This open letter is one of two winners from the 2015 ESFL essay contest. Look for the other contest winner tomorrow: “Dear Progressives.”
To My Friends on the Right
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. But 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 too often, the principles you apply to advocate a free market economy abandon your mind when you make a moral argument on social change.
Every argument we have ends with the same vague, unsettling, and frustrating idea you express that I trust individuals too much, or at least more than most people do. Before we get into what you think is my exceedingly worrying amount of trust, let’s just see how much we trust you already. First, you are able to read this letter, make up your mind about it, and discuss it with friends and family. You can proceed to spread and discuss that message with friends and family and make it circulate in the free market of ideas.
You’re also absolutely capable of holding your moral values, applying and rooting 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 marginalization. In that sense, your conservatism very often has the upper hand, and no government intervenes in that sort of moral playing field.
So far, 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. Yet access to illegal drugs has never been easier. The same goes for prostitution and for all actions and products under prohibition: you may question their usage, and some of it may be dangerous, but the legislation in place produces more harm than good just by the fact that you bullied the act into illegality. That’s not how you conserve anything. Quite the contrary: it is all too often the reason for the radical change facing you.
Using the power of your voice and arguments over delegating the power of coercion to the state helps you push your conservative agenda more easily than you think. In legality, you are able to solve violent crimes more easily, and you can broach the issue of dependency or your idea of moral behavior far more easily than if these actions vanish in the obscurity of some black market. Being a classical liberal, believing in the freedom to govern yourself but having 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 as socialists want to govern others’ business opening hours and spending while oversubsidizing and overregulating — or trusting your neighbor to run his life just as he trusts you to run yours.
And that choice is yours now.