From American Thinker, Russell Kirk vs. the Libertarians, by Kung Fu Zu and Brad Nelson


This faith in the power of logic and lack of imagination as regards human motivation is something not uncommon among intellectuals of all stripes.

Kirk lays out six major differences between conservatives and doctrinaire libertarians. Here’s a sampling of three of them:

2. In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that “liberty inheres in some sensible object,” are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States…

3. What binds society together? The libertarians reply that the cement of society (so far as they will endure any binding at all) is self-interest, closely joined to the nexus of cash payment. But the conservatives declare that society is a community of souls, joining the dead, the living, and those yet unborn…

4. Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) generally believe that human nature is good, though damaged by certain social institutions. Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that “in Adam’s fall we sinned all”: human nature, though compounded of both good and evil, is irremediably flawed so the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect…


The link to the original Russell Kirk Article, Libertarians, The Chirping Sectaries. This post in American Thinker has several worthy reader’s comments.  A few:

Where libertarians stray, in my opinion, is in discounting the need for morality and religion. Religion is a voluntary submission to structure and higher authority. John Adams, as well as some of the other founders (including the deist Thomas Jefferson), knew that self governing required self control, and there is no greater motivation for self control than religion. Going clear back to the nation of Israel in Genesis, we see that before Moses’ trip to Mount Sinai, there was no law but the law of the patriarch. There was only man and God. Man proved unable to maintain his relationship with God, and thus the need for temporal law entered the equation. The further from God man moves, the more law is needed to replace the moral vacuum. Libertarians need to realize that such is the nature of man. One cannot declare himself a free moral agent and then manufacture his own morality, for that is relativism which always leads to either crushing statism or anarchy.

Too many conservatives do not live by their principal that government is always an evil, necessary, but evil. Conservatives must join with Libertarians in the goal of as little government as possible or the collective will take over. That is what is happening now. People who regard themselves as conservative in the Republican party want to use the monster instead of slay it.

Our descent from moral authority as self control took a big hit in the 1970s and 80s when Christians decided to become a political voting bloc vis a vis the “Moral Majority” and came to place their hope not in the power of Christ to change the nation through personal evangelism and being living witnesses, but rather through the power of the State. It is something for which conservatism has suffered ever since.

Libertarianism is merely the foundation of political policy. It requires a moral and epistemological framework. And it requires a culture context. One can’t plop it down in Iraq, as many of our conservative friends argued in 2003–and that isn’t because we need to be present to insure order or because human nature is evil.

Conservatives continue to confuse human nature with human character. Virtuous character is an achievement and so is a nation’s culture. We see the difference between a culture built on the abstract thought of Aristotle and one built on Mohammad. Conservatives, like Edmund Burke and Dinesh D’Souza, don’t and can’t. One wonders where Kirk would weigh in on today’s struggle.