Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries by Russell Kirk

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu  6/29/14
While looking up a particular quote recently, I came upon the above article which Kirk wrote in 1981.  The timing of this piece is interesting as it came out after Ronald Reagan had been in office for less than one year.  No doubt, there were discussions similar to those we are having today as to the relationship between Conservatives and Libertarians.

To start his piece Kirk asks what conservatives and libertarians have in common. Kirk concedes –

“these two bodies of opinion share a detestation of collectivism. They set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy.” 

This is true and good as far as it goes. However, in the next paragraph Kirk writes:

“What else do conservatives and libertarians profess in common?”   The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever have. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.”

Those who believe modern conservatives and libertarians are merely different schools of conservative thought are likely to be stunned by this. They shouldn’t be, and Kirk lays out significant differences between the two in his article.

Kirk highlights the essential fault of libertarian zealots when he writes:

The ruinous failing of the ideologues who call themselves libertarians is their fanatic attachment to a simple solitary principle—that is, to the notion of personal freedom as the whole end of the civil order, and indeed of human existence.  

In this one paragraph he encapsulates the superficial, abstract and utopian thinking behind libertarian “philosophy”.  He then goes on to show how detached from reality such thought is.

Kirk traces libertarian thought back to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, the doctrines of which libertarians carry “to absurdity.” Mill declares, “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.” These are fine sounding words from an ascetic intellectual who experienced life principally through books, and who seemed to assume –

“that most human beings, if only they were properly schooled, would think and act precisely like John Stuart Mill.”

This faith in the power of logic and lack of imagination as regards human motivation is something not uncommon among intellectuals of all stripes. Kirk shows how Mill’s thoughts in On Liberty were thoroughly debunked as early as 1873 by James Fitzjames Stephen in his Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. In his book, Stephen clearly shows the shallowness of Mill’s thought and his “inadequate understanding of human nature and history”.

I find an interesting parallel to the reclusive Mill in Karl Marx, a man who rarely worked for his keep and spent his adult life in a library, yet was perfectly willing to proclaim his expert knowledge of economics and humanity with a straight and generally sour face.

Kirk lays out six major differences between conservatives and doctrinaire libertarians:

1. The great line of division in modern politics—as Eric Voegelin reminds us—is not between totalitarians on the one hand and liberals (libertarians) on the other; rather, it lies between all those who believe in some sort of transcendent moral order, on one side, and on the other side all those who take this ephemeral existence of ours for the be-all and end-all—to be devoted chiefly to producing and consuming. In this discrimination between the sheep and the goats, the libertarians must be classified with the goats—that is, as utilitarians admitting no transcendent sanctions for conduct. In effect, they are converts to Marx’s dialectical materialism; so conservatives draw back from them on the first principle of all.

2. In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that “liberty inheres in some sensible object,” are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable “liberty” at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise.

3. What binds society together? The libertarians reply that the cement of society (so far as they will endure any binding at all) is self-interest, closely joined to the nexus of cash payment. But the conservatives declare that society is a community of souls, joining the dead, the living, and those yet unborn; and that it coheres through what Aristotle called friendship and Christians call love of neighbor.

4. Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) generally believe that human nature is good, though damaged by certain social institutions. Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that “in Adam’s fall we sinned all”: human nature, though compounded of both good and evil, is irremediably flawed so the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect. Thus the libertarian pursues his illusory way to Utopia, and the conservative knows that for the path to Avernus.

5. The libertarian takes the state for the great oppressor. But the conservative finds that the state is ordained of God. In Burke’s phrases, “He who gave us our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection. He willed therefore the state-its connexion with the source and original archetype of all perfection.” Without the state, man’s condition is poor, nasty, brutish, and short-as Augustine argued, many centuries before Hobbes. The libertarians confound the state with government. But government-as Burke continued –”is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. “Among the more important of those human wants is “a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individual, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can be done only by a power out of themselves; and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue.” In short, a primary function of government is restraint; and that is anathema to libertarians, though an article of faith to conservatives.

6. The libertarian thinks that this world is chiefly a stage for the swaggering ego; the conservative finds himself instead a pilgrim in a realm of mystery and wonder, where duty, discipline, and sacrifice are required—and where the reward is that love which passeth all understanding. The conservative regards the libertarian as impious, in the sense of the old Roman “pietas:” that is, the libertarian does not venerate ancient beliefs and customs, or the natural world, or his country, or the immortal spark in his fellow men. The cosmos of the libertarian is an arid loveless realm, a “round prison.” “I am, and none else beside me,” says the libertarian. “We are made for cooperation, like the hands, like the feet,” replies the conservative, in the phrases of Marcus Aurelius.

Of these six, I find point 4 to be the fount from which the other differences flow. Of course, to disabuse libertarians, anarchists and Marxists of their fantasies is something which has, to date, eluded mankind. But as history has clearly demonstrated, human nature is extremely complicated and simply believing that people are basically good does not mean that it is so. Because of this Kirk restates a basic principle of political science, and expands from there.

In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that “liberty inheres in some sensible object,” are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable “liberty” at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise.

To anticipate those who might find his overall analysis questionable Kirk writes;

“But surely, surely I must be misrepresenting the breed? Don’t I know self-proclaimed libertarians who are kindly old gentlemen, God-fearing, patriotic, chaste, well endowed with the good of fortune? Yes, I do know such. They are the people who through misapprehension put up the cash for the fantastics. Such gentlemen call themselves “libertarians” merely because they believe in personal freedom, and do not understand to what extravagances they lend their names by subsidizing doctrinaire “libertarian” causes and publications. If a person describes himself as “libertarian” because he believes in an enduring moral order, the Constitution of the United States, free enterprise, and old American ways of life—why, actually he is a conservative with imperfect understanding of the general terms of politics.

That last sentence is very important.  Conservatives are all for joining with those who may call themselves libertarians, but are in fact constitutional conservatives in the American sense.  This is why it is so important to get definitions correct.  Labels are often thrown around very loosely so clarity of expression and thought are necessary for the fight to take back our country.

To illustrate the absurdity of Libertarianism, Kirk quotes an excerpt from a G.K. Chesterton story, titled “The Yellow Bird”.

Chesterton writes in his parable:

To an English country house comes Professor Ivanhov, a Russian scholar who has published “The Psychology of Liberty.” He is a zealot for emancipation, expansion, the elimination of limits. He begins by liberating a canary from its cage—to be torn to pieces in the forest. He proceeds to liberate the goldfish by smashing their bowl. He ends by blowing up himself and the beautiful old house where he has been a guest.

“What exactly is liberty?” inquires a spectator of this series of events—Gabriel Gale, Chesterton’s mouthpiece. “First and foremost, surely, it is the power of a thing to be itself. In some ways the yellow bird was free in the cage. It was free to be alone. It was free to sing. In the forest its feathers would be torn to pieces and its voice choked for ever. Then I began to think that being oneself, which is liberty, is itself limitation. We are limited by our brains and bodies; and if we break out, we cease to be ourselves, and, perhaps, to be anything.”

“The Russian psychologist could not endure the necessary conditions of human existence; he must eliminate all limits; he could not endure the “round prison” of the overarching sky. But his alternative was annihilation for himself and his lodging; and he took the alternative. He ceased to be anything but fractured atoms. That is the ultimate freedom of the devoted libertarian.

I believe Kirk uncovers one basic truth which lurks deep in the recesses of the doctrinaire Libertarian’s mind when he writes:

“Lo, I am proud! The perennial libertarian, like Satan, can bear no authority temporal or spiritual. He desires to be different, in morals as in politics. In a highly tolerant society like that of American today, such defiance of authority on principle many lead to perversity on principle, for the lack of anything more startling to do; there is no great gulf fixed between libertarianism and libertinism.”

I will leave to others to determine what this says about the psychology of the doctrinaire Libertarian. But given the regimentation of modern society and the homogenization of our world, perhaps it is understandable for some individuals to search for meaning through differentiation. Perhaps this is why we have the celebrity culture. People of no particular merit can now become famous for being famous.

But being different for difference’s sake is very different from being different because of talent or effort.

I recommend the reader search out and read Kirk’s full article. It is a tonic to those of us who hold similar views. And it could be of enormous educational value in helping those sincere yet somewhat muddled people who know they are not socialists but don’t know whether or not they are conservatives.

I will leave the reader with a final thought from Kirk:

“Since Mill, the libertarians have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Mill dreaded, and they dread today, obedience to the dictates of custom. In our time, really, the real danger is that custom and prescription and tradition may be overthrown utterly among us—for has not that occurred already in most of the world?—by neoterism, the lust for novelty; and that men will be no better than the flies of a summer, oblivious to the wisdom of their ancestors, and forming every opinion merely under the pressure of the fad, the foible, the passion of the hour.”

 • (4980 views)

Share
This entry was posted in Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries by Russell Kirk

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    That last sentence is very important. Conservatives are all for joining with those who may call themselves libertarians, but are in fact constitutional conservatives in the American sense. This is why it is so important to get definitions correct. Labels are often thrown around very loosely so clarity of expression and thought are necessary for the fight to take back our country.

    Brilliant, Mr. Kung. Too many conservatives (including myself) supposed that libertarians were like us, just with a different emphasis or two. And many conservatives think of themselves as being “libertarian” on this issue or that issue. But it would better to say that they are “conservative” on this issue or that issue, for liberty is a prime — just not the only — consideration of conservatism.

    I have come to find that the true libertarian is exactly as Kirk and Stephen describes, and exactly as you have described in your past articles. This is simply a narrow cult. They are not due any deference by conservatives. They are not our friends. It took me some time for find this out.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    The science fiction writer Avram Davidson, at a panel on libertarianism, once argued that libertarianism is inherently leftist because it posits that if you remove some “X” the world will be perfect. In their case, the X is government. I think this is more a description of utopianism rather than liberalism, but either way it has nothing to do with conservatism.

    Incidentally, James FitzJames Stephen was later a judge, who became notorious for mishandling the trial of Florence Maybrick and a few years later more or less went insane. Interestingly, Maybrick’s husband James is the alleged Jack the Ripper of the diaries discovered (or whatever ) a little over 20 years ago — and Stephen’s son James K. Stephen has also been suspected of being Saucy Jack (who was certainly a strongly misogynistic hothead).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Deep belief in good principles is a good thing. Zealous belief in zealous principles isn’t particularly good. Whether it is the desire for Utopia, the desire to be among the Really Smart and Special People, or just a personality type drawn to cultish believes, I’m not sure what drives libertarianism. Maybe the dope doesn’t help.

      Speaking of politicians and serial killers, a perfect mix of that is Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.

      Something tells me you’ve likely heard of this one. Anyway, it continues my interest of the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair that was central to the excellent book, “Empires of Light,” which I reviewed here.

      “The Devil in the White City” is about the creation of this fair, particularly as it centers around the main architects who were headed by Daniel H. Burnham. The other main story line is about the sinister Dr. Holmes.

      I’m 22% into this and so far it is above average. The parts about the creation of the fair are so-so at this point. But the description of the circumstances surrounding Dr. Holmes are fascinating. I’ll do a review of this book if and when I finish it. I’ve also read Larson’s “Garden of Beasts” which is an above-average fictional novel and a good read.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Robert Bloch novelized H. H. Holmes (actual name Herman W. Mudgett) as G. Gordon Gregg in American Gothic. There also is at least one factual book on him (The Torture Doctor by David Franke).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Why are psychopaths so interesting? Well, I think it’s because we recognize ourselves in them.

          Let’s face it. We are always putting on “false fronts” for others. Sometimes this is in order to get our way. Sometimes it’s just the necessary lubrication of social “niceness.” But, good god, if any of us went around saying what was exactly on our minds, we’d be constantly nursing a black eye.

          I’ve gotten a bit more into this tale of H.H. Holmes. I’m absolutely smitten and fascinating by the fact that this guy was a charmer, both of men and women. Women were drawn to him (to their detriment, as it turned out, but not a rare fate for women to one degree or another regarding slick men). And men were just as susceptible to his charms. He could charm his way out of not paying his bills, time after time.

          It is said that those who knew H.H. Holmes sensed a certain indescribably something beyond his very appealing exterior. But the fact remains, few people apparently acted on this vague feeling. And far more were charmed by this guy.

          I guess we can be tempted to set the H.H. Holmes’s and Ted Bundy’s into a different category and safely say “We’re not like that.” But we are much like that. Oh, most people do not take their “false fronts” to the length of violence. But there is that chilling element that lurks inside all of us, where our “niceness” is hardly that at all. The startling thing is that psychopathy is, in some respects, just the “social” element taken to an extreme.

          So, you might understand why if someone here online tells me to f-off, they are not automatically banned or censored. This kind of behavior must be balanced against the overly nice false fronts that sometimes mask something just as nasty. I don’t at all assume that “politeness” is just a degree of psychopathy. But the two are definitely related.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The difference between Mudgett/Holmes or Bundy or Gary Ridgeway or Zodiac or John Gacy (and there are many more I could list, not to mention those such as Jack the Ripper or the Texarkana Moonlight Killer or the Cleveland Torso Slayer who were never identified) and the rest of us isn’t that we lack that beast inside us (I’m well aware of mine), but that we don’t let ourselves lose control of that beast. They choose to indulge it. I suspect that this is actually because they find that they enjoy it, unlike most people. But who knows how many people would enjoy it if they ever let themselves find out?

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Good points. One of the quotes in this book, and I roughly paraphrase from memory, is that Holmes said, “Murdering to me is as natural as you planting a garden.”

              I’m certainly no vegan, but things get complicated if you consider the backdrop of this particularly murder — the Chicago slaughter houses. The entire town was filled with its stench. There’s a bit of dark irony in there somewhere.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    That was friggin’ awesome. I would so like to see this published in AT and watch the firestorm that would ensue. Make it happen…..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Good idea, Glenn.

      Mr. Kung, you should do so. I know I’ve made a few edits as you requested so I could shoot a finished document back to you…or cut and paste from this article. Keep in mind that AT has their demands regarding formatting. No quotes around the quoted blocks, do not indent anything, and put the entire quoted block in bold face (and not in italic). Other than that, you should be good to go.

      They also like periods inside of the quotations marks. Hurrah for that, a minor pet peeve of mine but to each his own on that (although I’m still at war trying to maintain that last comma before the “and” in a series.)

      Why they want two spaces between sentences, I don’t know. That seems anachronistic, dating back to what was optimum for typewriters.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Brad,

        I suspect AT will not accept articles previously published. But I would be happy if you wished to submit this to AT under your name. In that sense, it would be a new article.

        Your most obedient and humble servant,

        Kung Fu Zu

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I think we should nominate Glenn to be the object of libertarian grief. 😀

          I can’t in good conscience submit this as mine. And whatever policy they have, no policy is set in stone. Submit it and tell them it’s also here. This is a pretty regular thing for a blogger to have his article at his home site and at AT. You see that all the time.

          • Glenn Fairman says:

            just submit it. It’s not like you are getting paid by them. It is good enough to stand on its own. I reserve my anguish over great moral questions, not in whether my work appears in one place or another. Kung has articulated the spirit of Kirk elegantly.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              As soon as I get the okay from Mr. Kung, I will submit it with both our names. I did have some very small part in this article so that works for me. But if Mr. Kung prefers to submit it in his own name, that would be preferred. I’m going to put the article in proper AT format and wait for Mr. Kung’s decision on this.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Okay, I sent it off to AT as a collaborative effort.

              I like Glenn playing the role of Eddie Haskell in this. 😀

  4. NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

    My gratitude to KFZ for bringing this article by Kirk to our attention. I haven’t read Kirk, or even much Burke, and to be frank some of the quotes here disturb me. For instance:

    “The great line of division in modern politics—as Eric Voegelin reminds us—is not between totalitarians on the one hand and liberals (libertarians) on the other; rather, it lies between all those who believe in some sort of transcendent moral order, on one side, and on the other side all those who take this ephemeral existence of ours for the be-all and end-all”

    That is certainly not my view – to me, the great division is exactly between totalitarians (Left) and classical liberals (Right), because the one essential political question is whether man is to be free or whether he is to be subordinated to the arbitrary power of some superior authority. As to the essential problem with Libertarianism, to me it is its attempt to negate moral values and then conduct its politics having somehow smuggled back into its amoral world the idea that it is wrong to initiate the use of force against another person.

    As for Burke, I’m aware of his importance as a Conservative (in the British sense), but I’ve always been leery of passages like this:

    “Among the more important of those human wants is ‘a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individual, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection.'”

    These words, at least taken out of context, are fatally open-ended. What “passions” exactly are to be restrained by “society” and upon what justification? If the “passion” be that of robbing or assaulting one’s neighbors, we may readily assent to their restraint, but what if their “passions” consist merely of fervent criticism of the government, or perhaps the creation of a new industry? As I say, I’m no expert on Burke, but I think we need to remember that English Conservatism in Burke’s day is not equivalent to American Conservatism today.

    I certainly agree with KFZ’s selection of section #4 as a key difference between Libertarians and Conservatives: the Libertarian, like the Leftist, believes in Utopia but conceives it as a world without moral judgment in which the individual can do whatever he wishes without any restraint, while the Leftist conceives it as a planned society in which he and his fellows rule absolutely. The Conservative knows well that “Utopia” means in Greek “a place that does not exist”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      the great division is exactly between totalitarians (Left) and classical liberals (Right), because the one essential political question is whether man is to be free or whether he is to be subordinated to the arbitrary power of some superior authority.

      You get to the crux of the matter. Libertarians would say that any “superior authority” is automatically “arbitrary power.” They conflate the two. This leaves only one other choice for them: the atomized individual, left to his or her own guiding light on all matters without a link to tradition, wisdom, or existing institutions. The only legitimate form of power to a libertarian is condensed down to a simplistic “non-coercion” formula that is unworkable in regards to forming any form of authority, “superior” or otherwise. And no state can exist without authority. And freedom cannot exist without the order provided by the state.

      As I think Kirk rightly notes, first comes order, then comes freedom. Libertarians do not understand this. They reject this.

      Granted, completely arbitrary authority we do not want. We want the rule of law based upon such principles as we find reasonable. But if we take the perfectionist “rational” stance of a libertarian, we can reduce anything (including our Constitution) to something that will be seen as “arbitrary.”

      In regards to “divisions” or scales, W. Cleon Skousen in “The 5000 Year Leap” has anarchy on the far right (the realm of libertarians) and tyranny on the far Left. In the middle is just enough order to ensure freedom but not too much to induce tyranny.

      There are many ways to view this scale. And I rather like the one that Kirk proposed. We don’t often talk in such broad terms as “transcendent moral order, on one side, and on the other side all those who take this ephemeral existence of ours for the be-all and end-all.” But I think that formulation is essentially correct.

      There are many outcomes available on each end depending upon one’s idea of a transcendent moral order (one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all or a backward theocracy such as with Islam). And on the other side of dialectical materialism you can have the hell of Marx or the dumb, but not as hellish, materialist culture we see forming around us even as we speak. And if we take the long view as given to us by Mark Styen, we see that even this “soft” or dumb materialism is ultimately destructive and cannot last.

      Without a backdrop of something to live for and organize under other than just the pursuit of “stuff,” it’s arguable that a freedom-based system is not possible. Without voluntary restraints on our own appetites provided by the culture of a good religion, without some kind of civic honor, and without some kind of meaning that transcends materialism, there is not enough ideological, moral, and spiritual mojo left to construct, and hold up, the pillars of a good and free civilization.

      These words, at least taken out of context, are fatally open-ended. What “passions” exactly are to be restrained by “society” and upon what justification?

      Nik, you seem to be looking at this with the eyes of a libertarian. Surely the general principle of restraining our passions is the very basis of civilization. Note the root “civil.” And contrast that with a completely unrestrained man in the wild. It’s not a pretty picture.

      This aspect of restraint should not even be in question. For libertarians, it is indeed in question. For conservatives it’s only a question of “how much, for what purpose, and by what means” in regards to restraint.

      • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

        Brad,
        I certainly wasn’t intending a complete refutation of Burke, with whom I am as I said before not very familiar. But I repeat: in a free society, the members cannot restrain any conceivable “passion” of the individual they might choose. I think I put the correct principle pretty accurately: “The one essential political question is whether man is to be free or whether he is to be subordinated to the arbitrary power of some superior authority.”

        The key word here is “arbitrary” for we Conservatives do understand that complete and total freedom (is this what Burke intended by “passions”?) such as man enjoys in a state of nature must indeed be restrained to avoid a state of utter anarchy. The Libertarian, whatever he might pretend, would change my words to read “to the power of some superior authority”; that is, the secret desire of many Libertarians is anarchy, where there is no superior authority (law) at all. And of course, the Libertarian also wishes to negate morality to avoid facing the moral judgments of others.

        Nonetheless, the Libertarian is not always wrong even though his method of reasoning generally is. Let’s take an example and see Conservatism vs. Libertarianism vs. what I might call, with tongue in cheek, “open-ended Burkeanism”. We will use for our example the middle-aged playboy, the serial womanizer, whose passion obviously is sex. How do the three points of view differ?

        The Libertarian would ignore moral considerations as irrelevant, proceed to the fact that the playboy had not used physical force, and pronounce that all is well. Certainly he would not entertain passing a fornication law against sex between unmarried couples.

        The Conservative (at any rate this Conservative) would consider the playboy’s conduct deplorable on every level – probably unfair to the women involved, embarrassingly immature, and damaging to the playboy himself in several ways, e.g. by blunting his capacity to love a woman and by not availing him of the comforts of a home and family. Still, the purpose of the law is to protect individual rights, and as our playboy has not violated anyone’s rights, I would refrain as the Libertarian did from passing a fornication law. Note that though we reached the same result, we did not really reach the same conclusion, for I recognize that a society made up of such playboys would not be a good thing and could not survive.

        Finally, let’s take my semi-straw man, the open-ended Burkean Conservative – what would he do? Like me, he deplores the playboy’s conduct, but out of fear or perhaps disgust, decides that a fornication law is exactly what’s needed to preserve our culture. In my view, his mistake is to observe that law often reinforces culture and conclude that therefore law must always reinforce culture – the immoral and illegal are now to become synonymous. That far I will not go, and I don’t think you, Brad, or KFZ, truly wish to go there either.

        I didn’t mean to provoke some sort of controversy or disagreement here. I repeat once more that I don’t know Burke or Kirk very well, and that KFZ at least extracted the best from Kirk’s article. Perhaps it’s my own preference for political language that’s as clear as a mathematical formula – Burke is too florid and imprecise by my standards, so I see a danger there that may or may not exist. We’d have to read him carefully to be sure, any of us.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I agree that the immoral does not alway need to be illegal.

          On the other hand, the immoral does not always have to be legal or given the sanction of the State, such as homosexual marriage, which the Libertarians are all for because they say it expands liberty. But they conveniently leave out it contracts liberty for many more people than the number of homosexuals who wish to get married. That is because they are not so much for liberty but against religion.

          From past writings, I believe we are pretty much in agreement on the discussion conservative vs. libertarians.

          The difference is, that over time, I have less time for them as they are, like the Left, seeking their own utopias. Life is too short to waste much time on discussions with people who dwell in cloud cuckoo land. As you have written, they are a small, yet somewhat noisy group, who think that conservatives must bend to their will if we want them to support us. Sorry, no can do.

          And if anyone wishes to see the closest thing we have to a Libertarian paradise in this country, they simply need to visit the inner city of some major metropolis and see how that is working out. Not a lot of effective legal controls there, but there is a lot of theft, murder, assault, ignorance and illegitimacy, which the rest of us must pay for.

          Here’s a good question, “when should it become illegal for a man to impregnate numerous women yet support none and help increase misery in and costs for the community now and in future?”

          • Timothy Lane says:

            This is why many people like decriminalizing certain types of self-indulgent behavior (such as drugs). This way, we get rid of the abuses of the War on Drugs, but we don’t provide the implicit encouragement for their use that legalization gives. As someone once observed about even major crimes, people don’t commit them because the acts are wrong — but they know they’re wrong because they’re illegal.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          But I repeat: in a free society, the members cannot restrain any conceivable “passion” of the individual they might choose.

          Who said anything bout “any conceivable passion”? Again, you seem to be coming at this from a libertarian prospective, Nik, inflating things entirely out of proportion and context.

          It is, or should be, a bedrock conservative principle that without a certain amount of order (which inherently includes laws which restrain our passions), there is no liberty. I’m not free if I can’t walk down the street in safety, for instance.

          I won’t pick nits or go into voluminous detail on what should be a rather obvious point.

          Now, what does require a lot of explanation if the “why” of the restraint. Are we trying to create the kind of society that Reagan called “ordered liberty,” or are we trying to create a Secular Environmental Utopia? Are we trying even to create a theocracy (whether an old-style one or a “social justice” one) or are we trying to maintain certain tried-and-true moral standards that can’t be dispensed with, whatever their ultimate derivation?

          I think libertarian thought has been totally destructive in regards to rationally and reasonably pursuing these ends. I started this site with the idea that libertarianism had some place in the movement. Now I realize how wrong I was. I should have read this article by Kirk long ago. I’m glad that Mr. Kung brought it to our attention. Everything this guy wrote over 30 years ago sounds as it it could have been written today (by Glenn, perhaps).

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      These words, at least taken out of context, are fatally open-ended.

      As your use of this sentence could be taken out of context?

      Surely one conservative characteristic is not to take things out of context.

      As you know I often say, “culture is everything” using just a slight bit of hyperbole. Well, culture is a huge part of the context in which we find ourselves. And our culture has been built up over a couple of millennia thus it is not to be discarded or ignored so easily. Standards, mores and values have developed over the years and certainly there is a certain amount of “wisdom of the ages” which has come down to us through our culture. And if an individual wishes to reside within a community, the individual must be willing to accept the fact that he is trading a certain amount of freedom of the jungle, for freedom from the jungle.

      Prudence is also another conservative characteristic and one which is, too often, missing from libertarian arguments.

      As conservatives, we realize there are few absolutes thus we are called on to use our reason and experience as well as that of those who came before us to figure out what works for us as individuals in a community and as a community at a given time. We understand we will not get it 100% right, but realize neither we nor any other mortals are perfect. Thus we abhor abstract mind games when trying to determine what works for a community.

      Life is a work in progress, and history does not proceed inexorably toward perfection, despite what Hegel may have thought.

      • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

        If I took Burke’s words out of context, it was only because I didn’t have the context at hand. As I said, I’m not an authority on Burke and don’t pretend to be. I wouldn’t take them out of context deliberately. Nonetheless, I’m not sure I could agree with Burke if the full context were known, for it is emphatically not the province of government to regulate every aspect of human existence, or what Libertarians tend to carelessly refer to as “legislating morality”. As Conservatives, we recognize the law must be informed by morality (this is where we differ from libertarians), thus all law “legislates morality,” yet at the same time, we distinguish between conduct which is both immoral and illegal and that which is only immoral. To the Libertarian, “immoral” conduct has no meaning, and that is one source of his error.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Nic, my point was that one sentence in a lifetime of writing does not usually give much context.

          I do not think Burke suggests in any of his writings that government exists to regulate every aspect of human existence. Furthermore, the use and meanings of words have changed somewhat in the last 250 years. So I do not think the modern American understands the word passions as an eighteenth century philosopher would.

          In any case, I would say the conditions in Burke’s England and today’s America are quite different so adherence to everything Burke wrote might be impractical or even silly. But that does not change the wisdom of his general philosophy.

          As to Kirk, even taking Kirk’s religious viewpoint into consideration, he is not suggesting that government exists to regulate every aspect of human existence. He stresses this when he writes.

          true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States,

          Note he chooses the phrase “constitutional order of these United States” and I believe you will agree that up until the Libertarians came along, most people would agree that the federal constitution allowed for a whole lot of freedom.

          Finally, I want to point out that morals are not merely things which come from a church.

          All communities have some set of mores by which they maintain some type of order. The law itself is something which has come out of community “mores”. Many Libertarians sneer at “religious” strictures against their “rights”, but as a non-religious person, I tell such Libertarians to go suck an egg. I do not know or care why so many Libertarians appear to hate religion, but my opposition to them does not spring from my religious beliefs. It springs from my realization that doctrinaire Libertarians are too often shallow malcontents who mistake their emptiness for sophistication, their cliche’s for knowledge and claim they don’t wish to impose there beliefs on others, but who would have society operating at the lowest common denominator within a very short time were we to give in to their insane demands and that would certainly impose something on me and others like me which I do not accept, i.e. anarchy.

          Like Kirk says, they are simply dialectical materialists by another name. I call them Bolsheviks of the Right when I wish to be polite.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Libertarians (many of them) hate religion because they hate anyone who tells them “no”. Hugh Thomas mentioned in The Spanish Civil War that Bakunin said the world would be free when the last king was strangled in the guts of the last priest. (To be fair, one must remember that in Europe there was always an established church, thus linking church and state in a way that isn’t true here.)

  5. Libertymark says:

    A little late to the dialog here, but I agree with Mr. KFZ, #4 is pivotal to understanding the Prog and the Lib(ertarian).

    It boils down to Two opposite views: Man is flawed and cannot redeem himself vs. Man is flawed and can perfect himself. One seeks to protect the civil society from these imperfections with laws and government, until a Higher Power can adjudicate righteousness; the other seeks to implement some perfectionist idealism leading to righteousness. If I may, the first is the essence of Judeo-Christian doctrine and the second is the essence of Left’s Religion of the State and the Libertarian’s Religion of the Individual. If there is no redemption in the hereafter, then all we have is the here and now, or so it goes.

    Even the vaunted Atlas Shrugged, for all its worth and goodness, completes it’s thesis with all the Worthy Ones in Galt’s Gulch, the Objectivist Utopia.

    As I say, understanding Utopianism, whether Left of Right, pivots on #4, IMHO.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The key is that utopianism involves trying to create Heaven on Earth, whereas conservatism realizes that this can never be accomplished (though trying to get as close as is feasible is a worthy goal).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      If I may, the first is the essence of Judeo-Christian doctrine and the second is the essence of Left’s Religion of the State and the Libertarian’s Religion of the Individual. If there is no redemption in the hereafter, then all we have is the here and now, or so it goes.

      I totally agree, Mark. Theodore Dalrymple has some very fine words to say on this subject in “Farewell Fear”:

      To start again, to start anew, to make the world a new Garden of Eden, is the goal.

      But why is that goal so attractive to so many, at least in the modern world, and particularly among intellectuals? I think the answer is egotism and self-importance. Having lost his religious faith in a being much greater than himself, modern man finds the existential limitations imposed upon him by nature to be meaningless, arbitrary and offensive.

      Not Man, but each individual man, becomes the measure of all things. He cannot stand anything that he has not himself fashioned, and so the world must be made anew, over and over again, with no generation ever admitting its debt to the previous one, or thinking seriously about the succeeding one.

      What did Leslie Nielsen say when he looked into Ricardo Montalban’s desk drawer in the movie, Naked Gun? Bingo.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’ve seen Naked Gun (all 3 movies, I think) as well as the short-lived TV series (it may have been a mini-series; I saw it after the fact), and I don’t recall Ricardo Montalban being in it. So what did Nielsen’s character (Frank something or other — it’s been a while) say?

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    Congratulations on the piece being aired in AT. As is the norm, the usual cadre of roaches scuttle out from under the refrigerator to vent their spleen at those who dare attack their pale citadel. I know their nom de guerres intimately and have winced beneath their lash……not so much. Although I am a Straussian and the School of Burke and Kirk have an intellectual quarrel with us concerning the prudential origin of rights —natural vs. prescriptive — Those who side with Kirk are like Gullivers amongst the Lilliputians…..or better, the Libertarians are as those who inhabit the Flying Island that see the world only small and large, yet are denied the true perspective that cannot be found in an optic cylinder. Enjoy.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks for your prompting, Glenn. And thanks to Mr. Kung for the article. I simply did a minor bit of editing and the mechanics of it. And I’m enjoying the give-and-take in the comments section over at AT.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Brad, I am glad you have the patience to reply to some of the comments made at AT. I do not. At least, I haven’t had it so far today. Perhaps, if some of them have the perspicacity to search out and comment at ST, I will answer them.

        I think you did really good job at editing the piece. Tks.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have just had a look at the comments on AT regarding the article in question. I have to say, I had similar reactions as my first thought of the Libertarian replies was that of Lilliputians impotently shaking their fists at what was written and some things which we not written. Then I came to the conclusion that you call the “Flying Island” as they saw both too much and too little in what Kirk wrote and I commented upon. Thus they showed themselves to be zealots who are not able to discern fact from fiction, truth from lie and reality from fantasy.

      One commentator was outraged at the mention of Mill and Marx in the same sentence. Of course, this shows a lack of comprehension or, more likely, a predisposition toward the desire to find slights in whatever the commentator disagrees with.

      I particularly enjoyed the comments from the Libertarian fools admonishing us for not rolling over and bending to their will less, through our intransigence, the Left triumphs. This is not even a case of the tail trying to wag the dog. It is a case of a hair on the tail trying to wag the dog.

  7. Glenn Fairman says:

    “There are six canons of conservative thought:

    1) Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality, what Coleridge called the Understanding, cannot of itself satisfy human needs. “Every Tory is a realist,” says Keith Feiling: “he knows that there are great forces in heaven and earth that man’s philosophy cannot plumb or fathom.” True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.

    2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls “Logicalism” in society. This prejudice has been called “the conservatism of enjoyment”–a sense that life is worth living, according to Walter Bagehot “the proper source of an animated Conservatism.”

    3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless society.” With reason, conservatives have been called “the party of order.” If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.

    4) Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Economic levelling, they maintain, is not economic progress.

    5) Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovator’s lust for power.

    6) Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”

    “In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes men taste every novelty, sicken of them all, and return to ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered.”

    “Either order in the cosmos is real, or all is chaos. If we are adrift in chaos, then the fragile egalitarian doctrines and emancipating programs of the revolutionary reformers have no significance; for in a vortex of chaos, only force and appetite signify.”

    “The Conservative Mind describes a cast of intellect or a type of character, an inclination to cherish the permanent things in human existence. On many prudential questions, and on some general principles, conservatives may disagree from time to time among themselves; so this book offers a certain diversity of opinions. Yet the folk called “conservative” join in resistance to the destruction of old patterns of life, damage to the footings of the civil social order, and reduction of human striving to material production and consumption.” ———– R. Kirk: The Conservative Mind

    • Timothy Lane says:

      To me, a key aspect of conservatism is caution about change. Not reflexive opposition, but an awareness that changes can be bad as well as good (or more precisely, that the negative effects can outweigh the positive).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Bravo. Excellent list, Glenn. And I ditto Timothy’s note about caution regarding change. I think it was Mr. Kung who presented a quote from someone (Chesterton) which basically read: Before tearing down a fence, be sure you know why it is there in the first place.

      Neither Progressives nor Libertarians tend to give a squat about the reasons for the existence of fences, for things that came before their anointed selves graced us with their presence.

      In fact, both groups tend to be inherently hostile to those fences because of their very existence. Theodore Dalrymple mentions this aspect in “Farewell Fear.” Here he’s talking about the atrocious “modern” architecture that so infects much of Europe and whose intent seems to be anarchic:

      There is another aspect to the hideous ecological house of Paris, the brightly-coloured waste bins of Liverpool and the wind turbines in idyllic rural settings: Man’s (or at least certain men’s) delight in destruction as a good in itself. 

      Mediocre but ambitious people – of whom, it seems to me, there are more than ever before in human history, the ambitiousness being what is new, not the mediocrity – are offended by the very sight of achievements that they know they cannot possibly match. They are not inspired by them, except to hatred and resentment. It offends them that the world should have achieved quite a lot before their advent into it;

      Dalrymple is expert at understanding the motivations behind people’s beliefs and behavior. And I think the factor he describes pertains to libertarians as well.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Jeffrey Lord, one of the most consistently conservative writers out there, seems to finally have taken the measure of libertarians in The Obama-Lite Side of Rand Paul.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’m somewhat concerned by Paul’s dovishness (after all, he’s my junior senator), but I do agree that America has been too eager to intervene in other countries at times. (I considered voting for Buchanan in 2000 because of this until he left the Republicans for the Reform Party.) My biggest worry is that he continues his leftish pandering to blacks on issues such as police behavior (I’m not sure that race is the problem, though there certainly is a problem) and even more so voter ID.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        but I do agree that America has been too eager to intervene in other countries at times.

        I’ve had this exact same discussion with losertarians — or have tried to. I’ve agreed that the naive “Progressive” world view of George Bush is a recipe for disaster. Anyone who thinks Islam is a “religion of peace” and that the only ingredient needed to change a backward tribal people following a poisoned religion is mere “democracy” then they have a screw loose.

        But, as I’ve since discovered, losertarians are not driven by “reason” as they say they are. That is a mere conceit. They are (for whatever reason) committed to isolationism.

        Any reasonable person can critique where our foreign policy has obviously been too naive and expansive. But the fix for this is not isolationism. Surely there are places in the world where we must intervene if only for our own interests. Losertarians do not acknowledge this. They are stuck to “isolationism” like a bug to flypaper and will not countenance or consider any other possibility. They are raving fundamentalists who have learned how to hide their bat-crazy ideology behind nice words such as “liberty” and “the Constitution.”

  9. Jerry Richardson says:

    KFZ,

    KFZ, so glad that Brad pointed me to your article. I did not know it existed. It is excellent! I was asking Brad to school me a bit on the critical difference between Libertarianism and Conservatism and he reference your article. Great Stuff! I think you should republish it—so as to place it at the top of reading order—especially as we approach the up-coming Presidential election.

    Thanks for your excellent research and writing.

    To start his piece Kirk asks what conservatives and libertarians have in common. Kirk concedes –

    “these two bodies of opinion share a detestation of collectivism. They set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy.”

    This is true and good as far as it goes. However, in the next paragraph Kirk writes:

    “What else do conservatives and libertarians profess in common?” The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever have. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.”
    —-
    Kirk highlights the essential fault of libertarian zealots when he writes:

    The ruinous failing of the ideologues who call themselves libertarians is their fanatic attachment to a simple solitary principle—that is, to the notion of personal freedom as the whole end of the civil order, and indeed of human existence.

    In this one paragraph he encapsulates the superficial, abstract and utopian thinking behind libertarian “philosophy”. He then goes on to show how detached from reality such thought is.

    Kirk traces libertarian thought back to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, the doctrines of which libertarians carry “to absurdity.” Mill declares, “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.” These are fine sounding words from an ascetic intellectual who experienced life principally through books, and who seemed to assume –

    “that most human beings, if only they were properly schooled, would think and act precisely like John Stuart Mill.”
    —-
    4. Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) generally believe that human nature is good, though damaged by certain social institutions. Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that “in Adam’s fall we sinned all”: human nature, though compounded of both good and evil, is irremediably flawed so the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect. Thus the libertarian pursues his illusory way to Utopia, and the conservative knows that for the path to Avernus.
    —-
    Of these six, I find point 4 to be the fount from which the other differences flow.

    Of course, to disabuse libertarians, anarchists and Marxists of their fantasies is something which has, to date, eluded mankind. But as history has clearly demonstrated, human nature is extremely complicated and simply believing that people are basically good does not mean that it is so. Because of this Kirk restates a basic principle of political science, and expands from there.

    In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that “liberty inheres in some sensible object,” are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable “liberty” at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise.
    —KFZ

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This reflects my view that libertarianism, like liberalism, is an absolutist ideology. Liberals proclaim that government is always the solution to every problem (and the more the better), libertarians that government is never the solution to any problem. Conservatism is skeptical of government and aware of the dangers of unintended consequences (which may not always be as unintended as we’d like), but is more pragmatic than either. The liberalism that was subsumed by modern leftism was similarly pragmatic, though much less skeptical of government (and classical liberalism is pretty much indistinguishable from at least some strands of modern conservatism).

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Timothy,

        Conservatism is skeptical of government and aware of the dangers of unintended consequences…
        —Timothy Lane

        Isn’t this one of the underlying reasons for not, as Brad say, “tearing down the fence before you know why it was built”?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Quite so. The conservative does not reject change (even something like homosexual marriage), but rather is very cautious about it, especially major changes.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Glenn had a great post. I hope you read it, Jerry. It included this quote by Russell Kirk:

      “In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes men taste every novelty, sicken of them all, and return to ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered.”

      I can’t think of a better organizing principle for this site. The other quotes were excellent as well.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Thanks Jerry. If I do an update on this, I will give it to Brad, but don’t feel the inclination to do so, right now.

      As I recall, there were a number of related pieces before this was published. Additionally, there has been a lot of back and forth regarding libertarians in the strings to these pieces.

      I must admit, I weary of discussions with libertarians for reasons Brad has pointed out. Anyone who can believe the 2nd amendment allows for private citizens to own any and all weapons up to and including nuclear devices is simply not worth wasting my time on. Of course, I have to admit I do enjoy sending them up, every now and then.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The article stands well on its own. As for moving it up on the list (by changing the posting date to today, which is how it is done), that’s possible with any article. We did it for one of Glenn The Greater’s because it was an article with a seasonal theme…and thus just as relevant for that recurring holiday (Christmas, I believe).

        Some sites recycle their articles with some kind of “Best of” sidebar, such as on the right side of the page at Evolution News & Views. Implemented already at ST is the “Related Articles” that show up underneath all front page articles (not blog posts or Symposiums, for example).

        I’m always open to ideas. If anyone ever sees an outstanding (not commonplace) implementation of a feature (like this, or some other), then please do bring it to my attention. The standard is clear, easy, concise, and useful. A plethora of bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles does not move me. Simple design elegance and usefulness does.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      For more about libertarianism, under the “Archives” menu at the top of the page, you’ll find the Categories/Tags menu item. Click on the “Tags” box at the top to view the Tags. There are eleven tags for Libertarianism. There would undoubtedly be more if I took more time to add these tags to articles.

      In that list you’ll find another memorable article by Mr. Kung on libertarianism: The Bolsheviks of the Right.

      Nik has a couple good articles — a two-parter: Part I. Part II.

      This site isn’t particularly complicated. But I’m surprised though how many people never even look at the menus. Oh well. 🙂

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t have my “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish” article on libertarian flaws.

  10. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    For those dimwitted libertarians spouting off their nonsense about everyone being able to do what they want, thus buying into the leftist narrative, I suggest they follow the below link to the article on Breitbart.

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/12/19/judge-rules-catholic-school-cant-withdraw-job-offer-man-sex-marriage/

    Totalitarians will only accept complete submission and it would seem many, if not most, libertarians are their useful idiots.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I hope the Catholic school appeals, since they probably have a good case even in today’s homomaniacal American culture. What happens is simple: liberals assign rights on the basis of minority status, so the highest rights are for sthe exually delusional (transgendered), then homosexuals and lesbians, then racial minorities including Muslims, then women. No one else really counts.

      But I hope that disgusting faggy-boo has a miserable time at that school. He deserves it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *