Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cats and Dogs, Libertarians and Social Conservatives

There's been an interesting exchange among libertarians in response to the Catholic Church's kick-off of a campaign against application of the HHS mandate on contraception and "morning after" pills to certain religious institutions.

Tim Carney, writing in the Washington Examiner, began the conversation by suggesting that social conservatives recognize big government as an enemy of religion and calling on libertarians to reassess their political alliances. Walter Olson of Cato responds, observing that libertarians have been out front in opposing state impositions on religion, but pointing out that there are limitations to co-operation between libertarians and social conservatives to the extent that the latter support state intervention as an instrument of the culture war.  Walter's Cato colleague, David Boaz, argues that social conservatives have often called for impositions on liberty to advance a particular moral view, citing a number of historic examples.

Two things. First, it is always heartening to see libertarians understand that freedom requires resistance to impositions on voluntary associations as well as restrictions of individuals. It is a common mistake to see the freedom movement as entirely individualistic and unconcerned with communities. People often choose to exercise their liberties in association. Defending the right of a voluntary association to defend the principles around which their members come together is also vital.

Second, there are often paradigm shifts in politics and public life. For years, traditional Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews clashed over theological differences. More recently, they have come to see the state and secular culture as a common and more immediate threat. They have formed alliances that once would have been thought impossible.

I can't say that libertarians and social conservatives are at the point of such a shift, but the thought is intriguing. Might it not make sense for social conservatives to understand that the enlisting the state as an ally in fostering the traditional morality they support is both theologically suspect and politically implausible? Might not libertarians come to recognize (although Walter would argue that they have) that a state powerful enough to enforce sweeping dictates of life style freedom against private individuals and organizations will always do so selectively and contingently?

Someone suggested that this may be one of the differences between the Moral Majority and the Tea Party. At some point, people recognize that the best offense can be a good defense.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin and Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I've read this post several times, and am still trying to understand your point... and then I recognized it as the Straw man which it is.

When you say "First, it is always heartening to see libertarians understand that freedom requires resistance to impositions on voluntary associations as well as restrictions of individuals"... that of course makes the implicit argument that this is a new concept that Libertarians are just now coming around to.

Of course, Libertarians have always supported the freedom of association, and the freedom of contract... usually much more so than most Conservatives.

On your point regarding theological differences between religions... I think you overstate the threat to religion by the secular. You are correct, in that the concept of people self identifying themselves as Christian is actually a fairly new concept. It used to be that most people said they were Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, etc. Closer to the time of our Nation's founding, the fear was that the government would choose on religion to grant favor on, over the others. Now Christians seem to think that if Government does not expressly approve of what they do, that it is somehow disallowed. This is more of a function of our regulatory belief of society, that only things expressly said to be allowed are legal, instead of our society should operate... which is to say that all things which are not expressly denied are allowed.

The real problem that we have with religion and government today is that Christians try to have it both ways. Many Christians try to use government to enforce their more liberal beliefs regarding charity and morality, whether it is of common belief among all, and they're OK with it. But as soon as government tries to use that power to enforce something they don't agree with its SOCIALISM!

Government run health care is fine with many Catholics, as long as they don't impose birth control.

Government support of Catholic charities is OK until they make them deal with teh gays.

Government enforced morality on sex and drugs is OK, as long as you don't teach anyone about birth control.

You can't have it both ways... and that is not how freedom of association works.

If Catholics want to run charities that espouse their beliefs as part of that, then fine. But don't take a dime of Federal money.

Stop using religious morality to justify laws against prostitution, the selling of organs, or anything else, if they interfere with personal liberty, or the right of free association.

If you truly believe in Free Association, then you have to accept that other people will want to associate to do things you disapprove of.