libertarian policy plank it is the lowest hanging fruit and one that draws the most significant support from the welfare statists. There is no coincidence that the liberalization of drugs has occurred within the most advanced European welfare states.

As to Hannan's point, I would only add that libertarians do little if anything to advance their principles by reinforcing their libertine image by isolating drugs from the more important issues. Changing the thinking of the masses is the name of the game.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-12-09 11:22:37 AM

"Changing the thinking of the masses is the name of the game."

I wholeheartedly agree. How?

Posted by: Charles | 2009-12-09 11:59:13 AM


If you look at those forces opposed to liberty and their apparent success, other than the creeping socialism of the welfare state (something-for-nothing voting proclivity), it relies on fear and crisis (or popular revolution). The "death" of Communism (and shrinkage of religious influence)was really a move from the old Marxist blather to the use of the last three waves (circa 1970, 1990, and present) of enviro-hysteria and respective "imminent" apocalypses to garner political support for enlarged and vastly more interventionist bureaucracies. This chainsaw vs scalpel approach also helped address (some) real environmental problems, albeit with less efficiency than employing the free market in property rights. What comes out of Copenhagen will demonstrate their most recent successes.

The next and likely only real crisis (short of entering the next glaciation) will be financial and perhaps might be a catalyst for positive change but one wonders which political force will gain the popular support.

Here's my early New Years prediction which should taken for what it is worth (free). Obama will, in his desperate, scorched earth statist advance, overshoot drastically by going after American gun owner's freedoms touching off a violent coup which will have the support of the vast majority of US servicemen (and eighty million gun owners). Glenn Beck will be appointed interim President and charged with plugging loopholes in the US Constitution.....oh shit, the alarm went off, time to wake up.....

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-12-09 2:15:47 PM

Portugal didn't end its drug war - they changed some of the tactics. Read more carefully: if the cops spot you carrying drugs, you receive a summons to prove that you are not trafficking. If you aren't, you receive a warning to seek rehab. If you don't appear, then you go to jail. Moreover any savings on enforcement went into drug treatment programs. it is a change in tactics, not abandonment of power.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-12-09 4:58:03 PM


As long as you seek rehab, then all they can do is fine you. In effect possession is legal. A surrender by any other name.

Posted by: Publius | 2009-12-09 8:28:03 PM

Publius: you are correct, and the druggies will certainly interpret it as a victory. But that is in Portugal. This is North America, where things are different. So long as Canada and the US cooperate on legal issues, drug policy will remain the same. There's no way Emery and the members of his drug cult can ever win against that. That's why they appeal to "freedom" and "liberty", "right and wrong" and anti-Americanism rather than another issue. It's the only way they can operate - and it doesn't really work (blame Emery's greed for this one).

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-12-09 8:54:42 PM

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