Libertarians Can’t Talk About What Conservatives Should Talk About

Part of the attraction of libertarianism for contemporary conservatives is that libertarianism functions as a defensive strategy. One some level, very deep down, conservatives subtly understand that capture of the state and its regulatory agencies is (for them) an impossible task, which is a sort of subconscious acknowledgment of the pervasiveness of the Cathedral. When your comprehensive doctrine has no chance at memetically infiltrating government institutions, the strategy shifts to advocating the removal of all comprehensive doctrines from government institutions.

“If I can’t capture the government, then no one else should be able to, either.”

This is the conservative-turned-libertarian thought process.

Politics is do or die—neutrality should be nothing more than a cover for the powerless. Electing not to capture the flag, while simultaneously whining that the other team surges forward is tantamount to…I don’t really know.

For some reason, conservatives keep pretending they still have a flag. And they also whine about not having one. This results in paralysis.

There will always be a flag, and there will always be capture.

Conservatives on the whole have mostly given up the comprehensive parts of social conservatism—the pundits, at least. But interestingly, what pundits will say privately, and what they’ll say publicly in their columns is entirely different—and this is mostly because they have no idea how to go about defending values crushed underneath liberalism in the first place. Vague intuitions and pleasant feelings toward these values is all they can manage.

For clarification, the focus on abortion and gay marriage as a counterpoint to the ‘social conservatism isn’t a thing’ thesis isn’t terribly convincing. K-selected patriarchal social norms aren’t properly reducible to abortion and gay marriage, but those are ones grabbing attention. And  not even gay marriage is anymore. That ship has sailed. It’s over and done with. Reform of capital gains taxes is apparently what gets conservatives out of bed these days, instead.

But that just means the conservative thede is pwned, pwned not only by liberalism, but by liberalism’s child, libertarianism. If you’re a conservative, your first area of concern shouldn’t be how free markets help the poor, but rather the empirical track record of states maintaining order, culture, and effectively prohibiting foreign memetic viruses from taking root and destroying pre-conditions to civilization. That conservatives spend all their time and resources researching the libertarian programme is ipso facto evidence of how badly they’ve been pwned.  They have lost the frame. They are entirely ideologically subordinate.

I understand conservative libertarianism. Heart’s in the right place. But conservative libertarians, or paleo-libertarians, operate within the libertarian paradigm to attempt to drive at somewhat conservative conclusions. Take the example of arguing against gay marriage or the drug war. Paleo-libertarians argue against gay marriage because empirically the track record is that gay marriage will be weaponized by the Cathedral, resulting in a net loss of liberty, relative to the gains had by same-gay marriage (tax breaks, and so on—yes, the gays who are on the front lines of gentrification with endless amounts of disposable income are terribly concerned about the tax benefits).

Note how thoroughly pwned this brand of conservatism is: it’s a libertarianism that argues for conservative positions on the exclusive basis of monetary benefits or personal liberty. It reminds me of the Ralwsian libertarians, who believe that the best way to achieve Rawlsian goals is to understand that the empirical case shows that free markets help the worst off, which justifies the presence of income inequalities.  This is a facile and pwned conservatism, despite the fact that the argument itself isn’t a bad one. It’s a good one, but it shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all, the final justification for a position, one way or the other.

The strength of conservatism is in the extra-property rights arena. Property rights aren’t tossed aside—they just become one element among many in the calculus. But conservatism could talk about what libertarianism can’t talk about. And that’s why neoreaction has come about. Conservatism-as-such is so attached to Conservatism-as-thede that there’s no sense in shooting for redemption.

Conservatives can talk about culture, for instance, whereas libertarians struggle enormously. Even in libertarian academic circles, there is a constant begging and pleading for more academics to do more work in the cultural arena. What does culture have to do with libertarianism? What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

The dearth of interesting thought on culture from libertarians is nauseatingly common in discussions about open border immigration. Cultural ignorance and obfuscation are the norm, and so bizarre is it, that you can’t help but wonder if they ever sat down for more than a few minutes to think about the semantics of culture, culture as such, etc. Nothing? Nothing.

“What’s culture, anyway?” is not an argument. Libertarians struggle with how to incorporate culture into the calculus. It’s abstract and ephemeral, so the central tendency is to toss it all to the wind. The closest analogue that comes up as a model for analyzing culture is intellectual property, but of course, as intellectual property is neither physical nor scarce, it ought not count as property, and if it doesn’t count as property, it’s very hard to make a case that there’s a ‘right’ to it. And since culture is like intellectual property, the same analysis tends to apply. The libertarian calculus does not include culture. It includes liberty delineated through property rights.

For libertarians, rights are things individuals have to stuff, and legitimate government interference only applies to protecting and/or enforcing those rights. This is why there is vigorous debate in libertarian circles regarding the seemingly commonsensical right to privacy. They don’t know how to make sense of it in terms of property rights.

Full stop.

So why’s this a problem? Does it show we ought to throw out the right to privacy et al., or does it show that we ought to throw out sola property rights?

A better question: Why decline availing yourself of better tools because of some ‘principled’ argument in support of sola property rights?

For those who’ve read my previous work, the justification for extending rights beyond claims to physical stuff is just that if your rights-structure causes you repeatedly to lose the game, then you might just want to pick a new rights-structure. This doesn’t mean that everything is permissible to win, but surely it would justify pushing the rights-structure at least a little beyond the realm of non-aggression.

Frameworks clash, both sides talk past each other. Arguments offered by open-borders advocates usually involve a progression. First, they dispute the idea of culture with annoying semantic gymnastics. If that doesn’t work, then in good flow-chart-fashion, they proceed to degrade the idea of cohesive cultural identities in the US. Those are all boring. The really entertaining ones use data on worldwide Coca-Cola consumption and the presence and expansion of McDonald’s stores as stand-ins for the primacy of American culture.

American domestic culture is secure because Somalians drink a surprising amount of Coca-Cola.

But regardless, to show that a culture is in danger of extinction because of mass immigration wouldn’t cause them to bat an eye, anyway.

If your culture is so superior, then it should survive, no? That’s pretty common. Alternatively, open-border advocates offer the secondary argument that one may not harmfully coerce others, solely to secure something that one does not have a right to. And, so it goes, one does not have a right that others practice a particular culture.

Culture can’t neatly be packed down into a box with definable borders. It can’t easily be assigned a dollar-value. It doesn’t belong to any particular person. They just don’t know what to do with this culture stuff.

But culture matters. Culture matters to well-being, and preservation matters, despite the fact that not everyone wants to or can equally contribute. A cohesive culture is a public good, and with all public goods, there are free riders. To unthinkingly argue that X is nice, but unless X can succeed in the free market on its own two feet, then X-must-go—could in principle be applied to all other public goods. And most libertarians support taxation for public goods precisely because of this problem. The irony of it all is that with a more homogenuous culture, societal pre-conditions would be such that public goods problems would be solved spontaneously from the ground-up without state interference—or at the very least, dramatically helped in terms of minimizing free-riding.

States arise because local level solutions to public goods problems don’t scale well, since while enforcement of Hayekian law on a local level is feasible, on a large scale, too much time is required to be devoted to enforcement, and so there has to be some way for the community to organically subcontract enforcement to an institution that is funded, and taxation is the chosen option, so as to avoid the free rider problem.

But aside from that, the central reason for distinguishing culture from other public goods is that defense-as-public-good is distinct from culture-as-public-good, since the goal of defense is to preserve liberty, whereas the relationship between culture and liberty is contingent. But culture’s connection to well-being and order is a lot more substantiated. Libertarians tend to a psyche that accommodates rootless, cosmopolitan nomad-ery, and so they don’t rely as strongly on cultural foundations as the rest. Irrelevant. Government isn’t instituted for the libertarian psyche at the expense of everyone else.

Liberty is subordinate to order, which provides a prima facie justification for extending public goods beyond defense.

And since libertarian governments have no way to deal with individual transactions with negative externalities (the sort which can’t be solved through tort reform), the polity will serve to magnify the attributes of the citizenry, as it’ll allow the market to fulfill desires based on mass capital power—whatever those desires are. And there’s no guarantee that those desires will be good, true, or beautiful. Societal entropy can be slow or rapid, but that there is societal entropy is undeniable. Libertarianism has barred itself from the tools needed for basic polity maintenance.

What else matters for well-being? National glory, aesthetic undertakings, national parks/public areas, etc. And the libertarian literature, despite its incessant attempts to demonstrate that all-the-good-state-things we take for granted would be provided at sufficient levels in the absence of the state, still leave me colored unconvinced.

X is only worth having is X is produced voluntarily, because coercion is only justifiable (if ever) in the case of essential state functions. I’m not really sure why. I never quite figured that one out.

But to return, for the open-borders issue: if we go this goes. If we go, Hipsterism goes. Hispanics will not sustain indy rock. Hispanics will not wear skinny jeans. Hispanics will not obsess over vinyl records. Hispanics will not frequent microbreweries. To borrow a move from the blue-pill conservative playbook, if we go, feminism goes. ‘We’re the real feminists’—unfortunate K-selected misfiring. Course correction is needed, which makes the point a little more nuanced than the ‘we’re the real X trope’.

The products of culture depend on the producers. Change the producers, change the culture—a certain amount of pollution, as it were, is able to be effectively absorbed, but beyond that the old-order libertarians are left throwing up their hands in the hair, unsure of what to do. On the one hand, they bemoan the decline of culture. On the other hand, they deny themselves the means to correct it. This isn’t to say that the state should sponsor the National Film Board. Culture can be explosive and dynamic in growth even in the absence of state support, and so ‘neither help nor hurt’ could be the reigning dictum.

And by ‘nor hurt,’ I mean maintain national boundaries and stem the tide of immigration.

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  1. Beatings are ripe for poetic inspiration, or so I’m told.

  2. In my observation, paleo-libertarians are attracted to libertarianism because of the intellectual power and coherence of the Hoppean strand of libertarian thought. The problem is that Hoppe’s libertarianism is really a philosophy of law–a pretty good one, actually–rather than a political philosophy. Thus, paleo-libertarians are having to try to play politics with nothing more than a legal philosophy, which isn’t designed to contend in the political arena.

    Also, among libertarians in general there is prevalent the peculiar notion that every political claim has to be justified on libertarian grounds or the person making the claim is excoriate. All must be within libertarianism, nothing outside libertarianism, and (especially) nothing against libertarianism. This keeps innovation to a minimum, since everything has to be justified on the same grounds, and handicaps attempts to actually accomplish anything concrete, since situations are rarely cut-and-dry by libertarian standards.

  3. […] Libertarianism and consumerism. Related: The capture of conservatism by libertarianism. […]

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