Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Social Issues and the Role of Government

Before I begin, I should add the disclaimer I always seem to repeat in posts of this sort1. When I discuss what government should do, I am speaking of ideals, were I made emperor and allowed to shape the state to my whims (not that I would want such a job). Ideally, the state would be quite minimal, for example, dealing only with violations of rights, and leaving everything else to individuals. Realistically, I know imposing that sort of minimalism would be a disaster, as people are not willing to accept such a draconian change. Instead, realistically, I want to see government decentralized, with power mostly on the state, or even county or local level. I believe, in the long run, such a situation would tend to favor minimal government, but I also know, given human differences, there would probably still be locales where the laws did not come close to my ideals. But that is the strength, and the joy, of a federalist system. If a town's population likes paying more taxes for the government to do more, they can do that, and if you don't like it, well, if it is a local issue, your single vote and voice will matter -- matter a LOT more than in a national election -- but if you still lose, you can always move somewhere more pleasing. One size fits all at a national level leaves most of us unhappy, and so splitting power up into lots of little realms just makes sense.

Since that was kind of rambling, let me summarize. I would ideally like to see things as I am about to describe, but in realistic terms, even in my most optimistic fantasies, I would never imagine imposing it as a rule. I would leave the power in individual hands and, because I believe people are clever enough to figure things out, I have faith eventually a lot of people -- though probably not all -- will eventually, in the long run, come to the same conclusion.

Having said all that, I suppose it is time to actually begin the topic I wanted to discuss.

I have written before2 of my differences with social conservatives, especially the more authoritarian type who want to use government to make pretty serious intrusions into individual freedom in the name of moral behavior. I have also written of my own beliefs3, that social issues, that is any behavior which does not violate the rights of another, are best solved by the use of persuasion and other social pressures, not through government. And, finally, I wrote, though much less4, about my concern that Libertarians and others with similar beliefs not only ignore social issues, but actively avoid discussing them, which is somewhat detrimental to them5.

So, if I believe social issues are an apolitical issue, and think the social conservatives are wrong to push them into the realm of politics, why am I writing about them on a nominally political blog? Even more importantly, why would I say it is a mistake for Libertarians to so studiously ignore these issues?

The answer is simple, while I believe the proper solution is the use non-governmental means, the government is making that impossible, and, thus, making an apolitical issue political.

Think about it, other than the most obvious means of direct verbal and nonverbal criticism, what is the easiest way to show your distaste for someone's behavior? To refuse to have any dealings with them. However, in many cases, especially if that refusal is founded on certain social issues, this is now illegal. Nor is it just limited to cakes for gay weddings or hiring of only Christians or what have you. Ever since the courts decided that those businesses deemed "public accommodations" (and what business does that not describe?) are required to behave in certain government approved ways, the right to property has been seriously weakened, as have most of the more effective means of showing approval or distaste.

The concept originated, for the most part,  in the struggle to end discrimination. Failing to distinguish between discrimination by government, discrimination forced on private businesses by government and private choice to discriminate, the government, as usual, overreached, and essentially eliminated many types of property rights by declaring anyone running a business open to the public to have quasi-governmental obligations. Instead of being able to use your property as you saw fit, now, if you allowed in the public, you had to act as if you were bound by the same antidiscrimination laws as the state. But it was not just racial discrimination, over the years the laws expanded, covering sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation and so on. And, worse still, with the explosion of tort litigation, many began to fear what new type of discrimination a clever lawyer might manage to slip by a friendly court, and so simply gave up on ever exercising the right to refuse service. In short, because we were so set on ending "discrimination", we lost the ability to discriminate. And since we could no longer distinguish good from bad, proper from improper, or rather, could still distinguish but either were prohibited from, or feared to, act on that recognition, we lost the ability to apply effective social pressures.

That is why I argue social issues are political, even though in an ideal world I would see social issues well outside the realm of politics. Nor is that the whole picture. There are other, lesser issues where the state takes issues I would normally see as apolitical and turns them political. For example, state funding for various programs intended to support specific viewpoints. I would normally argue one's beliefs are well outside the realm of politics, and would never imagine your religion, politics or personal creeds of any kind would be the proper concern of politics. But, when government takes steps to favor or promote specific beliefs -- even the most innocuous and benign -- it becomes political. It is not the proper function of government to promote ANY belief, regardless of whether the majority considers it good, even if the support is unanimous, it is still not the purpose of the state. And thus, by doing so, the state makes an otherwise apolitical issue political.

But that could go on forever, as the state seems unable to keep its hands out of every aspect of life6. So I will cut this short, as my point is made. I do not believe these topics are the proper purpose of the state, but so long as the state does meddle in them, they are political, at least in as far as we try to get the state to leave them alone.

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1. See "Reforms, Ideal and Real", "The Case for Small Government", "The Benefits of Federalism", "Minimal Reforms" and "Why I am not a Libertarian".
 
2. See "The Virtue of Novelty and the Value of Tradition" ,"The Trap of Tradition" ,"Culture and Government", "In Defense of Standards" , "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"" , "O Tempora! O Mores!, or, The High Cost of Supposed Freedom" , "The Problem of Established Perspectives" , "A Bit of Clarification" , "Our Unique Age, A Tempting Falsehood" , "Inversion of Traditional Values", "Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism" and "In Praise of Slow Changes".

3. See "Divorce, Cross-Dressing, Crime and Drugs", "Another Look at Exploitation", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "Non-Governmental Communal Solutions", "Ordered Liberty and Our Modern Mindset", "New England Versus Virginia (And Venice, And England, And Rome...)",  "In Loco Parentis", "Harming Society", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Sexual Revolution and Prostitution", "Of Wheat and Doctors", "Government Versus Culture - A Forgotten Distinction",  "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Humility and Freedom", "Costs and Benefits", "An Unusual Proof", "Collective Action and Government" and "Some Thoughts on "Summerhill"".

4. Sadly,while I recall mentioning this in one or maybe two posts, and can even recall most of the wording, I have been unable to find the actual articles.

5. Then again, I have recently been critical of libertarians for carrying on in such a juvenile way. To quote myself from comments on various sites:
I wish the Libertarian party would finally begin to act like adults. Even when they don't endorse candidates with peculiar (or worse) ideas, they still have all this side show nonsense, and lead with a non-starter such as legalizing drugs, which is no one's number one issue, and a tough sell to many. If they would just act like adults, stop putting on these absurd spectacles, and give some sign they took politics, or their party, seriously, people might listen to them. As it is, no hope.
And
I wish Libertarians would finally get past drug legalization. it is not the most critical issue of our age, and leading with it puts them constantly on the fringe. And their juvenile antics don't help either. I get it you are for freedom, but so were Jefferson and Madison and they acted like adults. If the Libertarians would grow up, maybe they would have a chance. (They have a "big tent" issue just like the Republicans, bringing in people from so many fringe freedom issues they look like loons, while Republicans had to deal with the impossibility of reconciling nationalist/protectionist/paleocons with small government/federalist/economic conservatives, not to mention sometimes authoritarian social conservatives. But at least the Republicans generally behave themselves, until they started cheering on Trump's foul mouth at least.) [typos corrected]
And
They would do better if they stopped acting so childish. Naked fat men and pushing drug legalization as a top priority does not say you take your cause seriously. Nor does trying to combine WTO protest anarchists with von Mises free marketeers. They are so doctrinaire in not having a doctrine other than "liberty" they come across as not taking things seriously. If they grew up, I might even consider supporting them. But as it is, they make so many tactical blunders, they have all the chance of winning of Lyndon LaRouche supporters.
Since they are given to appearing so childish, it is hard to imagine that, were they to address social issues, it would do them any good, as they come across as too juvenile to carry any moral weight.

6. I refer to this belief that the state can do everything, and do it well, as the "Swiss Army Knife view of government". It is the polar opposite of the "fear of government" beliefs that afflict some libertarians and even conservatives. The state is a tool, not a "necessary evil", nor a panacea. If we use it for the wrong things, it does them badly, or brings about unforeseen consequences. But without any state, life is a disaster. Thus, we should not fear government, or despise it, we need to recognize its proper role and limit it to that role. See "Caution, Not Fear", "There Are Other Solutions", "The Free Market Solution", "Skewed Perspective , or, How Big Government Becomes Inevitable", "Why I Reject Compassionate Conservatism", "Every Kid Likes Hotdogs" and "The State of Nature and Man's Rights".


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