Monday, 6 July 2009

Can Libertarians be good Localists?

The answer of course is yes. I'm a Tory, not a Libertarian or a statist Conservative, but a Tory from an older, local tradition. Until the late 1970s, the Conservatives were the party of Localism, but an enthusiasm for European Federalism and central Statism saw a million members such as me walk away from the party. There are hopes that Cameron is turning the party back to its Localist, Tory roots, but we'll have to wait and see if the brave and stirring words become radical actions.

Libertarians and Tories share much ideological ground. Robert Nisbet usefully catalogued the similarities. Both loathe the Leviathan of the Central State, and its interference on our social, economic, intellectual and political lives. Both share a belief in the meaning of equality as meaning all persons being equal in access to the law, and equal before the law; in legal equality. Both condemn the socialist belief in equality of result - of forced equality in class, status or wealth. Both share a belief in freedom, and particularly economic freedom. There is a common dislike of what Nisbet terms a war-society, and of warfare. A war-society, organised on lines of central command and control, with conscription, rationing and other evils, is anathema to both Libertarians and Tories. And both share a dislike of what we can term political correctness, a perverse liberalism that robs individuals of dignity and humanity.

Where Libertarians and Tories differ is in the extent of the primacy of the individual, or the primacy of the structures that those individuals create for themselves, seding a degree of individualism. Tories follow Burke in his insistence on the rights of society and of its structures - family, locality, church, guilds and associations, local social structures, the "little platoons" - against the arbitrary power of the central State. Tories believe that individual liberty is only possible within 'the context of a plurality of social authorities, of moral codes, and of historical traditions, all of which, in organic articulation, serve at one and the same time as “the inns and resting places” of the human spirit and intermediary barriers to the power of the state over the individual.'

Libertarians can draw philosophically from Adam Smith, from Locke, and from Jefferson, but it's primarily John Stuart Mill who provides the mainstay of Libertarian ideology. In 'On Liberty' Mill wrote:
The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually and collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self protection.. . , His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
He didn't of course include everybody in this paramount right; just people like himself. He excluded anyone below the age of 21, anyone in a state that required them to be 'taken care of by others', all people who are in 'backward states of society' and anyone who is a 'nuisance' to others. Oh, and he qualifies the entire thing by writing that liberty should apply to words but not necessarily to deeds - 'no one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions'.

And many modern Libertarians hold Mill's exclusion clauses fast still; that the right to Mill's absolute freedom from interference doesn't extend to one's own or other people's children, the underclass, the feral and ill-educated, the unsocialised, foreigners or anyone who is too rich, too Christian or who has a historic title. And it doesn't allow creating a disturbance on the streets. In such cases, Libertarianism, as it is distinguished from Toryism, seems largely to exist in defence of the right of the educated middle classes to consume pornography, use dirty words on the internet and be rude about Christians.

In practice, though, many Libertarians recognise the authority of the family, the authority of a caucus of moral opinion, the authority of intermediate institutions, the belonging to a place; they love their 'little platoons' as much as any good Tory. As such they are as good Localists as any Tory.

Must dash - I'll continue anon.


Anonymous said...

Good post but you spoil your arguments somewhat by sneering at libertarians.

fwiw, "the underclass, the feral and ill-educated, the unsocialised..." can do what they want as long as they leave me alone; I certainly don't want to interfere with them or their lives, and would be grateful for the compliment being returned.

As for "... foreigners or anyone who is too rich, too Christian or who has a historic title...", those who would interfere abitrarily in their lives may be many things, but they are certainly not libetarians.

Hope you had a good weekend for boating - it was fabulous out on the West Coast...

Blue Eyes said...

You are rather putting libertarians into a small box, as you are with Tories. The beauty of libertarianism is that it is a huge church. There will be some who don't give a rat's arse about The Poor and some who believe that good people should do as much as possible - voluntarily - for the less fortunate.

Anonymous said...

One man's freedom can be another's prison. There have to be some constraints, IMO, but we would probably all disagree on where to draw the line.

The current LPUK wants to legalise drugs. Having watched the destruction of many people through the use of illegal drugs, I would like to see them swept off the streets, so here I draw the line. Those who live within a few hundred yards of a local housing estate would agree with me, wholeheartedly as they are the victims of drug fueled crime. Yes, I did see the report on the legalisation of drugs in Portugal, but also remember the attempts to turn a blind eye to drug use in East London, and the ensuing chaos.

Anonymous said...

"Those who live within a few hundred yards of a local housing estate would agree with me, wholeheartedly as they are the victims of drug fueled crime"

No they would not. I am an existence proof that you are wrong.

This is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg of your wrongness though.
The harm caused by drugs - poisonings, shootings, forced prostitution, petty and serious crime thefts etc - are entirely due to the brutal, stupid and bloody and immoral intervention of the state in markets.

Anonymous said...

Oh and could you just fuck off and die since your actually killing people.

Anonymous said...


If you learnt to spell and to express yourself in proper English, your opinions might hold more weight.

Raedwald said...

Anon - I hope I'd never sneer at Libertarians, but I don't mind having a poke at old JS Mill. I reckon many 'libertarians' are actually old fashioned Tories, but by no means all.

I don't want to either ignore or take care of the feral, the underclass, the ill-educated and the unsocialised - I want them to belong, to learn the mores of the responsible, and for them to be able to take care of themselves.