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One common complaint by cultural conservatives of libertarianism is that is really just licentiousness. While that argument is popular, it doesn’t take long to examine why it is incorrect. What needs to be recognized is that libertarianism is a political philosophy concerning the role of government, not a cultural philosophy. It should also not be confused with the Libertarian Party.
Libertinism, on the other hand, can be properly described as a synonym of licentiousness. According to Webster’s dictionary, a libertine is “a person who is unrestrained by convention or morality” and licentious refers to being “marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness.”
But what about the people who embrace libertarian arguments just so they can do drugs and have wild sex?
They are opportunistic libertines. It’s that simple. The fact that they happen to embrace the libertarian outlook of government on certain issues to benefit themselves personally doesn’t make the broader philosophy incorrect. In fact, accepting such a viewpoint is the very definition of an ad hominem argument, i.e. your character makes you wrong.
I am a cultural conservative as well as a libertarian. There are plenty of other culturally conservative libertarians who also agree with legalizing (that is, repealing government laws) personal vices. Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek, for example, hardly strike people as wild hippies. They largely reside in the GOP. Friedman stated the views of many when he said, “I am a libertarian with a small “l” and a Republican with a capital “R”.”
Ultimately, freedom exists so that people can disagree and live their lives as they choose, as long as they don’t directly harm others.
According to Rick Santorum, “True liberty is freedom in the service of virtue—not “the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be,” or “the freedom to be left alone,” but “the freedom to attend to one’s duties—duties to God, to family, and to neighbors.”
Those who accept this definition of liberty are simply one side of the same coin progressives use. Social engineering-whether it be conservative or progressive in nature, is not true liberty. Coercive, yes. Collectivist, yes. Authoritarian, yes. But it has nothing to do with liberty. Liberty means that when people like Santorum confront you on how to live, you can keep on walking. It means that when Sandra Fluke demands she has a right to your money so that she can pay for birth control, you can keep walking. It means you can choose to be like either Santorum or Fluke and speak your mind, regardless of whether you are wrong or right.
As Walter E. Williams puts it:
Here’s a question: What is the true test of one’s commitment to freedom of expression? Is it when one permits others to express ideas with which he agrees? Or is it when he permits others to express ideas he finds deeply offensive? I’m betting that most people would wisely answer that it’s the latter, and I’d agree. How about this question: What is the true test of one’s commitment to freedom of association? Is it when people permit others to freely associate in ways of which they approve? Or is it when they permit others to freely associate in ways they deem despicable? I’m sure that might be a considerable dispute about freedom of association compared with the one over freedom of expression. To be for freedom in either case requires that one be brave enough to accept the fact that some people will make offensive expressions and associate in offensive ways.
I agree with fellow cultural conservatives that only a moral people will preserve a free society. But turning to government to make society more moral doesn’t work (0ften yielding unintended consequences), and at the same time it ensures that society is not free. Instead, cultural conservatives should seek to directly change the hearts and minds of people through persuasion, not attempt to criminalize their deviant behavior.*
*While there is disagreement among libertarians on the issue of abortion, I consider it a proper role for government involvement as it involves the taking of life. For pro-life libertarian arguments, check out Libertarians for Life and their excellent library.