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On the Right Side of the Schism

In case you have missed it, there has been quite the conversation on this blog and the Acton Power Blog on the topic of Christian libertarians. During the course of the conversation, I took the side of Christian libertarians and even wrote an exhaustively lengthy post about what Christian libertarians believe. This whole process has been an amazing learning experience, pushing me to study and research and think through issues that I haven’t thought about in a long time. So it is a bit bittersweet to write this post and, for all intents and purposes, end my participation in this debate with Acton’s senior editor, Joe Carter. Because you see, I don’t actually consider myself a to be libertarian. A careful observer may have noticed that in my article about what Christian libertarians believe, I referred to Christian libertarians exclusively in third person. Mr. Carter obviously missed that, because in his rebuttal (to my rebuttal to his rebuttal), he refers to my arguments calling them my “own views.” For the most part they are, but since I don’t consider myself to be a libertarian, there were bound to be some insufficiencies in my argument as there will always be in the case of someone arguing for a something they don’t fully understand. So, you might ask, what am I? That is an excellent question to which I don’t have a satisfactory answer. Social conservatives accuse me of being too libertarian, libertarians accuse me of being too socially conservative. My political affiliation on Facebook used to be “free-market capitalist,” but then I changed it to simply “freedom.” A libertarian friend of mine once told me that I just don’t like labels that have any “meaning,” which might make me a Type 4, according to Mr. Carter’s typology—a Christian who is really a conservative, but doesn’t like the label conservative. I already admitted that a Type 4 person is not libertarian enough to call themselves a Christian libertarian, so in order to be consistent, I myself cannot use the term. If you are confused, imagine how I feel! The differences between conservatism and libertarianism are details through which I have been sorting for years, and I’ve been trying to establish what I believe since the age of 16. Progress has been slow, but along the way I have sought out the advice of many smarter people. Jonah Goldberg, one such person whose conservatism I find inspiring, told me once that:
“The big grand argument between conservatives and liberals broadly defined, is the argument between those who believe we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and those who believe we are not. Conservatives believe we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and that the market of trial and error of civilization worked out a lot of crap that people who suffer from the arrogance of now fail to appreciate.”
There is a schism, in Goldberg’s argument, that separates liberals from conservatives and libertarians. He goes on to say:
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t vestigial bits of dogma that have outlived their utility, but like Chesterton’s fence, the only way to know if they have outlived their utility is to think deeply and contemplatively about why that fence is there in the first place. You can’t just say, ‘I don’t understand why that fence is there, let’s smash it down.’ Those are lessons worth reminding young conservatives of, particularly those of the more libertarian bent who do suffer from a ‘we can start everything new because I have an iPod’ mentality.'”
In the August/September 2010 edition of Reason Magazine, Goldberg points out:
“At the intellectual level… economic libertarianism remains largely synonymous with economic conservatism. The Mount Rushmore of libertarian economics—Hayek, Friedman, Mises, Hazlitt, et al—quite simply is the Mount Rushmore of conservative economics.”
What Jonah Goldberg has helped me accept, is that even if I don’t know whether I’m a conservative or libertarian, I know that I am on the side of the schism (or Chestonian fence) that believes civilization is standing on the shoulders of giants. Here at Values and Capitalism, I’ll be writing a regular column on Tuesdays that will explore the tension between conservatism and libertarianism. Hopefully, if you have been dealing with similar questions, you will join the conversation.