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What Is (or Was) "Fusionism"?

With all of this talk about the demise of the conservative-libertarian "fusion," and the potential for "liberaltarianism," I thought it would be worthwhile saying a little bit about the origins and content of "fusionism."

In post-war American conservatism, the term "fusionism" is most closely associated with Frank S. Meyer, a conservative intellectual who was a senior editor at National Review, where he penned the column "Principles & Heresies." Meyer argued American conservatism was a distinct philosophy that blended a traditional conservative emphasis on value, virtue, and order, with a libertarian political outlook. Whereas some post-War conservatives argued that virtue was a necessary precondition for freedom, Meyer maintained that virtue required free choice. Wrote Meyer, "the belief in virtue as the end of men's being implicitly recognizes the necessity of freedom to choose that end." And:

acceptance of the moral authority derived from transcendent criteria of truth and good must be voluntary if it is to have meaning; if it is coerced by human force, it is meaningless.
And:
Freedom means freedom: not necessity, but choice; not responsibility but the choice betwen responsibility and irresponsibility; not duty but the choice between accepting and rejecting duty; not virtue, but the choice beween virtue and vice.
Meyer was no "I'm okay, you're okay," relativistic libertarian - he endorsed traditional conservative notions of virtue and morality - but he nonetheless desired a minimal state in which individual freedom had the widest range of potential expression.

Meyer's philospohy, dubbed "fusionism" by Brent Bozell, was outlined in his best-known book In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo (available from Liberty Fund in this collection of Meyer's writings edited by William C. Dennis). The aim of the book, in Meyer's words, was "to vindiciate the freedom of the person as the central and primary end of political society." Yet Meyer saw his work as both prescriptive and descriptive, and believed "fusionism" was a distillation of a unique American variant of conservatism that embraced America's founding on classical liberal ideals.

Here for the first time a polity was established based upon the freedom of the person as its end and upon firm limitation of the powers of hte state as the means to achieve that end.
Meyer believed American conservatism was based upon seven principles:
  • "the existence of an objective moral order based on ontological foundations;
  • the primary reference for political thought and action is the individual, not the collective";
  • anti-utopianism;
  • the limitation of government power;
  • opposition to state control of the economy;
  • "firm suppord for the Constitution of the United States as originally conceived";
  • anti-communism.
Meyer, a former Communist himself, wrote at the height of the Cold War. No doubt that influenced his thinking, and may have some bearing on whether his fusionism remains a relevant political philosophy today. But before anyone writes fusionism's obituary, it is worth exploring what was meant by the term.

Joel B. (mail):
Libertarianism depends on conservatism to exist. Now many libertarians disagree, but the fact of the matter is libertarianism is only acceptable to a significant proportion of the population when the social mores are conservative. If society loses the foundation of conservative social mores, then libertarianism as a position wanes, for trusting people with that freedom becomes so great a risk, so great a danger that society slides into authoritarianism.

This is and was why libertarians need conservatives. Conservatives do the dirty work of keeping a free society responsible. There is little doubt that a society that abrogates its responsibilities, will be necessity ultimately become less free.
12.8.2006 9:34am
Chumund:
Joel B.,

How are you defining "conservative social mores"?
12.8.2006 9:53am
Joel B. (mail):
A protestant work ethic coupled with at least an implicit understanding that certain behaviors are socially disapproved of, even if they may be generally ignored. Such as most forms of sexual immorality and addiction to addictive substances and vices.

That is, adultery etc. may occur, but as a society we view it as a great evil and recognize it through say divorce laws that do assess fault with regards to adultery. At the same time, we don't incarcerate, but may fine people for this behavior (even if the fine is never enforced.)
12.8.2006 10:04am
Automatic Caution Door:
On the topic of definitions: What is different about what we today call "libertarianism" and the prevailing philosophy of 1789 America?

I have largely thought of them as the same thing, but I get the impression that many others, including modern libertarians, do not. For instance, a commonly bandied notion is "Libertarianism will never get much of a foothold in American politics." If people generally perceived libertarianism as I do, wouldn't this idea be more accurately expressed as "Libertarianism will never AGAIN get much of a foothold in American politics"?
12.8.2006 10:06am
Virginia:
Either you have strong families, or you have a gigantic welfare state. Unmarried women (esp. unmarried mothers) look to the state as provider and protector. Married men, by contrast, resent having to pay taxes to support other people's illegitimate kids.

This doesn't mean that the state has to regulate people's sex lives via the criminal law, but it does mean that there have to be social incentives to get married and stay married.
12.8.2006 10:19am
Chumund:
Joel B.,

It seems to me then that your crucial premise is that many people will perceive a society without those particular sex and drug mores as being at exceptional risk. And I think a lot of libertarians would not think there is anything particularly obvious about that. Indeed, it might strike them that only people who had "conservative" views on sex and drugs would perceive the widespread lack of such views as putting society at extreme risk, so they could imagine such people disappearing entirely without libertarianism being undermined.

I should note, by the way, that I agree with you in part: I do think the vitality of libertarianism depends in part on the idea that people can internalize various cooperative norms necessary for civil society, such that people can be largely self-regulating. I'm just not sure if the particular sex and drug norms you might have in mind are actually on the list of norms necessary for civil society. Indeed, more obvious candidates would be norms that are anti-violence, anti-stealing, anti-lying, anti-cheating, and so on (note that anti-adultery norms could fall into this category without having an anti-sex component).
12.8.2006 10:20am
M (mail):
"Meyer was no "I'm okay, you're okay," relativistic libertarian - he endorsed traditional conservative notions of virtue and morality" and racial segregation and subordination for the blacks that he thought were obviously inferior. Have you read old National Reviews?

"he nonetheless desired a minimal state in which individual freedom had the widest range of potential expression."
Unless you weren't white, in which case he thought you should shut the hell up and go live in your own part of town and stop trying to go to the same schools and live in the same places as whites. I really don't see why anyone should want to touch the old (I'll just ignore the new) National Review with a 10-foot pole, it's so covered in vile racism.
12.8.2006 10:29am
juris_imprudent (mail):
Chumund,

I do think the vitality of libertarianism depends in part on the idea that people can internalize various cooperative norms necessary for civil society, such that people can be largely self-regulating.

Not just the vitality of libertarianism, but the vitality of society as a whole. Quick thought experiment: do you stop at stop signs only (or even primarily) due to the penalty attached with failing to do so (particularly knowing that the penalty has a fairly low chance of being imposed on any given transgression)? That is the necessary internalization, and the vast majority of us are demonstrably capable of this. The "conservative" "moral" issue is about behaviors they disapprove of but are otherwise powerless (absent state agents) to control. Modern liberals/progressives are the flip side of the conservative moral coin.
12.8.2006 10:43am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Now many libertarians disagree, but the fact of the matter is libertarianism is only acceptable to a significant proportion of the population when the social mores are conservative.

Incorrect. Libertarianism would still be around with a "liberal" social mores regime - we'd just be fighting different things. Actually, we'd be fighting a lot of the same things, because they would just look to expand the nanny-state.

If society loses the foundation of conservative social mores, then libertarianism as a position wanes, for trusting people with that freedom becomes so great a risk, so great a danger that society slides into authoritarianism.

From what I can see the threat of rights-encroaching authoritarianism is just as likely from the conservative right as from the left. And since when is trusting people with freedom a "risk"? That's the thrust of libertarianism - that governments shouldn't be trusted with making decisions of whether or not they can "trust" their citizens with freedoms. The government is supposed to be the preserver of freedoms, it doesn't pompously grant them. The government serves at our pleasure, not the other way around.

This is and was why libertarians need conservatives. Conservatives do the dirty work of keeping a free society responsible. There is little doubt that a society that abrogates its responsibilities, will be necessity ultimately become less free.

Incorrect. What makes you think libertarians wouldn't enforce the important laws and maintain the necessary infrastructure? The true "dirty work".

A protestant work ethic coupled with at least an implicit understanding that certain behaviors are socially disapproved of, even if they may be generally ignored. Such as most forms of sexual immorality and addiction to addictive substances and vices.

Well to a large extent the protestant work ethic has been coupled with the immigrant work ethic and is basically now a feature of American culture. And how are you defining "sexual immorality" - sex outside marriage? For the most part most adults don't have a problem with it, or at least realize that other people's personal lives are none of their business.

As far as "addiction" is concerned, I don't see much of a difference with the libertarian viewpoint and that of the average person, other than a libertarian is less likely to force their opinions on others.

That is, adultery etc. may occur, but as a society we view it as a great evil and recognize it through say divorce laws that do assess fault with regards to adultery. At the same time, we don't incarcerate, but may fine people for this behavior (even if the fine is never enforced.)

So in your opinion adultery should be a crime? And in what jurisdictions are their fines for it? And how is it a "great evil"? I realize it is dishonest, etc. and I certainly don't tolerate girlfriends cheating (never been married) but "evil"? The only way I can see it being evil is that the divorce laws are criminally biased against men, so that if a wife cheats on her husband he gets punished twice over for her betrayal. But that can be solved with a pre-nup providing it is enforceable.
12.8.2006 10:44am
Chumund:
juris-imprudent,

Absolutely. The society that would have to exist if people were substantially less self-regulating would be an authoritarian police state (e.g., perhaps there would be a camera on every stop sign, and quick public executions with limited due process for violators).

And that was why I wanted Joel B. to define "conservative social mores". In a broad sense, we do need our citizens to voluntary obey things like stop signs, as well as metaphorical "stop signs" like "stop before resorting to violence to resolve disputes". But as noted above, I think it is far less obvious that we need the metaphorical "stop signs" some "conservatives" have placed on things like gay sex and marijuana use.
12.8.2006 11:03am
asdfjkl; (mail):
I thought this post was going to be about 'fusionism' as in 'fusion candidates'. This was a popular means of building third-parties in the early century when candidates could be on the ballot for more than one party. (Total votes would then be aggregated at the end.)

In other words, a vote for a third-party candidate was not a 'wasted' vote.

You can see why shutting this down was important for the dominant two parties, and the (conservative!) Supreme Court lt them do just that in Clingman v. Beaver.

A huge help to Dem-Libertarian fusion would be state repeal of anti-fusion laws.

M:

I really don't see why anyone should want to touch the old (I'll just ignore the new) National Review with a 10-foot pole, it's so covered in vile racism.

For Pete's sake, stop with the AH attack. Was it racist? Sure. Wasn't most everyone else? Didn't Thomas Jefferson write "all men are created equal" while being served dinner by his slaves?

Can't we just accept or reject the idea on its own merit? OK, racism wasn't accounted for by the idea. So add anti-racism in and see if it's still a good idea.


PS. Isn't Clingman v. Beaver a great case name?

PPS. There's another big conservative/libertarian clash for you. The (generally) conservative view that having two and only two strong parties is best vs. the libertarian view that a menu of choice is better.
12.8.2006 11:30am
Jeek:
Libertarianism would still be around with a "liberal" social mores regime - we'd just be fighting different things.

It would? Libertarianism in the American sense essentially does not exist in Europe, which is the archetypal "liberal" social mores regime that the American Left idealizes.
12.8.2006 11:36am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

On the topic of definitions: What is different about what we today call "libertarianism" and the prevailing philosophy of 1789 America?
Let's see: strong laws regulating sexual morality (sodomy was a felony, and often capital); individuals were obligated to provide service to the community in such ways as militia duty, "wards and watches" (community policing in which every man took part) and fire watch; governmental provision of financial support for the poor and mentally ill (either in almshouses or farmed out to individuals); laws limiting office holding to Christians (and in some states, just to Protestants); in a number of states, formal establishments of religion; laws requiring church attendance.

Shall I go on?
12.8.2006 11:38am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

From what I can see the threat of rights-encroaching authoritarianism is just as likely from the conservative right as from the left. And since when is trusting people with freedom a "risk"?
When they do incredibly dumb things because they lack self-discipline--like sex with random strangers, or sharing dirty needles, and turn an obscure, not even recognized disease like AIDS into a major public health problem.
12.8.2006 11:41am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The society that would have to exist if people were substantially less self-regulating would be an authoritarian police state (e.g., perhaps there would be a camera on every stop sign, and quick public executions with limited due process for violators).
Unfortunately, people that refuse to discipline themselves often create so much social disorder that authoritarianism (or worse) is an inevitable result. Why is restrictive gun control the norm in cities with large black populations, and sparse elsewhere? Partly because black urban populations in the U.S. have a large social disorder problem, that expresses itself in high rates of violent crime.

Why did San Francisco shut down the bathhouses? Because large numbers of gay men lacked the sense to not engage in unsafe sex with complete strangers, and they were spreading AIDS.
12.8.2006 11:44am
Virginia:
I really don't see why anyone should want to touch the old (I'll just ignore the new) National Review with a 10-foot pole, it's so covered in vile racism.

Genuinely curious, as I wasn't around to read the old National Review: what is the evidence for this? I know the magazine opposed some of the '60s civil rights legislation on essentially libertarian grounds (none of the gov't business whom private individuals hire or rent to). Perhaps they opposed Brown v. Board on originalist grounds too? Did the magazine ever endorse segregation as a matter of principle (as opposed to criticizing certain civil rights initiatives on constitutional or libertarian grounds)?
12.8.2006 11:46am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

So in your opinion adultery should be a crime? And in what jurisdictions are their fines for it?
Idaho Code sec. 18-6601.


A married man who has sexual intercourse with a woman
not his wife, an unmarried man who has sexual intercourse with a married woman, a married woman who has sexual intercourse with a man not her husband, and an unmarried woman who has sexual intercourse with a married man, shall be guilty of adultery, and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than three months, or by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for a period not exceeding three years,
or in the county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by fine not exceeding $1000.



And how is it a "great evil"?

Because it brings about divorce and broken families. Kids growing up in divorced homes are tremendously more damaged because of it. I'm not saying that abolishing divorce would make everything wonderful, but divorce, especially once there are kids involved, is tremendously destructive to the individuals, and consequently, to the society.
12.8.2006 11:48am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
It would? Libertarianism in the American sense essentially does not exist in Europe, which is the archetypal "liberal" social mores regime that the American Left idealizes.

I haven't done a survey of European countries, but I have been told that there are a fair amount of classically liberal (i.e. close to American libertarian) parties over there. And I know New Zealand has an active libertarian party or organization and they are pretty close to the archetypal "liberal" social mores regime.
12.8.2006 11:50am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

When they do incredibly dumb things because they lack self-discipline--like sex with random strangers, or sharing dirty needles, and turn an obscure, not even recognized disease like AIDS into a major public health problem.

All those things have been around since the dawn of time, including deadly venereal diseases at various times. You can make excuses to infringe on liberty for dozens of reasons, that doesn't make it right, or the government's business. And in many cases government action will not stop it, but in some cases make it worse.
12.8.2006 11:57am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

That's the thrust of libertarianism - that governments shouldn't be trusted with making decisions of whether or not they can "trust" their citizens with freedoms.
This is an astonishingly confused statement.

Libertarianism is based on the premise that democratic majorities should not make laws that regulate what individuals may do unless those actions are directly coercive or fraudulent.

This is a fine theory, and when I was young and naive, I found it very attractive. In practice, there are all sorts of actions that individuals take that are not coercive or fraudulent, and yet still degrade the quality of life for the society as a whole. A city awash in homeless mentally ill people begging on street corners, urinating in the streets, screaming loudly at people that aren't there. Public libraries filled with people muttering to themselves, urinating in the corners, exposing themselves--again, nothing coercive or fraudulent going on there, but it sure cheapens the quality of life not only for everyone else, but for the "beneficiaries" of these wonderful theories.

A libertarian would say, "It's not the government's job to help these people back to mental health. It's not the government's job to prevent them from freezing death on a cold winter's night. It's not the government's job to tell them not to pee in the corner of the library." This is where your beautiful theories lead you, and part of why I am not a libertarian anymore.

Libertarianism is a beautiful theory for well-educated adults who are making thoughtful, long-term plans. But guess what? Most people don't fit into that neat little box. It used to be said that at a Santa Clara County Libertarian Party meeting, the only question that you needed to ask about someone's profession was, "Hardware or software?" Libertarianism is fine for smart people; it doesn't work so well for the other 98% of the population.
12.8.2006 12:01pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
M -

While many conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s have much to answer for, I think you are too hard on Meyer. Specifically, I think you grossly misrepresent Meyer's views when you suggest that he shared the racist and segregationist sentiments that poisoned portions of the conservative movement at the time. To the contrary, as Kevin Smant's biography documents, Meyer pushed National Review in a more libertarian direction on all matters, including race.

Meyer, unlike some of his colleagues, was relatively quick to acknowledge the "profound wrongs" of segregation, and the "undoubted justice" of the fight to end Jim Crow. While critical of many federal civil rights efforts, he took pains to acknowledge the "innate value of every created human being" and was strongly critical of Southern segregationists and those who would "cloak racial segregation in the language of constitutionalism." Meyer was also fierce critic of George Wallace, and that Wallace was not an acceptable alternative to Nixon.

More broadly, even if Meyer had some views that are distasteful or objectionable (and I hardly agree with him on everything), that does not mean that his political philosophy is not worth consideration.

JHA
12.8.2006 12:05pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

Unfortunately, people that refuse to discipline themselves often create so much social disorder that authoritarianism (or worse) is an inevitable result. Why is restrictive gun control the norm in cities with large black populations, and sparse elsewhere? Partly because black urban populations in the U.S. have a large social disorder problem, that expresses itself in high rates of violent crime.

No, the reason for the gun control in those areas is the predominately Democratic politicians foolishly thinking they could solve a problem with illegal guns by taking legal guns from law-abiding owners. It's emotional manipulation by the gun control lobby.
12.8.2006 12:05pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

Because it brings about divorce and broken families. Kids growing up in divorced homes are tremendously more damaged because of it. I'm not saying that abolishing divorce would make everything wonderful, but divorce, especially once there are kids involved, is tremendously destructive to the individuals, and consequently, to the society.

That's people. Forcing miserable people to live together isn't a very smart thing to do either.
12.8.2006 12:10pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

No, the reason for the gun control in those areas is the predominately Democratic politicians foolishly thinking they could solve a problem with illegal guns by taking legal guns from law-abiding owners. It's emotional manipulation by the gun control lobby.
I wish it was that simple. People that put their kids to bed in bathtubs—because bathtubs stop bullets from drive-bys—people that see friends and relatives getting killed in senseless acts of violence over trivial insults—demand that something be done. Gun control is not effective, but it doesn't cost taxpayers anything, and they can pretend that they are doing something. The alternative is to confront the problem of social disorder, and that's a hopeless task to fix in any politician's term of office.

This isn't the first time that weapons regulation has been the wrong solution to a real problem. My book Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform (Praeger, 1999) examines the somewhat parallel set of problems that plagued white backcounty Southern society in the period 1800-1840, and why Southern states took the lead in concealed weapon regulation.
12.8.2006 12:12pm
PersonFromPorlock:

I know the [National Review] opposed some of the '60s civil rights legislation on essentially libertarian grounds....Perhaps they opposed Brown v. Board on originalist grounds too?

Nothing wrong with opposing Brown; if it were a current issue, Senator Kennedy would oppose it on grounds of Stare Decisis.
12.8.2006 12:15pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

Libertarianism is fine for smart people; it doesn't work so well for the other 98% of the population.

I just wrote the last line of your voluminous post above.

The situations with the mentally ill that you mention in some cases involve crimes, so libertarianism would not exclude a solution to your "library horror scene". (Providing the people were actually mentally ill, not fraudulent diagnoses, swindles, etc.)

And no, libertarianism can work for large populations, even when a large portion of it is ignorant, etc.
12.8.2006 12:19pm
markm (mail):
"Because it [adultery] brings about divorce and broken families."

Does it? There have been historical periods when it was pretty near an established custom for married men to get a little on the side - and divorce was virtually unknown. Not that I want to go back to those customs, nor to making divorce so difficult that murder was an attractive alternative, but it's proof that adultery doesn't automatically break a marriage.
12.8.2006 12:22pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

That's people. Forcing miserable people to live together isn't a very smart thing to do either.
Agreed. That's why discouraging adultery is a good thing.

Now, no one thinks that making adultery illegal, or even making it civilly painful, is going to stop it. But all laws work at the margins. If 10% or 15% of the population thinks about the consequences of their actions, and decides to not do something, the law has worked.

The expansion of concealed weapon permit issuance in the last 20 years has worked, not because every criminal is rational (most are not), but because it works at the margin. It would appear that about 5% of criminals are actually capable of rational evaluation of risks vs. benefits, and have decided that trying to rob or rape someone who might shoot back makes no sense.

There are a number of liberal programs that have played a major part in driving up divorce rates. No-fault divorce, by reducing the costs, has encouraged a lot of couples to split up the first time that the situation gets tough. The first few years of most marriages involve a bit of adjustment and learning to work together. Liberals didn't quite adopt the Muslim model, "I divorce you" said three times, but still, compare a 1960 divorce in effort and money to a 1990 divorce, and you can immediately see why some couples struggled for a few months, or a year, but stuck together, and worked through their problems.

The active encouragement of every mother to be working and EEO for sex had the effect of increasing the size of the labor pool--thus driving down individual wages. Where a guy could raise a family with some comfort on his salary, now it takes two wage earners to pay the bills--and the pressures on women to be both 50 hour a week worker AND full-time housewife have certainly played a role in destroying a lot of marriages that I have seen collapse.

Greed and selfishness seem to be a lot more common as well, and those don't work well to keep a marriage together. I don't think the government played a part in this, but liberalism's continual assault on traditional religious values--which teach selflessness and hostility to materialism--have probably caused some of this. And how could it be otherwise? Liberalism believes that religion is the opiate of the masses.
12.8.2006 12:23pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The situations with the mentally ill that you mention in some cases involve crimes, so libertarianism would not exclude a solution to your "library horror scene". (Providing the people were actually mentally ill, not fraudulent diagnoses, swindles, etc.)
You seem to have missed my point. Much of the degradation of urban life has not involved crime. Even the public urination matter--why would a libertarian call that a crime?

And no, libertarianism can work for large populations, even when a large portion of it is ignorant, etc
Explain how. Ignorant people don't see why they should put money aside for retirement. That's way, way out in the future--I mean, that's even beyond breakfast tomorrow!

Ignorant people don't see why they should use a condom when having sex with anonymous stranger 48 of the week. "I still feel fine!"

Ignorant people don't see why they should wear seat belts. "I'm not going to crash the car!"
12.8.2006 12:27pm
Michael Benson (mail) (www):
Meyer, a former Communist himself, wrote at the height of the Cold War. No doubt that influenced his thinking, and may have some bearing on whether his fusionism remains a relevant political philosophy today.

I think it's very difficult to underestimate the influence of anti-communism in the development of the right in the 50's and 60's. For both libertarians and traditional moralists communism was a serious threat, because of its commitment (at least as a theoretical matter) to atheism and (at least as a practical matter)strong state control of economics. In turn, I think the anti-communism helped define views of modern "progressive" or "liberal" politicians as both corrupting traditional morality and meddling in state intervention.

But in the last few years, I think that vision has seriously been undermined. Abroad, the US government considers itself to mainly be at war with a religious extremist groups that no longer combine godlessness with authoritarianism. Domestically Republicans don't seem terribly interested in decreasing the scope of government. Consequently, I think it's getting harder to view the major political battles as being defined in such a way that the libertarians and the traditional moralists are on the same side.

It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues, or if the Democrats do something curious like move away from some of their bread and butter social legislation in an attempt to pick up the small government folk.
12.8.2006 12:28pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Does it? There have been historical periods when it was pretty near an established custom for married men to get a little on the side - and divorce was virtually unknown.
Be more specific. It is certainly the case that in the upper classes, where marriages were primarily political acts, this was the norm. These were also times when women had effectively no rights.

Not that I want to go back to those customs, nor to making divorce so difficult that murder was an attractive alternative, but it's proof that adultery doesn't automatically break a marriage.
So at what point in American history has divorce been so difficult that murder was an attractive alternative? Divorce laws into the 1950s often required that one party commit adultery (the one circumstance that Jesus allowed for divorce), and so it was quite common to "arrange" for a private detective to take pictures through the blinds of supposed adultery taking place. This was really worse than the prospect of life in prison or execution?
12.8.2006 12:32pm
Virginia:
There have been historical periods when it was pretty near an established custom for married men to get a little on the side - and divorce was virtually unknown.

Only because women had few rights. Once women get more rights, either divorce goes up or adultery goes down.

To phrase it differently, there are two ways to reduce divorce and its attendant social ills: discourage adultery, or take away women's rights. I know which one I prefer.
12.8.2006 12:32pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Why did San Francisco shut down the bathhouses? Because large numbers of gay men lacked the sense to not engage in unsafe sex with complete strangers, and they were spreading AIDS.

There are many points I'd like to make (but I'm at work). However, I need to respond to this.

The reason that unsafe sex at the bathhouses went on for so long during the early AIDS crisis had less to do with the population being idiots and more to do with a coordinated campaign to spread the belief that AIDS was not a sexually transmitted disease.

Who would do such a thing? Who would want to see an epidemic spread among the gay population (where it is so much more easily transmitted)? Was it right wing evangelicals? Fascists? Who would do such a thing?

The left.

That source may not seem like the most reputable, but its all true. The party line was that it was anti-gay to say that AIDS was sexually transmitted or that it could spread faster among gay men.
12.8.2006 12:45pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Clingman v Beaver wasn't a fusion case, although it does reflect the Court's current thinking about the rights of third parties. Timmons v Twin Cites Area New Party is the landmark antifusion case. Psikhushka is my new word of the day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psikhushka. Clingman v. Beaver, 544 U.S. 581 (2005). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_fusion. In Stewart v Taylor (7th Cir. 1996) I lost a fusion case, after having been nominated the GOP and Libertarian parties for a local office.
Ron Paul is somebody who represents the sort of fusionism Meyer talks about. In my experience, there is little profit in trying to have a reasonable conversation with Clayton Cramer, particulary on a topic involving mores, gays, and libertarianism, although his 11:38 post about 1789 was accurate.
12.8.2006 12:47pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

That's why discouraging adultery is a good thing.

Or just not worrying about it, because there is little that can be done about it, and anything you do just wastes money and increases costs.

Greed and selfishness seem to be a lot more common as well, and those don't work well to keep a marriage together. I don't think the government played a part in this, but liberalism's continual assault on traditional religious values--which teach selflessness and hostility to materialism--have probably caused some of this. And how could it be otherwise? Liberalism believes that religion is the opiate of the masses.

Actually liberals preach selflessness and non-materialism with their collectivism and socialism. And some of them are pretty religious, so I don't think your characterization is accurate. They want to coerce the selflessness, but then again a lot of religious conservatives would like to coerce selflessness if they could get away with it.
12.8.2006 12:51pm
asdfjkl; (mail):
Oops! arbitraryaardvark is absolutely correct, I was thinking about Timmons.

My point remains the same. Timmons = bad.
12.8.2006 12:54pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Virginia-

Only because women had few rights. Once women get more rights, either divorce goes up or adultery goes down.

Or they both go up. Women feel more comfortable both committing adultery and initiating divorce.
12.8.2006 12:59pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The reason that unsafe sex at the bathhouses went on for so long during the early AIDS crisis had less to do with the population being idiots and more to do with a coordinated campaign to spread the belief that AIDS was not a sexually transmitted disease.
By the time San Francisco shut down the bathhouses, there was no serious question that AIDS was an STD--and there hadn't been for a couple of years.
12.8.2006 1:49pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Or just not worrying about it, because there is little that can be done about it, and anything you do just wastes money and increases costs.
One of the recurring fantasies of libertarianism is that laws don't make a difference. It is certainly true that laws are sometimes ineffective, or worse, counterproductive, because they encourage destructive behavior. Drug prohibition, for example, incentivizes both smuggling and extralegal methods of solving business disputes. Laws sometimes fail to make a difference between they are so infrequently enforced and the punishments are so low that there is little actual risk: for example, the national speed limit.

But laws do change behavior, if they are enforced with any regularity, and if the consequences are significant. Otherwise, liberals wouldn't have been so hot on overturning whatever laws they didn't like at the moment.

For this case: if a divorce came about because of adultery, and the adulterous member of the pair were subject to an additional $500 a month in spousal support because of it--do you think this might influence behavior? Not perfectly--but do you suppose it might cause at least a few men or women to pull back from an adulterous affair?


Actually liberals preach selflessness and non-materialism with their collectivism and socialism.
If they were non-materialists, they wouldn't be so interested in confiscating wealth from others. While they may preach selflessness, the disparity in charitable giving between liberals and conservatives suggests that preaching selflessness is a lot easier than doing it.
12.8.2006 2:00pm
liberty (mail) (www):
One of the recurring fantasies of libertarianism is that laws don't make a difference.

Where in the world do you get that idea?

Libertarians know full well that laws make a big difference in behavior. Thats why we are against many laws (such as price laws, antitrust laws, regulatory laws, laws against products which then create a black market for them, etc) and in favor of others (property laws, etc).
12.8.2006 2:09pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
@ markm:

> adultery doesn't automatically break a marriage

Actually, it does. But what you are describing isn't adultery.

Adultery is most productively viewed as "marital breach of contract". You make a deal with your wife when you marry her. That deal is primarily about the division of property, where sexual services are viewed as part of that property. Each member of the marriage should obtain from the other member those sexual services that satisfy them. Where such services are insufficient, they may be sought elsewhere, provided no significant amount of property is necessary to secure them.

Traditionally, this meant that a man could have a fling, because no property was exchanged. He could visit a prostitute, because minimal property was exchanged. But when he had a mistress, and provided for the support of that mistress, this was ONLY acceptable in the event that his wife was supported to her satisfaction.

Adultery is not about the sex you have. It's about the support you don't give. People today don't seem to understand that.
12.8.2006 2:17pm
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
"the existence of an objective moral order based on ontological foundations . . ."
This is the first political movement I've ever heard of that begins its manifesto with a thesis in metaethics. Non-cognitivists, quasi-realists, and error theorists need not apply.
12.8.2006 2:44pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
@ Automatic Caution Door:

> What is different about what we today
> call "libertarianism" and the prevailing
> philosophy of 1789 America?

Libertarianism is dangerously and deliberately vague, but portrays its vagueness as finality. From lp.org:

"Government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud."

Sounds great, right? I agree. But consider this: since individuals may be defrauded through confusing contracts, we should identify the acceptable uses of contracts. An entire body of contract law springs out of this motivation. Since the law is so complex, people specialise in it, and we call them lawyers. An individual who wants to defend himself against a fraudulent contract therefore need only contact one of these lawyers. The government has helped the individual defend himself.

Or has it? The massive complexity of contract law is far too much for the layman to grasp. Isn't he now forced to consult with the lawyer? And isn't portraying this force as "helpful" fraudulent in and of itself?

This is a massive and problematic question. In 1789, we resolved this by saying "government's power should be limited" without saying how. We recognised "an objective moral order" without specifying what it was. And while this, too, is vague - we never pretended otherwise. We did not at any time say "the answer is simple" because the answer is never simple. Whenever someone says "the answer is simple", you can bet good money that he doesn't understand the question.
12.8.2006 2:51pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


One of the recurring fantasies of libertarianism is that laws don't make a difference.



Where in the world do you get that idea?
From listening to far too many LP activists make the claim that laws that regulate morality don't influence behavior, usually in the form, "You can't legislate morality," and from the statement to which I was responding:

Or just not worrying about it, because there is little that can be done about it, and anything you do just wastes money and increases costs.
12.8.2006 3:00pm
byomtov (mail):
Genuinely curious, as I wasn't around to read the old National Review: what is the evidence for this? I know the magazine opposed some of the '60s civil rights legislation on essentially libertarian grounds (none of the gov't business whom private individuals hire or rent to). Perhaps they opposed Brown v. Board on originalist grounds too? Did the magazine ever endorse segregation as a matter of principle (as opposed to criticizing certain civil rights initiatives on constitutional or libertarian grounds)?

The magazine, and Buckley in particular, published a great deal of outright racist arguments for segregation. Consider only one example,

"The central question that emerges -- and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal -- is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes -- the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race."


Buckley, it should be noted, has since renounced these views.

Other conservatives, often hiding behind the shield of states' rights also supported segregation. Efforts to whitewash this history as being based on issues other than racism are unimpressive. One useful question to ask is whether any of those who are alleged to have been non-racist defenders of segregation ever agitated for the removal of Jim Crow laws by the state governments. I doubt there are many who would qualify.

One exceptional case is Goldwater, who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act on libertarian grounds. IIRC he had substantial credentials as a non-racist.
12.8.2006 3:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

In 1789, we resolved this by saying "government's power should be limited" without saying how.
Actually, that's not quite accurate. The Constitution was supposed to limit the federal government's power, and in Art. I, sec. 10 there are a few limits set on state power, and Art. I, sec. 8 implies that some powers are reserved to the federal government. For the most, the Constitution left the limits on state power to the state constitutions.
12.8.2006 3:04pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Actually, it does. But what you are describing isn't adultery.

Adultery is most productively viewed as "marital breach of contract". You make a deal with your wife when you marry her. That deal is primarily about the division of property


Does your wife know that this is how you understand your marriage?
12.8.2006 3:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


Actually, it does. But what you are describing isn't adultery.

Adultery is most productively viewed as "marital breach of contract". You make a deal with your wife when you marry her. That deal is primarily about the division of property



Does your wife know that this is how you understand your marriage?
One of the big conflicts in America today between libertarian and conservative views is that libertarians tend to see everything in economic terms. While there are conservatives who are not religious, for the most part, this is the dividing line--a belief that there's a deeper meaning and significance to life and public policy than simply the possession and division of property.
12.8.2006 6:36pm
Knemon (mail):
"What is different about what we today call "libertarianism" and the prevailing philosophy of 1789 America? "

Slavery?

Just for starters.
12.8.2006 7:10pm
Automatic Caution Door:
"What is different about what we today call "libertarianism" and the prevailing philosophy of 1789 America?"

Slavery?

Just for starters.



Slavery existed not because the founders didn't truly believe that "all men are created equal," that man has "certain inalienable rights," that man should be secured "the Blessings of Liberty," etc.; they indeed did truly believe these things, much as libertarianism does today.

Rather, slavery existed because slaves weren't considered "man," with all that follows from being such. It was a grievous flaw in the execution of policy, not an indictment of the philosophy itself.
12.8.2006 7:39pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Rather, slavery existed because slaves weren't considered "man," with all that follows from being such. It was a grievous flaw in the execution of policy, not an indictment of the philosophy itself.
Uh, no. Slaves were considered people, even by their owners. This created all sorts of interesting dilemmas for those trying to rationalize why slavery was okay, usually based on some sleight of hand such as this one with respect to free blacks in this 1820 Kentucky Supreme Court decision: "free persons of color are not parties to our social compact...." Although that decision at least did agree that a free black did enjoy at least some protections of the Kentucky Constitution's Bill of Rights.
12.8.2006 10:47pm
Knemon (mail):
"Rather, slavery existed because slaves weren't considered "man,"

By slaveowners. Some of them. (Not Jefferson).

Even in the 1780s, lots of Northerners realized that slaves were "man," but didn't press for abolition because it was impossible.

It was a political compromise necessary to get the thing off the ground, and (a war and Jim Crow and a few riots here and there aside) it worked.
12.9.2006 12:18am
Knemon (mail):
"I think it is far less obvious that we need the metaphorical "stop signs" some "conservatives" have placed on things like gay sex and marijuana use."

We'll leave the gay sex aside for the moment, but it's not just conservatives (with or without quotes) trying to keep me from my bong.

The War on Drugs is a bipartisan endeavor.
12.9.2006 12:21am
Knemon (mail):
"slaves weren't considered "man,"

Isn't that enough to contradict "what we today call 'libertarianism'?"

I see what you're saying, ACDoor, but you're trying to define this contradiction out of existence.
12.9.2006 12:22am
Knemon (mail):
"I know the magazine opposed some of the '60s civil rights legislation on essentially libertarian grounds"

Also gradualist grounds - that a change this big would take decades or generations to achieve, and that trying to accomplish it by federal fiat would lead to "rivers of blood."

Fortunately, they were wrong, because we were and are (in the main) better than that. Blacks, whites, southerners, northerners.

America. Copulation yeah.
12.9.2006 12:25am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Caliban-

If marriage is a contract partially for sexual services it is an exclusivity contract as well. Barring agreements or understandings to the contrary, getting those services somewhere else, at whatever price, is a violation of the contract.

It may have been the practice of males and others in earlier eras to generally ignore this, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a breach of contract.
12.9.2006 1:15am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Caliban-

Libertarianism is dangerously and deliberately vague, but portrays its vagueness as finality. From lp.org:

"Government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud."

Sounds great, right? I agree. But consider this: since individuals may be defrauded through confusing contracts, we should identify the acceptable uses of contracts. An entire body of contract law springs out of this motivation. Since the law is so complex, people specialise in it, and we call them lawyers. An individual who wants to defend himself against a fraudulent contract therefore need only contact one of these lawyers. The government has helped the individual defend himself.

Or has it? The massive complexity of contract law is far too much for the layman to grasp. Isn't he now forced to consult with the lawyer? And isn't portraying this force as "helpful" fraudulent in and of itself?


Incorrect. Providing a legal system or a private system of arbitration to settle trade, contract, and personal disputes is required by virtually any libertarian model. I don't know where you got the idea that libertarians were vague on this.
12.9.2006 1:22am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

One of the big conflicts in America today between libertarian and conservative views is that libertarians tend to see everything in economic terms. While there are conservatives who are not religious, for the most part, this is the dividing line--a belief that there's a deeper meaning and significance to life and public policy than simply the possession and division of property.

This is nonsense. Libertarians generally believe in a significant set of fundamental rights possessed by the individual that are inviolable. This belief can be based on religious principles, natural law or natural rights principles, or humanistic principles, but they are a huge part of libertarian philosophy.

I don't know where you got the idea that libertarians were amoral vessels monomaniacally focused on property, but its false nonetheless.
12.9.2006 1:29am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Knemon-

Isn't that enough to contradict "what we today call 'libertarianism'?"

I see what you're saying, ACDoor, but you're trying to define this contradiction out of existence.


Just because modern libertarians share a lot of views with the founding fathers doesn't mean modern libertarians don't disagree with their hypocrisy, inaction, and contradictions regarding slavery.

And of course modern libertarians view slavery as a totally unacceptable violation of human and civil rights. Anyone supporting slavery cannot consider themselves a libertarian in a modern sense. They are basically mutually exclusive.
12.9.2006 1:36am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Don't confuse the National Review's views with modern libertarianism. There is a conservative-libertarian schism and the National Review is firmly on the conservative side. And they've become rather "neoconservative" as well.

In fact its most accurate not to think of libertarians on the Left-Right axis at all. There is a second axis of Statism-Anti-statism and both sides of the modern Left-Right axis are firmly toward the "Statism" side of that axis.
12.9.2006 1:50am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

This is nonsense. Libertarians generally believe in a significant set of fundamental rights possessed by the individual that are inviolable. This belief can be based on religious principles, natural law or natural rights principles, or humanistic principles, but they are a huge part of libertarian philosophy.
There are religious libertarians, just as there are non-religious conservatives, but both are definitely exceptions.

I don't know where you got the idea that libertarians were amoral vessels monomaniacally focused on property, but its false nonetheless.
I didn't say "monomaniacally" nor did I say "amoral"--just non-religious. My experiences as an activist in the Libertarian Party are from where I get these ideas.
12.9.2006 9:17am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

We'll leave the gay sex aside for the moment, but it's not just conservatives (with or without quotes) trying to keep me from my bong.

The War on Drugs is a bipartisan endeavor.
Indeed, federal marijuana regulation comes out of the New Deal era (essence of liberalism). Federal opiate regulation comes out of the Progressive era. In both cases, the driving force was a belief that people needed to be protected from themselves--a very liberal idea.

Also, in both cases, there's a strong argument that liberalism's enthusiasm for "We've got to do something" caused them to stretch beyond the federal government's Constitutional authority. The Harrison Narcotic Act and the federal marijuana laws relied on the complex tax stamp method for banning possession or sale. While in some technical sense within the Constitution, both of these laws (and the intentionally similar National Firearms Act of 1934) subverted the intent of the interstate commerce clause to regulate purely intrastate commerce.
12.9.2006 9:22am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

There are religious libertarians, just as there are non-religious conservatives, but both are definitely exceptions.

What you said was that libertarians tend to view everything in economic terms. I commented that this wasn't true - that there was a strong libertarian belief in fundamental individual rights, supported by religious principles, natural law/rights principles, and/or humanist principles. You seem to be saying that any libertarian that doesn't arrive at a belief in individual rights from a religious foundation is "viewing everything in economic terms".

I didn't say "monomaniacally" nor did I say "amoral"--just non-religious. My experiences as an activist in the Libertarian Party are from where I get these ideas.

A significant amount of libertarians come to a belief in and support for fundamental rights from a secular perspective, but that doesn't change the fact that this set of beliefs exist. So portraying less religious or non-religious libertarians as "viewing everything in economic terms" is fairly disingenuous.

The main thrust of this seems to be that some are arguing that libertarians need conservatives because they don't have morality, ethics, or a conscience. That libertarianism is a one-dimensional philosophy focusing on economics and is otherwise morally bankrupt or morally deficient. That is blatantly false.
12.9.2006 11:12am
Joel B. (mail):
The main thrust of this seems to be that some are arguing that libertarians need conservatives because they don't have morality, ethics, or a conscience. That libertarianism is a one-dimensional philosophy focusing on economics and is otherwise morally bankrupt or morally deficient. That is blatantly false.

Eh, I wouldn't put it that way. For me, the main point is that libertarianism depends on a society based on personal responsibility. Much of what we would view today as somewhat conservative social mores. People don't want to live in an area of great freedom, where people are constantly creating a bigger mess for the rest of society to clean up through poor parenting/abdicated parenting, broken families, broken homes, drug addled members of society, and the like. Libertarianism depends on a society in which people are responsible enough to avoid exercising those freedoms which would undermine society. That's why, the founders could be so much more libertarian than perhaps many conservatives are today.
12.9.2006 1:50pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Joel B.-

Eh, I wouldn't put it that way. For me, the main point is that libertarianism depends on a society based on personal responsibility. Much of what we would view today as somewhat conservative social mores. People don't want to live in an area of great freedom, where people are constantly creating a bigger mess for the rest of society to clean up through poor parenting/abdicated parenting, broken families, broken homes, drug addled members of society, and the like.

But we have all those negative things already, even with a huge state and the "society based on personal responsibility" that you claim exists. All of those things you mentioned are going to exist whether you have a huge state or not. But without the huge state there is a stronger economy, more freedom, more prosperity, etc. - things that tend to reduce the things you mention, or at least offer better solutions for them.

Libertarianism depends on a society in which people are responsible enough to avoid exercising those freedoms which would undermine society. That's why, the founders could be so much more libertarian than perhaps many conservatives are today.

Come on. That's a paranoid, pathologically controlling, paternalistic view of people. Societies can live in peace and prosperity without a 1984-level police state running things. In fact virtually the only way to peace and prosperity is without a 1984-level police state, or its private equivalent, running things. More economic and social freedom has worked in a number of places, not just some idealized time after the Revolutionary War.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"To libertarians, however, the question is beside the point: we reject any model of the state that sees citizens as children, and bureaucrats and politicians as the only adults."

- Michael Acree
12.9.2006 2:34pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


Libertarianism depends on a society in which people are responsible enough to avoid exercising those freedoms which would undermine society. That's why, the founders could be so much more libertarian than perhaps many conservatives are today.



Come on. That's a paranoid, pathologically controlling, paternalistic view of people.
Uh, no. It's a view that is skeptical of anyone's essential goodness. If all men were angels, we would have no need for restrictions on government power. But if all men were angels, we would have no need for government. The more that individuals constrain their own behavior, the less need there is for governments to act like parents--a regrettable situation that can (and often does) become worse than the problem the government is trying to solve.

Societies can live in peace and prosperity without a 1984-level police state running things. In fact virtually the only way to peace and prosperity is without a 1984-level police state, or its private equivalent, running things. More economic and social freedom has worked in a number of places, not just some idealized time after the Revolutionary War.
Except that conservatives aren't pushing for a 1984-level police state running things. They abhor that. But they do recognize that sometimes a few restraints can lead to more freedom, not less.

Let me give you an example: should the government put up stoplights? Doesn't that interfere with the individual's freedom to make his own decisions about whether to go or stop at an intersection? It certainly does--but the minor restraint of having everyone agree to follow a few simple rules reduces the number of traffic accidents caused by inattentive or aggressive drivers.

Now, there's a legitimate argument about how many limits the government should impose. I think the burden of proof should be on the side of those who want the government to do something!. However, it is also true that our laws reflect hundreds of years of experience. To immediately assume that every law that regulates or limits an individual's conduct is wrong is pretty arrogant.

To give you one example: I am very, very skeptical of the need for equal accommodations laws that apply to the private sector. I am somewhat sympathetic to the decision to pass such laws in the early 1960s, not because I think such laws are generally a good idea, but because for more than a century, state governments had used their power to force private businesses to discriminate. What do you think Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was about? A state law requiring railroads to segregate their railcars. The manner in which this perhaps temporarily necessary statute has lingered on, and been steadily expanded, is one of the arguments against such laws.

An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory--which is perhaps why so many people like myself who were libertarians in our 20s--rather hardcore ones at that--tend to mellow into conservatives as we get older.

Also, raising kids in a rotten liberal cesspool like Sonoma County, California will do that too.
12.9.2006 7:04pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

Uh, no. It's a view that is skeptical of anyone's essential goodness. If all men were angels, we would have no need for restrictions on government power. But if all men were angels, we would have no need for government. The more that individuals constrain their own behavior, the less need there is for governments to act like parents--a regrettable situation that can (and often does) become worse than the problem the government is trying to solve.

Come on, Clayton. You know there is a lot of paternalism, control, and puritanism mixed in with a lot of the laws. Also a lot of rent-seeking and effort to perpetuate and expand the state. Like the reasoning that an acceptable use of eminent domain is to give the property to users who will expand the tax base. Who told them that their mission was to expand the tax base? They're supposed to provide services as efficiently and cheaply as possible - that's it.

Except that conservatives aren't pushing for a 1984-level police state running things. They abhor that. But they do recognize that sometimes a few restraints can lead to more freedom, not less.

You gotta be kidding me. The Patriot Act? The War on Terror? The War on Drugs? The past 5+ years have been a giant leap toward a 1984-style police state.

However, it is also true that our laws reflect hundreds of years of experience.

And a lot of that time has been spent lurching towards more statism, and it seems to have accelerated recently.

To immediately assume that every law that regulates or limits an individual's conduct is wrong is pretty arrogant.

Not at all. If we value liberty in this country as much as we claim to we should be very skeptical of any infringement of any individual's liberty. Because any government power that can be misused, abused, or mistakenly used eventually will.
12.10.2006 1:29am