there is a big picture

Despite a fairly long discussion of purity yesterday, I don't think I was able to determine with any degree of accuracy how purity is to be defined, much less who gets to define it. I couldn't even determine whether purity comes from within a person or by reference to outside ideology. Is a person's purity determined by his inner character, or by his reputation? From where comes ideological purity in the political sense? From whether person A measures up to the standards of person B, or whether person A measures up to his own standards? If A's standards are not B's standards, then A is not pure according to B, but does that mean A is not pure?

Politicians say a lot of things, and they change their mind. How are things like sincerity or purity to be determined? M. Simon's earlier post about Donald Trump aroused my curiosity, and Googling him raised more questions than I could find answered.

How pure is Trump? Beats me. I don't even know what yardstick to use.

For all I know, the man might be pure to himself. He is certainly nowhere near pure according to either libertarian or conservative standards.

As to who is, I am not sure. It is certainly easier to determine whether someone measures up to the libertarian standard than the conservative standard, and it is important to note that as a practical matter, being a pure libertarian is so difficult that very, very few people can fairly be described as pure libertarians.

Because the label is more vague, being a conservative is easier than being a libertarian. There are so many people calling themselves conservatives and so many definitions of conservatism that conservative purity cannot be defined. What this means is that because libertarian purity can be defined and conservative purity cannot be, people calling themselves libertarians are more likely to be impure than those who call themselves conservatives. However, I have found in practice that the following tends to happen:

If you call yourself a conservative while with libertarians, you will not be accused of heresy. Because you are not expected to be pure.

If you call yourself a libertarian while with conservatives, you will not be accused of heresy. Again, because you are not expected to be pure.

However, if you call yourself a libertarian while with libertarians, or a conservative while with conservatives, at that point your purity becomes a legitimate subject of inquiry. You can be expected to be pure, and asked the usual litmus test questions. And of course, there's a lot more fuzziness about the nature of conservative purity than there is about libertarian purity. If you say that you're a libertarian but you support the war on drugs, you'll be lucky if you're not laughed out of the room. However, if you say you're a conservative and say you support the war on drugs, some will agree and some will disagree, because there is no absolutely settled conservative position on the drug war. How much deviation is tolerated varies. Supporting gun control is anathema in both the libertarian and conservative camps. Supporting gay marriage is the nearly unanimous libertarian position, and while opposing it is the majority conservative position, it is at least subject to debate. Abortion is a mixed bag in both camps, and emotions run hotter on that issue than on almost any other issue. (I avoid it like the plague, because my opinions please no one in any of the camps.) As to fiscal restraint and free markets, the two camps are in nearly unanimous agreement, and both are highly suspicious of politicians who promise but do not deliver. Libertarians of course draw a much harder, more absolutist line on economic issues and small government -- to the point where they are considered radical kooks by some conservatives. War is an interesting issue which is emerging again. While the traditional rule has been for libertarians to be much more anti-war than conservatives, around here conservatives are very war weary, are sick of long term nation building enterprises, and very skeptical of Obama's performance as commander in chief. While it may change, I am not seeing a lot of disagreement between conservatives and libertarians on the war yet.

The "conservative libertarian" (or "libertarian conservative") label avoids arguments with purist ideologues in both camps, for it is an admission of impurity. Who can quibble with its accuracy?

It's a bit like saying a dog is a mutt; would anyone question a mutt's impurity credentials?

But as I say that, I can almost hear Coco saying "I not a mutt!"

She is a bi-eyed devil dog!


But what about the racial purists who want to kill her because of her genes? Maybe I'd be better off destroying her registration and calling her a mutt to protect her from them. That would be a lie, would it not? But would it be morally wrong to lie to a pit bull killing government agency if my goal was to save her life? I don't think so, but then, there's nothing pure about my morality.

At least they haven't identified libertarian or conservative genes yet. There is a right to call yourself whatever you want or whatever you are (regardless of accuracy), and there is still a right to call yourself or even be a human political mutt. 

Notwithstanding all of my problems with libertarian and conservative purity, there is a big picture I don't mean to neglect here. If we look at all of those who are in the conservative and libertarian soup, they range from being extreme anti-statists who believe in a strict interpretation of the Constitution to being somewhat statists (softly statist) who believe the Constitution is the law of the land but needs a more flexible interpretation. 

Contrast this with the other side.

They are total statists who believe the Constitution means nothing.

The choice is obvious.

Regardless of my personal preferences, I would vote for even a semi-statist over a total statist, and I would vote for an interpreter of the Constitution over someone who thinks it is a meaningless document.

(Coco thinks the big picture is all about her, though.)

MORE: A friend just emailed me a link to this horror story from Ireland about a dog which the government executed for the crime of "looking like a pit bull."

Which means appearances can get you killed, even if you're a mutt.

posted by Eric on 04.04.11 at 10:05 AM



An interesting article on how colonialism was in part spawned by governments going after pirates:

M. Simon   ·  April 4, 2011 10:46 AM

Reading another post on Reason that referenced this link titled: Does Barack Obama Inspire Buyer's Remorse?. (Subtitled: "Catching up with libertarians who voted for the president.")

As I read through the article, my biggest reaction was "Libertarians? THESE are Libertarians???" Seems the set of "libertarian" isn't actually anywhere near pure.

Well, neither am I, but I was still somewhat appalled - some of them sounded positively statist.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 4, 2011 6:49 PM

I'm not a pure libertarian, but I will vote for anyone less statist than Obama, even if the difference is marginal.

And Coco is a beautiful dog. And I can't read that Irish story. My husband doesn't like me to throw things in the house. However, this weekend we watched a man go into hysterics over a pitbull (or I should say a dog that LOOKED like a pitbull, it's not like we saw papers) at a store, even though that dog was one of the best behaved animals I've ever seen. Let me put it this way, I'd feel less safe around Havelock who is a pillow with teeth. (But not well behaved.) It was unreasoning and stupid and INSISTENT prejudice.

Sarah   ·  April 4, 2011 7:44 PM

Sarah, I think they are conditioned to become hysterical over whatever the hysteria of the moment.

Kathy, the "libertarians" you mention are in no position to complain about anyone's impurity.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 4, 2011 8:51 PM

When I first saw the story about the poor dog in Belfast, I thought of you and Coco and almost cried.

Overall, no one would call me an animal lover. That doesn't mean I haven't had extraordinary experiences with animals - both good and bad.

You know how I feel about snakes, right?

But... dogs and cats. I have a special feeling for certain dogs and cats and recognize that others feel the same for animals that I don't "get" it for. Same with humans... ya know?

But none of these feelings I have are specific to breed, other than I'm more likely to like large dogs than small ones just like I'm more likely to like large humans over small ones -- accounting for age, of course.

I know and love people who I know would give their life for mine (as I would for them)... but none so willingly as a few dogs I've known.

Please tell Coco that she has many internet admirers... and give her an extra treat from us, OK?

Donna B.   ·  April 5, 2011 1:42 AM

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