Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

February 13th, 2003

On the differences between libertarianism and liberalism

Matthew Yglesias has an excellent post on why liberals should not use libertarian arguments, and so helps, at least for me, to define the differences between them. The example subject he chooses is that of government policy discouraging homosexuality, and how libertarians think that the state should not be attempting to influence peoples sexuality, whereas liberals would argue that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality.

The argument that liberals should not use the libertarian position is for me difficult. The problem is that I agree with both positions, so supporting the libertarian view is not in anyway a dilution of my liberal views. I imagine that a large number of people, who would describe themselves as liberal, would also tend to agree that it’s not the governments place to regulate relationships in this way. While politics inevitably ends up dealing with issues of morality, it should be clear by now, that there is no place for legislation on the nature of relationships between consenting adults.

The social issue of reducing, and it could be hoped eliminating, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is not harmed by stating that it is not the governments role to regulate adult relationships. Legislation that criminalise such discrimination can be supported by those that argue against the government trying to regulate relationships, on the basis that the legislation is extending that argument of non-interference into the world of work. A company discriminating in hiring, is in effect, the same as a government discouraging homosexuality through legislation, in that both acts create a society that is intolerant and harmful to gays. The scale of the effect is certainly different, with the government legislation being far more damaging, but it’s essentially the same question of imposing a particular moralistic view of relationships on others.

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