A friend asked me today if I could respond to Bill McMorris’ strange characterization of libertarians in a post at TheFederalist.com (Conservatives Will Embrace Libertarians When Libertarians Stop Embracing Government).
While my extended reply is posted below, I felt JD Tucille at Reason.com summarized the heart of the issue in these paragraphs he posted this afternoon:
Could the courts ever decide to reinterpret the law in such a way as to force people (such as social conservatives) to do business with customers who give them the creepy crawlies (such as gays and lesbians)? Courts have creatively rewritten the law before, so it’s possible.
But then, why not protect everybody‘s liberty? Make it clear that the point is to shield freedom of association and freedom of conscience for all, in a way that would protect the right of gay-owned businesses to chase Bill McMorris out of their stores as it would protect his right to toss them out of his place of business. And certainly craft it to protect the right of all of us to turn politicians away.
But SB 1062 backers have made it clear, from the beginning, that this is all about their dislike of one group. This isn’t about paring back government; it’s about using legislation to slap at gays and lesbians.
His full article is here.
I, in short, feel Bill McMorris is pretty close to not having a clue what he is talking about.
I’ll start with a general point that it might be true (though becoming less so every day) that the majority of libertarians are diverted leftists.
Robust economic freedom and individual liberty aren’t particularly welcome in Progressive and Democratic circles, so if you start understanding the virtue of those concepts you are going to get out or avoid continuing towards that destination. But the question remains, where are you going to go?
Having a classical liberal revelation doesn’t change every belief you hold dear over night (and won’t change most beliefs ever). Thus those trying to escape the statism of the American Left (where they may have grown up) aren’t likely to be comforted by stepping into the option of the American Right (who they may have been taught to hate while growing up). Re-identifying as libertarian or independent becomes an appealing opportunity.
On the other hand, particularly because of Reagan’s good influence, the GOP was able to maintain the guise for many decades of being the freedom and personal responsibility party. This gave cover to libertarian-leaning young Republicans across the country, which allowed them to stick around in the party vs joining the disillusioned left in their march towards libertarianism. You see this most distinctly in groups like the Log Cabin Republicans. Many of these people have deep seated beliefs in liberty, responsibility, and economic freedom, thus they put up with HATE from within their own party because those values were more important and they felt the Republicans were the only place where any vestige of those values remained alive and politically viable.
So you end up with self-identified libertarians being relatively left-leaning in their personal beliefs, because those to the left HAD to get away from the Democrats, while many to the right could justify sticking it out with the Republicans.
Bush Jr however finally broke the camel’s back for vast numbers of liberty leaning conservatives (like myself). We looked at the history and saw government expansion and militarism under Teddy Roosevelt, Keynesian stimulus and trade protectionism under Hoover, Nixon expanding entitlement programs, Ford more of the same, ballooning deficits under Reagan (though on net he was probably positive), Bush I more taxes, then a Republican congress making one weak attempt at welfare and budget reform… that was immediately given away under Bush II, with new entitlements, no budget restraint (even with complete control of Congress), exploratory warfare, scaremongering, etc. which teed the country up for the financial and policy disaster which has been President Obama’s administration.
All of this left serious conservatives who actually believed in the founding principles of limited govt and economic freedom, flocking to Ron Paul and the few institutions (Cato, Goldwater, The Foundation for Economic Education, The Independent Institute and a couple others) that had shown consistent and principled adherence to solid political economy, minimalist govt and citizen responsibility. Who did we find in charge when we showed up though? A bunch of people who had shown up way earlier because of the Vietnam War, murderously failed drug policy, govt violence against minorities (including homosexuals), populist (and sometimes racist) trade and immigration policy, etc. That’s a different underlying set of people, but bless them for getting there and keeping the lights on until the rest of us caught up.
So when McMorris says, there are a bunch of libertarians who think AZ’s legislature is full of homophobic pricks, he’s right, there are. But it’s not a political statement and that makes all the difference. It is the personal belief of many within the left-leaning libertarian ranks that AZ’s legislature is full of populist pandering, sometimes racist, often homophobic pricks (personally I don’t know that I disagree) but none of that is a “political” position. Show me ONE serious libertarian calling for law restraining the rights of religious groups to act as they please. Not someone shouting at them for being “bigoted”, but actually LOBBYING for new regulation or legislation.
Libertarians, more than any group in the country, hold tight to the phrase, “shall make no law”. When you see something like the nonsense of SB 1062, the first thing you need to understand in order to predict a libertarian response, is that individual liberty is the default. In this case the problem (from a libertarian perspective) is not too FEW protective laws, it’s too MANY “upstream” Federal and state laws, regulations, public accommodation rules, as well as earlier legislation which mandated discrimination against minorities, that have set the stage for a legal system which thinks it should be involved in private business decisions. We thankfully got rid of many anti-minority laws, but we are still fighting against remaining Federal and state intrusions, most of which were simple over-reaction (read: political opportunism) to the earlier clearly immoral legislation.
This new law takes us back in the wrong direction by placing new positive law in favor of one special class of conscience; religious beliefs. The earlier anti-minority laws were also positive laws in favor of one special class of conscience; racist beliefs. So now instead of “shall make no law” (i.e. beliefs are assumed to be protected unless a STRONG exception applies), you have a situation where a standard begins to emerge that each area of conscience needs its own special govt rule to say it is allowed.
Further, whatever the specific language (I have read the statute btw), everybody knows it’s aimed at recent cases involving gays, so it’s not only a bad law fundamentally but it’s bad in a way (targeted at gay Americans) that is abhorrent to the personal beliefs (unprotected by this new law ironically) of many libertarians and others.
Finally, to make the whole thing SO much worse, it displays TOTAL political incompetence. In some ways I think this is the worst part, but that’s mostly because I’m an Arizonan and I’m sick of dealing with the aftermath of our coo coo state legislature. They just seem to have WAY too much time on their hands and they fill it up by being the right right wing’s go-to group for testing any new piece of wacky model legislation.
SIDENOTE: Maybe I should start an initiative drive to put TX-like restrictions on our state legislature, then they’d only meet for 140 days once every two years. You can’t get into much mischief with only 140 days to play.
I think the political incompetence of the Republican AZ lawmakers actually further highlights how consistent libertarians are. AZ gets nothing but support from libertarian circles on gun freedom issues, school choice policy, pushing against ACA, budget sanity, etc. So libertarians are pissed at this thing? Yep, but it has ZERO to do with intolerance for conservative values and everything to do with an actually consistent theory of proper legislation. Something of which the Republican party continues to show complete ignorance.
The full extent of McMorris’ lack of understanding regarding libertarians continues on display in his next two examples: marriage equality and abortion.
To the first, he must never have actually had this conversation with a libertarian. It’s possible a different opinion exists, but EVERY libertarian I know or have ever met responds to this question by starting with some version of, “Well government shouldn’t be involved in marriage BUT…”
Fundamentally, most libertarians think we should go back to marriages being acknowledged by churches or other local bodies. The reason is that philosophically they see it as just one more form of contractual association, people can associate with whomever they choose so long as it is non-coercive, and they can make that arrangement entail pretty much whatever they want (property sharing, spousal care, etc.). Thus the administration/definition of marriage, as far as government is concerned, should stop at the normal limits of common law contracts.
At this point however, pragmatic libertarians understand that marriage has been woven into SO much legislation and the common law repercussions are SO vast that it is impossible to unravel the knot (so to speak). So instead of saying association is totally private between individuals they simply want the protections and benefits of this contractual option to be available to a wider class of associations; most would say homosexual consenting adult couples are a reasonable addition to the acceptable set of qualifying relationships.
Even there however, there is a wide variety of beliefs. It is probably universally consistent that libertarians believe that it is wrong that consenting adults are denied the right to contract and have a relationship with each other as they see fit, but it is not consistent what the appropriate remedy is. Historically, my understanding is that many libertarians actually started on the civil union bandwagon, but politically it took on too much of a “separate but equal” vibe and stalled and became contentious. Marriage “equality” was an easier moral sell. I for one, agree with the universal consensus while not agreeing that the solution is to graft homosexual unions onto a common law framework evolved around the particular needs and situations within conjugal heterosexual couplings. Homosexual unions need a new framework that addresses what are real and particular needs of those relationships.
Regarding abortion, I can’t be anything but appalled at his willful ignorance of this debate within libertarian circles. Libertarians are the ONLY group in the country which is respectfully and productively engaging on this topic, and it’s because libertarians have a very widely shared moral belief that life (or autonomy) is the primary human good.
Unlike conservatives and progressives for whom any question of or hint of disagreement on their particular orthodoxy is grounds for vehement suspicion, EVERY libertarian I have ever met respects a variety of belief on the abortion topic because they have an intrinsic trust that the libertarian across the table also has a theory of when life begins and thus our duty to that life. While that theory may differ from theirs, they respect each other because they share the value that life is the most important thing and that if you get that wrong you are acting violently, coercively and immorally towards another human being.
Abortion en masse, if administered or authorized improperly, could be a catastrophic violation of the “Non-Aggression Principle”, which is a decent shorthand for the rules of restraint around which libertarians feel political society should be structured. I tend towards a very conservative conception of the beginning of life because I think conservative is the only reasonable position when the risks in getting it wrong are so dire, but I will not dismiss that other acceptable and persuasive definitions have been presented to me.
However, most importantly, “When does life begin?” is the RIGHT question (the MORAL question) on which the topic should hinge, and that is where most libertarian abortion debate resides.
Libertarians are not the progressives in sheep’s clothing that McMorris depicts. I do think we are left-leaning at the moment, but due more to an accident of history that Republicans didn’t wake up to the lies of their party sooner. Many libertarians are still registered Republicans, but with the explicit intent of taking the party BACK to Jeffersonian roots. Libertarians are not anti-religion, pro-abortion, anti-conservative, they do not treat it as a “revelation” that political freedom and faith peacefully coincide. History shows the freest society ever on Earth (the U.S.) is also the most “churched”, that’s not an accident and libertarians are very aware of that. But if you want more blatantly pro-church rhetoric to come from libertarians, well then we need more pro-church libertarians.
In the meantime, Mr. McMorris needs to learn the difference between statements of personal belief and policy endorsements.