23 December 2012

Liberty, Culture, and Politics

Republicans have a greater tendency to drink their own Kool-Aid than Democrats. For example, if you look at a map of where people who vote Republicans live, you'll notice that they congregate (if that's the right word) in the more open parts of the country. The Democrats assiduously try to increase population density via immigration and environmentalist policies, such as declaring large swathes of lands wildernesses. (You might think that immigration promotion and wilderness preservation are contradictory impulses, but in terms of increasing population density and thus Democratic-voting, they're all good.)
An intelligent GOP would tend to promote policies that benefit its own kind of people and make life better for people who choose less densely populated regions over more densely populated ones. But too often Republicans are ham-strung by libertarian ideology.

It would probably be more correct to say that Republicans/conservatives are hamstrung by a very shallow belief in the magic of “free markets,” a mystical entity that has not ever really existed in any form save for a short period in southeast Asia many, many moons ago.  What passes for free market ideology is more times than not a rather rationale-driven defense of big business and the corporate entity.  This is hardly libertarian, except in perhaps Ayn Rand’s usage of the term.  Nonetheless, Sailer’s inaccurate terminology aside, the point is well-taken.

What libertarians seem to miss in their astonishingly detailed look at economics and politics is that economics success and growth is merely a consequence of culture.  Therefore, preserving liberty starts with preserving the culture of liberty.

Now, many libertarians do seem to have some grasp of this principle, which is why some libertarians spend a good portion of their time writing, blogging, and otherwise spreading the message of liberty, for they recognize that change must begin in men’s hearts.  That said, many libertarians often fail to realize that state intervention can lead to greater liberty.

For example, free immigration, amnesty, and eliminating borders and/or immigration restrictions are favored by a good number of libertarians (e.g. Bryan Caplan).  What these sort of libertarians seem unable to grasp is that allowing a lot of foreigners into a relatively free nation can undermine the culture of that nation and eventually make it less free.  If you import a large number of humans from a culture that favors big government and massive state intervention into the economy and then allow these people to vote for what sort of government they want, you should not be surprised if they elect politicians that promise big government and state intervention in the economy.  And if the recent presidential election results are to be believed, it appears that this exact thing has happened.  And so, some libertarians advocate a policy that appears to be libertarian in nature but, on the whole, actually hurts the cause of liberty because the policy fundamentally undermines the culture of liberty.

(As an aside, I’d like to take this time to note yet another flaw in libertarian ideology:  the belief that all people innately desire liberty above all other things.  This is pure projection, and has no basis in reality.  Roughly half the population of the world generally prefers security to liberty—the latter being inherently more risky—and a good number of the remaining half don’t seem to have much use for liberty, either.  Thus, the libertarian ideal of liberty above all else is very much a minority view.  The observable facts of history suggest that most people desire to be ruled with an iron fist, and these people often get their way in that regard.  As such, it is ludicrous to think that liberty will flourish anywhere and with anyone at any given time.)

Another way in which an interventionist approach to government can defend the cause of liberty is to use the government to subsidize the culture of liberty.  This is a paradoxical position for any politician to be in, to be sure, but it is nonetheless a necessary one.  In this modern America, leftists often seek densely urban areas for congregation, and these areas often provide many otherwise unaffordable luxuries (like high-speed communication or cheap transportation) that benefit from economies of scale.  This has the consequence of luring rural folk—who are more often conservative/libertarian to the more urban areas.  One consequence of this trend is that conservatives and libertarians become more progressive, and subsequently less inclined towards freedom as a result of living in a locale where the culture constantly bombards them with propaganda that promotes the progressives’ cause,  In this case, the most libertarian outcome would be to separate the goodies of progressivism from the propaganda and offer services that are generally only affordable through economies of scale at a subsidized rate, thereby separating culture from perks.  By having access to urban goodies, rural conservatives/libertarians will not be as inclined to leave their cultural homeland and will thus be less inclined to embrace progressivism.

Really, the best cultural foundation to lay for liberty is one that is relatively isolated.  The culture of liberty tends to somewhat fragile, even though it has incredible productive potential.  This should not be particularly surprising since the most productive systems are, in general, the most fragile ones.  As such, the culture of liberty needs to be left to flourish in peace, away from the siren’s song of collectivism and enslavement.  Necessarily, these means that there must some mechanism in place that discourages other cultures from imposing their will on those inclined to liberty, and it must prohibit other cultures from singing the sirens’ sweet song in the land of liberty.

This, then, suggests having a government that is isolationist both in its foreign policy and its economic policy.  Quite simply, a state that defends the interests of liberty (which is itself a paradox that some libertarians seem unable to wrap their heads around) is one that is generally anti-war and one that avoids entangling alliances.  It is also a state that is suspicious of allowing foreigners free entrance into the market—whether in the form of a finished product or as labor—and is generally unwilling to let people from outside the culture enter in the gates without having first ascertained whether those outsiders have the capacity for assimilation.  It is also a highly limited state whose lack of size discourages the corrupt from assuming control.

If liberty is to be defended, then those who advocate for liberty must understand that defending liberty begins with defending the culture of liberty, and oftentimes defending liberty requires using force to repel those who would assault liberty—whether by overt force or subvert culture.  That the defense of liberty may be contingent on restricting others is a reality that may be unpleasant to some who call themselves libertarian.  However, there is no point in calling oneself a libertarian if the application of one’s ideology ultimately leads to the death of liberty by undermining the culture upon which it rests.  Ergo, libertarians would do well to come to grips with the fact that liberty can sometimes only be defended through coercion.  And they had better come to grips soon.


  1. It always cracks me up how the exact same people who (rightly) decry the decline of Western culture will turn right around and, without so much as batting an eye, go on to tell you how governments and universities have no business funding the fine arts and that anyone who isn't maximizing profit is a lazy parasite.

  2. @anon.- agree about the extremist views of capitalism; some proponents seem either ignorant or autistic (paging Ayn Rand...). However, I would not be looking to the government or universities to fund art, at least in this point in time. Most of what the federal government funds completely undermines the principles of American culture and private donors have more success in supporting morally good art. At least, that is the case these days.

  3. Although other factors must be involved, at least part of the reason why what the fed. govt. funds undermines the moral culture, is because of the strong (and unfortunate) correlation between people who support moral culture and people who think govts/universities have no place in it.

    It's a self-defeating feedback loop. The Right gives less money to universities, hence the people who do give money end up being Left. This then subtly influences universities to push Leftist art-- well no shit, Sherlock! This makes Rightists even more confident that universities have a pact with Satan, causing the whole loop to repeat.