Pick Your Authoritarian
Commenting to my “That Anti-Republican Feeling,” Dan writes:
Most people in this country self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. When people have to constantly choose between what they consider two evils (the socially authoritarian R’s or the economically authoritarian D’s), they either become utterly confused and vote for familiarity like this caller, or they become discouraged and stop participating in the system altogether, both of which support the corrupt status quo.
This false dichotomy is precisely one of the methods of cultural leverage that I was suggesting keeps voters feeling as if a vote for Republicans is a vote for evil. If the Democrats are too enthusiastic about the size of government (measured along a sliding scale of ever-greater intrusion), well, they’re just wrong, but well intentioned. People who are just wrong can be persuaded. But if the Republicans are too enthusiastic about controlling personal behavior (measured along a sliding scale of ever-greater liberty), well, they must be animated by animus and are therefore beyond reason.
On the first analysis, these two “authoritarianisms” aren’t comparable. Elected officials who advocate for smaller government are advocating their own limitation. To be sure, actual Republicans often fall far short of the ideals that the party espouses, but generally speaking, their social policies are defensive and aimed at preserving aspects of society and culture, not aggressive, and aimed at expanding their reach.
On the second analysis, the two categories aren’t distinct. Sure, Democrats are happy to open the door for sexual dysfunction and permit the womb to be a killing field, but on matters of personal association and other liberties, such as those of religion and speech, they’re not so sanguine. Moreover, their libertinism is married to their affection for government assistance. As I noted, the caller to Dan Yorke who began this conversation cited opposition to the welfare state as an example of his fiscal conservatism, but the welfare state is rooted in support for political policies and cultural trends that undermine self control.
Phrased from the opposite perspective, to the extent that Republicans are “authoritarian” on social issues, the purpose is to nudge society toward practices that ultimately enable greater liberty and alleviate the urge to use the government as a backstop. We can argue the specifics of implementation, of course. My view is that the federal government’s role should not go much beyond maintaining the integrity of the states and the ability of individuals to affect state and local policy.
The point is that, to some extent, the choice that Dan describes really is an either/or that fiscally conservative social liberals strive not to address; a higher level of behavioral control must be maintained in order for a smaller government to be socially sustainable. More accurately, though, it’s a choice between a nanny state that is actually authoritarian and a political philosophy in support of cultural developments that regulate some individual desires so as to enable a more profound freedom.