I often refer to social norms — long-standing and voluntarily evolved — as the bedrock of a truly libertarian order. (See the list of posts, below.) This page serves as a permanent home for my views about social norms. I will revise this page from time to time, as new examples and observations occur to me.
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Libertarianism, as it is usually explained and presented, lacks an essential ingredient: morality. Yes, libertarians espouse a superficially plausible version of morality — the harm principle:
[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. [John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1869), Chapter I, paragraph 9.]
This is empty rhetoric. Harm must be defined, and its definition must arise from social norms.
A true libertarian respects voluntarily evolved social norms. Such norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?
Social norms have changed for the worse since the days of my Midwestern upbringing in the 1940s and 1950s. Many of those norms have gone to the great graveyard of quaint ideas; for example:
Behavior is shaped by social norms, like those listed here. The norms are rooted in the Ten Commandments and time-tested codes of behavior. The norms aren’t altered willy-nilly in accordance with the wishes of “activists,” as amplified through the megaphone of the mass media.
Rules of grammar serve the useful purpose of enabling people to understand each other easily. The flouting of grammatical rules in everyday conversation is a sign of ignorance and ill-breeding, not originality.
Dead, white, European males produced some of the greatest works of art, music, literature, philosophy, science, and political theory. Those dead, white, European males are to be celebrated for their accomplishments, not derided just because they are dead or were not black/brown/tan, female, of confused gender, or inhabitants of non-European places.
Marriage is a union of one man and one woman. Nothing else is marriage, despite legislative, executive, and judicial decrees that substitute brute force for the wisdom of the ages.
Marriage comes before children. This is not because people are pure at heart, but because it is the responsible way to start life together and to ensure that one’s children enjoy a stable, nurturing home life.
Marriage is until “death do us part.” Divorce is a recourse of last resort, not an easy way out of marital and familial responsibilities or the first recourse when one spouse disappoints or angers the other.
Children are disciplined — sometimes spanked — when they do wrong. They aren’t given long, boring, incomprehensible lectures about why they’re doing wrong. Why not? Because they usually know they’re doing wrong and are just trying to see what they can get away with.
Gentlemen don’t swear in front of ladies, and ladies don’t swear in front of gentlemen; discourse is therefore more likely to be rational, and certainly more bearable to those within earshot.
A person’s “space” is respected, as long as person is being respectful of others. A person’s space is not invaded by a loud conversation of no interest to anyone but the conversant.
A person grows old gracefully and doesn’t subject others to the sight of flabby, wrinkled tattoos (unless you were a sailor who has one tattoo on one arm).
Drugs are taken for the treatment of actual illnesses, not for recreational purposes.
Income is earned, not “distributed.” Persons who earn a lot of money are to be respected. If you envy them to the point of wanting to take their money, you’re a pinko-commie-socialist (no joke).
People should work, save, and pay for their own housing. The prospect of owning one’s own home, by dint of one’s own labor, is an incentive to work hard and to advance oneself through the acquisition of marketable skills.
Welfare is a gift that one accepts as a last resort, it is not a right or an entitlement, and it is not bestowed on persons with convenient disabilities.
A man holds a door open for a woman out of courtesy, and he does the same for anyone who is obviously weaker than he is, or laden with packages
Sexism (though it isn’t called that) is nothing more than the understanding — shared by men and women — that women are members of a different sex (the only different one); are usually weaker than men; are endowed with different brain chemistry and physical skills than men (still a fact); and enjoy discreet admiration (flirting) if they’re passably good-looking, or better. Women who reject those propositions — and who try to enforce modes of behavior that assume differently — are embittered and twisted.
A mother who devotes time and effort to the making of a good home and the proper rearing of her children is a pillar of civilized society. Her life is to be celebrated, not condemned as “a waste.”
Homosexuality is a rare, aberrant kind of behavior. (And this is before AIDS proved it to be aberrant.) It’s certainly not a “lifestyle” to be celebrated and shoved down the throats of all who object to it.
Privacy is a constrained right. It doesn’t trump moral obligations, among which are the obligations to refrain from spreading a deadly disease and to preserve innocent life.
Addiction isn’t a disease; it’s a surmountable failing.
Justice is for victims. Victims are persons to whom actual harm has been done by way of fraud, theft, bodily harm, murder, and suchlike. A person with a serious disease or handicap isn’t a victim, nor is a person with a drinking or drug problem.
Justice is a dish best served hot, so that would-be criminals can connect the dots between crime and punishment. Swift and sure punishment is the best deterrent of crime. Capital punishment is the ultimate deterrent because an executed killer can’t kill again.
Peace is the result of preparedness for war; lack of preparedness invites war.
The list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s certainly representative. The themes are few and simple: respect others, respect tradition, restrict government to the defense of society from predators foreign and domestic. The result is liberty: A regime of mutually beneficial coexistence based on trust. That’s all it takes — not big government bent on dictating how Americans live their lives.
Economic and social liberty are indivisible. The extent of liberty is inversely proportional to the power of government.
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Selected posts about social norms, the left’s attacks on them, liberty, and libertarianism:
A Century of Progress?
A Paradox for Libertarians
A Non-Paradox for Libertarians
Social Norms and Liberty
A Critique of Pure Libertarianism
Parsing Political Philosophy
Religion As Beneficial Evolutionary Adaptation
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Law and Liberty
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
The Left’s Agenda
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of Society
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Society and the State
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
O Tempora, O Mores
Getting Liberty Wrong
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
My View of Libertarianism
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
The Principles of Actionable Harm
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Tenor of the Times
Marriage: Privatize It and Revitalize It
More about Social Norms and Liberty (see this one for a general taxonomy of social norms)
The War on Conservatism
Friedman on Anarchy and Conservatism
Old America, New America, and Anarchy
1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
A Dose of Reality
How Government Subverts Social Norms
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Winners and Losers
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Another Look at Political Labels
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Pontius Pilate: Modern Politician
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
How America Has Changed
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Politics, Personality, and Hope for a New Era
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined