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The Myth of Libertarians as Social Liberals


John H. – All good points and I agree with them all to one extent or another. But — and you knew there had to be one — it bothers me when conservatives offer the blanket concession that social liberalism and the social aspect of libertarianism are one and the same. You write: “libertarian views overlap with the traditional GOP on economics and the traditional Dems on social issues.” I do not dispute that there is much overlap between libertarian views and Democratic views on social issues. But the overlap isn’t nearly so transparent as it is between conservatives and libertarians on economic issues.

To say you are an economic conservative is to say you are a libertarian on 95% of the relevant issues. But to say you are a social liberal isn’t anything like saying you are a libertarian on 95% of social issues.

Social liberals are often quite aggressive advocates of using state power to impose their preffered versions of “liberty.” Most libertarians are disgusted by thought-policing political correctness, by forced “sensitivity” training, by so-called Hate Crimes tribunals and racial and gender quotas. They detest smoking bans, forced volunteerism and the whole panapoly of Nanny State outrages. They may detest religious incursions on government, but they also detest governmental incursions on religion. Most libertarians are localists who believe that the federal government doesn’t have an all purpose writ to make everything better. They believe in the autonomy of business and other institutions to do what they want — within obvious limits — even if what they do is bad. For example, most libertarians I know may be in favor of gay marriage, but they’re against the state forcing eHarmony to provide services to homosexual customers against their will.

My point here is twofold. First, liber(al)tarians make a terrible mistake when they assume that a few shared values about what constitutes “social goods” or “tolerance” means that libertarians and liberals actually share a common vision of the role of government.

Second, liberals are dishonest or ignorant when they claim that they are particularly libertarian in their outlook when, more often, they are merely strong champions of having the State mirror and impose their value choices.


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