Gary Chartier praises “experiments in living,” saying “[o]ur communities and societies need… to welcome” them. Chartier then argues that “the libertarian movement can and should both constitute a set of such experiments itself and, at the same time, model for the wider society what a fruitful ecology of social innovation might actually look like.”
Here’s something for Chartier and all libertarians to consider: Humans have been living in countless different ways for millennia, and so we’ve had millions of experiments. The results from these experiments haven’t always been collected in a meticulous manner, but mankind has been observing the outcomes, formulating conclusions, and prescribing best practices from all of this.
This body of knowledge has a name: tradition.
If libertarians are to expand their scope as Chartier suggests and move from theories of government to approaches to life, they ought to at least be empirical about it. Raising children in nuclear families in strong communities has been something of a norm in the West for a reason—because it maximizes human happiness.
High work satisfaction, marriage, high social trust, and weekly worship are four factors sociologists have found highly correlated with happiness, Charles Murray argues in his 2012 book Coming Apart. “People who are high on all four measures have a remarkably similar probability of reporting they are very happy,” regardless of education or income, Murray writes.
We undermine the norms that bring about these behaviors if we publicly celebrate certain behaviors, such as open marriages, promiscuity, abuse of alcohol, and use of heavy drugs. Libertarianism makes a good argument for why the state shouldn’t block these behaviors, but libertarians probably have more incentive to promote traditional western morality than anyone else.
Civil society, family, and religion are the best bulwarks against state intrusion. Erode the norms connecting love, sex, marriage, and childbearing, and you get more abandoned children, more poverty, and more sexual abuse. Broken families correlate with crime, drug abuse, poverty, and other social maladies. These maladies lead in short order to more nanny statism and more welfare statism.
Election 2016 gives us a great (by which I mean terrible) demonstration of how the crumbling of traditional norms gives us statism.
“I alone can fix it,” Donald Trump promises. Nobody believes this who has seen communities, families, and faith fix problems. Where religious observance and traditional families are strong—such as in Utah and Dutch regions of Michigan and Wisconsin—Trumpism has been weak. Where disability, divorce, and drug use are higher, Trump did better.
Liberty is a fragile thing. There’s plenty of reason to think it flourishes only in certain cultural conditions. Liberty has had its strongest run in the United States, a country built on Christian social norms. Legislating those norms is often unwise. Working to undermine them culturally is also folly.