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I honestly do not believe so. Do I want them to be able to be friends? Of course. The worldview of a modern liberal is predicated on violating private property rights while the worldview of the classical liberal is dedicated to understanding the limits of the private sphere and then respecting what happens to be in it. Note of course that modern liberals are supposed to value autonomy and classical liberals are supposed to understand the messiness of pure property regimes. But that’s for another day.

In the meantime, I simply do not see how a classical liberal and a modern liberal can get along, even if they each share similar interests in poetry, badminton, underwater photography and long walks through the city. Seriously. You might say that each holds ideas that are in conflict with one another, and you’d be right. But the modern liberal doesn’t just hold ideas, the modern liberal votes, and most certainly votes to place restrictions and limits on your property. The modern liberal supports government schooling, progressive income taxes (increasingly so) and so forth. And despite my regular insistence that voting does not matter (hence that should make this point moot) that does not change the fact that a modern liberal “friend” pursues actions quite regularly that does “violence” to their classical liberal friend.

I suppose the modern liberal would say just the same to the classical liberal. If the classical liberal, say, votes for candidates that expand freedom and property and limits the intervention of the state into private affairs, then this does violence to the worldview of a more just and socialized world that the modern liberal prefers. Of course, that is only a symmetric argument if, well, only if we agree that private property has no place in the world. When classical liberals wish to see autonomy expanded, it does not violate the property of their modern liberal friends – else it would violate their core principles.

It is for this reason that I simply cannot imagine how true, genuine friendships can arise between someone who wishes to do no violence to someone else, and someone who explicitly does. And I find it untenable to reason that a modern liberal doesn’t “intend” to do harm to others – because that is in fact what they ARE doing. Nonetheless, I think more of my friends tend to be of the modern liberal persuasion than the other way ’round. Come to think of it, I don’t have ANY classical liberal friends that I know of, or who are ardent labelers of themselves as such.

So, how is it possible for folks with such diametrically opposed views can be friends if one of them is acting aggressively out on those views? I agree that it is possible, but my conclusion for why redounds to the fact that many of us just make sh*t up, including our worldviews, to fill up the time. I don’t like thinking that. So I welcome your more legitimate thoughts.

11 Responses to “Can Modern Liberals and Classical Liberals Be Real Friends?”

  1. Dan says:

    Don’t talk about politics all the time. Since votes don’t matter, problem solved.

    More seriously, can’t you say the same about conservatives who do violence on social issues? If so, can a classical liberal be friends with anyone that doesn’t subscribe to all his views?

    And it’s not as if classical liberals are for absolutely no trespass of property rights. Smith, Hayek, and M. Friedman all supported a limited state with a tax power. Richard Epstein doesn’t say that the state should not have the power to eminent domain, just that it should use it judiciously.

    I liked this talk at Princeton between liberaltarians and liberals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0nnLGbniZ4. My favorite quote is from Brink Lindsey (paraphrasing): “I’d much rather try to convince liberals on economics and the welfare state than to convince conservatives on matters of abortion, stem-cell research, religion in public life, and evolution.”

    • Harry says:

      Smith, Hayek. and Friedman were not anarchists, of course. I can think of no one in the classical liberal pantheon who is. Indeed, a government of laws, not of men, is the point, or one of the points. If contracts are unsanctified , if the law is the King’s (or Kim Jong Un’s) wishes, you get the same chaos as anarchism.

      You can oppose free birth control pills without invoking theological principles, and that is not conservative oppression, either. The socialist track record is poor.

  2. wintercow20 says:

    Agreed – I should probably have asked, “can ANYONE” with strongly differing political views be friends?

  3. Speedmaster says:

    I wonder that myself. And I’m skeptical. Their core values are profoundly different, even if the stated goals are outwardly similar in many cases.

    For example, have you noticed that over the last couple of years it seems that the left is infatuated (even more than usual) with so-called “inequality.” Now of course all but sociopaths and the malevolent will want to get rid of inequality.

    But when libertarians and classical liberals say this they mean to treat people equally, no special rules for certain people, no crony capitalism, etc. But the political left (as of course you know) mean something very different.

  4. Harry says:

    Paradoxical, isn’t it? The classical liberal is tolerant of other people’s freedom. Was this the reason Madison was wary of the tyranny of factions that would democratically take the property of others.

    I guess part of Wintercow’s question revolves around the meaning of the word “friend” which I take to mean something more than being someone with whom you can enjoy a game of golf. Included in the latter are many liberal country club Republicans and college professors. As long as the conversation is limited to “good putt” and “you’re away,” I do not care, unless we are playing for money, in which case cheating ends the casual friendship.

    But we all pick friends who are on the same intellectual wavelength, partly because it gets both of you dispense with plowing old ground. For example, I find “fair trade” people tiresome, and if I meet a protectionist zealot at a party, I try to change the subject or excuse myself to go to the men’s, as Elmore Leonard would put it.

    This does not mean that friends have to agree on everything, or be interested in the same ideas and other pursuits with equal weight. My wife, my very best friend, has no interest in talking earnestly about free trade. If the question arises on a talking heads show, she is content to hear my fulminations. We do not discuss politics on the golf course, and do not give each other golf lessons, solicited or unsolicited.The best comment is, “Aah, what a beautiful day!” And I try not to argue with my mother-in-law, who voted for Obama and thinks the Chinese are the cause of high unleaded gas prices.

    I do think it would be unwise for a classical liberal to marry a modern progressive liberal, although stranger things have happened — e.g. Mary Matalin and James Carville — but then there are always curiosities in the Midway.

  5. ZT says:

    I’ve not only been friends with people of different political persuasions; I’ve been romantically involved with them.

    If you’re both open-minded enough to recognize that issues of economic justice are complicated and can’t be boiled down to a few principles that are both universal and easily derived, then you don’t view disagreements as “inflicting violence” in the traditional sense of the term. I guess if you’re a consequentialist rather than a deontological libertarian, this is easier to do, but it’s probably possible for nonconsequentialists too. If you don’t spend all your time politicking and you recognize that voting has limited power, then disagreements don’t cause huge practical problems.

  6. Arthur says:

    At the conclusion of the semester of one of your economics classes, you sent out an email that essentially said to not let political difference ruin friendships and that there is more to life than politics. While there is some difference between one’s core beliefs and one’s political preferences (even if those core beliefs affect one’s political preferences), it is this fundamental fact that allows a classical liberal and a modern liberal to remain friends. I have found that modern liberals tend to have very similar beliefs to classical liberals when applied to a smaller scale; it is only once the two liberals discuss what should happen on a larger scale that differences emerge. As a result, the two can often get along quite well in everyday life. It is usually once they start discussing government policies that differences occur. When those differences occur, they also tend to occur not because one person wants to cause harm to someone and the other doesn’t, but because they both have what they think is the “correct solution.”

    Most importantly, friendships have more to do with trust and the ability to give/get help when needed. This has always, at least in my good friendships, been present regardless of whether I had been friends with a modern liberal or classical liberal.

  7. Alex says:

    ” Their core values are profoundly different, even if the stated goals are outwardly similar in many cases.”

    I don’t think that’s always the case. If I could convince modern liberals that liberty and respect for private property were the best ways to bring about a more just world where everyone is better off, then they’d probably no longer be a modern liberal. The ones I have talked to and know well don’t want to limit the freedom of some; they want to expand the freedom AND well-being of other, and are willing to do so at the expense of some people’s freedom. If they realized “violence” was not the answer, I don’t think they’d support it…

    • wintercow20 says:

      This is profoundly violent and immoral. “At the expense of SOME people’s freedom.” That’s the point I was making. Your argument might be more acceptable if it instead suggested, “at the expense of ALL of our freedom, a little bit.”

      And I suggest with respect that your first comment is a red herring. My point was that people, (I suppose you could include me too?) don’t WANT to be convinced that private property and liberty tend to produce good outcomes. Imagine showing a libertarian that a propertyless regime produced better outcomes than a propertied one. I’m not even sure the libertarian, particularly deontological ones, would be required to consider the evidence.

      I think your point is assuming away the question I am asking. But it is encouraging nonetheless, even if in my experience of teaching over 2,500 students I strongly disagree that this is in fact what people actually want.

  8. Harry says:

    Can the most modern liberal, Kim Jong Un, find happiness with another modern liberal? Would WC hike with Un in the Adirondacks if Un promised to pick up his cigarette butts and pack back the bottles of Crown Royal?

  9. Brian says:

    Modern liberals “feel” the “rightness” of their position, they don’t have logical answers to the inherent contradictions of freeing people from oppression by force. So, yes, they just “make s{#t up”.

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