Thursday, January 10, 2008

On Cultural Libertarianism...

James Poulos at the Postmodern Conservative writes:

In a world where libertarians are utterly doomed on the political front and turned loose with glee instead on the culture, the flattening out of local, particular political power -- the inevitable result of sovereign individuality -- drives prideful, envious democratic souls to the rational recognition that therapeutically throwing themselves, and one another, into the headlong pursuit of trivial novelties is the only way to enjoy life under the advanced logic of equality and social freedom (without opting for the unpopular hermit route).

Yet again my big prob with libertarians these days is their unwillingness to make this analytical distinction. As bluntly as I can phrase it, with the condition of the west today as the independent variable, cultural libertarianism actively destroys political libertarianism, and unless we figure out a way to do political libertarianism first, we may be in for some serious pink police state action.

Like Julian Sanchez, who responds here, I do not see how cultural libertarianism actively destroys political libertarianism for the fact that if cultural libertarianism is responsible for anything, it is a political environment that allows for people to choose how they live their lives so long as they do not violate the rights of others. If Poulos wishes to criticizes people for their moral decisions, then so be it. I have no problem with that. I do think, however, Frank Meyer did make that analytical distinction (from Murray Rothbard's contribution to George Carey's Freedom and Virtue)

. . . freedom can exist at no lesser price than the danger of damnation; and if freedom is indeed the essence of man's being, that which distinguishes him from the beasts, he must be free to choose his worst as well as his best end. Unless he can choose his worst, he cannot choose his best...

...For moral and spiritual perfection can only be pursued by finite men through a series of choices, in which every moment is a new beginning; and freedom which makes those choices possible is itself a condition without which the moral and spiritual ends would be meaningless. If this were not so, if such ends could be achieved without the continuing exercise of freedom, then moral and spiritual perfection could be taught by rote and enforced by discipline – and every man of good will would be a saint. Freedom is therefore an integral aspect of the highest end...

Furthermore, I would probably argue that what would hold back political libertarianism is not cultural libertarianism but economic libertarianism. I would think that far more people would be offended by school vouchers, the repeal of minimum wage laws, rent control laws, laws requring employers collectively bargain with labor unions, public accommodations laws, anti-discrimination laws, or Social Security than by people who choose to fornicate with whomever and in whatever fashion they see fit.

Perhaps it's why constitutional law protects "sexual" substantive due process and not "economic" substantive due process (as hypocritical as that is).

1 comment:

Terrence C. Watson said...

"Perhaps it's why constitutional law protects "sexual" substantive due process and not "economic" substantive due process (as hypocritical as that is)."

I think the point here is dead on. Moreover, I think there is something to the idea that a) civil liberties can be somewhat distinguished from economic liberties; and b) the civil liberties are morally more significant.

Why do I say that? I guess it's because I am of the view that you can't formulate a theory of rights in a vacuum. Rights make sense against an overarching conception of human nature, one that essentially produces a _ranking_ of different human capacities, and an ordering that determines which rights are important based on the degree to which they protect those capacities.

Freedom of conscience, belief, and expression come out highly on that list, because they represent capacities people feel are essentially and distinctively human.