I have for a while been of the opinion that conservative society and libertarian government are absolutely dependent on each other. In other words, without one the other cannot sustain itself. I admit much of my opinion on this stems from Hans-Hermann Hoppes excellent "Democracy: The God that Failed", but quite a lot of it has my own take on things as well.
For starters, definitions:
- Conservative society: Society that values family, church, community, morals and good behavior. It recognizes that there is a natural order to things and that to fight against such order is to invite chaos.
- Libertarian government: Government that more or less stays out of they way of the activities of it's citizens, ultimately to the point of not existing at all.
These aren't complete or perfect definitions, but enough to get us started.
Libertarian government cannot survive without conservative society
Historically, the idea of a libertarian society has not been an image of one where everyone is free to do lots of drugs, have lots of sex and generally act however they feel like. There is a modern contingent of libertarians for whom this is the goal, but I believe they are misled.
For me, the only way we can attain and preserve libertarian government is to have alternative institutions that perform most (or all) of the functions that a more powerful government performs. For example, while I believe drug use should indeed be "legal" in a libertarian society, I also believe that it should be widely viewed as destructive, and that those who continually use drugs would be relegated to the outskirts or fringes of society because "respectable people" would have the freedom to not associate with such. This would apply to a wide variety of behaviors: polygamy, extramarital sex, shady business dealings, profanity, obscenity, actively advocating a strong State, and so on.
The point behind the dissaproval and exclusion of these behaviors is that each of these serves to break down the core institutions that hold a libertarian society together: the family, churches, business communities, neighborhoods, and so on. In the absence of such standards, these institutions would continually weaken, leaving quite a lot of chaos and a power vacuum that would almost certainly be filled by a stronger State. Libertarian government could not stay limited when important social order was not provided by other institutions.
Conservative society can not survive without libertarian government
On the flip side of this, everything that conservatives value is directly fought against by non-libertarian governments. Roles that families traditionally fulfill, from basics such as raising children and providing essentials to extended roles such as pressure to do well in work, learn skills and behave as decent individuals are instead taken over by public schools, welfare and juvenille "justice" systems.
Every step forward in power and influence that the government takes is taken from the power and influence of other institutions. Churches no longer are expected to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, because welfare takes care of that. Families are no longer expected to take care of their elder members since social security takes care of that. Neigborhoods and communities now provide hardly anything of value, since coercion (taxes) is used when co-operation would work. Want to fix the sidewalks in your neighborhood? Why not get your neighbors together and do it yourself instead of taking taxes from total strangers who have never even seen these sidewalks?
And yet almost every modern day conservative accepts as a complete given that public schools, welfare and social securty need to "reformed" and "rescued", not eliminated. These corrosive invasions and usurptations of traditional family, church and community roles break down relationships between father and son, neighbors, clergy and laity. To claim to be conservative and to advocate these institutions is to advocate a contradictory and useless position.
Chicken or the Egg?
Clearly, there is a bit of a circle in this. Increased government leads to weakened alternatives, leads to increased government. Which comes first? Where do we start to reverse the sequence?
It is hard to tell which comes first. Having the power of the state readily available is a horrible temptation, encouraging families and churches to give up their authority in exchange for the "peace of mind" provided by believing that the state will take the responsibility off their shoulders.
More clear, to me, is how to reverse the circle. Alternative institutions must be continually built up. Churches must once again take the primary role in providing for the needy. Families need to take the primary role in providing education and child rearing. These are actions that can happen right now, today. The growth of homeschooling and other public school alternatives is a very encouraging sign and a good example of how we should procede. Creative and determined people should be working to think of alternatives to force and coercion, the epitome of State power. As these instutions regain their power and influence, the State provided alternatives will seem more unnecessary and destructive, until it is all but a technicality to eliminate them.
There is much more to be said here, and this is hardly a perfect essay. I hope, though, that it will provide some food for though for all my conservative, libertarian and even liberal friends.