November 01, 2006


Social Policy: liberal vs conservative vs libertarian part deux...

From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 23, 2006 11:01:38 AM

What a great topic!

I’d define today’s “social libertarian” as someone who defends the right of the individual to pursue whatever lifestyle they may choose, between consenting adults, from interference from the state no matter the cost.

This is completely opposite from the proclaimed “social liberal,” who is someone who wishes to disrupt the status quo to “right the wrongs” of today’s society to the point that the status quo is completely opposed.

The easiest issue to differentiate the two in my opinion is same sex marriage:

A “social libertarian” will argue that the state should get out of the marriage business; that all are free to choose their relationships; or when benefits are extended to one form of relationship, they should be extended to all. The easiest way to figure this one out is to ask if they believe marriage benefits should be extended not only to same-sex couples but also to conceptual polygamous couples.

A “social liberal,” on the other hand, will disagree with today’s definition of marriage, but only to argue that the status quo is wrong and that this wrong should be fixed to the point that it is no longer the status quo. In this case, by changing the traditional definition of marriage to include same sex couples. This, of course, will lead to “future wrongs” to fix, keeping the social liberals in business.

BTW: I’d go with “social conservative” for maintaining the “traditional” Judeo-Christian status quo, (or whatever the status quo is for other countries).

Harder yet is the “Blue Tory,” usually a social libertarian wannabe, but one who still sees the status quo as useful (or fears going to hell), and thus either aims for total freedom, or the status quo, but usually not the social liberal half-measure. At all times, however, they block all efforts for the State to actively attack the status quo. Nine times out of ten you can tell who they are by how they hate social issues and wish someone would move the topic on to something involving free-market economics, or taking out the communists/terrorists with A-10s and the like.


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 12:05:33 PM

"Granting minority rights that do not serve the best interests of society as a whole is a slippery slope."

I have a few problems with this claim.

1) I have written at length about the slippery-slope argument being a bad one before, as it can always just be turned the other way. Picture not a skier on a ski hill, where her point on the hill represents society's place in the range of options on an issue, but instead a lever and the placement of the fulcrum representing where society is on any issue. Place an object on the lever right above the fulcrum. The pressure of either side will make it slide down the slope of the lever. Consider: "granting SSM will lead to granting polygamous marriages" vs. "removing SSM will lead to removing interracial marriages."

2) How do any minority rights serve the best interest of society, if society is defined as the majority of the entire population, as I assume you mean the Canadian society? More people would be better off if society collectively screwed over any group that represents a small percentage. You and I, and most of this list, would have more money if all with last names starting with 'Y' or 'Z' were double taxed, and everyone else was given a tax cut so that the tax revenue would remain the same. So, how do we define the "best interests" of society? Remember, democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to eat for dinner. We do need to look out for minority rights.


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 11:56:44 AM

While I am thoroughly tired of the marriage definiton issue and find it to be the perfect distraction and fuel for the opposition, and while I would much rather be discussing taxes, and finances, and federalism, and foriegn policy, I will say this:

I sympathize with the more thoughtful opponents of the same-sex marriage. I don't mean McVety and that tribe. They almost never fail to do more to harm their cause than help. I mean guys like Ted Morton.

Ted made some excellent observations about how laws, privileges, and societal expectations concerning marriage have developed over time. He made a case that appealed to people who may not have cared one way or another about the current debate, but who care very much about deliberative and real democracy.

In doing so, folks like Ted did succeed, in my opinion on some fronts:

1. They showed, very clearly and intelligently, that the courts/Charter approach to achieveing the objectives of same-sex maarriage would have serious effects that would be not necessarily desirable - for most gay couples in the long term, and for those Canadians whose soft support for the re-definition of marriage pushed the cause over the finish line in places like the Grit party.

2. They established that the greater source of legitimacy or validation, if that was or should have ever been even a primary objective of anyone here, was Parliament and the democratic processes and institutions, and not the courts. (This is why I think Harper's approach on this issue was fairer and more respectful of all lobbies on all sides of the issue than Chretien's, Martin's, McDonnough's, or Layton's).

3. They tried to remind folks that there was a purpose behind the state's involvement in marriage that went beyond simplistic worship of couplehood, or arbitrary awarding of "shower gifts" by the state.

On #3, people still don't get it... We've decided we don't want to take the purposeful approach to any of this. We just wanna have "stuff" forked over to couples because, well, they're couples...

Cases will now more frequently arrive on the courts' doorsteps questioning what's so special about couples too... And there will come a point where Canada's supposedly enlightened political orthodoxy will include discussions of things like polygamy, because we greased the legal slopes ourselves.

Because of our allergy to policy discussions, our lack of respect for democratic institutions, our misunderstanding of the nature of the Charter, our Bambi-like view of the Charter, and our disinterest in legislative history, the tools that will allow the relatively new political creature - the gay or lesbian family that wished to preserve the "couplehood" level of marriage the new defenders of the family, and potential (if strange) allies of the McVetys on battles such as anti-polygamy - are all but gone.

The only likely solution left to the social conservative, the democratic conservative, and the self-labelled pro-same-sex marriage-anti-further-re-definition-of-marriage conservative is to end any mention of marriage in legislation.

The other remotely possible alternative is a full-on restructuring of the stuff that got us here. Reassess the charter; reassess the structure of our governments and courts; maybe even reassess whether we need to allow for differences to evolve, in different ways among different provinces; then study marriage in as full a manner possible, before even beginning the discussion of how it can/should be defined by the state. Any such discussion should have some ground rules. No name calling. No pre-assumption of inherent rights to a name even if society and convention have different definitions for that name/word. No automatic assumption that religious views somehow trump the rest. Those are things that shape who the zealots are on each side of this issue. The more useful discussion for the silent majority would be one based on meeting the practical needs of society in this federation.

2nd option is near-impossible and hated probably by everyone. Then again, so is the first option... but abolishing reference to marriage by the state is probably ever-so-slightly easier... and at this stage, I'm just too damn tired, and whipped, and vilified, to try anything outside that easier option.

Now back to the good stuff - reducing government, taxes, finances, economics, federalism...


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 12:42:16 PM

Prefacing all this with an acknowledgement that there are no absolutes that work in discussions of rights or deliberative democracy, here we go...

--- In, [name withheld] wrote:

>> "Granting minority rights that do not serve the best interests of society as a whole is a slippery slope." I have a few problems with this claim.

>> Consider: "granting SSM will lead to granting polygamous marriages" vs. "removing SSM will lead to removing interracial marriages."

The greatest guardian against such a thing is actually the same guardian it has been since reforms away from such backwardness began - the Canadian population.

Minority rights get enforced, written down, interpreted, and codified because people believe in them. There's a reason why there are countries with as good or better a record of equality and civil rights without ever entrenching a charter. They understand that not every distinction drawn equals real discrimination; they also understand that they can best safeguard principles of equality by engaging in discussions on it in the context of the legislature instead of the court.

If most of society doesn't support the concepts of rights, its courts will hardly enjoy any confidence or, in short order, any authority to do anything much differently...


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 3:09:12 PM

Sometimes we do not advocate for what we really want.

Voters, for instance, vote for their second-best option for strategic reasons. My favourite option (Libertarian) is not an option that will win. I therefore vote Conservative, not because I really want Conservatives, but because they are closer than the rest to the Libertarian, and they have a chance of winning, and my vote will have a greater impact this way. The Libertarian is the best possible option, but there are good things about the Conservative. Those good things are things that overlap with the libertarian position.

So, too, with the social libertarian. The social libertarian wants the government out of the marriage business. This is what they will advocate for if it is a realistic choice. But it is not. They may decide to pursue the second-best option for strategic reasons. Many libertarians, myself included, think that marrying a person who happens to be of the same sex is one way of living out your personal vision of the good life. If getting the government out of the marriage business is not realistic, then the second-best option is to ensure that gays and lesbians can get married. (I once read the following quote: "Homosexuals should have just as much a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.")

Many libertarians believe that we should be neutral on the good life (this is what used to be the defining feature of the liberal, but that label no longer means what it used to). Many libertarians, myself *not* included, believe that we should be neutral because we have no way of knowing what makes a good life, and what does not.

This is the in-principle defence of neutrality. There is also an instrumental defence of neutrality.

It runs like this. There is one good life (or a list of good lives), and many bad lives. The good life is spent in Christ, following the Bible, and having a personal relationship with Jesus. But this relationship must be chosen, it cannot be foisted on anyone, and it cannot be incentivized. If I do what the Bible teaches because otherwise I will rot in a jail cell, I am not choosing to follow Christ: in no way can my behaviour be described as following the teachings of Christ. Thus while, personally, we should not be neutral on the good life, the requirement that people choose the right good life means that, politically, our policies have to be neutral about the good life.

At any rate, you can support libertarian policies even if you do not support the in-principle grounds for libertarian policies. You can pick them because they are the second-best realizable option.


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: Tuesday, October 24, 2006 2:31 PM

At the beginning of the social liberal/libertarian debate I agreed with [name withheld] that there is no difference. While I'd still like to call myself a Classical Liberal (in the economic and social sense) I think this defintion might serve as a guide for the SoCon Squadron:

(Social) Liberals want the government to be your Mommy. (Social) Conservatives want government to be your Daddy. Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult.


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 26, 2006 7:56:12 AM

The problem with calling marriage a "basic human right" is that it's not. Marriage is, as far as I can tell, (I could be missing something) three things:

Marriage is:
The first definition is arbitrarily set by the religion. If you don't agree with what the religion thinks, then I strongly advise you to follow a different one. Religion is all about traditions and laws that followers believe are divinely set, and these rules shouldn't have to be changed to make anyone's life easier - we're free to believe or not believe what we choose, and so are religious groups.

The second definition is, far as I can tell, as close as marriage gets to being a government-granted right (although I would argue that it's actually a right that the government just shouldn't interfere with) - property rights. The government should let anyone divvy up their property and benefits however they like... but the right to decide what to do with the fruits of your labour does not necessitate the label of "marriage." (This definition would, I suppose, also have to include benefits that the government gives married couples... this isn't a right by any stretch of the imagination, but in the same way, I don't see why the extension of these benefits needs to be because of "marriage" and not because of some other label.)

As far as the last label goes, anyone can call themselves married if they believe that they are. If you can get someone to perform a ceremony or you make the decision to stay in a relationship for the rest of your life then sure, go nuts, say you're married. I guess the problem on this one comes when you try to force everyone else to accept your label, because you can't. Supporters of the traditional definition will always consider marriage to be the exclusive union of a man and a woman, and regardless of what laws you pass, you're not going to change their mind.

In the same vein, though, if SSM had never been passed, nothing would stop a gay couple from saying that they were married - it's likely that the same people who accept it now would've accepted their label before, and the people who didn't before, wouldn't now. The biggest difference would be that they wouldn't be legally entitled to the second definition unless their union was also recognized by the government... but, like I said, that doesn't necessitate the label of "marriage."


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 27, 2006 8:48:21 AM

I would also tie the law into promoting an environment which promotes men/women to take responsibility for their children; attach a blatantly obvious paper on how children living with their fathers statistically are less raised by their mother; children living with their mothers statistically are less raised by their father, and that keeping them together increases the odds of said child being taken care of. You may or may not wish to then extend that to social work theories which argue that parents impact opportunity.

This is far more humane and libertarian than any law which would force parents to take care of their children and leave the door open for cases like divorce and other social complexities (i.e. “well, at least we are promoting it”).

There is also precedence to the State taking a best “shot” - the anti-smoking campaign. One does not want to ban smoking but clearly can take a “best shot” and try to discourage it.

An even more important example is the foster care system which tries to put children into households as soon as possible when, alternatively, State-run orphanages could do the trick. Somehow society already values the contribution of parents versus that of the social worker; I don’t think it is that much of a stretch to argue that the state ALREADY recognizes a child’s connection to a father and a mother; I don’t see why it wouldn’t go farther in acknowledging a child’s connection to his or her own father and mother.

Of course social liberals would love to get rid of any hint of an acknowledgement of such a phenomena as it removes any argument for “the family” and by extension opens the door for State-run orphanages.


From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 26, 2006 10:58:40 AM

Even if God is the fount of our rights, this does not avoid the problem of interpretation. We still need to interpret what it says in the Bible. There will be differences in interpretation. These differences will mean that some people have certain rights while others don't, because some places may interpret what it says in one way, and another way in another place.

Judges do the same. They do not think of themselves as taking and giving rights, they think of themselves as interpreting what was kind of "there" anyways.

As for giving "terrorists" constitutional rights (in the U.S.), the conservative position (held by Sean Hannity, for instance) is unbelievably dumb. The Constitution's preamble begins with a claim about all people, everywhere. That we are all created equal, and that we have certain inalienable rights. That the government of the U.S. was established to uphold those rights. This means that whenever the U.S. government has dealings with *anyone*, it must abide by the constitution. Terrorists included. You do not "give" them constitutional rights, the preamble says they had them already. The Constitution, however, binds the U.S. government, and not other governments.

I put "terrorists" in scare quotes because the argument assumes that we know that this is who we are dealing with. It assumes that we always get it right, that we only capture terrorists. But we might capture innocents in the process. This is why we should give them the same procedural rights others get. To weed out the guilty from the innocent.

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