This is my contribution for the first European Students for Liberty Essay Contest for which you should write an open letter to your progressive or conservative friends to convince them of classical liberalism. I took my chances! You can also participate until August 15th!
You know we sometimes discuss the flawed proposals of progressives when it comes to the economy, that their investment programs don’t work and that higher taxes will lead us to the same bankrupt position that France is in these days. Now that’s not entirely what I wanted to address in this piece. We do have considerable disagreements, and it pains me to see that all so often the principles you apply to advocate a free market economy abandon your mind when you make a moral argument on social change.
Here’s the deal.
Every argument we have ends with the same vague, unsettling and frustrating idea you express that I basically ‘trust individuals too much, or at least more than most people’. Before we get into what you think is my exceedingly worrying amount of trust, let’s just see with how much we trust you already. First, you are able to read this and make up your mind about it, discuss it with friends and family, so that you make the idea circulate. You can proceed to spread and discuss that message on the free market of ideas.
Then you’re also absolutely capable of holding your moral values, apply and root for them, and thereby influencing an institution stronger than every government and court system: social norms. Things I would consider to be senseless to respect and that are not even laws today, will still be respected out of the fear of marginalisation. In that sense your conservatism very often has the upper hand and no government intervenes in that sort of moral playing field.
Until now you’re not in any disagreement with the concept of classical liberalism. As classical liberals we believe in self-ownership and in the capabilities one can develop when given responsibility, but social conservatism would still be a debatable, yet voluntary option. In a world where nobody, for moral reasons, would sell the illegal drugs others want, you would have won. No coercion, just persuasion.
Now as we know that’s not entirely how the world works today. But let’s just consider if the method of coercion really serves your purpose. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the drug laws are quite severe in Europe. But yet, accessing illegal drugs has never been easier. The same goes for prostitution. As it goes for all actions and products under prohibition: you may question their usage, some of it may be dangerous, but the legislation in place produces more harm than good just by the fact that you bullied it into illegality. That’s not how you conserve anything. Quite in contrary, it is all so very often the reason for the radical change facing you.
Using the power of your voice and thereby arguments over delegating the power of coercion to the state, helps you push your conservative agenda easier than you think. In legality you are able to solve violent crimes easier and you can broach the issue of dependency or your idea of moral behaviour far easier than if these actions vanish in the obscurity of some black market. Being a classical liberal, believing in the freedom to govern yourself but to have the means to convince others of your viewpoint would be your greatest step towards the social conservatism you may advocate.
The choice lies between governing someone’s everyday life just like socialists want to govern others business opening hours and spending while oversubsidising and overregulating, and trusting your neighbour to run his life just like he trusts you with yours.
And that choice is yours now.
This article was published as the winning entry of the 2015 European Students for Liberty Essay Contest on the website of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and can be read here.
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