Commenter Dan H about six months ago at Will Wilkinson's "Liberaltarian Reactions":
A more fundamental rift between liberals and libertarians is that liberals believe that society and economic activity needs to be planned by a central authority. This is why they are almost always in favor of new regulations - a regulation is a plan, an attempt to control what they see as out-of-control forces. No matter how good an economy is, it can always be made better by the smart people at the top, so long as they are given the power to change things.
Libertarians, on the other hand, are okay with the notion that a modern society is an exercise in spontaneous order, and that optimal solutions are often reached if you simply let society or the economy work out the problem and adapt. Most libertarians accept that society has to work within a framework of social order and civil society, and that government has a place in maintaining the conditions which allows markets to work and people to be free to choose without coercion. This separates them from anarchists.
Conservatives get along with libertarians because they share the same fundamental beliefs when it comes to the economy, only they tend to personify it by saying that the family and local community are the drivers of social order, and they seek to protect them. Both Conservatives and libertarians have an inherent distrust of central planning, and this overrides their differences on social policy enough to allow them to work together.
Where conservatives and libertarians differ is that conservatives think the central government should be the protector of established social norms and morality, and libertarians do not. But compared to their agreement that central planning of the economy is bad, this is a much smaller area of disagreement.
I do not see how libertarians and liberals can work together so long as liberals seek to continually increase the state's power to plan society and control the market. This is a very deep, very fundamental difference in philosophy.
Focusing on this comment is a little distorting since the main thrust of Wilkinson's post was to make the opposite point--that there is significant common ground between liberals and libertarians, hence the post title, "Liberal-tarians". But as I argued in "Libertarian Takedown" a couple of weeks ago, the more typical person attracted to Libertarianism is closer to Dan H.
That being said, if a "Liberal-tarian" is someone who is looking for the balance or integration point between the principles liberty and equality, then count me as one. But I think that a Libertarian is by definition someone who makes Liberty his central value, and is willing to let equality to go fend for itself. That's the thrust of my anti-Libertarian argument on the theory level, and so it would follow that Wilkinson, if he is a Liberal-tarian by this definition, is no longer really a Libertarian. If so, he recognizes that it's not either/or--either Liberty or Equality; it's living in the tension between them. And policy needs to maintain a rough balance between them and to redress severe imbalances when they occur. I think that's a common-sense position, but I don't think many people who call themselves Libertarians would be comfortable with it.
I think this balance between equality and liberty is another aspect of what it means to be a subsidiarist/integrationist, which is the position I try to articulate in this blog. There are no absolutes in the soul lives of individuals or societies. Our lives in the sublunar world are mostly shaped by our living in the tensions between forces that want to pull us in opposite directions--individual/community, inner experience/outer experience, matter/spirit, tradition/progress, yin/yang, confidence/humility, strength/vulnerability, intellect/instinct, cool/hot, to name a few that come randomly to mind. Soul life, as I at least think about it, is a web of these opposites and so many more held together by filaments that that stretch us out and define the interwoven complexity of our human nature. When these filaments snap, we have the kind of dissociated thinking and behavior that currently fuels, on both sides, the irrationality of the American culture war.
The human moral task is to be an integrating center, which is difficult. We succeed or fail as humans to the degree that we effect this integration over the course of a lifetime. It's much easier to detach and surrender to one pole or the other. And we fail, and the nature of our failure lies in all the ways we suppress one pole in the contrary pair and surrender to the other one. So to take an easy example, confidence becomes arrogance when it detaches from and suppresses humility, and humility becomes slavishness when it detaches from confidence. And liberty leads to a self-absorbed leave-me-alone-ism when it detaches from equality, and equality a rigid, flattening, conformism when detached from liberty.
Subsidiarity is about finding the balance point in social organizations between bottom-up and top-down. Conservatives and Libertarians want 'order' within the cultural and economic spheres to develop naturally, from the bottom up, and they are inclined to see any attempt by actors in the political sphere to impose order as a top-downism they call "tyranny". So Dan H's placeholder term for top-downers is "Liberal" as in "liberals believe that society and economic activity needs to be planned by a central authority." That assertion is, of course, mostly wrong, but I'll get to that later.
Bottom-up-ism is vital, but if it's not held in tension with a measured degree of top-downism, it leads to destructive imbalances. The fact is that in the "state of nature", i.e, a state in which there is no law imposed from above, power tends to aggregate in the social/cultural and economic spheres in ways that benefit the few and harm the many, i.e, it causes fundamentally toxic inequalities. In other words, power aggregation increases the liberty of the few while decreasing it for the many. The story of civilization is largely the story of wealth and power oligarchies organizing their respective society to benefit themselves. In other words, liberty detached from equality leads to tyranny.
Modern democracies have been an experiment in social organization that seeks to transfer power from oligarchs at the top to a place located more in the middle--to an educated, middle class. And for democracy to flourish, one needs a well-informed, self-reliant, demagogue-resistant middle class. For it's been shown time and again that the electorate, when fearful and poorly informed can be manipulated by demagogues to give up their power to oligarchs who seek to return the society to the historical norm. That's why the ancient philosophers called democracy the second worst form of government--because it was the preliminary step leading to tyranny, which was the worst.
That's the crisis that the U.S. is currently confronting. It's a key battle in the struggle to redress a profound imbalance in which too much power and wealth is in the hands of too few people who have come to dominate the legislative process and have created inequality imbalances that undermine the foundation for a flourishing republican form of government.
That's why we need a measure of top-downism to redress the balance. We need governmental mechanisms to keep things more equal (not perfectly equal). Government is the only tool to effect a redressing of imbalances that occur on the kind of massive scale we are currently experiencing them.These imbalances are not going to work themselves out organically. They need to be resolved by calling on the human capacity for intelligence and will to correct what is clearly an injustice.
Bigness is not just a problem for government; it's a problem everywhere, and whatever the problems associated with big government, and there are scores of them, at least government power is vulnerable to be held accountable in ways that private sector power is not. The challenge is to hold government accountable, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for letting things get out of balance when they do, as they have done over the last thirty years since Reagan.
I've often presented myself as sympathetic to a Burkean Whiggishness that isn't against progress, but against socially engineered progress. And I understand and respect the arguments of principled conservatives like Deneen and Larison who understand the destructive effects of modern Liberal thinking and the policies that follow from it on living traditional values and institutions. I, too, prefer organic growth to engineered growth, but not all natural growths are benign. Sometimes the kind of growth we're dealing with is cancerous and it needs aggressive intervention, and the cure is often painful and the recovery prolonged. The Civil War comes to mind.
We saw that kind of cancerous growth in the late 18th and early 19th century as the slave economy of the south metastasized. Such a "natural" growth needed intervention if the nation founded on principles of equality and freedom was to flourish. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Act and then Dred Scott in the 1850s, it became clear that this cancerous growth within the body politic could not be contained.
This is a clear instance in which the liberty rights of white Southerners and equality rights of African Americans were out of balance and aggressive outside intervention was required to redress the balance. I do not believe that this problem would have just worked itself out over time, and it's clear to me that the Feds were justified to intervene to redress the balance.
Are conservatives justified in their concern about imbalances in the other direction, when society becomes imbalanced toward an equality and the leveling conformism that abusively infringes on the liberty rights of individuals? Of course, but for the most part this is an abstract straw-man argument in the contemporary U.S. because there are minor nuisances, and they are played out more in the cultural sphere than in the political sphere. And there are simply no egregious imbalances that come even close to the inequality imbalance suffered by Blacks in the south before the Civil War and during Jim Crow.
For extreme Libertarians, any constraint on individual liberty, even constraints that I would describe as attempts to find a balance between liberty and equality, are considered tyrannical. So when a Libertarians like Dan H in the quote excerpted above says, "I do not see how libertarians and liberals can work together so long as liberals seek to continually increase the state's power to plan society and control the market," he's criticizing a theoretical straw man, because there are very few Democrats or Liberals that fit the description of seeking to "plan society and control the market." There's no grand plan, that's a figment of the Libertarian imagination. Liberalism in practice has been for the most part an ad hoc process to use the government as a tool to fix problems that don't fix themselves. Name a prominent politician who advocates total government control of society and markets? Not even Bernie Sanders would advocate for that.
The New Deal was not a socialist plot, but an attempt to find a balance between free markets and a government role to mitigate the harmful effects of free markets on the lives of ordinary Americans. The New Deal introduced to the U.S. a mixed economy, not a socialist economy, and it works, despite Republican attempts to dismantle it since Reagan. It can be called socialist only by those who care not a whit about finding the balance between liberty and equality. Again, it's not either/or; it's about finding a balance. Reaganism and doctrinaire Libertarianism represent a movement in the direction of Liberty that causes severe imbalances when it comes to equality.
And if such Libertarians were able to think objectively, they'd see, for instance, that a single-payer system, if it's set up correctly, actually increases the liberty of doctors and patients to make decisions, that it would deliver providers from the tyranny of onerous paper work and interfering insurance bureaucrats who veto physicians' decisions, and deliver patients from the tyranny of insurance companies that deny needed coverage on the flimsiest of pretexts because their goal is to minimize payments to increase shareholder returns. Single payer is an example of where a government role would increase liberty and equality significantly, especially when compared to the current arrangements.
This is another example of where the freedom of insurance companies comes into conflict with both the freedom of consumers and their right to be treated fairly. If insurance companies can't rectify their abusive m.o. on their own, and why should they if no one has forces them to, then somebody has to force them, and the only entity with power to do that is the government.