Ongoing Dialogue

DontTreadThumbby Steve Lancaster   4/28/14
On one issue libertarians and conservatives can agree with little rancor is that freedom is our birthright, and the basic rights are inalienable. An ordinary person making an honest income, living his life without interfering in the business of others is also an ideal that both would agree is not utopian. The vast majority of people around the world seek to live in this manner. The political question is what, if anything, obligation does the individual have to the government?

If you owe a debt it is an obligation to pay, but your creditor in most of the west, does not send thugs to arrest you and incarcerate you for nonpayment, there are financial consequences.  Government does have that power. This power is set in law and if you break the law the government can require you at gunpoint to do as the law demands. This right to use force is the police power and is the one thing that makes government unlike other institutions. The political question is how much, and when are these powers to be used on a free people?

We learn as children that force is bad and teamwork is good. These are formative truths that our parents and peers impress on us. They are taken as the basic necessities for living a good life and by extension the foundation for good government.

It is here that libertarian and conservative often differ. The essence of libertarian philosophy is that given that an interaction between two or more people does not involve force or fraud; then free people should not be impeded from engaging in voluntary informed business. In personal behavior it comes down to do not deceive or defraud. Every ethical system, and religion in the world would hold such a person as admirable human.

Although, government is comprised of humans, it is different. Only government has the possession of police power and the lawful right to exercise that power. How that power is used and for what purposes is the heart of considerable debate, however there are three areas libertarian, conservative and progressive can agree.

The first is to keep people from injuring each other. Government accomplishes this end with criminal and tort law.

The second is to allow people to enter into enforceable voluntary agreement or contract.

Lastly, the area that libertarian and conservative often disagree and that the progressives have captured as their singular accomplishment is public good. For the progressive every action of government is a public good and therefore permitted, for the strictest libertarian there is no such thing as public good. All taxation is theft and no effort should be financed through compulsion. The classical liberal position is that government does do some things on behalf of the entire community and thus, makes individuals comply with law and may use the police power to enforce those laws.  The definition of an authentic public good becomes the source of discussion.

Progressives have defined public good down to the point that its meaning encompasses anything they want it to. Consider how the power of the federal government has expanded under the commerce clause, section 8, article I of the Constitution. Is it any wonder that libertarians and many conservatives almost reflexively say no to government expansion in this area?

We can and should ask if a proposed public good, local or national:

1. Is the idea asking my neighbor to pay for a government service he does not want?

2. Is the idea asking my neighbor to pay for a government service that benefits a selected individual or group of individuals above others?

Law enforcement and national defense are unequivocally public good and a part of the legitimate functions of government, however, that does not mean that police departments should be nationalized. The principle of subsidiarity need apply; allowing the government to be taken to the lowest level possible. In law enforcement city and county must be the agencies closest to the citizen, not the FBI or some other alphabet agency.

The purpose of government is to protect citizens from the initiation of force by other people and provide a framework in which they can engage in informed exchanges. Outside of this government may act to accomplish public goods strictly defined under Fifth Amendment and allowing for the principle of subsidiarity to the lowest level possible. • (2089 views)

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18 Responses to Ongoing Dialogue

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    This is good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really go into how to bridge the divide between libertarians and conservatives (to the extent that it can be bridged, which it undoubtedly can be in some cases). I would also note that any genuine religion and all or most ethical systems will try to restrain personal appetites to some degree, which goes beyond merely treating other people decently.

    The notion that taxation is theft, of course, is hardly new and shouldn’t even be controversial; Jared Diamond used that as the reason why (in Guns, Germs, and Steel) he called all modern government kleptocracies. This, as well as the legal monopoly on force, is why government is properly considered a “necessary evil” (except to anarchists of various stripes, who consider it unnecessary; and liberals and other totalitarians, who consider it good, at least as long they run it).

    • steve lancaster says:

      We need to get away from the idea that libertarians are anarchists who are only interested in Brad’s words, “drugs, sex and rock and roll” and that conservatives are only crazed religious nuts, the modern Pharisees. Are the elements on both sides that fit the stereotype, yes, but that does not invalidate the ideas.

      another post in a few days on the gap between libertarian and conservative and where it can be bridged.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’m not sure if this indicates that you misunderstood me, but I was mentioning anarchists without linking them necessarily to libertarians. There are anarcho-capitalists who could be considered “right-wing” anarchists, but most anarchists are oriented toward the left as far as I know; this was certainly the case among the large mass of Spanish anarchists during the 1930s (Hugh Thomas reported on a police attack on one such anarchist who had named his daughter Libertaria). They seemed to define anarchy as the lack of a national government, but were quite happy with local collectives running things — and were also militantly anti-religious and probably anti-moral.

  2. steve lancaster says:

    I agree that most anarchists are on the left side of the political spectrum but some on the right exhibit the same tendencies. While the overwhelming majority in between view government as at best a tolerable necessity it is the degree of government that troubles libertarians and conservatives. Government can be made to work if authority and responsibility are allocated in equal parts. That is not to say it would be good government only that it would function. The challenge for us today is bringing that balance back as our modern statist government does not work. When that task is accomplished, then we have a shot at creating good government.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:


    Thanks for hanging in there. Even though there is some trash-talking give and take, we are hopefully a brotherhood here (or sisterhood) of people lined up against the Communists and the Red Diaper Doper Babies. I just don’t think that libertarians realize how closely they line up with these kinds on several issues.

    It’s sad to say that I almost don’t care anymore. The culture is like a runaway steam engine. It’s going to go where it will even if that means over a cliff.

    And we can slice and dice the nuances of libertarianism and conservatism, but the truth is that the government now has its hooks in people. They run our retirement, health care, student loans, and touch our businesses and homes in their tangle of regulations.

    All of this I could live with. What I can’t live with is knowing now that my neighbor is potentially my enemy. When Americans begin to be rounded up in cattle cars — figuratively or literally — most Americans will sit back passively, simply glad that it is happening to someone else and quite sure that these “villains” (as the media told them) deserve what they get. Our moral character as Americans has been rotted out by the Left. We are no longer a good nation.

    This state is heading toward either totalitarianism or disunion. And it’s doing a very good imitation of accomplishing both at the same time. Forgive me if I get lost in doing book and movie reviews because I just think so few people give a shit anymore that I get tired of the echo chamber effect.

    Centrally-controlled utopianism is the paradigm for our nation now. Entitlements and all the extra-constitutional stuff must be killed or else all other talk is just mental masturbation.

    • steve lancaster says:

      I understand your feeling. I felt the same way when I was sent to Chile to overthrow a democratically elected government, albeit a communist one that I despised. I came back and immediately went into a war zone in the middle east to defend a democratically elected government, albeit a moderately socialist one. I then spent the next year mostly drunk and occasionally stoned. My cure for PTSD.

      The election of that fool Georgian brought me to my senses, as I believe the election of the ONE has brought many to their senses. We will know in November what the 2016 race will be, if it be a personable but idiot Republican vs. the wicked witch of the left than your despair is justified and perhaps we should both just buy popcorn and enjoy the show as last, best, hope for human kind slides into oblivion.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’m very skeptical about the future (one of my responses to the 2008 results was “Wear a crepe of mourning for a civilization that held the promise of joy”), though in one respect the 2016 election is crucial: If Slick Hilly the Fire Witch wins despite having no genuine accomplishments to her credit, this will be a good indicator that American is incapable of learning its lesson from the Fascist Messiah’s failure. So far I haven’t been quite able to persuade myself to give up, but that might do it.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Didn’t someone once say “If Bush is elected, I’m leaving for Canada”?

        Well, if Jeb Bush is elected, I can understand the sentiment. Which brings me to a hilarious point about partisan politics. I know I’m supposed to “play nice” and not call those on the Left “dumb asses.” But they really are. Consider for a moment if George W. Bush had had a “D” next to his name instead of an “R.” The typical California libtards would have loved him. After all, he forwarded the Left’s agenda. He gave us more Federal control over education and expanded Medicare. He was just so damn “compassionate” with our money (and the money he stole from future generations to pay for his own self-glorification).

        The reason the libtards didn’t like Bush is because they were told not to like him. As Ann Coulter correctly stated, the Democrats and the Left are little better than a mob.

        Here we do thinking for ourselves. And although I don’t agree with much of libertarianism as it actually exists (not just in theory), I give you credit over all the other wimpy libertarians who have ever come to this site and left in a flash when their precious little dogma was in the least buffeted with criticism. You at least stood up like a man for what you believed in.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I’ve said many times that liberals will hate on command — without even needing to know why. (Some have faced this sort of questioning; I think it was about why they hate Karl Rove, but it could apply just as easily to the Koch brothers.) Since the scientific name for humans (Homo sapiens) can be treated as “thinking man”, liberals don’t actually qualify. (Q: What’s the difference between a liberal political rally and a Two Minutes Hate? A: Length of time.)

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            (Q: What’s the difference between a liberal political rally and a Two Minutes Hate? A: Length of time.)

            LMAO. So true.

        • steve lancaster says:

          There is much more that we agree about than disagree. Granted the areas of disagreement are seemingly large, yet in the broader scope there is hope. Many who call themselves libertarian are not, and many who call themselves conservative are not. Both sides have misfits who only spout the lingo but do not walk the walk.

          We can agree that freedom, individual and corporate is a positive, statists in both camps will disagree because what they really want is control of who you marry, where you live, how you live, how you make your living, what God(s) you favor and they want you to pay for it.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I just read Mark Steyn’s piece today (“Denial is not a River in the Sudan”), and he brings up some very sobering points about the future of free expression among the defenders of Westernesse (which is the only place it exists at all, really). And that, ultimately, is a good enough reason to stay active — so that, at least as long as we’re around we’re still free to call Barry Zero a bastard (which he is, given that Barack Sr. was already married when he came here), to point out his manifold flaws and crimes, and to mock him — and not be jailed for a “hate crime” or “racism” or “sedition” or “denial” or whatever excuse his fellow liberal Fascists want to use for suppressing dissent against them. As long as one political party is actively opposed to the freedom to oppose the government (when they run it), we must fight them with determination, even if only to hold off the Deluge until after we’re gone (which is probably the best we can hope to accomplish).


        Good point. And yes, while we are still free to call Barry “Zero” Hussein (I chose to use “Zero” as the kind of nickname so common amongst gangsters, since that’s what he is) names like “Marxist”, I pause when I consider the fate of that rodeo clown who mocked our Dear Leader (lost his job), or Dinesh D’Sousza who made a movie criticizing Zero and now will be tried on Federal Campaign laws of all things, or the IRS harassment (not just denial of tax-exempt status) of some of Zero’s political enemies.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Exactly. Any libertarian who ever considers supporting the Democrats is supporting naked state-worship and a desire to suppress dissent by any means. This is why I gave up on Reason years ago.

          Incidentally, my usage of Barry Zero partly reflects my being a baseball fan (there’s a pitcher named Barry Zito), and my remembrance of a member of our high-school baseball team referring to the Oldham County team (with an O on their jerseys) as the Zero Team. (We actually beat them — I was the manager, i.e., gofer, not a player — which that year was very unusual.) And, as you say, it also describes what he’s worth (in fact, it overrates him because he actually has a negative worth). And I love wordplay.


    I have spilled so much ink already on the subject of Libertarianism vs. Conservatism I truly don’t want to say more, but I must say I don’t really understand the distinction Steve is trying to make here.

    “It is here that libertarian and conservative often differ. The essence of libertarian philosophy is that given that an interaction between two or more people does not involve force or fraud; then free people should not be impeded from engaging in voluntary informed business.”

    If you’re implying, Steve, that Conservatives believe that an “interaction” (this word choice could end up being more hazardous than is first apparent) between two or more people that does not not involve force or fraud should be interfered with using governmental force, could you give us some examples? This is hardly self-evident as I can think of no examples save perhaps the laws against drug use and prostitution, and Conservatives are not of one mind on that subject (nor is it of first importance).

    This is your article, not mine, but I can’t help observing that the real divide on these issues is mainly that Conservatives consider drug abuse and prostitution bad things, while the Libertarian simply says “Government must stay out” and shies away from making any kind of moral judgments. A second point you might want to consider is that those Conservatives who favor criminal penalties can make some kind of case: people cannot exercise the responsibilities of citizenship while coked to the gills, and prostitution tends to be a very inequitable arrangement for the prostitute.

    And then a third point arises: even if this case is wrong, why the focus on these issues while our fundamental liberties are under assault? To worry about drug laws while Obamacare is considered “the law of the land” and attacks on the first and second amendments by the Democratic Left are becoming routine would seem to be to be very much a case of fiddling while America burns, and yet it is typically such thin reasons as these that Libertarians give for not wanting to join up with Conservatives.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Your point about the moral case against drugs and prostitution is a key one. My view is that there are 3 basic requirements for a just law: It should deal with a genuine problem (which is the case with most of the moralistic laws, probably all of them); it should be reasonably effective in dealing with it (a debatable matter with drug prohibition); and the (hopefully) unintended consequences should not be excessive (definitely a problem with drug prohibition). Thus, the libertarian case against drug laws is “Government shouldn’t intervene”; the libertarian-oriented conservative case is “They do more harm than good.”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Very well said, Nik.

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