Trust in the 21st Century
The Anti-Statist Alliance That Wasn’t

A burgeoning alliance between social conservatives and civil libertarians to oppose the nanny state might help end some particular abuses, but in the end the two camps want very different things. Their different goals represent two very different understandings of what human beings are and how they should live.

Published on: August 19, 2014
Peter Blair is a staff writer at TAI, where he covers health care policy and religion. Follow him on Twitter: @PeterBlairAI.
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  • Fred

    Yes, there can be only one. Unfortunately, it is likely to be the Libertarian’s dream turned nightmare. As I’ve argued many times in many places, Libertarianism is untenable due to its false philosophical anthropology. Ironically, it is the Libertarian throwing off of constraint that necessitates the state stepping in to restore it. Someone or something has to clean up the mess left by Libertarian destruction of intermediary institutions like church, family, and local community, what Burke called society’s “little platoons.” Enjoy your “utopia,” Libertarians. You deserve it. And to the degree America lets you get away with it, we all deserve it.

    • vepxistqaosani

      I have made the same argument, but see a different reason for the evisceration of the little platoons. The problem is not libertarianism, but liberalism, which insists that every individual be able to insist upon his rights at all times and in all places and gives ever-increasing power to the Federal government to guarantee those rights against families, churches, schools, civic organizations, cities, counties, and states. At the end, which we are fast approaching, there will be nothing but the State and the Individual, coequal in autonomy, but not in power.

      • Fred

        I don’t disagree, but there is quite a bit of overlap, if not outright identity, between liberalism and Libertarianism on social issues. To the degree that’s true, liberalism and Libertarianism, paradoxical as it may seem to some, are objectively allies. One might even say that Libertarianism is an inadvertent “fifth column” for liberalism. Libertarian abandonment of constraint necessitates the state restoring or maintaining order, which plays directly into the hands of the statist left.

        • vepxistqaosani

          I should say that I’m neither a liberal nor a libertarian. I am, more or less, a libertarian conservative with communitarian leanings. Or something like that.

          From my perspective, I do see noticeable differences between liberals and libertarians. The latter would never countenance speech codes; the former insist that they be able to enforce associations (bakers must bake gay wedding cakes, folks looking for roommates cannot discriminate based on religion, gender, or sexual orientation).

          The reason I’m not a libertarian is that I recognize — unlike most (all?) libertarians — that most people aren’t as smart as I am and are therefore unsuited to survive without supportive communities.

          The reason I’m not a communitarian is that I recognize that communities can be appallingly closed-minded and intolerant (especially of smart people!).

          The reason I’m not a liberal/progressive is that I recognize — even though I’m (trust me!) really, really smart — that I lack the knowledge, the intelligence, and the wisdom to run everyone else’s lives.

          So I’m a conservative, willing to change for good reason, but able to see that existing societal patterns usually exist for some reason other than chance or moral turpitude. And, among conservatives, one never has to prove how smart one is ….

    • rheddles

      It seems to me that libertarians are not trying to destroy the little platoons at all. They simply want individuals to decide to which platoons they will belong with out coercion from anyone else. And libertarians do not expect to implement a utopia. They simply want to give individuals maximum power over their lives with minimal influence of government.

    • hooharhar

      Philosophical anthropology is just astrology for autocrats.

  • Kevin

    This posits too much of ideal types which ideologues in the media and intellectuals espouse. In practice most people are a mix of these ideal types rather than purely one or the other, and further most individuals will changes their preferences as the pendulum swings too far to one side or the other.

    In practice many such alliances are possible, no member of the alliance will get everything they want (rather each will get 3/4) and eventually all such alliances will break down as they succeed and some members become concerned about overreach and the pendulum swinging too far in any direction and defect.

    To focus just on whether the ideal types maximalist demands are compatible is to overlook how real politics works.

    • stanbrown

      Exactly. This reads like an academic, having divided the world neatly in his model, treats the model as if it were reality.

      • hooharhar

        Nonsense. What sound reasoning there is to be found in his thesis, that the libertarian trend in political policy is a non starter because social conservative cave men should be wiped off the face of the earth, dammit, kill them all, hate those dirty social conservatives, kill kill kill etc.

  • Andrew Allison

    Isn’t the key point that both social conservatives and civil libertarians to oppose the nanny state? That they differ about how and with what it should be replace is surely secondary.

  • LarryD

    I expect the ideal of most social conservatives is the small town community, not dense, but small enough that there are only a couple of degrees of separation between everyone. In this sort of community, little government is needed, the built-in human social control mechanisms are enough. It is in larger communities, where people become anonymous that these mechanisms break down.

    The ideal of the only Libertarians I’ve read that had thought that far ahead, is based on the Kelts, whose kings domains were small enough to ride outside of in a day.

    The big problem is the Kelts were crushed piecemeal by the Romans, because the Kelts couldn’t organize themselves above the large war-party.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    The social conservative vs. libertarian issue is a good conversation to have. Unfortunately, Blair selected child neglect as his example. First, he if factually wrong. Parents are not charged with criminal wrongdoing and put in jail and hauled into court on criminal charges unless it is a case of severe child abuse. Child neglect and abuse cases are generally heard in civil courts. However, unsupervised children can be taken by police and with the assistance of social workers placed in a foster home until the circumstances that led to the situation can be sorted out.

    Secondly, it is hard to imagine in this day and age that a single parent can’t find subsidized or free child care.

    Thirdly, if you’re going to leave your child without parental supervision all day why have the child? Find an adoptive home for the child if he or she is not too old to do so.

    Moreover, are child neglect interventions eroding trust and community or is it the other way around, that child neglect erodes trust of the community that parents don’t need involuntary police and social work intervention?

    Having experience for a short while doing court social work, most such cases as described above are resolved by the court granting grandparents custody of the child. This keeps the mediating institution of the family intact.

    In most cases of public policy where there is value conflict between social conservatives and libertarians, it is best to frame the issue in terms of economic interests anyway. But this gets hard to do when dealing with the welfare of children.

    Taking Blair’s logic to its ultimate conclusion, the kidnapping of 60 girls in Ethiopia is merely violating social trust not doing evil. Conversely, police and social workers and nannies who call in the police are violating social trust not carrying out the limited rule of law. That is why police and social workers have to be held to account by the court system.

    I can distinctly remember two cases from when I did court social work. One case was a mother who somehow got separated from her children at a huge mall and the kids eventually were taken into custody by the police. The mother went to the police station and found her children. No case was filed for court supervision. A social worker however was assigned to follow up with the mother. The mother was very appreciative and took her children back to visit the police station and the social work office so that her children understood that these authority figures were not breaking the social trust of the community.

    Another case was of a fellow social worker who was supervising a father whose child was removed from the home because of severe abuse. The social worker opposed a judge’s decision to return the child to the parental home. The judge called the social worker a judgmental Nannie. The judge overruled the social worker’s recommendation and ordered the child returned to the home on a Friday. By Monday morning when I got to work the social worker was at her desk alternating from sobbing and outrage — the father had fried the child in a frying pan over the weekend!

    You be the judge.

    • vepxistqaosani

      Relevant to your point #2: My brothers and I were routinely left without parental supervision from sunup to sundown. We all turned out fine.

      It is not, or should not, be the parents’ job to be breathing down their children’s necks every second of every day.

      • Wayne Lusvardi

        Not the same as leaving one child without siblings in a park all day. But your point is well taken.

        • vepxistqaosani

          But with a cell phone! C’mon — that’s way more than we had as kids, where we’d be called upon to deal with nearly-severed toes, concussions, scorpion bites, poisonous snakes, etc. without easy access to any communication.

          • Wayne Lusvardi

            Did it say child and parent had cell phones? I missed that. And was the age of the child disclosed? 6 year old no; 12 year old maybe depending on the kid. And what was the level of neighborhood safety? Not stated. And as said in my first comment, this probably would not be a situation where a child is removed from the parent except perhaps in a rare case for a very short 2 days until the situation was sorted out and even then the kid would be placed with aunt and uncle or grandparents. Probably no reason for social work intervention other than to offer parent help with child care. I assume the child was young because child care isn’t usually for 12 year olds. My original comment gave two cases: one at each end of the spectrum where no intervention was needed and the other where intervention was needed but the court system failed. You can’t tell a baby “hey if your dad wants to fry you in a frying pan, you’re on your own!” But you can tell a 12 year old with other siblings that they are on their own but to “stay out of trouble.”

            The author of the article failed to recognize we live in a society of laws not of men and are not “your on your own” to do as you please. When trust breaks down then there is law. And the law cuts both ways and holds those in authority accountable and limits the authority they can exercise.

            The police in Ferguson aren’t probably looking for people to shoot (unless we find a case where that is established by facts). Neither are social workers looking for kids to take from parents.

  • mc

    “Here you see the central civil libertarian concern: the state (or society joined to the state) is overstepping its bounds in “creepy” ways that infringe on the “latitude” everyone ought to have to order their own lives.”

    This is a weird way to minimize libertarian concerns. Replace “creepy” with “unconstitutional” and “latitude” with “liberty” and I might be willing to trust the argument. As it stands I have to ask what other sleight-of-hand is employed here.

  • This is a good thing to be talking about, but I’m not so sure the civil libertarian vs social conservative viewpoints are so incompatible. In fact, if they did get into a big fight, I have no idea which side I’d be on. It depends on the specifics.

    It takes a village to raise a child. We all agree that “village” doesn’t mean totalitarian police-state in the way that Hillary means it. But does village mean completely voluntary social groupings or does it mean other local governing corporations? Depends.

    • I almost forgot to mention that I hate TAI’s new web site. The old one had a lot more information on a page. That’s why I have a large monitor for my computer – to display more information. I presume this kind of design is a passing fad. It can’t pass soon enough for me.

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