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Libertarian neutrality so-called

John Rawls held that a liberal political order is neutral or impartial in three important senses: First, it treats persons as “ends in themselves” and thus as moral equals entitled to impartial concern; second, it seeks to realize its vision of justice in a way that is neutral between the diverse moral and religious worldviews prevailing among citizens of the society it is to govern; and third, it also neutral between the various alternative philosophical doctrines (liberal and non-liberal) individual political thinkers who could support it might be personally committed to. It rests instead on an “overlapping consensus” between moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines, while nevertheless sustaining a shared sense of justice between them, rather than a mere modus vivendi or truce between hostile factions.

Some libertarian theorists have proposed that their creed is more plausibly neutral or impartial in each of these three senses than egalitarian liberalism is. This idea is at least implicit in the thought of Robert Nozick, who also appeals to the Kantian principle of treating persons as “ends in themselves,” and who argues that a libertarian society constitutes a “framework for utopia” in which individuals and groups committed to wildly divergent moral, religious, and philosophical visions are all “free to do their own thing.” Will Wilkinson has been explicit in making a Rawlsian case for libertarianism, and legal theorist Randy Barnett, who endorses Wilkinson’s position, has presented similar arguments of his own.

My own view is that the “neutrality” of libertarianism is (like that of Rawlsian liberalism) completely bogus. I made the case for this judgment in an exchange with Wilkinson at TCS Daily a few years back (see here, here, and here). I make it at greater length in my paper “Self-Ownership, Libertarianism, and Impartiality,” which was presented at a conference at the University of Reading a few years ago and which is available at my website. Though Barnett is the direct target of most of what is said in the paper, its arguments apply to libertarianism in general, and it is my fullest “official statement” on the subject, for anyone who is interested.

What leads me to raise the issue here is an exchange over libertarianism and culture between Kerry Howley, Todd Seavey, and Daniel McCarthy in the latest (November 2009) issue of Reason magazine (in which, to my surprise, I play a small role as Howley’s and McCarthy’s “Exhibit A” instance of a “culturally right-wing libertarian” who went on to abandon libertarianism altogether).

Howley’s position is that libertarians should aim, not only to reduce governmental power, but also to change social attitudes. For Howley, “not every threat to liberty is backed by a government gun.” There is also the “paternalism of the mob” enshrined in “tradition,” “convention,” “culture, conformism, and social structure,” which, even in the absence of the threat of imprisonment, can shore up “patriarchy” and endanger the “acceptance of gays and lesbians” and “the liberty of the pill, of pornography, of 600 channels where once there were three.” In short, for Howley any libertarianism worthy of the name must promote the cultural agenda of the left no less than the economic position of the anti-tax, anti-big government right.

Howley, in effect, abandons any pretense that libertarianism is “neutral” vis-à-vis the competing moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines to be found within a pluralistic society; for libertarianism must favor, in her view, the culturally leftish ones. This will no doubt come as an unhappy surprise to “libertarian neutrality” advocate Wilkinson, who once very charmingly identified Howley for his readers as his “primary oxytocin source”; their pillow talk – or is it biochem laboratory talk? – apparently doesn’t extend to political philosophy. (Then again, like the Rawlsians who are always chatting up their “neutrality” on moral and religious issues while pushing same-sex marriage and abortion on demand, Wilkinson’s writings have never left any doubt as to what he thinks a free society should look like. And it ain’t Malta.)

That is not to say that denying that libertarianism is neutral entails affirming that it must tend toward cultural leftism, specifically. In the last gasp of my own libertarianism, I argued – not implausibly, if I do say so myself – that one could make a strong libertarian case for conservative morals legislation. And Howley hardly makes much of a case for her own position; as Seavey acidly points out, it amounts to little more than the undefended assertion that “freedom’s just another word for Kerry Howley’s preferences.”

The thing is this: Key libertarian concepts like “freedom,” “rights,” “coercion,” “harm,” “self-ownership,” and the like are highly indeterminate. Their ambiguity makes them useful in libertarian rhetoric, but problematic when it comes to forging a coherent political philosophy. As I argue in the Journal of Libertarian Studies article just linked to, when the “ownership” in “self-ownership” is spelled out one way, the results tend to favor leftish moral views, and when spelled out another way (the way I favor in the article) they tend to favor conservative ones. Some such spelling out is necessary, but no possible spelling out ends up being “neutral” with respect to substantive liberal and conservative moral codes.

The “self” in self-ownership is equally ambiguous; and as I argue in my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Personal Identity and Self-Ownership,” different conceptions of the self, like different elaborations of the concept of “ownership,” have radically different moral implications – and again, in no case are these implications consistent with a vision of libertarianism as “neutral” between the conflicting moral, political, and religious doctrines prevailing within a pluralistic society.

Philosophically speaking, then, libertarianism is a mess. Its rhetorical power lies precisely in its purported hyper-neutrality, the conceit that libertarianism alone allows everyone – egalitarian hippies and entrepreneurs, evangelicals and atheists, ascetics and libertines, feminists and male chauvinists – to “do their own thing,” as Nozick put it. But when one tries to put philosophical muscle onto these bare bones, the whole thing falls apart. Like Rawlsian liberalism, libertarianism inevitably embodies a substantive vision of the good which crowds out every other under the pretense of doing precisely the opposite. Given the indeterminacy of its key concepts, that vision may end up being either more or less “left-wing” or more or less “right-wing” when those concepts are given a more substantive elaboration. But the idea of a political order which is “neutral” in some interesting way – a way which might resolve the festering cultural and political tensions characterizing modern pluralistic societies, by means of an appeal to a shared sense of justice rather than a mere modus vivendi – vanishes upon analysis like the mirage it is. That, in any event, is the position defended in the articles I have mentioned, and that is worked out most thoroughly in “Self-Ownership, Libertarianism, and Impartiality.”

Finally, I want to emphasize that the aim of that particular paper is only to refute the claim that libertarianism is or can be “neutral” in the sense in question. I know from bitter experience that writing on this subject seems to test certain libertarians’ reading skills, and I will no doubt be accused of seeking to impose Roman Catholicism, an Aristotelian-Scholastic curriculum, Steely Dan T-shirts, and who knows what else upon the freedom-loving citizens of these United States. But the argument has nothing whatsoever to do with my seeking to “impose” my “personal tastes,” or anything else, on anyone. It has to do, again, solely with the question of whether libertarianism is “neutral” in the relevant sense. So, if you want to comment on the argument of the paper, please stick to the subject.

(cross-posted)

Comments (70)

Even though libertarians see themselves as opposed to "liberalism" (as we use the term "liberal" these days; this is, as a term for "soft leftism"), a consistent libertarianism sctrngthens "liberalism" and socialism. And, on the important social questions, libertarianism is pretty much indistinguishable from "liberalism."

Both libertarianism and "liberalism" depend upon, and lead to an increase of, the atomization of individual human beings. But, when men are not a part of anything greater then themselves, then there is nothing standing between themselves and the State (which is *never* going to go away).

Traditionalism, or conservativism, on the other hand, is about strengthening the bonds between individual human beings; it's about fostering a multiplicity of societies (both the wider society and "private" societies) to which men belong and which can stand between the individual and the State.

To legislate is to moralize ... thus, neutrality between moral visions is impossible.

Prof. Feser,

Your comments on libertarianism remind me greatly of Russel Kirk's "Chirping Sectaries" article, located here: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/journal/issue.aspx?id=0d8a323c-cefe-49ed-b8b4-fcf4d19b2c17.

Are you familiar with it? In it, he cites James Fitzjames Stephens, to wit:

"To me the question whether liberty is a good or a bad thing appears as irrational as the question whether fire is a good or a bad thing? It is both good and bad according to time, place, and circumstance, and a complete answer to the question, In what cases is liberty good and in what cases is it bad? would involve not merely a universal history of mankind, but a complete solution of the problems which such a history would offer."

(I might here have simply cited Stephens, but I have not read Stephens' work - only Kirk's article.)

--Jonathan Watson

Howley’s position is that libertarians should aim, not only to reduce governmental power, but also to change social attitudes.

Howley's position is also not shared by many libertarians. In case you missed it, there was a civil war between libertarian factions in 2008 over Ron Paul with some decidedly vitriolic attacks going back and forth between the two main factions: political and social libertarians. The former backed Ron Paul, the latter vehemently attacked him for a few articles he wrote and cried fowl that... get this... Ron Paul actually supports "conservative" positions like outlawing abortion, protecting the borders and limiting immigration! That is despite the fact that most of Reason's contributors would have to find new work if the government stopped the War on Drugs and enforcement of policies against all forms of consensual sex since those are the only issues they care to write about (economics, like math, in the words of Barbie, is hard!)

Libertarianism is better understood as an individualist section of the left or the right, depending on the individual.

Traditionalism, or conservativism, on the other hand, is about strengthening the bonds between individual human beings

Traditionalism can also easily be a slavish devotion to tradition without so much as a cursory look into whether or not the tradition is reflective of truth and healthy for people. When I get attacked by left-wing relatives for my "traditional view" of marriage, I remind them that I don't hold those views because that's what my ancestors did. I hold them because the record shows that the traditional view of marriage and gender relations contain the most truth.

The only religious libertarians I have met were Protestants. No doubt that has to do with the fact that Protestants believe that the only response to grace that saves you, and thus the only response to grace that matters, is proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and submitting to Him. Thus, to a Protestant, a general law against vice is meaningless in every sense to the salvation of anyone who would partake of vice. Public order is one thing which the state can create. Public morality is quite another.

But, public order is also a moral good, and a moral issue: the question of what does or does not constitute 'public order' cannot be answered without reference to some moral vision.

This post today is an answer to prayer for me. I have been linking some of your posts to Facebook to aid in a small battle I sometimes find myself in regarding culture, politics, liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, etc. Unfortunately, I only really feel qualified to give an opinion on Facebook, since I am not well read in these areas. I am trying however.

Thank you.

I can't help thinking there is a generic meaning of "libertarianism" and a theoretical meaning. When people use the term in its generic sense, they just mean generally something like "reducing government power" without much specificity beyond that. Of course, something that generic could go in a lot of different directions. I often say wryly that I'd like to meet a libertarian who is more concerned about the difficulties a small contractor faces in starting a business if he doesn't have a zillion special licenses than about local restrictions on nude dancing.

Ed is clearly completely right that morally neutral politics is impossible. Hence, when theoretical libertarianism offers us a morally neutral political theory, it's offering something that doesn't exist.

When Mike T considers himself a libertarian, my guess is that he means it in something like the generic rather than the theoretical sense, and this is why he says that libertarianism is a (relatively) individualistic version of the right or the left.

But, public order is also a moral good, and a moral issue: the question of what does or does not constitute 'public order' cannot be answered without reference to some moral vision.

I disagree. Public order is keeping people from harming one another in the most basic sense: damage to life, limb and property or deceit/fraud. The state should generally not concern itself with harm that cannot be quantified to some degree or subtleties which cannot be proved. At least on criminal and civil law concerns.

People tend to overestimate the competence of the state to control society. The police would fold in an instant if the general public revolted against the rule of law. The Army would be broken beyond repair if the general public rose up against the federal government and formed well-regulated militias.

An instinct to general order is part of God's grace for the majority of us. It's the only way that the state can work.

I often say wryly that I'd like to meet a libertarian who is more concerned about the difficulties a small contractor faces in starting a business if he doesn't have a zillion special licenses than about local restrictions on nude dancing.

To most libertarians, they're one in the same. The same mentality which arbitrarily blocks the nude dancing, no matter how the owner runs it or where it's located, is the sort of mentality which causes all sorts of petty, justify-yourself-by-being-bossy regulations.

That said, Reason has written some scathing articles in the past on business licenses. Not that I'm defending them, as they've gone libertine in the last several years, but some of their writers (especially Radley Balko and Cathy Young) do focus mainly on non-sexual issues from economic rights, to corruption in our legal system.

Personally, I'd like to meet a typical social conservative who was outraged over prosecutorial misconduct and our legal system's procedural corruption as they are about abortion, homosexuality and opposition to the death penalty.

To most libertarians, they're one in the same.

Well, then, most libertarians are wrong. Even sociologically, not to mention psychologically, they are very different.

I'd like to meet a typical social conservative who was outraged over prosecutorial misconduct and our legal system's procedural corruption as they are about abortion

Not to say that prosecutorial misconduct or corruption is a small matter, but *as bad as tearing the limbs off of babies* and even doing so legally??? I mean, no. Not even close. Which is why I, as a so-con, am not as upset by the one as by the other. Aside from the question of whether the former is as widespread as you appear to think it is. How widespread abortion is we can show pretty clearly, because it's perfectly legal, so nobody hides it. Which is part of the outrage in itself.

Not to say that prosecutorial misconduct or corruption is a small matter, but *as bad as tearing the limbs off of babies* and even doing so legally??? I mean, no. Not even close. Which is why I, as a so-con, am not as upset by the one as by the other. Aside from the question of whether the former is as widespread as you appear to think it is. How widespread abortion is we can show pretty clearly, because it's perfectly legal, so nobody hides it. Which is part of the outrage in itself.

Do you not think the issues are related? You cannot compartmentalize evil. You cannot pretend that one aspect is corrupt, but the rest is ok. The entire system is rotten to the core starting with a significant percentage of the police, to the majority of the prosecutors, all the way up to the people who choose the judiciary.

They frequently try to prosecute people who they know are likely innocent, they twist laws to read what they don't, they invent positive rights which oppress others. Abortion is simply the worst fruit that came from this tree.

Well, then, most libertarians are wrong. Even sociologically, not to mention psychologically, they are very different.

You'll have to forgive me if I find this point lacking, especially since it's an appeal to an authority (sociology) which I find to be almost entirely political quackery.

Well said, Dr. Feser.

But, public order is also a moral good, and a moral issue: the question of what does or does not constitute 'public order' cannot be answered without reference to some moral vision.
This is true.
I disagree. Public order is keeping people from harming one another in the most basic sense: damage to life, limb and property or deceit/fraud. The state should generally not concern itself with harm that cannot be quantified to some degree or subtleties which cannot be proved.
Mike T, the bold segment is your moral vision. Q.E.D.
Mike T, the bold segment is your moral vision. Q.E.D.

Ok, I'll concede that. However, it is a vision that is generally shared across cultures. To impose something along those lines would not necessarily entail any moral vision or philosophy beyond the lowest common denominator. It is thus as close to neutral as one can get.

You cannot compartmentalize evil

Come on, that pastime has been elevated to a high-brow art form amongst us bifurcated, self-divided moderns (don't you read the commentary here?), and is the whole point of Liberalism and its disfigured off-spring; socialism, libertarianism, fascism, etc. etc.

One can't separate morality, politics and economics from each other either, but that hasn't stopped people from taking up such a delusional, destructive project.

However, it is a vision that is generally shared across cultures

Yes, libertarianism the universal law ascribed on our bank accounts. Odd, one could tout a moral code that privatizes Christ at best and rejects him at worst.

Abortion is simply the worst fruit that came from this tree.

Abortion traces it roots to Lockean triumphalisms like this; It is thus as close to neutral as one can get.

Yes, libertarianism the universal law ascribed on our bank accounts.

I know you think you sound profound and contrarian, but retorts like this just come off as kinda dumb since they don't even related to what I said...

Hold on, Mike T. When I said "sociologically," that was an adjective. I meant that in the sociological realm--that is, in terms of the reasons why people want to stop nude dancing vs. the reasons why they try to impose a lot of regulations on small contractors, the meaning in society that these laws have once they are put into place, and so forth--the two types of laws are different. I wasn't appealing to some sort of sociological authority.

retorts like this just come off as kinda dumb since they don't even related to what I said...

Really?
Public order is keeping people from harming one another in the most basic sense: damage to life, limb and property or deceit/fraud. The state should generally not concern itself with harm that cannot be quantified to some degree or subtleties which cannot be proved.

You did in fact hail this neutral "order" as; generally shared across cultures. Maybe you can a name a couple of real world examples, or the
the "dumbness" may lie more in the throw-away original statement (the pitfall of all isms) than in the interpretation.

I agree with you when you admit the above cannot to rise to the level of moral vision. It is absent any spiritual inheritance beyond a comically minimalist version of the common good, and frankly too vaporous to be considered further without wandering into the libertarian paradise of privatized police and fire departments and more The Market Will Provide hoodoo.

Lydia,

I know you were using it as an adjective and was mainly messing with you on that (except for the point of not regarding sociology as much more than quackery).

Most libertarians are skeptical of social conservatives because they ask a simple question here, "why can't you just not go to the strip club?" It's similar to the same "what purpose does this regulation serve" question you ask about those regulations if you accept the premise that the moral issues that are the state's domain are those where a quantifiable harm to life, limb or property or an act of fraud has occurred.

There is a certain hypocrisy among Christian social conservatives on this. The first amendment is a prime example. It's nonsensical to say that a nude dancing club is a serious moral issue, but allowing non-Christians to proselytize is not a serious moral issue. I suppose if you are one of those who believe that Christ's only role was to buy us grace and time, and that faith IN Christ is not a critical component of salvation, that it is not a serious issue. However, if you believe that faith in Christ is the sine qua non of personal salvation, it is a far bigger issue than dirty magazines and topless dancing.

You did in fact hail this neutral "order" as; generally shared across cultures. Maybe you can a name a couple of real world examples, or the the "dumbness" may lie more in the throw-away original statement (the pitfall of all isms) than in the interpretation.

That statement was not, in and of itself, a statement of libertarianism as few factions have ever embraced arbitrary rule instead of trying to focus the state's attention to the issues they think matter.

I agree with you when you admit the above cannot to rise to the level of moral vision. It is absent any spiritual inheritance beyond a comically minimalist version of the common good, and frankly too vaporous to be considered further without wandering into the libertarian paradise of privatized police and fire departments and more The Market Will Provide hoodoo.

The common good is minimalist. For every person who genuinely seeks it, there are 50 who are just selfish individuals looking to enrich themselves or empower themselves at the expense of their fellow man through transparently manufactured moral mandates. The common good was the rallying cry of the atheist butchers of the 20th century.

Christians are foolish if they don't raise an eyebrow when people start talking about "the common good," especially in a context like modern society.

I agree with you when you admit the above cannot to rise to the level of moral vision.
Kevin, can we please not confuse the issue and agree that it is a moral vision, albeit one with much left to be desired? I think it's more helpful than letting people get away with thinking they have a vision of public order that is somehow not a moral one, which was Ilion's point, and a good one I think.

What sayeth the site's resident libertarian, Steve Burton?

The common good is minimalist. For every person who genuinely seeks it, there are 50 who are just selfish individuals looking to enrich themselves or empower themselves

By minimalist you mean where self-interest is the end to which all is ordered, don't you? Again, such a thin, cold ethos only acts as a solvent against Christian self-understanding and serves as an accelerant for the opposite side of the materialist coin; collectivism. Don't you see it is the lack of a common good that creates the conditons for tyranny?

"Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutal control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos." T.S. Eliot

Kevin, can we please not confuse the issue and agree that it is a moral vision, albeit one with much left to be desired? I think it's more helpful than letting people get away with thinking they have a vision of public order that is somehow not a moral one, which was Ilion's point, and a good one I think.

Albert, I think it better to say the Mike T's vision is a mere figment of the imagination and too barren for anyone to seriously aspire to. He needs to add flesh to it. I agree with you and Ilion, though that there is no such thing as a "neutral" social order or, economic system.

Mike T, I must say that comparing nude dancing to preaching, say, Hinduism strikes me as something very much like comparing apples and aerobics. No, um, no, I definitely don't 'fess up to being a hypocrite because I want state and local government to be able to outlaw the first under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions (which also protect freedom of speech and religion, in case one doesn't accept incorporationism) but not the second.

Lydia,

You're missing the point. Preaching any religion but the Word of God is sin. In fact, it is a significantly more harmful and serious sin to those exposed to it than virtually any sexual sin. As I said, if you accept the notion that the state should be much more active at enforcing moral matters than just limiting itself to matters where it can either prove a quantifiable harm or that fraud was committed, you open up a lot of problems. One of which is that the first amendment is an arbitrary restriction that protects an extremely serious moral offense. For a Christian to get all bothered about nude dancing, but then swear up and down that preaching a path that leads to Hell is a sacred right is just... nuts.

The funny thing is that several hundred years ago, the average Christian of any sect would have found that point about preaching against the Word of God being such an incredibly serious sin to not be the least bit controversial.

The common good was the rallying cry of the atheist butchers of the 20th century.

As Aristotle put it, the lack of concern among the rulers for the common good is the distinguishing feature of bad regimes. Similarly, Madison referred to a faction as a group "adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community" (notice that the permanent interests of the community consists of more than just protecting rights).

The state should generally not concern itself with harm that cannot be quantified to some degree or subtleties which cannot be proved.

But this normative claim is a mere stipulation, not the consequence of quantification let alone "proved" (whatever that means).

What if one replaced "state" with "family" and said this, "The family should generally not concern itself with harm that cannot be quantified to some degree or subtleties which cannot be proved." Since the family is a collection of individuals with its own governing structure, are there guidelines that concern it that do not concern the state? Be careful. For if you give a relativistic contractual answer, then the family has no intrinsic nature. But if the family does have an intrinsic nature (as a result of the proper role each participant plays in its end or common good), then the "state" may concern itself with non-quantifiable harms that may occur within families that are part of the larger community. If not, then you are conceding that the state may not act in a way to protect that which has an intrinsic good and seems to be necessary for a good polity. But what good is government, then? If it can't participate in protecting that which is essential to the community's very existence, then who cares about having police powers to protect "fraud"? After all, if everyone is just an isolated individual with his own interests and desires that are not inherently wrong as long as everyone consents, you might as well just kill yourself. Why would you want to live in such a one-dimensional world of adult choosers just trying to avoid fraud and physical harm? If that's paradise, I'll take the first train to hell.

Mike T.,
On one hand, you claim the Christian call to to seek and work for the "common good" leads to tyranny, while on the other, you think freedom of religion should only be extended to Christians.

I think you are bedeviled by the contradiction existing at the core of your position; being both a Christian and an advocate for the mythical, Autonomous Individual.

Your logic serves to point out, yet once again, the symbiotic relationship between personal Libertarianism and state Collectivism, and how the former prepares the soil for the latter.

Yeah, Mike T, I got it. I understood that that was your position. But a) I do not say that it is a "sacred right" to preach false religion. I just say that it would be a very bad idea to criminalize it per se, simply on the grounds that some religion is false. Evidently the founders agreed with me on this one. b) It is only a "serious sin" if the person doing it is vincibly ignorant of the truth, which may or may not be the case. c) I don't want to get into the many, many reasons why it makes sense to stop nude dancing by ordinance (local or state) but not to criminalize preaching Hinduism. But I certainly think this is a common-sensical and defensible position, so of course I don't admit that I have a "problem." My position as a so-con is not that the state's role is to punish sin, per se, qua sin, just because it's sin, or just because it's serious, or whatever. There are a lot more considerations to take into account.

One of the problems with libertarians is, I'm sorry, that they tend to be so rigidly locked into the dream of some sort of overarching set of abstracta that grind out all governing decisions by formula that they tend to lose touch with common sense. But common sense is crucial to good government and politics. I knew one libertarian once (who has since changed his mind) who argued that you should stand back and let a man cut his own leg off with a chainsaw as long as the man had provided for what would happen to him thereafter and wasn't going to be a burden on anyone else in so doing! There are so many things wrong with such nonsense that I wouldn't know where to begin.

Why would you want to live in such a one-dimensional world of adult choosers just trying to avoid fraud and physical harm? If that's paradise, I'll take the first train to hell.

Passengers are asked to check the overhead racks and underneath your seats for any personal belongings and books by Hayek and Marx, before getting off at our final stop.

Ilíon: "Traditionalism, or conservativism, on the other hand [in contrast to both "liberalism" and libertarianism], is about strengthening the bonds between individual human beings ..."

Mike T:

"Traditionalism can also easily be a slavish devotion to tradition without so much as a cursory look into whether or not the tradition is reflective of truth and healthy for people. ..."

Even were this true (rather than but a reflection of the "liberal" gloss on history), the complaint implicitly assumes a moral stance. You might recall that the point of Mr Feser's essay is that the purported moral neutrality of libertarianism just ain't so.

Oops. Sorry about the over-eager bolding.

Preaching any religion but the Word of God is sin. In fact, it is a significantly more harmful and serious sin to those exposed to it than virtually any sexual sin.

You mean like statutory rape, pedophilia, incest, sodomy, or adultery? If this is true,then we ought to have a law against such preaching. But then we'd have to ask the state to do some more non-neutral meddling.

You mean like statutory rape, pedophilia, incest, sodomy, or adultery? If this is true,then we ought to have a law against such preaching. But then we'd have to ask the state to do some more non-neutral meddling.

Non-neutral meddling is what the state already does in cases like where a town bans any strip club "just because." I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians who demand that all sexual sin be curtailed, but then stridently defend the first amendment's protection of heathen proselytizing. That is cognitive dissonance. False teachers who lead people firmly away from God toward Hell are significantly worse, morally, than all but the most depraved sexual sinners.

Personally, I believe in free will, and that includes free will to do evil so long as you aren't causing harm to life, limb and property or defrauding anyone. Everyone has a God-given right to go to Hell in their own unique way if that is their choice. We are not called to save people from themselves.

I just say that it would be a very bad idea to criminalize it per se, simply on the grounds that some religion is false.

Ah, so you do accept the notion that the state should not be handling all serious moral offenses.

It is only a "serious sin" if the person doing it is vincibly ignorant of the truth, which may or may not be the case.

Paul would disagree. The ignorance of God is not innocent, but born of the sin nature of man. Therefore God does not regard preaching false religions as an innocent act.

c) I don't want to get into the many, many reasons why it makes sense to stop nude dancing by ordinance (local or state) but not to criminalize preaching Hinduism. But I certainly think this is a common-sensical and defensible position, so of course I don't admit that I have a "problem."

It is common-sensical insofar as you recognize the unwanted side effects of having the state play morality police in general, rather than focusing on a set of sins which the state can generally handle with minimal negative side effects.

My position as a so-con is not that the state's role is to punish sin, per se, qua sin, just because it's sin, or just because it's serious, or whatever. There are a lot more considerations to take into account.

So then what is the actual reason for banning the strip club in general? I can think of some, but I want to know what reasons you were thinking of.

One of the problems with libertarians is, I'm sorry, that they tend to be so rigidly locked into the dream of some sort of overarching set of abstracta that grind out all governing decisions by formula that they tend to lose touch with common sense. But common sense is crucial to good government and politics. I knew one libertarian once (who has since changed his mind) who argued that you should stand back and let a man cut his own leg off with a chainsaw as long as the man had provided for what would happen to him thereafter and wasn't going to be a burden on anyone else in so doing! There are so many things wrong with such nonsense that I wouldn't know where to begin.

Arguably, such a man is insane and as such people need to prevent him from harming himself against his better judgment. Generally, libertarians assume that the person in question is not mentally ill.

Your point about "common sense" is well-taken, but common sense ain't so common. It's not something that's demonstrated in many cases by our government, and it's enabled by the fact that our system has grown into a kludge. It's not informed by an higher theory of justice or philosophy, just cobbled together with patch after patch every time the legislature meets. It's how we get cases where a black kid can get 40 years in prison for selling a kilo of cocaine, but a mother can murder her own (born) children and get a few years and probation. The devil himself is the only one who could come up with a more f#$%ed up system of government that still somehow works.

There has to be a cooperation between ideology and common sense. That's a given. My favorite question for open borders libertarians is how they would handle it if China did a "Mariel Boat Lift Part 2" by sending 30,000,000 unmarriageable, uneducated men to the West Coast and dumped them there. Heh. That's caused more than a few libertarian heads to explode...

I think one of the things that we need is a revolution in constitutional government wherein the elected government has no power to arbitrarily create or change any law which affects the life, liberty or property of the public. All criminal law should be embedded as an article of the constitution itself. That would serve two compelling ends: the legal code would be stabilized and it would be harder for the public and legislators to act impulsively.

I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians who demand that all sexual sin be curtailed, but then stridently defend the first amendment's protection of heathen proselytizing. That is cognitive dissonance.

Sure. Sheer intellectual consistency requires any community with zoning regulations against strip clubs and industrial waste-dumping to bring back the rope and rack as tools for evangelization. Otherwise, rank hypocrisy reigns.

We are not called to save people from themselves.
Another sound bite signifying little. A favorite practice of libertarians trying to square their materialist, rights-centric ideology with the competing claims and obligations of the Christian faith is to literally interpret the Scriptural passage; "I am not my Brothers keeper". It allows them to privatize their fatih sufficiently so they can remain steadfastly opposed to every public initiative to ameliorate the human condition. Everything from unemployment insurance to drug free school zones are evidence of unbridled tyranny.
competing claims and obligations of the Christian faith

Which you have no problem wrapping up in the language of natural law and forcing on the unbelievers. You act as though if you force them to participate in "Christian charity and behavior" that they'll pass the Christian version of the duck test when they stand before God!

to literally interpret the Scriptural passage; "I am not my Brothers keeper".

To what extent are you your brother's keeper?.. How far are you allowed to go to prevent your brother from destroying himself? If your brother is of sound mind, but persists gleefully in doing sin against himself, do you have a right to force him to stop?

It allows them to privatize their fatih sufficiently so they can remain steadfastly opposed to every public initiative to ameliorate the human condition.

God forbid that the church and private charities alone provide aid to the needy, to "ameliorate the human condition."

I suppose it is completely lost on you that the record of the vast majority of social programs run off of tax revenues is entirely negative...

You act as though if you force them to participate in "Christian charity and behavior" that they'll pass the Christian version of the duck test...

Social welfare policies aren't a form of state-facilitated holiness. They are an attempt to imperfectly soften the hard edges of the modern economy. Support of such policies do not act as a substitute for my obligation to practice personal charity. There is no cheap grace.

How far are you allowed to go to prevent your brother from destroying himself? If your brother is of sound mind, but persists gleefully in doing sin against himself, do you have a right to force him to stop?

No one size fits all answer to that, is there? I'll be in front of an abortuary for 90 minutes this Saturday and maybe, just maybe a couple will turn from self-destruction as a result of prayer. Excessively intrusive?

God forbid that the church and private charities alone provide aid to the needy, to "ameliorate the human condition."

I would prefer charity be administered by the church but, maybe all the celebrating over "neutral" systems and self-interest have drained us of our desire and wherewithal, setting the stage for the State to do so.


Excessively intrusive?

Of course not. Then again, you know that even if I didn't think your protesting was fine, my vehement opposition to abortion would have made me unsympathetic to anyone who thinks you're "harassing" them.

I would prefer charity be administered by the church but, maybe all the celebrating over "neutral" systems and self-interest have drained us of our desire and wherewithal, setting the stage for the State to do so.

Or maybe, just maybe, the State doesn't leave most Christian families with enough money to give generously and be responsible with their finances...

For the sake of argument, consider this.

A family living in a rental unit that costs $1k/month (poorish housing in most cities) with a combined income of $50k will experience the following facts:

-28% tax rate for about $14k in withholdings.

-They may get a few child tax credits worth a few grand together.

-They cannot deduct the cost of the rent off of their income which means that a family of four would have to live on $24k/year after you account for housing and taxes, before they can file for a return.

-They have utilities, gas, car payments, groceries (probably $800/month if they aren't very frugal), health care expenses, clothing, miscellaneous expenses that arise.

The State consumes such a large portion of their income that they don't have room for private charity in a meaningful way, but the State gets to spend their money on WHATEVER social program it wants...

In some welfare systems, you also have multiple generations of dependents. There is no moral calling to provide support to anyone who won't work or can't behave well enough to keep a job. Period. They that won't work, shall not eat.

Look, we know Liberalism is a secularized parody of Christianity. We know all the woes and pathologies brought on by the State's usurping of the roles once delegated to the family, Church and intermediary associations. And no one is surprised by the disasters wrought by an institution that is militantly materialistic and aggressively erasing God's presence from our mist. Your major mistake, is in thinking you can remedy one "neutral' organization, with the machinery and false anthropology of another equally atheistic system. It won't and can't work, anymore than one can disconnect solidarity from subsidarity and expect a just social order to emerge.

As for rolling back the dehumanizing plantation we've built for the underclass, we do have a moral obligation to care for them as we strive to end the dependency that has been built-up over generations. If you want to apply shock therapy anywhere, try the ideological hucksters and "think tanks" that have been enriched by peddling this snake-oil to a de-spiritualized people.

Kevin:

Look, we know Liberalism is a secularized parody of Christianity. We know all the woes and pathologies brought on by the State's usurping of the roles once delegated to the family, Church and intermediary associations.


That is blatantly false; if anything, modern Christianity itself is a parody of Christianity.

One need only look at organizations like the WLC, which is comprised of several Christians spanning a wide variety of Christian denominations, advocating even late-term abortions; proclaiming such things as a fundamental right of women everywhere.

In other words, it's not quite right that it is the State that's primarily responsible for doing all the usurping; I would think it is the People themselves who promote such measures and heinous agendas that ultimately lead to things as this!

As for rolling back the dehumanizing plantation we've built for the underclass, we do have a moral obligation to care for them as we strive to end the dependency that has been built-up over generations.
So we've got an obligation to maintain the dependency while we end the dependency? The continuation of the state's "care" is the last thing these people need, and it's such an insubstantial pittance anyway that ending it would have little impact on most of them.

The government never spends less over time. The only hope of ending any government expenditure is to do it when you get the opportunity (if you ever do). How about a little "shock therapy" to absolutely worthless government expenditures such as this, so that Christians will have some money left for charity, to counteract the worst effects of ending the dependency?

Even though libertarians are generally crazy, and on a broad array of topics, when it comes to an argument (or "argument") between a libertarian and a "liberal" who conflates "liberalism" for Christianity, one can generally be sure that the libertarian is correct, at least close enough. And, when one considers that the "liberal's" error tends to be soul-destroying (and society-destroying), an error in the libertarian's position will tend to pale in comparison.

Mike T,

There are quite a few libertarians who hold that the notion that the "state" or even any outside party deciding for you that you are insane and therefore not to be allowed to chop off your leg is antithetical to libertarianism. Their view of personal autonomy stems from philosophical autonomy , which is spreading far and wide, and was well encapsulated by Justice Kennedy: people have the right to choose for themselves the meaning of the universe and of their life. Thus (in this view) it is inherently impossible for any person to decide for you that your choices would be different if only you were "in your right mind."

Naturally, this view is not held by all libertarians. But then there is another strain that has concluded (with quite some force of argument) that there is no such thing as "public order" that is a good that one may ask the state to uphold. Indeed, in their view the state as such is an evil (all states, every state, no matter how restrained), anarchy being the only truly moral political condition. This chimera called public order is just the selfish dependency by the weak-willed not to take care of their own defense and their own goods, so they expect others to do it for them. There is some overlap of these anarcho-libertarians with the first group above, but they are not congruent groups.

Likewise, there are many religious groups who hold that public order of itself implies suppression of the disorder of false teachings.

SO, no, there is not some universally recognized body of good called "public order" that everyone agrees is a basic, minimal requirement for the state to impose for the sake of society. It is, apparently, impossible to come to a notion of what that public order ought to consist in without a pre-existing notion (which most people share) that there is some natural order between humans that is an essential component of humanity. But this notion is precisely the ground from which spring certain laws that legislate beyond mere prevention of mathematically measurable damage to your neighbor and his goods.

St. Thomas says of law that it is NOT appropriate for the state to suppress all acts of vice by law and threat of punishment. For, not all men can avoid all acts of vice, and human law ought to be something obedience to which all can achieve. Therefore, there are limits to how far law should go in legislating morality.

While I used to tend in the libertarian direction, I think now that libertarianism cannot form a consistent argument that allows for men to have a social human nature in common, and that that human nature has essential implications for society that must be recognized in common before people can be happy. Like, for example, that those in authority automatically teach by example.

Mike T,

I don't know where you are getting your numbers from, but I ran your hypothetical family of four through the H&R Block tax estimator and for federal taxes they had a $35 refund above their total withholding. In other words, for federal taxes they are are not paying anything, they are receiving a small rebate instead.

The continuation of the state's "care" is the last thing these people need, and it's such an insubstantial pittance anyway that ending it would have little impact on most of them.

Yes, a trifling compared to the Goldman Sachs bonus pool. The whole social safety net is such a thin and frivolous reed, no one is gonna notice when we cut the flimsy cord.

Besides, the guys wearing Adam Smith neckties at Cato have drawn-up a brilliant jobs creation program called; "Return To Sender", whereby all the jobs we've exported the past 30 years come back as this current "market correction" realigns our domestic wages with those of Bangladesh. Free trade rides to the rescue.

between a libertarian and a "liberal" who conflates "liberalism" for Christianity, one can generally be sure that the libertarian is correct, at least close enough

Both camps view human beings as little more than social atoms with appetites, so good luck in divining any worthwhile differences between the two, beyond the emphasis each places on greed or lust.

And, when one considers that the "liberal's" error tends to be soul-destroying (and society-destroying), an error in the libertarian's position will tend to pale in comparison.

Here is the Mayor of London, a Tory, either on a satirical riff, or showing us the "spirit of commerce" in full bloom, about his city becoming The Divorce Capital of the World;

Far from being a sign of moral malaise, I am inclined to see this Divorce Fund initiative as the latest evidence of the resilience of the London economy. Just as the financial services industry is reeling, they come up with a new and inventive offering. Rich wives and toyboys across the world can see the prudence of pestering their spouses to maintain an address in London – just in case it all goes wrong. London lawyers hit pay dirt. London hotels are full of witnesses and the UK media have the joy of reporting the case in a circulation-boosting way.

Yes, it is a sad title, to be known as the divorce capital of the world. But in one sense it is not without its economic compensations.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/6303708/If-anyones-going-to-make-money-out-of-misery-it-may-as-well-be-us.html

Step2, even if they get back all of their income tax that was withheld, they still pay 8 % in social security taxes. And modest amounts in other small taxes. Not sure whether that changes the conclusion or not, though.

Yes, a trifling compared to the Goldman Sachs bonus pool. The whole social safety net is such a thin and frivolous reed, no one is gonna notice when we cut the flimsy cord.
You've simply dodged the point, which is that in reality, ending the dependence inevitably involves shock, just like ending any addiction does. You can huff and puff and showboat (as you are wont to do) all you like, but it doesn't change the reality. The most humane way to end the dependence is to end some demonstrably useless programs (like the education sham that I linked to), allowing Christians to have more money for charity, so that they can soften the blow.

Tony:

There are quite a few libertarians who hold that the notion that the "state" or even any outside party deciding for you that you are insane and therefore not to be allowed to chop off your leg is antithetical to libertarianism. Their view of personal autonomy stems from philosophical autonomy , which is spreading far and wide, and was well encapsulated by Justice Kennedy: people have the right to choose for themselves the meaning of the universe and of their life. Thus (in this view) it is inherently impossible for any person to decide for you that your choices would be different if only you were "in your right mind."

That's where one of the big problems I see with libertarianism (at least the most common version of it) lies, which I laid out in a comment to Ed's other blog. They don't want the state *OR* any outside party deciding that you're insane, which ends up requiring that the state step in and tell the outside party that *they're* wrong for telling you that you're insane. So, the state ends up getting involved and endorsing a moral position anyway, but perversely, it gets involved not to stop you from cutting off your leg and tell you you're wrong, but rather to stop anybody who's trying to stop you and tell them that they're wrong.

On the one hand, the libertarian doesn't want the government telling people what they can or can't do. On the other hand, they don't want society telling people what they can and can't do, and they're willing to use government force to make society change or drop its standards (the prime example here is libertarians who support the government intrusion into the social order that is gay marriage).

In order for a society to function without a heavy-handed state, that society must have strong institutions and a strong social order, making it capable of policing itself. When that breaks down, the totalitarian state inevitably rushes in to handle the resulting social chaos. Libertarians (or at least the bulk of them) are in the incoherent business of trying to beat down both the state and the social boundaries that keep the state at bay at the same time. Even if you could knock both down at the same time, all you'd get is violent anarchy, not a peaceful utopia of free sex (libertine libertarians are as hopelessly utopian and wooly-headed about human nature as liberals)

At the heart of libertarianism is the following incoherency: The libertarian holds the individual's will to be more sacrosanct that the individual themselves.

Tony,

You raise a fair point, but Mike T's example was wrong in multiple ways. To begin with, he applied the marginal tax rate to all of their income, which doesn't happen. He also didn't subtract any of the standard or personal deductions from the income to come up with his result. Using his total, to end up with a federal income tax of $14,000 a family of four taking the minimum number of deductions and credits would have to earn an income of $121,000 in 2009. In absolute terms, that would be a tax rate of 12% even though the marginal rate is 25%.

It seems to come as a surprise to some, and a flaw to most, that libertarianism doesn't speak from the burning bush, that it's precepts, such as they are, lack engraving in stone, that programmatic dicta aren't laid out in comprehensive, if not suffocating, detail. A pity.
Part of the reason, and what makes the confusion understandable, is the distance and direction Lib. has traveled over the last decades. Look what happened to Nozick as a case in point, I could almost see him crying in his hankie over the plight of the fabled "unfortunate" near the end. A class by the way, notably vague in any descriptive manner, save for a nod towards an unmeasured materialism.

Before we started our collective trek into the deepest muck of a rather gooey altruism coupled with an ahistorical and idiotic view of government as chief repairman, referee, senior moralist, and all around savior, the view of libertarianism was, if you can stand this, simpler. The major, possibly the only, issue was force, and force wielded by the State, wherein our attention should be focused, being as it was the bully of the block, a reputation cultivated over the centuries.

But it seems that we have been seduced by notions of government that have crept into the national psyche, that most now can't seem to avoid an arbitrator from on high, a granter of wishes and giver of fulfillment.

It is a lot more than libertarianism that has lost it's focus, that wanders in a fairyland of desires unmet.

You've simply dodged the point, which is that in reality, ending the dependence inevitably involves shock, just like ending any addiction does.

Glad you acknowledge shock will be felt by those cut off from what you term "an insubstantial pittance" and wisely revised your bizarre assertion "it would have little impact on most of them." What happens after the first wave of tremors?

This recession has increased the number of the homeless, produced an abundant harvest for military recruiters(see below),and seen an incalculable amount of wealth move upstream to the rich, so don't expect a get off the dole and pick yourself up by the bootstraps message to resonate with most Americans.

Since there is no political consensus to end the welfare state, raw calculation, if not sheer human decency, requires gradualism in reforming and ultimately scaling back Leviathan. This means both expanding employment opportunities and demonstrating the capability of private charity to step in and fill the breech.

I don't know what is harder; recreating the conditions for the meaningful employment men used to find in the departed manufacturing industries, or convincing our countrymen that Christians are ready to live out the Gospels on a large enough scale to prevent massive social chaos and misery.

Yet, this is the burden that falls on conservatives, who must, in order to be taken seriously, extend their empathy and energies to all of those dependent on public assistance, not just the sad cases mainlining taxpayer handouts on Wall Street.

Perhaps, Cameron's Tories in the UK can craft a model we can learn from here. http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/02/riseoftheredtories/

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aided by a bleak job market, the U.S. military met all of its recruitment goals in the past year for the first time since it became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the Pentagon said on Tuesday… …Pentagon officials said recruitment gains were fueled by the deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate nearing 10 percent. http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE59C5O320091013
According to a new report, the number of homeless people sleeping in New York City shelters has reached an all time high at 39,000 -- many of them are children. http://wcbstv.com/local/nyc.homeless.homeless.2.1245853.html
You've simply dodged the point, which is that in reality, ending the dependence inevitably involves shock, just like ending any addiction does.

Glad you acknowledge shock will be felt by those cut off from what you term "an insubstantial pittance" and wisely revised your bizarre assertion "it would have little impact on most of them." What happens after the first wave of tremors?

This recession has increased the number of the homeless, produced an abundant harvest for military recruiters(see below),and seen an incalculable amount of wealth move upstream to the rich, so don't expect a get off the dole and pick yourself up by the bootstraps message to resonate with most Americans.

Since there is no political consensus to end the welfare state, raw calculation, if not sheer human decency, requires gradualism in reforming and ultimately scaling back Leviathan. This means both expanding employment opportunities and demonstrating the capability of private charity to step in and fill the breech.

I don't know what is harder; recreating the conditions for the meaningful employment men used to find in the departed manufacturing industries, or convincing our countrymen that Christians are ready to live out the Gospels on a large enough scale to prevent massive social chaos and misery.

Yet, this is the burden that falls on conservatives, who must, in order to be taken seriously, extend their empathy and energies to all of those dependent on public assistance, not just the sad cases mainlining taxpayer handouts on Wall Street.

Perhaps, Cameron's Tories in the UK can craft a model we can learn from here. http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/02/riseoftheredtories/

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aided by a bleak job market, the U.S. military met all of its recruitment goals in the past year for the first time since it became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the Pentagon said on Tuesday… …Pentagon officials said recruitment gains were fueled by the deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate nearing 10 percent. http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE59C5O320091013

I don't know where you are getting your numbers from, but I ran your hypothetical family of four through the H&R Block tax estimator and for federal taxes they had a $35 refund above their total withholding. In other words, for federal taxes they are are not paying anything, they are receiving a small rebate instead.

I forgot that the tax code is almost completely, utterly different for families :)

However, my numbers are roughly correct for single people who don't own real estate. Most of my peers and I were paying 28-30% of out college. If I had even tithed 10% to my church, I would have been lucky to pay all of my bills without touching savings because the taxes on singles and couples without property or kids are so high.

From according to his ability, and all that, you know...

This recession has increased the number of the homeless, produced an abundant harvest for military recruiters(see below),and seen an incalculable amount of wealth move upstream to the rich, so don't expect a get off the dole and pick yourself up by the bootstraps message to resonate with most Americans.
Every one of those things has been caused by government spending. This "bailout" has been an obscene transfer of wealth from the real economy to the bankers. The increase in military recruitment is yet more potential workers in the real economy, who would be increasing government revenue, ending up on the government dole instead (far better than them becoming government bureaucrats though, where they would be both more expensive and more harmful).
What happens after the first wave of tremors?
The "shock" would be pretty mild, because the money they're getting is a pittance, and could be more than compensated by practically any job at all.

What would happen after that is (and I'm assuming a scenario where we cut welfare dependency and worthless programs like government education around the same time, allowing people more money to spend on charity), most of them would get jobs, and the ones who didn't would be helped more effectively by increased charity than they are by the government.

Additionally, the little money they did have would become worth more, because government spending and taxation both actively depress the value of the currency, and this effect would be reduced. In fact, I suspect that this alone would compensate for the lack of government handouts.

Since there is no political consensus to end the welfare state, raw calculation, if not sheer human decency, requires gradualism in reforming and ultimately scaling back Leviathan.
If you've devised some way of doing this, I'd love to see it. What history has demonstrated is that the only government spending and dependency does gradually is increase. Decreases only happen under extremely unusual circumstances, by an extraordinarily rare act of political will that comes along less than once per generation. If you don't take the opportunity when you get it, there is no hope. The only other way is for the government to run out of money, forcing it to cut people off suddenly like in California (where, nevertheless, the world hasn't ended as a result - people typically find themselves more capable than previously thought when the umbilical cord is cut).


This means both expanding employment opportunities and demonstrating the capability of private charity to step in and fill the breech.

Expanding employment is something the government can't do, except by getting out of the way and not robbing employers of the money they need to hire. Private charity has already been demonstrated to be more effective at filling the breech than the government. The government doesn't care. It just keeps usurping the place of charity and creating more dependency, heedless of the observable increase in misery that accompanies it every step of the way.

Since there is no political consensus to end the welfare state, raw calculation, if not sheer human decency, requires gradualism in reforming and ultimately scaling back Leviathan. This means both expanding employment opportunities and demonstrating the capability of private charity to step in and fill the breech.

The capability of providing for the needy has already been established by numerous studies which show that "right wing, conservative" Christians tend to give very generously to church-lead charities. It's usually the liberals who, while having the means to give, don't give much of anything.

The larger problem with the welfare state is philosophical and behavioral. It enables a lot of irresponsible, autonomous behavior. Want to screw around and make babies? There's a welfare program to lighten that burden. Want to start smoking and chugging brewskies? There's a welfare program to cover your lung cancer and liver replacement. Can't hold a steady job because you're a shiftless loser? There's a welfare program for that.

The welfare state lightens the burdens that come with the "old libertarian" motto: full freedom with full responsibility for one's choices. A lot of people, especially women, like the fact that they don't have to be responsible in terms of sex, drug/alcohol use or employment because the welfare state will bail them out. A private Christian charity would actually hold up their life for examination and make them change as part of receiving a helping hand.

That is intolerably oppressive and theocratic to them.

I don't know what is harder; recreating the conditions for the meaningful employment men used to find in the departed manufacturing industries, or convincing our countrymen that Christians are ready to live out the Gospels on a large enough scale to prevent massive social chaos and misery.

Well, you have numerous barriers:

1) Monetary policy
2) Tax policy
3) Welfare policy
4) High female employment; the more women in the workforce, the larger the labor supply and the lower the labor rates.

Gradualism is fine, but the goal must remain radical change.

While I don't necessarily think Mike T's descriptive phrases are entirely without exaggeration, I agree with the overall thrust. You cannot achieve a radical overall change by incremental bits and pieces, when the bulk of the system (the rest outside of the few bits and pieces you change) is busy re-enforcing the downward trend by a greater margin than the little change you have made might improve things.

The basic problem is that the government run (and, therefore, values-neutral) social safety net by its very existence creates a condition in which personally and socially destructive behavior is rewarded, and where being personally and socially responsible is (at best) ignored, and sometimes punished. The functional support given to irresponsibility by the net as such would tend to overwhelm in its destructive force any incremental changes that might seem useful in the margins. If you want to argue for incremental change, what you really need to do is come up with a solution to the irresponsibility that the system fertilizes so effectively. Short of that, no gradual change can work in the long run.

Mike, in your list of barriers, you forgot:

Public schools. (and Head Start, and after-school programs, and subsidized day care). All of which free up the mothers to feed into # 4 above.

Every one of those things has been caused by government spending... This "bailout" has been an obscene transfer of wealth from the real economy to the bankers.

Wall Street has been been dictating the terms and conditions of existence to the non-banking sectors for several decades now, and the federal agencies and regulatory bodies have been little more than convenient resume-padding stations for moonlighting Goldman executives.

TARP represents less than 1/10 the funding poured into the banking system through the Federal Reserve's lending facilities. We are already saddled with a 14% corporate (the real economy) default rate after all the unfathomable measures taken to keep credit markets functioning, so as handy a fetish it may be, beating back TARP would have achieved nothing but a brief, celebratory release of inchoate emotions before the tsunami wiped out most of Main Street.

We learned an "unregulated" marketplace of creative lending practices, alphabet debt instruments and insurance vehicles unburdened by reserves can produce the unthinkable. It can force a famous libertarian to lose his religion;
Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief... Alan Greenspan
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/24/business/economy/24panel.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin

Too avoid shocks like his, few will gamble on rational self-interest producing a suitable economy for the rural and inner-city poor once we just end their welfare payments, food stamps and Medicare benefits.

The capability of providing for the needy has already been established by numerous studies which show that "right wing, conservative" Christians tend to give very generously to church-lead charities.

Those unfamiliar with sociological studies are going to need more convincing before ending a 50 year old political settlement. Expect many to be skeptical when they hear; "We'll really be able to pitch in once our tax burden is lighter" coming from those of us who talk of a post-Christian society.

Gradualism is fine, but the goal must remain radical change.

Amen. And a first step in that direction is to make a bonfire of materialist dogmas.

Those unfamiliar with sociological studies are going to need more convincing before ending a 50 year old political settlement. Expect many to be skeptical when they hear; "We'll really be able to pitch in once our tax burden is lighter" coming from those of us who talk of a post-Christian society.

Well, here's just the first google search result...

While it is correlated more closely with conservative religion, there is some overlap with conservatism in general.

Even just a $1:$1 tax credit for charitable donations for the needy would make a huge difference.

The welfare state was created to be a secular replacement for the church's mercy ministries. As such, Christians should not ever regard it as a social good.

BTW, what I mean by gradualism is probably more radical than it came off. I think the first step toward phasing out Social Security and Medicare is to means test them and to eliminate anyone who receives either a pension or some other health insurance. A strong push toward means testing all programs to eliminate anyone who receives outside income or who **could** work and buy their own health care if they gave up luxuries is necessary.

Those unfamiliar with sociological studies are going to need more convincing before ending a 50 year old political settlement.
Then they don't want to be convinced, and it's hard to imagine what would convince them, so I guess we should just go on deepening government dependency indefinitely, until everyone is utterly desperate and the government runs out of money, leaving them helpless and penniless.

You can look at what Mike linked to if you want to see. There's also the common-sense approach: Compare the well-being of the poor before the government welfare state got into full swing and usurped the place of charity to how things are now. By any measure, they've been made more helpless, more miserable, more surrounded by and involved in crime and fear, more brainwashed, and the cohesion of their families and communities has been destroyed. Government intervention has only robbed them of the one thing they had that can't be bought: their human dignity.

While it is correlated more closely with conservative religion, there is some overlap with conservatism in general.
And? Going to need more than that if we're going to persuade the American people to overturn our current arrangements. They'll stick with the oppressive devil they know, rather than adopt a new one based on a superficial policy level diagnosis and the vague hope of a Christian renewal.
BTW, what I mean by gradualism is probably more radical than it came off.
Actually, your agenda isn't so much as radical, as it is dated, conventional and mute on the real origins on as to how we wound up with a welfare state administered by a plutocracy.

The assault on family and community life was not launched only by the State. Before conservatives can start cutting school lunch programs and closing day care centers they will have to take on the business interests, consumerist ethos and "neutral" ideologies of personal liberation that created made such institutions inevitable.

Just one example will suffice. It was FDR's party, in collusion with Maternalists who developed federal policies in support of the family wage and it was commercial interests (National Association of Manufacturers), their sirens in the adverstising industry, and equity feminists that tore the artifice down. See below.

The historical record is completely clear, making it hard to believe anyone can still adhere to the false dialect of Market vs State, while remaining blind to the partnership between the two in causing this crisis.


Both American marriage and fertility rates fell sharply during the early 1930’s. The New Deal, constructed in response by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, expanded the scope of the “family wage” ideal in Federal policymaking. For example, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1934 codified wage scales that paid men up to 30 percent more than women for the same work and that affirmed sex-defined job categories (“men’s jobs” and “women’s jobs”) with even larger pay differentials. The Works Progress Administration, the largest government relief program, “deplored” the employment on WPA programs of women with dependent children; denounced child day care; and retrained unemployed teachers to teach homemaking and maternal skills. The Social Security Amendments of 1939 provided homemakers pensions to women married to eligible men and generous “survivors” benefits to the widows and children of covered male workers. The National Housing Act created the FHA mortgage program featuring long-term amortization, a low down payment, and insurance protection for the lender. Joined in 1944 by the Veterans Administration (VA) mortgage program, billions of new dollars were mobilized for home construction, with over 99 percent of these government-backed mortgages targetted on young married couples. Tax reforms in 1944 and 1948 extended the marriage-friendly benefits of “income splitting” to all American homes and substantially raised the real value of the tax deduction for dependent children.[9]

The results, one can conclude, were impressive. Between 1935 and 1963, the marriage rate rose by 30 percent, the average age of first marriage fell to historic lows (age 22 for men; age 20 for women), the proportion of ever-married adults reached a record high (over 95 percent), and the fertility rate—after falling for 100 years—rose by 75 percent.

http://www.profam.org/docs/acc/thc.acc.frc.050511.fract.gen.htm

And? Going to need more than that if we're going to persuade the American people to overturn our current arrangements. They'll stick with the oppressive devil they know, rather than adopt a new one based on a superficial policy level diagnosis and the vague hope of a Christian renewal.

It's a moot point because the American people will never voluntarily accept any radical change, no matter how necessary.

As much as I disagree with his worldview, Robert Reich delivered a very interesting smackdown to his very left-wing students in this speech. To paraphrase it: Americans are addicted to fantasy and won't accept the fact that there are prices to be paid for the decisions they/we make.

I agree Reich is intellectually honest and escapes the ideological strait-jacket more often than most, but disagree that voluntary change is impossible. We foot soldiers in Burke's small platoons are incrementalists by nature, and we'll leave the bigger picture up to the Spirit. Keep the faith. Americans have a knack for pulling back from the brink at the very last moment.

I agree Reich is intellectually honest

Well, not entirely. See, back in 2007, when he said those things, he was not envisioning being part of the next administration trying to push a health care reform down our throats. So he felt like he could say some hard things.

Now that he is at the helm of this push, he isn't telling it all so cleanly anymore. Like this:

http://tpmtv.talkingpointsmemo.com/?id=3377738


Exactly. Reich doesn't like the fact that his momentary honesty--which he engaged in as a sort of stand-up comedy routine in front of an audience that was inclined to applaud him--is coming back to haunt him with an audience that doesn't happen to agree with his worldview. Poor chap. So he's breaking out the "out of context" nonsense. Actually, what he said in that speech about "letting you die" was completely clear.

Well, if Reich's shameful return to his ideological prison cell is true, may he fondly recall his temporary flight into freedom as an exhilarating moment few ever experience.

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