The Illusory Authoritarian vs. Libertarian Divide

Roger Scruton Quote on the Freedom of SpeechContemporary political discourse is being boxed into a defining narrative of authoritarian vs. libertarian. This formulation may be an intuitive way of promoting a political philosophy for being on the side of “liberty” against those “fascists” looking to control society, but the fact of the matter is that such a division is an illusion.

In reality, there is no authoritarian vs. libertarian divide because the debate is about who gets to define authority in the first place. This is what the culture wars are all about, who holds sway over the levers of political power in order to preserve a desired way of life. Politics is a product of culture, and culture is protected by politics. Change the culture and politics will follow, and when politics follows the culture will be readily secured. There is an interactive, organic relationship between culture and politics. These two spheres of the civil society cannot be strictly divided into autonomous realms. They rise and fall together.

The true battle being waged is between conflicting views concerning which values regime will be the authority in the political realm of the civil society. The political authority informed by a specific code of conduct will then look to preserve the culture that gives legitimacy to the code it in turn legitimates. So understood, it is not as if the libertarians, understood within the context of the narrative we are speaking, are anti-authority and pro-liberty; rather, libertarians look to institute an authoritative political regime to protect a specific philosophical definition of liberty within the culture. This understanding of liberty would be institutionalized and codified in the legal system. If a significant political force were to rise up against this libertarian culture the proper authorities wielding the sword of the state would be called upon to protect this particular values regime. The regime in power would use its authority to preserve its hegemony, libertarian or otherwise, by utilizing force for said preservation purposes. This is not a novel suggestion; it is a fact of human nature. It would be incredibly naïve, however, if libertarians were to seriously contend that once power has been attained, they would just lay down their idealistic arms in the name of a healthy exchange of ideas to which they eventually lost due to a better understanding from their rivals of how the market works.

There are two primary myths playing a significant role in this fallacious authoritarian/libertarian divide – the myth of moral neutrality and the myth of religious neutrality. Moreover, these two myths are being informed by (based on my experience) unexamined theological, metaphysical, ontological, and anthropological presuppositions. This indicates that more fundamental questions ought to be addressed when forming a culture and political system, especially questions concerning the true, the good, and the beautiful.

It is also worth noting what it exactly is that liberals and libertarians believe fascism to represent, which feeds into this binary illusion of authority vs. liberty.

Fascism, according to what liberals and libertarians are suggesting, is anything considered to be anti-liberal – progressive or classically defined. And of course this becomes problematic because what is considered to be definitively liberal changes whenever SJWs or libertarians lift their head from the pillow to identify a new thing causing oppression, victimhood, or violation of autonomous rights – see the Electoral College as a recent example for progressive SJWs and the “taxation is theft” mantra from the libertarians.

Another identifiable corollary from this flimsy identification of fascism is anything that might lay claim to being an authority, or even hints at being an obstruction of purely negative rights, is inherently fascist. Fathers, police, military, the law, reality, physics, logic, taxes, regulation etc. are all fascist because they are symbols of authoritarian social constructs from a bygone age that must be destroyed for a formless void of nihilistic will to power, which of course is some how absolved from being a social construct itself.

If fascism is simply anti-liberalism, then so much the worse for liberalism and its little brother libertarianism.

I am currently working on an article addressing this illusory divide being promulgated in the popular narrative, but for now, here is a quote from Roger Scruton that directly challenges such divisions:

“Later I shall return to this concept of freedom, and to the notion of ‘human rights’ with which it is associated. But let us consider, in order to make the general issues a little clearer, just one small example: the freedom of speech. It is obvious that there cannot be freedom of speech in any healthy society, if by freedom is meant the absolute untrammelled right to say what one wishes and utter one’s views on anything, at any time, and anywhere. And it requires little knowledge of law to see that there is no absolute freedom of speech in the United Kingdom. Liberal thinkers have always recognized this fact. But they have seen the constraints on freedom as arising only negatively and in response to individual rights. Freedom should be qualified only by the possibility that someone might suffer through its exercise. For the conservative, constraint should be upheld, until it can be shown that society is not damaged by its removal. Thus the constraints on freedom arise through the law’s attempt to embody (as for a conservative it must embody) the fundamental values of the society over which it rules. I shall argue that this vision of law is both more coherent and more true to the facts than its individualistic rival.

There is no freedom to abuse, to stir up hatred, to make or publish treasonable, libelous, obscene and blasphemous utterance. In England, as in every civilized country, there is a law which forbids the production and distribution of subversive material – the law of sedition. Now this law also makes it an offence voluntarily to stir up hatred between different sections of the community.”


– Lucas G. Westman

NOTE: The Scruton quotes is taken from his book, The Meaning of Conservatism.

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