Is Libertarianism best kept in Sixth Form Common Room? One social conservative gives us his views.
You cannot be socially liberal and fiscally conservative because the consequences of unfettered social liberalism will have significant fiscal consequences. Unfettered social liberalism will also create so much chaos, that only the authoritarian measures libertarians hate will remedy it.
That, in two sentences, is why I am not a libertarian. Libertarians hold positions I cannot support.
Let’s take drug liberalisation, a favourite crusade of the libertarians. If drugs are legalised, two things will happen. Firstly, they will be easier to get hold of. They may be comparatively easy to get hold of now. However there is a difference between knowing-someone-who-knows-someone, and picking them up when you do the weekly shop. Secondly, market forces would mean not only are drugs easier to get hold of, they will also be cheaper. If you don’t believe me, compare the prices of alcohol in prohibitionist America before and after prohibition to see how legalisation/liberalisation of alcohol led to prices tumbling. The consequences of drug addiction are devastating. The cost of treating addicts is high. Cheaper, more easily available drugs will mean more addicts, which means higher costs. The children of the increased number of addicts will have to be taken in to care, with obvious spiralling costs.
The response of the libertarian to this? They shrug their shoulders. They seem to think a society could stand by as drug addiction soars without spending a penny to put out the social fires their policy will have caused. Can you really be fiscally conservative in the face of collapsing social structures, soaring crime, health crises and the abandoned children of addicts needing care? Can you really say the government should not spend a penny above its fiscally tight budget to address this? At least socially liberal-fiscally liberal people are consistent. At least they would be prepared to pay for the damage their social liberalism would wreak, however economically ruinous the bill for it would be.
Libertarians are also deeply wrong about prostitution. They believe legalising prostitution will ‘protect the girls’. This faux concern for women’s safety is a smokescreen for the real, more sinister reason many want prostitution legalised. And it doesn’t keep them safe. In Amsterdam, every brothel has a panic button, and according to Prostitution Research and Education, 40% of prostitutes have been physically or sexually assaulted by a customer at least once. New Zealand similarly experimented with legalised prostitution. The result was a sharp spike in women and girls being trafficked for sex in these perfectly legal brothels. In the words of Georgina Beyer, Mayoress of Carterton, “We were naive liberalising prostitution”. She is not a stiff collared member of the religious right; Georgina Beyer led the push to decriminalise prostitution ten years ago, and is the world’s first transgender mayor.
Libertarians, like leftists, misjudge human nature. Libertarians believe humans are essentially good and can be left to behave as they like. But this is only true if people have an intrinsic sense of goodness. As John Adams said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”. In short, limited government only works when people’s behaviour is moral and upright, and thus doesn’t need any interference. Adams was writing as the French Revolution was raging in Europe, where moral ambiguity was the order of the day. Robespierre wrote that “…it is sufficient that the people love themselves”.
It is fascinating that the French and American revolutions both had libertarian leanings. Yet the American Revolution did so with this Adams’ inspired emphasis on personal virtue, whilst the French Revolution leaned on the “whatever-turns-you-on” permissiveness many libertarians advocate. The result? Post-revolutionary America became a symbol of liberty and responsible limited government. Post-revolutionary France degenerated into hyper-authoritarian mass murder as the regime realised the only way to keep control of a libertine society was heavy duty authoritarianism. People cannot be forced to be good. And if they cannot be forced to be good, the only option left is for them to be forced to behave.
Thus libertarianism is like a snake that ends up eating its own tail. It advocates social liberalism as an antidote to authoritarians; but the only way to deal with the consequences of that runaway social liberalism are authoritarian counter measures.
Michael McManus is a researcher and policy advisor at the European Parliament. He tweets as @mcmanusukip