Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Sandefur continues his posts on the differences between conservatism and libertarianism. The 4th in the series was about Thomas Jefferson. The 5th is about conservative reactions to Jefferson. And the 6th is a long answer to a question posed to him by Joshua White, who comments here at Dispatches from time to time. More great writing from Timothy, as usual.

Comments

  1. #1 Loren
    January 8, 2005

    So…. What are Liberals? Carrying on this oversimplification to borderline ridiculous levels, they are individualists who forgot that the democratic, anti-tyrannical institutions are only there to protect the individual from the tyrant king/dictator/autocrat. Now they have somehow come to identify with the apparatus of the state rather than the people, its subjects. Strangely enough, they believe as strongly as Conservatives that people must be enslaved to the greater good. The only difference is that they do not have a moral code to guide them, but only law and science.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    January 8, 2005

    So…. What are Liberals?

    I don’t understand the question, there are simply too many ways to answer it. Liberals are….mammals? Timothy’s post was, as he made clear, not about the terms “liberal” and “conservative” as they are defined in our ever-shifting political system. In his very first post on the subject he said:

    The reason they feel that way is because in America, the terminology of “conservative” and “liberal” has gotten so confusing, and when you add the fact that in recent years, the two groups have been converging, as Virginia Postrel and Dinesh D’Souza have documented, then it gets even more confusing. It is especially confusing when a person uses the terms to refer simply to the political conclusions a person makes, rather than the reasoning behind those conclusions. People do this a lot, but it would be wrong to say that Thomas Szasz, for instance, is a conservative, or William F. Buckley a libertarian, on the grounds that they both believe in ending the Drug War. Their reasons for their positions are different, and it is the reasoning behind their views that ought to be described by the words we use here.

    So he isn’t talking about conservative and liberal in the modern political sense of Republicans vs. Democrats, which is good because those definitions are constantly changing and flip flopping with one another. After all, it is the allegedly conservative Bush who pushed through the largest new entitlement program since the Great Society, instituted protectionist tariffs for the steel industry and proudly declares a huge increase in Federal power over education as one of his greatest triumphs, while the allegedly liberal Clinton pushed through GATT and NAFTA and the deregulation of the financial industry. Totally incongruous behavior, but no one bothers to change the label attached to it.

    What Sandefur is discussing is classical liberalism (aka libertarianism) vs the philosophical conservatism of folks like Russell Kirk and Robert Bork. Now of course it’s true that not everyone falls so easily into those two groups, but that is irrelevant to the point he is making and does not make his thoughts an oversimplification. He is right to point out that these are two very different political ideologies based on very different starting premises.

    I would also note that your last sentence is absurd. While you’re certainly right that those who call themselves “liberals” today entirely share the conservative premise that the individual must take a backseat to the greater good (or at least the greater will), just in different contexts, it is false to claim that they “do not have a moral code to guide them”. They have just as much of a “moral code” as those who call themselves conservatives do. The basis for that code may be different, of course, but that doesn’t mean one side simply doesn’t have one.

  3. #3 Joshua White
    January 8, 2005

    I had some misconceptions about libertarians that needed to be corrected. I have been getting rid of a lot of misconceptions about a lot of things over the last couple of years. I have a lifetime of listening to people who had no idea what the hell they were talking about to overcome. It has been pretty humbling.

    I had believed that since libertarians did not believe in punishing any personal activity that somehow this equaled not punishing crime. It turns out that I agree with libertarians concerning the views that Mr. Sandefur was kind enough explain to me, as well as what was in the content of the conservative vs. libertarians posts.

    I don’t know if that makes me a libertarian yet, I need to do more reading. I’m still in the process of finding real reasons for everything that I believe.

    At least I never fell for creationism and its various offshoots, quite a feat for someone raised in a fundamentalist protestant church. But then again I have been reading science books of all kinds since I was a little guy in elementary school.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    January 8, 2005

    I had some misconceptions about libertarians that needed to be corrected. I have been getting rid of a lot of misconceptions about a lot of things over the last couple of years. I have a lifetime of listening to people who had no idea what the hell they were talking about to overcome. It has been pretty humbling.

    You asked a good question, and you picked the right person to ask. No reason to feel humbled by that at all. If only more people were willing to ask questions and learn from the answers in this country, things might improve dramatically in a lot of areas.

  5. #5 Joshua White
    January 8, 2005

    “No reason to feel humbled by that at all.”

    I’m actually referring to the discovery of the sheer amount of crap that I believed in and the whole process of figuring out what is crap and what is not. I have had too many O’Brian moments in my past that I am making up for. But thanks anyway.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    January 8, 2005

    I’m actually referring to the discovery of the sheer amount of crap that I believed in and the whole process of figuring out what is crap and what is not. I have had too many O’Brian moments in my past that I am making up for. But thanks anyway.

    LOL. Well if it makes you feel any better, I think everyone feels that way about themselves. At any given point, you can look back on what you believed or thought was important 4 or 5 years before that and think, “Jesus, what was I thinking? What an idiot.” And you can only do that so many times before you realize that it also implies you’re an idiot right now. One might even argue that those who do not feel that way about their beliefs of a few years ago lack that feeling because they stopped thinking that long ago.