Skip to comments.Libertarianism or Libertinism? (Frank S. Meyer Flashback)
Posted on 06/12/2002 10:55:07 AM PDT by Pyro7480
Principles and Heresies
| The development of contemporary American conservatism has been marked, on the theoretical level, by a continuing tension between a traditionalist emphasis and a libertarian emphasis. Over the years I have argued that these positions are in fact not incompatible opposites, but complementary poles of a tension and balance which, both in theory and practice, define American conservatism as it has come into being at midcentury. If anything, I have stressed the libertarian emphasis because I have felt that unmodified traditionalism, stressing virtue and order in disregard of the ontological and social status of the freedom of the individual person, tended dangerously to towards an authoritarianism wrong in itself and alien to the spirit of American conservatism.
Recently, however, there have been ominous signs that the danger of a disbalance just as alien to conservatism is arising not from traditionalist quarters, but from an untrammeled libertarianism, which tends as directly to anarchy and nihilism as unchecked traditionalism tends to authoritarianism. This libertarianism can be seen at its most extreme in such dropouts from the Right as Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess and their handful of followers. While their position has become indistinguishable from that of SDS, there are increasing signs of a more widespread, if more moderate, development in this direction, primarily among the young, but by no means restricted to them. The essential rationale of this position is so far removed from the rationale of libertarian conservatism, and so completely ignores the proper foundations of liberty in the actual circumstances of the human condition, that, like the position of the anarchist wing of the SDS, its proper denomination is not libertarianism but libertinism.
A true libertarianism is derived from metaphysical roots in the very constitution of being, and places its defense of freedom as a political end in the context of moral responsibility for the pursuit of virtue and the underlying social necessity for the preservation of order. The libertine impulse that masquerades as libertarian, on the other hand, disregards all moral responsibility, ranges itself against the minimum needs of social order, and raises the freedom of the individual person (regarded as the unbridled expression of every desire, intellectual or emotional) to the status of an absolute end.
The underlying issue between conservative libertarianism and libertine libertarianism is at bottom a totally opposed view of the nature of destiny of men. The libertineslike those other products of the modern world, ritualistic liberals, socialists, Communists, fascistsare ideologues first and last. That is, they reject reality as it has been studied, grasped, understood, and acted upon in five thousand years or so of civilized history, and pose an abstract construction as the basis of action. They would replace God's creation of this multifarious, complex world in which we live, and substitute for it their own creation, simple, neat and inhumanas inhuman as the blueprints of the bulldozing engineer.
The place of freedom in the spiritual economy of men is a high one indeed, but it is specific and not absolute. By its very nature, it cannot be an end of men's existence. Its meaning is essentially freedom from coercion, but that, important as it is, cannot be an end. It is empty of goal or norm. Its function is to relieve men of external coercion so that theY may freely seek their good.
It is for this reason that libertarian conservatives champion freedom as the end of the political order's politics, which is, at its core, the disposition of force in society, will, if not directed towards this end, create massive distortions and obstacles in men's search for their good. But that said, an equally important question remains. Free, how are men to use their freedom? The libertine answers that they should do what they want. Sometimes, in the line of the philosophers of the French Revolution, he arbitrarily posits the universal benevolence of human beings. He presumes that if everyone does whatever he wants, everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But whether so optimistically qualified or not, his answer ignores the hard facts of history. For it is only in civilization that men have begun to rise towards their potentiality; and civilization is a fragile growth, constantly menaced by the dark forces that suck man back towards his brutal beginnings.
Reason and Tradition
The essence of civilization, however, is tradition: no single generation of men can of itself discover the proper ends of human existence. At its best, as understood by contemporary American conservatism, the traditionalist view accepts political freedom, accepts the role of reason and innovation and criticism; but it insists, if civilization is to be preserved, that reason operate within tradition and that political freedom is only effectively achieved when the bulwarks of civilizational order are preserved.
Libertine libertarianism would shatter those bulwarks. In its opposition to the maintenance of defenses against Communism, its puerile sympathy with the rampaging mobs of campus and ghetto, its contempt for the humdrum wisdom of the great producing majority, it is directed towards the destruction of the civilizational order which is the only real foundation of a real world for the freedom it espouses. The first victim of the mobs let loose by the weakening of civilizational restraint will be, as it has always been, freedomfor anyone, anywhere.
Meyer is a "forgotten founding father" of the modern conservative movement. He was a senior editor of the National Review from 1957 until his death in 1972. I think Meyer's important contribution to the formation of the conservative movement, both intellectual and political, is often overlooked and/or forgotten. Thankfully, a recent biography titled "Principles and Heresies: Frank S. Meyer and the Shaping of the American Conservative Movement by Kevin J. Smant (printed by ISI Books) tries to right this wrong. The biography came out less than a month ago in May 2002, and was recently reviewed by Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review. For a short bio. on Meyer, visit the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
``Recently, however, there have been ominous signs that the danger of a disbalance just as alien to conservatism is arising not from traditionalist quarters, but from an untrammeled libertarianism, which tends as directly to anarchy and nihilism as unchecked traditionalism tends to authoritarianism.''
This sentences makes me want to look for more writing by Mr. Meyer. Pyro, you made part of this sentence boldface, while it is important in its entirety.
This is something I've said frequently here on FR: Liberty and responsibility go hand in hand. Liberty without responsibility leads to mayhem, and responsibility without liberty leads to slavery.
For example, the left-wing approach to drug prohibtion revolves around isolating people from their bad acts with such suggestions like giving people free needles, or free health care and drug counseling. The left cannot see that these undermine personal responsibility. On the other hand, the authoritarian approach to drug-prohibition involves punishing everyone for the bad acts of others. The authoritarian does not acknowledge that some people can handle addiction better than others, and want to jail all users to get the ones would cause trouble.
If we have a balanced approach to drug prohibition, we would in no way subsidize people's bad habits on the one hand, but when someone commits a crime we should lock the door and throw away the key.
Do you mean when someone engages in a personal or property crime while on drugs? I assume under this balanced approach, possession, sale or manufacturing of "drugs" would not be a crime.
I do not think that committing a murder sober should be punshed less than while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I feel the same about hate crime: is it more wrong to kill someone because of their race, or for the money? Is it more wrong to slay someone with a firearm or your bare hands? No.
I believe with any softening of our stance of drug prohibition should come a strengthening of penalties for all crimes. In my opinion, child rape should be a capital offence. Why is there such gnashing of teeth over what to do with sexual-offenders? If they are such a danger, don't let them out of prison. Likewise with murderers.
Every wall of the house, and even an addition to the house, was lined with books. This reflected both the Meyers' great minds and Frank's work as book editor of National Review. The discussions were intense and instructive. I was going to say "enLIGHTening," but Frank was so much a night person, he hardly ever saw daylight! The talks lasted all night, over too many glasses of Dewar's.
Their two young sons, John and Gene, frequently joined the grown-up talk, or whupped their elders at chess (Gene today is an international Grand Master, John a Master). Gene is still active as founder and gray eminence of the Federalist Society. He looks just like his dad :-)
I agree. Actually, I could probably agree that murder, rape, child molestation and treason should be the four crimes that are capital offenses.
"Obviously, nobody around here is in favor of cannibalism, and everyone, libertarians included, agree that murderers should be punished." -- allend, reply #21 from the thread.
Changed your mind, I see. The oldest and crudest rhetorical device for demonizing one's opponents is to claim that they are cannibals. To your credit you've stopped just short of that, and merely declared us to be their moral equivalent.
Another great quote by Meyer comes from his 1964 essay "Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism."
"But both extremes (of traditionalism and libertarianism) are self-defeating: truth withers when freedom dies, however righteous the authority that kills it; and free individualism uninformed by moral value rots at its core and soon brings about conditions that pave the way for surrender to tyranny."
I admire your well-thought comments. The "essay" describing your train of thought on your profile page seems to back up my thought that you are a well-trained thinker. I agree with you that the all the name-calling on FR needs to stop. It is very immature. It can be a very anti-intellectual environment on here at times.
If you want to read more about the "tension" between liberty and tradition, a good book (also printed by ISI) is "Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate," edited by George W. Carey. It includes essays by Meyer, and commentary by Murray Rothbard on Meyer's ideology.
I don't know. Since you've distinguished it from rape, the definition of child molestation gets awfully fuzzy.
I'm a big fan of corporal punishment, myself. If some old lech feels up a 15-year-old, a thorough caning will probably suffice to correct his behavior.
Thank you for your reply. I feel much the same as Mr. Meyer when he said conservatives and libertarians need each other.
I don't know what he has in mind here. He mentions Rothbard and Hess, but no position or stand of theirs - no specifics.
Certainly I would apply my principles in defense of the ritual cannibalism practiced by Catholics and other religious sects.
Provided no rights were violated of course.
I think Meyers tangentially addresses that point here: The essence of civilization, however, is tradition: no single generation of men can of itself discover the proper ends of human existence. At its best, as understood by contemporary American conservatism, the traditionalist view accepts political freedom, accepts the role of reason and innovation and criticism; but it insists, if civilization is to be preserved, that reason operate within tradition and that political freedom is only effectively achieved when the bulwarks of civilizational order are preserved.
Which is to say, Meyers apparently rejects the idea that there is a clear distinction between government and society. Nor, apparently, should there be -- to believe and act otherwise is to pretend that one knows a priori all of the contingencies with which society and/or government might be faced.
It's worth noting, BTW, that the "libertine libertarians" are very much with us, primarily as a cultural force, but also among many of the more aggressive (predominantly liberal) activist organizations.
Only the Constitution separates us from anarchy or statism. When people here realize this, the libertarian-conservative wars will end.
I didn't think about that. I guess you could lump the two together and just call it rape. The age of the victim should not matter.
I also would want for there to be new "rules" covering a conviction for rape. Juries have been known to convict a person for rape merely upon testimony, without any real evidence. That could not be allowed. I would insist that there be laws that would prevent prosecuters from filing any charges without actual, physical evidence. The word of the woman(or man) can not be considered as evidence.
Not at all. Not two posts ago I stated that I'd apply my principles in defense of the ritual cannibalism practice by Catholics and other religious sects.
What's anti-Catholic about that?
(or do you disagree with the assertion that Catholics and other religious sects practice ritual cannibalism?)
Biblical or otherwise, it remains ritual cannibalism... no?
You need to 'splain that one to me. It went completely over my head.
I recently browsed the Smant biography of Meyer that I mentioned earlier at the Borders near my house. I read about Meyer being such a night person as you said. This occured because of Meyer's departure from the Communist Party. The Meyers so feared reprisal by the Party that they kept a loaded rifle near their bed for some time, and because of the resulting imsomnia, they became night people. This is another reason for me to admire him, because I'm SO not a morning person. My "best" hours are between 6 pm and 2 am.
The reason why I looked into Meyer's book finally after having it for almost 3 years was an article that was posted on FR that was written by a fellow college student named Daniel McCarthy . Titled "Crash-Course for Conservatives," it mentioned a small reading group the author had started at his school, and one of the books they read was "In Defense of Freedom." After reading about the "disagreement" the book had caused amongst the students in the group (similar to the controversy that was caused after the book was first printed), I had to read. My discovery of Meyer's writings and ideology has been rather exciting for me, since as I mentioned before, it is the closest I've seen to my own ideology. I think it will help me to tighten up and better argue my own conservatism. I am glad to consider myself a new follower of Frank Meyer.
It seemed to me that people on the thread were saying that, so long as no murder or other violation of human rights were involved, the practice of looking at photographic representations of it should be legal.
I've seen many pictures of the atrocities of 9/11. I'm sure you have, too. By viewing them, did you and I lend support to those atrocities? Did we do something morally wrong? Should someone have stopped us?
The Eucharist is not ritual cannibalism?
Isn't it the ritual consumption of the blood and body of Christ?
Isn't the doctrine of transubstantiation a support of an even more literal interpretation of this assertion?
I have no objection to Catholics (or any other religious sects) engaging in this ritual cannibalistic practice. In fact, as I've already stated, I apply my libertarian principles in defense of it (provided rights are not violated).
What part of my position do you object to?
Do you disagree with my assertion that the Eucharist is ritual cannibalism?
If it isn't, then what is it?
Thanks. (I am certainly not)
In fact there are many Christian sects (if not most) which practice it.
My point had nothing to do with Catholicism. It had to do with ritual cannibalism (which is practiced ceremonially by not only Catholics, but in fact by many, or perhaps even the majority of Christian sects).
If you find it necessary to extract some kind of anti-Catholic sentiment from my statements in order to paint yourself as a victim, that's your problem.
No such sentiment was intended.
Oh, Please. You can do a bit better than that.
They only symbolically consume the body and blood of Christ.
No, in fact I said Catholics and other Christian sects.
I did not mention Catholics exclusively.
The only reason I mentioned Catholics individually at all, is that they as a group, are more likely to endorse the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief in the literal conversion of sacramental wine and wafers, into the blood and body of Christ).
It isn't a slam on Catholics or on what they believe. They may believe as they wish, and I support their right to practice their beliefs in any way they see fit, provided they don't violate the rights of others in the process.
You seemed to me to be slamming libertarians because you percieved them to be defending cannibalism (although I think that's a bit of a stretch). I just thought you might want to think about that statement in a different light.
Apparently it was a bit too much for you emotionally, so you had to drag out your hair shirt.