Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative
by Ben Stone
There’s a tremendous diversity among libertarians right now, maybe more than ever in the history of the modern liberty movement. Largely I think it’s due to the invasion of the conservative leadership by Right Wing Neo-Cons during the Clinton years. Followed by the massive public failure of the Neo-Con political philosophy during the Baby Bush years. And now that Obama is in office we see that the policies of the so-called Left are identical in almost every way to the Neo-Cons, proving that there is in fact one political party in America and it controls the leadership of both the Republicans and the Democrats. In what I would call a silent putsch, the Fascist Neo-Cons have entirely usurped the power structure of the United States government. American liberals that believed Obama’s enticing words in 2008 are now standing gaped mouthed, no longer under the spell of his hypnotic allure, but stunned by his blatant disregard for everything he promised them. So both liberals and conservatives have been forced to rethink their positions and many of them have found some comfort in the steady moral foundations of libertarianism. In a way it’s a sort of Golden Age of libertarianism. Pat Buchanan, stalwart pillar of traditional American conservatism, is a favored contributor of articles at Lew Rockwell dot com, the best read libertarian web site in the world, and libertarians around the world cheer for the liberal Glenn Greenwald as he champions the cause of liberty from the left flank of the movement.
With the shabby veil of the Left/Right paradigm exposed, it’s not hard to understand the difficulties that this new wave of libertarians face as they grapple with their old understanding of politics and how it relates to the truths being brought forth almost daily. Additionally, as they shift their support away from the two traditional parties, they find themselves in the awkward position of explaining to friends and relatives this strange new way of thinking. At this point an amazingly simple phrase pops up as the solution to this dilemma: “I’m Socially Liberal but Fiscally Conservative.” But there’s a serious problem with this phrase. As much as it seems to make sense on the surface, it’s simply false at best and deceptive and destructive at worst. To illustrate my point, lets disassemble this phrase and see what makes it tick.
Let’s face it folks, the American liberal tends toward communism/collectivism. When you think of prominent American liberals of the past century you will likely either think of the Jane Fonda types or the Lyndon Johnson types, according to whether you’re thinking of Pop Culture or politics. Let me assure you, the libertarian holds no common ground with either of these. In the eyes of many, to be socially liberal is to reject commonly accepted morals and embrace the 1960’s mantra, “If it feels good do it!” This is not libertarian and it’s both incorrect and deceptive to refer to libertarianism in this manner.
Libertarianism is the philosophical result of embracing the Zero Aggression Principal (ZAP) along with a basic understanding of property rights. So in practical terms, the social liberal insists that there’s nothing wrong with some life choices that the conservative would label unacceptable or even “sinful”, but the libertarian makes no such judgment for right or wrong. The libertarian simply states that as long as property rights are respected and the ZAP is not violated, it’s none of our business. The liberal gives a stamp of approval to diverse behavior and insists everyone accept it while the libertarian simply says that if it’s private it’s not our concern. The social liberal takes an aggressive position to bend society and shape it to fit their collectivist goals. The libertarian cannot be a social liberal because being a social liberal requires the use of aggression, which we reject.
If you think I was rough on social liberals in the section above, you may want to sit down and brace yourself.
A fiscal conservative is a mythical creature, not unlike leprechauns and unicorns. They have never existed and are a physical impossibility. The moment a politician tells you they’re fiscally conservative, grab your wallet and run because you’re about to be robbed or worse. For a fiscal conservative to exist you would need a person who is willing to rob people at the point of a gun, and yet limit his plunder to a predetermined budget. The best example of so called fiscal conservatives was during the 1980’s when a group of thieves and con artists passed themselves off to the American voters as such by very publicly lowering one tiny sliver of the tax code while passing 11 huge tax increases over the course of an 8 year administration, all the while tripling the federal budget deficit and adding an entire new department to government. So if raising taxes, growing government, and spending beyond means is the best example of a fiscal conservative then the libertarian holds no more common ground with these creatures than with the communists.
Typically the liberal sees the shallow falsity of the fiscal conservative myth and is repulsed by it. Likewise the conservative sees the collective nature of the liberal and is repulsed by it. That means neither the liberal nor the conservative will be at ease with the phrase “Socially Liberal but Fiscally Conservative”. So then if it is wrong, deceptive, and destructive to the cause of liberty, how can we express our position in simple words that can make sense to our friends and family?
Unfortunately, there may not be a simple way to express libertarianism. One would think that a basic explanation of property rights and the ZAP would cover it, but in fact that seems to cause the average Right/Left statist to jump into a whirling vortex of false conclusions and nonsensical assumptions. So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s counter productive to try to explain libertarianism to statists. I have decided that Frank Chodorov was mostly right when he said that we don’t teach libertarians, we find them. However I would add, sometimes the chore is not only finding them, its in allowing ourselves to be discovered by other libertarians so that we can all move together toward liberty.