Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Libertarian Vote and Darwinian Conservatism

It is regrettable that Ron Paul has been so inept in presenting his libertarian position. But still there is plenty of evidence that the Republican Party cannot win without the libertarian vote. David Boaz and David Kirby made this clear last fall in a paper for the Cato Institute on "The Libertarian Vote." They showed that 10 to 20 percent of the American voters are libertarians, and that they can determine the outcome of elections by shifting their votes between the Republican and Democratic parties. So it seems clear that if the Republican presidential candidate in 2008 does not win the votes of the Ron Paul libertarians, the Democrats will take the White House.

There is a deeper intellectual issue here. Boaz and others at the Cato Institute emphasize the differences between conservatives and libertarians, and thus reject the conservative "fusion" of traditionalist and libertarian thought. But my argument for Darwinian conservatism assumes a "fusionist" conception of conservatism. Some libertarians like Timothy Sandefur have responded by claiming that my Darwinian arguments support libertarianism but not traditionalist conservatism. My responses to Sandefur can be found here, here, here, and here.

Actually, the paper by Boaz and Kirby implicitly suggests that the distance between libertarians and traditionalist conservatives is not as great as they assume. For example, they indicate that conservatives agree with libertarians that it would not be proper to legally prohibit "blasphemous" speech, because Americans generally accept the principle of free speech in religious matters. On this and other issues, even the most traditionalist conservatives--like Russell Kirk, for example--would reject theocratic government, because they recognize that given the imperfection of human nature, no one can be trusted to exercise theocratic power. Boaz and Kirby also indicate that many of the libertarians who voted for Bush rather than Kerry in 2004 did so because they thought fighting terrorism was the most important issue. So even though libertarians want the power of government to be limited, they recognize the need for strong government in war and national security. In other words, most American libertarians are not anarchists, because they are not so utopian as to think that government can be completely abolished.

Traditionalists can be tempted by utopian visions of theocracy. Libertarians can be tempted by utopian visions of anarchy. But as conservatives, both traditionalists and libertarians accept a realist view of human nature that rejects the utopianism of leftist thought. And this realist view supports neither theocratic order nor anarchic liberty but ordered liberty with limited government under the rule of law. A Darwinian science of human nature supports this conservative stance on human nature as the shared ground between traditionalists and libertarians.

My posts on Herbert Spencer's utopian anarchism can be found here and here.

1 comment:

Robert O'Brien said...

It is regrettable that Ron Paul has been so inept in presenting his libertarian position.

What makes you think Ron Paul has been inept? To the contrary, I think he has done a fine job.