Clarification of Purpose and Libertarian Foot Stamping
First a statement of something that I would have hoped has been clear: I believe I speak for all of the contributors to Anchor Rising when I say that we are not doing this to build readership for the sake of building readership. We’re writing to explain our opinions and advocate for what we believe to be right. Bottom line. If readers cannot stomach, say, my opinions on social matters coexisting with my opinions about smaller government, then I’m not the writer for them. I’d argue that they are missing the point that the beliefs on social issues inherently coincide with the beliefs in small government, but perhaps they should look elsewhere for arguments that support their causes in a way that they can tolerate; we’ll be fine.
The subject comes up in response to a thread started by Dan in the comments to Marc’s post on prostitution, starting with this:
More of the blatant hypocrisy that is going to ultimately collapse the so-called “conservative” movement in the United States from within.
“We are for small government. Get government out of our lives! Smash the bureaucracy! Personal Responsibility! Reduce the spending! Reduce the cost of government!”
“Oh, except for the following issues: prostitution, illegal immigration, drug war, military spending, abortion, homeland security, foreign interventionism, in which we are for HUGE government.”
I think even the average 10-year-old would be capable of seeing the arbitrariness and inconsistency of it all. Well, good for independents and libertarians, I suppose.
My response, in summary, is that I explicitly believe in the construction of as small and disengaged a government as possible, in conjunction with as much right to determine the regime under which one lives as possible. On the first count, cycle through Dan’s list of particulars: Is more bureaucracy required to make prostitution a crime or to regulate an occupation so closely in league with drugs, violence, and disease (both physical and social)? Would it increase or decrease the “cost of government” to enforce laws that forbid unauthorized entry into the country and the hiring of those who have entered it illegally, or to manage a massive underclass of migrant workers and state-dependents?
Dan appears to be the sort of libertarian who has latched on to a single concept that he believes simplifies his task of constructing a political philosophy and applies it as the sole criterion for judgment. None of the issues he raises are simple “yes/no” questions. One must also make decisions about degree and process. One can advocate for keeping drugs illegal without making a big-government war of the endeavor. One can advocate for enough military spending and homeland security measures to keep us safe with as little intrusion and restriction as enables that end. And an issue such as abortion is a matter of plain morality; consider that it would be ludicrous to make the legalization of murder a small-government cause.
In the count of self-governance, Patrick suggests, in the same thread, that explicitly legalizing prostitution in Rhode Island would make us (if I may exaggerate his point, a hair) the whoring capital of America; he presents that as a positive. Whatever one believes about the prudence of the policy in the abstract, I simply do not want to live in that sort of society. Our daughters would be much more likely to see prostitution as a viable career. Our reputation would take on a decidedly different hue when it comes to attracting other industries and tourists coming here for other attractions. And our culture would have to be such that a theologically, socially, and biologically profound act could be conceived as salable.
The response may be that I would be free to live elsewhere, and I may yet, but at this time it is sufficient to appeal to my fellow Rhode Islanders and suggest that, if they give the matter some thought (or perhaps they don’t even have to do so), they’ll see that they’d prefer circumstances in which advocates for legalized prostitution were in the position of deciding whether they’d be happier in another state. That’s how self-governance works, and resistance to such concepts suggests that it is not paradoxical to suggest a dictatorial streak in the libertarian cloth.
Patrick goes on toss around rhetorical questions suggesting that one cannot make distinctions between prostitution and stripping. It really ought to be unnecessary for me to take the time to enumerate the logical and cultural lines between the two practices — let alone the differentiation between being a unique state allowing prostitution and being just another state allowing stripping. The more relevant point, here, is that the libertarian disputants don’t wish to address arguments as they are stated; they presume that the speaker is merely stopping short of his theocratic desire for political reasons. More than that: they wish to present the issue as a matter of logical necessity. If I advocate against legalized prostitution, they say, I apparently have no choice or desire to stop short of banging down bedroom doors to ensure that spouses are not performing stripteases for each other. That is not a coherent view of how psychology or political philosophy work.
It’s foolish. Moreover, it stands as evidence that the vanity of ideological purity plays no small role in the motivation for taking “moderate” and libertarian positions in public discourse.