Brace yourselves, everyone. I am about to announce one of those major shifts in thinking that causes everyone I know to recoil in shock and horror, or, if they’ve been paying attention to what I say and write, simply shrug because they saw it coming. Most people do not change their thinking as drastically in a lifetime as many times as I do in a decade. I am hoping that I will eventually reach an equilibrium. I can’t help it that new facts require a reexamination of old logic.
For the last few years, I have been a pretty consistent advocate for a particular interpretation of Catholic social teaching. The central argument was that, contra all forms of libertarianism, the state had a right and a duty to intervene in the economy in particular, and social life in general, short of establishing a command economy, in order to promote the common good.
Before continuing, I should make clear that I still believe this ought to be the case in principle. Should the right conditions arise, I would be the first in line to support everything that follows from this political and moral premise. But I have come to understand that the conditions for this project do not exist. For the premise that a just socio-economic order will arise from the intervention of the state presupposes that the people who are in charge of the state are themselves just.
This presupposition, in the United States of America, in 2010 Anno Domini, is entirely false.
Having recently re-read one of the most insightful critiques of the socially destructive effect of mass pornography I have ever come across, I was struck by how the central message was actually present in George Orwell’s 1984. The article is titled “The Politics of Porn”, authored by Robert R. Reilly, and the important message to take away from it is summarized in the following lines:
No matter how democratic their institutions, morally enervated people cannot be free. And people who are enslaved to their passions inevitably become slaves to tyrants.
The mass production and consumption of pornography, Reilly argues, has “morally enervated” the American public and poses a serious threat to the true foundations of liberty – personal virtue.
Almost no matter who you are, the above is almost certainly true. Yet it’s a fact that few people seem to readily grasp.
I was struck by this as I continued to read the exchange between Ross Douthat and Will Wilkinson over whether secular libertarian intellectuals should all pack up and join the Democrats. Will predicts:
…I think intellectual capital flight from the right really does threaten the GOPs future success. If Republicans keep bleeding young intellectual talent because increasingly socially liberal twenty-somethings simply can’t stand hanging around a bunch of superstitious fag-bashers, then the GOP powers-that-be might start to panic and realize that, once the last cohort of John Birchers die, they’ve got no choice but to move libertarian on social issues. Maybe. I like to imagine.
This reads like it comes from some alternate universe, to me,
I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.
I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.
Donald linked below to a discussion of the death of “liberaltarianism”, which led many to ask what exactly that is. As it so happens, I’d been reading about this seemingly contradictory phenomenon on Ross Douthat’s blog the other day. It seems all this goes back to a piece Brink Lindsey originally wrote for The New Republic a couple years ago in which he complains:
Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions.
Though he admits there’s not been much real movement on the part of Democrats to please libertarians, he cites a few things: Continue reading
Robert Stacy McCain has a brilliant column here on the death of the idea of a liberal and libertarian alliance. Libertarian sites are noted for their scorn of traditional conservatives. It will be amusing to see how much their economic and small government ideas need to be trashed before they decide that government sanctioned hedonism is not satisfactory compensation for paying for the socialization of America.