Cats and Dogs, Libertarians and Social Conservatives

Posted on Categories Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Religion & Law

There’s been an interesting exchange among libertarians in response to the Catholic Church’s kick-off of a campaign against application of the HHS mandate on contraception and “morning after” pills to certain religious institutions without an adequate conscience exception.

Jay Carney, writing in the Washington Examiner, began the conversation by suggesting that social conservatives recognize big government as an enemy of religion and calling on libertarians to reassess their political alliances. Walter Olson of Cato responds, observing that libertarians have been out front in opposing state impositions on religion, but pointing out that there are limitations to co-operation between libertarians and social conservatives to the extent that the latter support state intervention as an instrument of the culture war. Walter’s Cato colleague, David Boaz, argues that social conservatives have often called for impositions on liberty to advance a particular moral view, citing a number of historic examples.

Two things.  First, it is always heartening to see libertarians understand that freedom requires resistance to impositions on voluntary associations as well as restrictions of individuals.  

It is a common mistake to see the freedom movement as entirely individualistic and unconcerned with communities. People often choose to exercise their liberties in association. Defending the right of a voluntary association to defend the principles around which their members come together is also vital.

Second, there are often paradigm shifts in politics and public life. For years, traditional Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews clashed over theological differences. More recently, they have come to see the state and secular culture as a common and more immediate threat. They have formed alliances that once would have been thought impossible.

I can’t say that libertarians and social conservatives are there but the thought is intriguing. Might it not make sense for social conservatives to understand that enlisting the state as an ally in fostering the traditional morality they support is both theologically suspect and politically implausible? Might not libertarians come to recognize (although Walter would argue that they have) that a state powerful enough to enforce sweeping dictates of life style freedom against private individuals and organizations will always do so selectively and contingently?

Someone suggested that this may be one of the differences between the Moral Majority and the Tea Party. At some point, people recognize that the best offense can be a good defense.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin and Shark and Shepherd home page.

One thought on “Cats and Dogs, Libertarians and Social Conservatives”

  1. It’s really nice to see some political discussion at a Law School blog. For some reason students and faculty tend to eschew such discussion. Personally, I believe you cannot separate law from politics. I agree with what you’re saying. I don’t quite understand your point about the alliance between libertarians and social conservatives, though. Am I not reading this correctly? They’ve had an alliance for years in various forms.

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