Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Ronald Reagan on the Difference Between Libertarianism and Conservatism

March 25th, 2013

Over the last months, in discussions with libertarians, Ronald Reagan has repeatedly been cited on how libertarianism and conservatism are essentially the same.

“If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” ~Ronald Reagan, Reason Magazine, July 1975

After seeing this quote repeatedly, I finally decided it was time to look it up and get the context.  The full interview is fascinating and very much worth the read.  The interview appears in Reason Magazine, a leading Libertarian publication.  While in many respects, Reagan shows an appreciation for libertarianism in the interview, he also points out places where the philosophies disagree.

In the same answer where he pointed out the similarity between the two philosophies, he states,

Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions…  But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.”

Goldwater, Reagan, and Buckley

This is interesting, because he points out that he should not be equivocated with libertarianism.  He also clarifies the quote under discussion by saying the two philosophies are “travelling the same path.”  There is a difference between coming from the same philosophical foundation, and traveling the same path.

As the interview progresses, it becomes clear that the similar path of the two philosophies is the of fight against high taxes and burdensome regulation.  On this issue, Reagan finds common ground with libertarians.

However, a few questions later, Reagan begins to describe his first difference with Libertarians, the extent of government involvement.  Reagan talks about a grey area in which “you ask is this government protecting us from ourselves or is this government protecting us from each other.”  He generally opposes motorcycle helmet laws, but then discusses the grey area where a doctor told him of individuals “who become public charges as a result of permanent damage–he has pointed to an area where it does go over into not just hurting the individuals directly involved but now imposes on others also.”

The existence of this grey area is a point where Reagan believes libertarians and conservatives can disagree.

“I only use this extreme example to show that when we come down to government and what it should or should not do for the good of the people and for protecting us from each other, you do come into some grey areas and I think here there will be disagreements between conservatives and libertarians.” p.2

This disagreement on the size of government manifests itself later in the article when it comes to differences in dealing with the FDA, education, and taxes.  Both Reagan and the interviewer believe in a more limited government, but they have differences in the “degree” to which government should be limited.

Reagan even goes as far as to flip a question about the FDA being “Big Brother” on its head and says, “Maybe what we should look at are those areas where government should be a “Big Brother” in ensuring that the private sector is doing the job.”  He believes there is an important role for government oversight of the private sector.

The second major area where Ronald Reagan points out the difference between libertarianism and conservatism is on the issue of social issues, or “sin laws.”  While I earlier addressed these differences in the context of marriage and abortion, here Reagan talks about gambling and prostitution.  It’s worth reading the full exchange between Reason and Reagan on these two issues.

REASON: You said earlier that government doesn’t exist to protect people from themselves. Let’s take the desert island shipwreck situation. Would you be in favor of any laws against gambling in the shipwrecked island situation?

REAGAN: You’ve named an issue that is one of the most difficult for me to reconcile. I know this gets into the whole area of the sin laws and here again I think you’re in one of the grey areas. There’s one side of me that says I know this is protecting us from ourselves; there’s another side of me, however, that says you can make the case that it does get into an area in which we are protecting us from each other.

I cannot go along with the libertarian philosophy that says that all of the sin laws can be ruled out as simply trying to protect us from ourselves. You car take the case of the father who gambles his money away and thus leaves his family dependent on the re’ of us. You can take surrounding areas–the necessity for protection against dishonest gambling–which requires added government duties and obligations–

REASON: But isn’t it really very selective law enforcement when it comes to nonvictim crime areas?

REAGAN: Well, now, you know the nonvictim crimes. Here again I think you’re in a grey area that requires certainly more study than I’ve given it. Prostitution has been listed as a nonvictim crime. Well, is anyone naive enough to believe that prostitution just depends on willing employees coming in and saying that’s the occupation they want to practice? It doesn’t.

REASON: Well, it partly depends on the options. There are a lot of jobs that people might find distasteful in a free market. I suppose that if you work in a paint shop and you’re breathing paint fumes all day, it might not be a very desirable job either.

REAGAN: Yes. But get into the seamy side. Talk to law enforcement people about the seamy side of how the recruiting is done, including what in an earlier day was called the white slave traffic–and you will find that the recruiting for prostitution is not one of just taking an ad in the paper and saying come be a prostitute and letting someone walk in willingly.

REASON: Yes, but, Governor, we really haven’t lived in a time when prostitution has been decriminalized.

REAGAN: Yes, we have lived in such a time. In many areas of the country in the old days, prostitution operated with local control and there was no problem and they even claimed inspection and so forth. Once, at the beginning of World War II, I asked the medical officer at our post (it was in New Orleans) why they were closing up the brothels with so many military bases there. And he gave me a pretty hard, cold answer. He said the army isn’t interested in morals. The army’s interested in keeping soldiers healthy. He showed me the difference in the statistics. He said the average girl in a house handled roughly 40 to 50 customers a night. And he said if you give her a five day week, that’s 200 to 250. Suppose the first man infects her and here are 200 to 249 men that follow suit during that week and he said the most often that you could possibly inspect would be once a week. He said we also know statistically that by putting a girl out on a street because of the difficulty of soliciting and getting to a place and getting back out on the street again, they only handle about 9 customers. Now, he said, the first thing that’s done when they’re picked up is inspection. So every 10 days she averages inspection –and there’s only been 90 customers in between. Now, you stop to think of the public health situation of this. You have to, then, take on certain regulatory chores if you’re going to have this.

Reagan lays out in vivid detail a crucial difference between libertarians and conservatives, and it is an area where he refuses to go along with the libertarian philosophy.  Reagan sees the very real personal impacts of social issues like gambling and prostitution.  He understands that these are not victimless crimes.  This enabled him to fight for victims, and oppose issues that were corrupting the core of society.

Like Reagan, I agree it is important to point out that in many respects, conservatives and libertarians are natural allies.  We have a lot of common ground in opposing the expansion of government on all levels.  On that front conservatives and libertarians should be working together.  However, it is incredibly naive to equate the two philosophies, and it rips Ronald Reagan out of context to claim him as a source for this idea.

To my libertarian friends, welcome to the party of Lincoln, Reagan, and, in Virginia, Cuccinelli.  If you want to join and become a part of it, we welcome you.  If you want to embrace a philosophy that bases rights in a transcendent moral order, conservatives love new blood.

Where Does Rand Paul Stand on the Life Issue?

March 22nd, 2013

Recently, Rand Paul said he was 100% pro-life, but believe in thousands of exceptions.  They were words which confused and worried many pro-lifers.  A statement like this by a leading presidential candidate is worth taking time to analyze.

In 2008 when Ron Paul ran for president, many conservatives had to examine libertarianism and what it meant.  One thing that became very clear is that libertarianism is built on a very different philosophical foundation.

One of the greatest advances in political theory of the era of America’s founding was the idea that our rights come from God.  In essence laws and rights are moral, and find their basis in a transcendent moral order.  Thomas Jefferson made this abundantly clear in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

This is a concept that Ken Cuccinelli eloquently articulated last week at CPAC.  After citing the same portion of the Declaration of Independence, he stated.

Why are government’s instituted? To secure the rights that God has bestowed on us. No more. No less.

This concept is at the heart of conservatism.  Conservatives throughout history have believed in the importance of a transcendent moral order.  Recently that has been articulated by thinkers like Edmund Burke, T.S. Eliot, Richard Weaver, and Russell Kirk.

Traditionally libertarianism has rejected this idea.  Libertarianism is built on the premise that you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm someone else.  Nowhere was this more clearly seen than in the Supreme Court’s 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas which dealt with homosexuality.  Here the libertarian think tank Cato teamed up with other organizations to get the Supreme Court to throw out state laws regarding homosexuality, and overturn the recent Supreme Court decision, Bowers v. Hardwick.

While criminalizing homosexuality is probably a bit outdated, the reasoning Cato encouraged the Supreme Court to use to reverse itself was horrendous.  “Morality is not a basis for law.”

As Scalia pointed out in his dissent, this reasoning throws the door open to legalizing a number of other sexual practices that are currently banned.

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.

I would also add that the reasoning in Texas v. Lawrence also established the basis for the effort to legalize pedophilia, or as some would say, “destigmatize adult-child love.”

While I hope libertarian thought can develop to somehow include a strong defense for traditional values, it is this history that makes conservatives very suspicious of libertarians on social issues.

“Willie, why bring up political theory and court cases in an article about Rand Paul’s stance on the life issue?”  Because it is important to understand the foundations of the two philosophies, particularly when discussing an area of politics where they can lead to very different conclusions.

For Ron Paul, his belief in the importance of a limited government and state’s rights were trumped when it came to the issue of life.  He claimed he was pro-life, but believed it was an issue that should be left to the states.  This is despite the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution states “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The amendment ends by giving congress power to enforce the amendment through appropriate legislation.  One would think this would give a constitutional pro-lifer the clear ability to push the federal government to protect the unborn.  For many pro-lifers, this is the constitutional basis, however, it is one Ron Paul rejects.

Rand Paul has been much more outspokenly pro-life than his father.  He spoke at the March for Life, gave an impressive speech at the Values Voters Summit, and recently introduced the Life at Conception Act.

It was when introducing this act, that he gave some very confusing statements about abortion.  The interview is below, and the full article is entitled “Rand Paul Isn’t 100% Pro-Life Anymore,” which traces Rand Paul’s pro-life record.

Yes this was my FB profile picture for over two weeks.

While I applaud Rand Paul’s efforts to protect life, this interview is confusing at best.  Statements about the existence of thousands of exceptions, the place of a family making a private decision, and even the possibility of early term abortions are alarming to conservatives who have been fighting for the right to life for years.  Maybe Rand Paul was just referring to thousands of situations where a woman’s health was in danger. Maybe…  It is a possibility, but one that makes little sense.  There have traditionally been three exceptions talked about for abortion: rape, incest, and life of the mother.  The idea of thousands of “exceptions” is ridiculous because few people could name one hundred possible exceptions.  The idea of thousands of “situations” only makes sense if Rand Paul believes in a “health of the mother” exception that is so big you could drive a train through.  If he believes in a “life of the mother” exception, there are really only a few “situations” where a mother’s life is at risk which may result in a few thousand cases a year.

I have a lot of appreciation for Rand Paul.  I think he has pushed the party in a much more liberty minded direction.  He is also clearly willing to fight aggressively for what he believes in.  Unlike his father, he is much saner, and is a bridge builder.  In a lot of respects, we need someone like that in the White House.

However, Rand Paul has a lot of work to do to woo cynical pro-lifers, and this hurt him.  In 2008 in Virginia, pro-lifers lead the way in almost defeating Jim Gilmore in the U.S. Senate nomination contest because he wasn’t ideologically pure on the life issue.  We will not embrace someone we aren’t sure about.  Pro-lifers have been burned by politicians time and again, and need a politician to prove himself before they will embrace him.

In light of these comments, I would like to see Rand Paul be very explicit about where he stands on the life question.  As someone new to the pro-life movement he needs to prove himself.  Does he believe in a “health of the mother” exception, “life of the mother” exception, or any other exception?  What about early abortions should be private between a patient and doctor?  Rand Paul also has a clear grasp for constitutional law as he demonstrated during his filibuster.  Another important question is does he agree with Justice Stevens dissent in Bowers v Hardwick which was cited by the majority in Lawrence v. Texas to rule out morality as a basis for laws?

One way Rand Paul could establish his pro-life views is by having an in-person in-depth interview with prolife stalwarts like the leaders of Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony’s List, Tony Perkins, Penny Nance, Wendy Wright, and Mike Farris, and let them ask him hard questions.  If he wants to be a pro-life leader he needs to learn to think and talk like a pro-life leader.  Sitting down with people who have been in the fight for decades would help him understand the issue, learn to communicate about it better, and enable them to see where he really stands on the issue.

It will be interesting to see what Rand Paul continues to say and do about the pro-life issue in the coming years.  Like I said, I have a lot of respect for him.  I’ve been impressed, and in some respects he may be the type of bold fighter we need.  However, his recent comments are definitely concerning, and I need to see him do more than just explain them away.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia