Originally published November 30, 2022
For years the terms “libertarian” and “conservative” were interchangeable. Both espouse limited government, both push individual freedom, and both laud personal responsibility. Yet the recent surge from the Left’s social agenda helped clarify the differences between a conservative and a libertarian, as the moral responsibility of government and society are being called in to handle a myriad of issues.
Former Secretary of Labor and Berkeley Law Professor Robert Reich makes this point frequently on Twitter. “News flash: If you outlaw abortions, criminalize providing gender affirming care for trans youth, dictate what educators can teach in schools, and stop people from voting, you’re not the party of “limited government,” he said in the latest of many tweets on the subject.
Reich has a point, conservatives are not the party of “limited government” in the sense that he is talking about. Conservatives are the party of government usage of powers enumerated in the Constitution and the moral guidance of the Declaration of Independence. Conservatives are not looking to grow the power, size and scope of the government, but are not shy about using the government’s existing power to protect the rights and lives of the citizenry, at times from themselves.
Reich is confusing Republicans and Conservatives with more of a Libertarian mindset, one that says that there should be fewer taxes, but also abortion should be legal and it doesn’t matter who does what to their bodies, regardless of age. Reich is trying to find common cause with Libertarians, who want these activities to be allowed, with Leftists, who not only want these things to be allowed, but want government and society to pay for it. He’s doing so through Radical Individualism
Radical Individualism is not a new concept, but it has taken on a new life in today’s society. The idea is that not only should the individual have the rights to do what they want, but that the individual’s thoughts, feelings and desires should be the moral compass from which all of society is derived. Essentially, as long as it’s not directly harming another, whatever an individual wants to do, it is moral, because the individual wants to do it.
Professor of Psychology at Merrimack College, Michael Mascolo, wrote about this in December, 2016. “Individual rights are essential for a free society,” he said. “However, they are insufficient for a free and moral society.” Yet what the Left is doing now is taking the most radical individuals and using them as the moral compass from which to govern. This is why the loosest abortion restrictions in the world exist in deep blue states like New York and California. This is why there is such pushback in states like Tennessee when laws get proposed to ban child mutilation.
“There is more to moral life than our claims to our rights,” Mascolo continues. “A moral society cannot sustain itself in the absence of a quest toward some shared sense of virtue, goodness, caring and so forth. To become a truly moral society, we must seek to identify, negotiate and coordinate the values and virtues that define how we should act, who we should be, and how we should live.”
This societal push is being helped by the libertarian-minded, who recoil at the notion that the government should put limits on individuals. What they are missing, and what Conservatives are keeping in mind, is the countervailing factors. Abortion limitations are not about the woman, but about the baby. Age restrictions on transgender medication or procedures are about the age of consent. Limiting what educators can say in the classroom is about parental rights. Strong voting procedures are about an informed electorate. Those who have moral inclinations towards libertarianism will see this and get shoved into the conservative camp. The radical individualism isn’t as cut and dry when multiple factors are taken into account.
And what of the government’s role in this? The Senate just passed the “Respect For Marriage Act”, a bill that legalizes what was already legal. Democrats may claim that the passage of the bill was necessary because the Supreme Court overturned Roe, so they may overturn Obergfell in the future. Yet the issue with the passage of this act is far from simple redundancy. It’s an admittance that the Federal Government is willing to reflect what was once considered radical only a few years ago. Barack Obama circa 2011 was against same-sex marriage. Now every Democrat and 12 Republicans voted for it.
To think that this couldn’t happen with child mutilation in the name of “gender affirming care for trans youth”, Joe Biden explicitly endorsed the idea. ““I don’t think any state or anybody should have the right (to restrict gender-affirming healthcare). As a moral question and as a legal question, I just think it’s wrong,” Biden told trans-activist Dylan Mulvaney.
Libertarians need to decide which side of the gap they are going to end up on with these issues. Extreme government overreach is a major problem in this country, yet losing track of the morality of the country in the name of radical individualism is just as dangerous.