Conservatism Versus Libertarianism: A Case Study
I have said it before and I will say it again: I am a Christian, and my Christian faith ultimately trumps all political and ideological agendas. Having said that, I have also argued that Christianity has a fair amount in common with conservative political philosophy. I have gone even further and said that to be a true biblical Christian means it will be difficult to be a gung-ho libertarian.
The detailed arguments for these positions can be found elsewhere, eg:
We had a good example of the wide gulf between the two positions just recently in the US, with two leading politicians of the right – both Republican Senators – locking horns on key social issues. Libertarian Rand Paul has just recently said the Republican Party may need to ease up on things like homosexual marriage.
He said, “I think that the Republican Party, in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues. The Republican Party is not going to give up on having quite a few people who do believe in traditional marriage. But the Republican Party also has to find a place for young people and others who don’t want to be festooned by those issues.”
In response conservative Ted Cruz replied: “There are some who say the Republican party should no longer stand for life. I don’t agree with that. There are some who say the Republican party should no longer stand for traditional marriage. I don’t agree with them either. I think that we should continue to defend our shared values.”
This demonstrates in part the wide gap between the two camps. While both do favour the free market and limited government, the libertarians want to basically run roughshod over vitally important moral and social concerns, arguing that the state should not be involved in them in any way.
The truth is, libertarians take individual liberty as the greatest possible good, and allow it to trump every other concern. That is something biblical Christians just cannot do. We believe that all rights must be counterbalanced by responsibilities; that we are social and moral beings who cannot live in isolation; and that God created the state to help restrain evil in a fallen world.
The libertarians argue that the state should basically have nothing to do with things like abortion or marriage. Christian conservatives strongly disagree. And it is false in the extreme to accept the libertarian critique that conservatives too strongly depend on the state to solve all our problems.
That is patently false. Conservatives are also very much concerned about the role and size of government, but they also know that the state has a very real role to play in these areas. Sure, we fight against moral and social evil by the use of moral suasion, by changing the hearts of people, by appealing to the common good, and so on. But that is not all that is needed here.
The foolish libertarian idea that almost all social evils can be addressed purely by non-governmental means is simply ridiculous. Try telling that to Wilberforce. Sure, he used intellectual and moral persuasion. Sure he sought to change community attitudes. Sure, he worked on various levels to change public opinion.
Sure, he used the churches, prayer and many other means to push for the rights of slaves, and to bring to a halt the evil slave trade system. But some of his critics could have foolishly told him that this is not a matter for the state: “Don’t expand the size of government by dragging the state into this.”
He knew that if the evil of slavery was to be ended, then of course the state had to be used, and of course legislation had to be harnessed to achieve his desired ends. And it is the same today with some of these big social issues. Churches, individuals and community groups alone are simply not going to stop things like abortion or the illicit drug scourge.
Sure, they all have a great role to play, especially at the healing level of things. But prevention is always better than cure, and preventing some of these great social ills by the use of legislation is quite acceptable, and even necessary – no matter how much the libertarians rattle on about expansive government and the like.
But let me get back to Paul and Cruz. As can be imagined, I am fully with Cruz here, and quite against what Paul had to say. That should come as no surprise. Indeed, I have elsewhere taken aim at the wild libertarianism of his dad, Ron Paul.
Fortunately Rand Paul appears to be not quite as loony as his father, but he is still a gung-ho libertarian. My concerns about Ron Paul can be found here for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/12/27/conservatism-libertarianism-and-christianity/
And I am not the only one to think Rand Paul’s advice is actually political suicide, and unnecessarily putting up the white flag of surrender. Michael L. Brown has also come out today criticising Paul for his ideas. Brown says the very things I thought when I heard Paul’s remarks: “Is he serious? Does he actually think this is a winning strategy? And can he truly believe that this is a way for Republicans to advance their cause?”
Let me quote Brown at length:
What a self-defeating, misguided strategy, for quite a few reasons.
First, the very concept of expanding a party whose platform includes a strong, conservative stand on social issues by weakening that stand is contradictory and wrong-headed. It would be like Planned Parenthood deciding to agree to disagree on abortion, actively recruiting pro-lifers into their ranks (or the reverse, with pro-lifers expanding their base by agreeing to disagree on abortion and welcoming pro-abortionists into their ranks). Who ever heard of such nonsense?
Second, we’ve already seen in recent elections that by catering to the left-of-center Republicans, the party’s most important voting base gets turned off and fails to vote in force. And make no mistake about it: What Paul is referring to does cater to the left-of-center voters (more on this shortly).
Third, has Paul learned nothing from the success of the Democrats in 2012? Their platform, highlighted during the DNC, put forth a radical social agenda (from the most extreme pro-abortion stances to the wholesale embrace of gay activist goals, most particularly redefining marriage), and the Democrats did so unashamedly. Yet Paul thinks that by doing the opposite with his own party’s values, the Republicans can succeed.
Fourth, by compromising core values in order to get elected, you ensure that your party will be ineffective in bringing about change once elected, regardless of what promises are made. In fact, leaders who compromise in order to get elected have already revealed themselves to be lacking in conviction (which is a reason they should not be voted for in the first place).
Fifth, by minimizing the massive implications of redefining marriage – this is not the kind of issue you “agree to disagree” on – Sen. Paul indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of the inevitable results that will follow should marriage be redefined on a national level.
He goes on to say how frightening it was to read Paul talk about people being “festooned by” issues like traditional marriage. I too could not believe my eyes when I read that. Brown concludes: “The fact that he is presently at or near the top of the Republican heap is downright scary.”
This little exchange between Paul and Cruz not only highlights the very real differences between libertarians and conservatives, but also shows how radical the implications of each political philosophy are when it comes to practical political concerns.
Folks like Rand Paul will, in my eyes – and Brown’s, and others – actually destroy the Republican Party if his advice becomes the accepted wisdom. Let us hope and pray that his silly ideas are rejected, and the common sense and biblical realism of people like Cruz is embraced instead.
9 Replies to “Conservatism Versus Libertarianism: A Case Study”
I remember posting in Facebook recently Bill, how I wasn’t too keen on Rand because he may turn out to be lunatic like his daddy… Seems I’m being proven right!!!
The ridiculous nature of such comments by Paul is that gay-“marriage” will only expand the size of government. In the US today, like in Australia, when one signs a marriage contract, it is signed by the two spouses and the government. Millitant gay activists aren’t pushing for private contracts between two friends (which they can legally do without government legislation forcing gay marriage or civil unions onto society). No they want the government to intervene and declare and recognise their relationships to be equal to marriage (ie, real marriage which is between a husband and wife). This will require the government interfering in the lives of American citizens by denying their religion liberty, and their right to freedom of expression (which we’ve already seen in various US states and England where it is illegal for a Christian business owner to refuse to do something that offends their conscience and forces them to break their religious commitments by acting in a manner that affirms gay marriage), and it will result in the government denying a dependent child the right to be raised by their biological parents and deny them access to their ancestors medical history potentially putting their lives at risk. This act will also deny their right to be raised in an optimal environment where opposite sex persons will be prohibited from being effective role models in their lives..
Nope.. Gay marriage is the biggest, interventionist government program their is.. And Rand Paul is a hypocrite for supporting it…
Yes quite right Joel. I discuss this in detail here:
Dear Bill, The U.S.Republican Party seems to be having the same debate as some people in the Liberal Party here. Conservative Christians in the U.S.A.need to stand up for life issues, including abortion, and the traditional family.
Its unfortunate. I had hopes for Rand. But if he takes radical libertarian views like this he could split the Republican party which is already in dire straits and make them almost unelectable in 2016.
Here is a current election year Conservatism v’s Libertarianism case study: On why we should not sell out on our conservative values – because it is easier to sell them!
Libertarians such as NZ’s Association of Comsumers and Taxpayers [ACT] who are currently in a coalition with the ruling National Party[social progressives] on the one hand support the legalisation of drugs, and sexual promiscuity, and on the other hand they support personal financal responsability.
Both say they are the wisest with public money!
So here is the conflict which the NZ Conservative Party[smaller govt personal responsability] can gain ground on:
The hyper-sexuals use a huge amount of public healthcare, repeatedly, and some women use pre-natal healthcare services – only to later abort, and all this is billed to the taxpayer. Hyper-sexuals, after repeatedly using these ‘free-health care services’ then immediatly leave and go to the hair salon, manicurist, day spa, breast surgeon or facial surgeon and spend their own personal wealth there. Then at a later date after again more promiscious behaviour, they return to the ‘free healthcare system’.
Yet other people in NZ are missing out on ‘advanced’ medicine[expensive anti-cancer drugs from the US] ect because it is ‘unnafordable in the public healthcare system’.
– And euthanasia is also going to be debated in the next parlimentry term. Go figure.
Currently drinkers, smokers, – and drivers too, all pay higher taxes for their ‘dangerous activities’, and suburban mothers may soon do so in the near future by paying ‘fat and sugar’ taxes.[pushed for by NZ Health ‘professionals’]. Yet the hyper-sexuals pay nothing at all.
The NZ Conservative Party should stand for the privatisation of sexual health services[because you can’t have bedroom tax] – where people have to pay like they do at the dentists. People should not be going without advanced drugs because the government prefers to instead pay for the healthcare costs of sexual irresponsability. They don’t do it for smokers and drinkers.
That should put the liberal conservatives in the National Party and ACT on the backfoot. It’s an easy sell for the Conservative Party.[the conservatives only have to get 5% of the vote to be in parliment – and in a coalition with National/Act – who both have to come onside due to their claim of ‘spending money wisely’.]
It’s all about conservatives selling their message.
[The same case with regards to smoke/drug/alcohol/ taxes, and hyper-sexual healthcare expenditure, will be occuring in the UK and Aust too.]
God Bless Bill.
If we could just stick to what Paul said in Romans 13 what the state is to do, “punish the evil doer and commend him who does good” things wouldn’t be quite so complicated.
Jesus said “a house divided against itself can not stand”. The new idea is to make it stand anyway?
Common sense and household economics tell us that we need to bring in more money than we spend. But on a government level that principle seems to be reversed and they are trying to make us believe it is going to work? Well, I haven’t seen it work yet.
As much as I disagree with Rand Paul, I suspect he is representing the growing tide from younger generations who have been brainwashed into endorsing libertarian ideology.
Most of the mainstream media and also the education system, have been indoctrinating society (especially the young through schools and universities) with politically correct leftist ideology, for the past few decades.
How can conservatives successfully counter the Left’s agenda when they have less input into debate in media and in the education system?
The ABC and SBS are classic examples of media outlets that indoctrinate society with their obsession for promoting homosexual marriage, etc, whist any opposing view is ignored or ridiculed. And that at taxpayer expense, and in contravention of their charter to be impartial and providing balance.
Until conservatives can address this prejudice/discrimination/bigotry/hate from the Left’s control of most of the MSM and the education system, then the Left’s agenda will eventually win.
Here in Canada, politicians don’t even make things like “gay marriage” and abortion issues anymore. The extremists have won here. It is at the point where any past remarks about a biblical view of marriage will lead to a candidate losing an election. This happened in my province in the last provincial election when a local candidate had his blog scrutinized and his words twisted in the media. He was then demonized over and over again and the brain-washed voters held it against him. Even the leader of his (very conservative) party denounced his views.
It really grieves my heart that there is no political party left to vote for here, that will stand up for what is right. They have all bent to the pressure of the activists.
The key is not to give in and soften on these issues. Yes, that may win votes from the brain-washed youth, but there is something seriously wrong when there are no good options left, and the conservative parties become just like their left-wing rivals.
As GK Chesterton rightly said, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”