The invisible classical liberals

I’m no fan of identity politics, but it can get a little frustrating when people won’t recognise my political position. Even when a newspaper gives a generally uncritical summary of something I have written (my big government conservatism Policy article), they can open by saying:

IT’S a turn up for the books when a right-wing think-tank launches an attack on the Howard Government.

But as it turns out, hell hath no fury like a conservative scorned. (emphasis added)

So even in an article expressly criticising conservatism I still get classed as a ‘conservative’.

Bryan Palmer’s Australian Politics Quiz caused similar dissatisfaction this week among my fellow classical liberals, who were classed as ‘left’ on ‘traditional’ values (as I was when I took the test), though few of us would ever regard ourselves as ‘left’ in any way. At Club Troppo, Mark Bahnisch explained the situation this way:

The thing is though that libertarians traditionally are a very small current in what is a very statist political culture on both sides of the aisle in Australia.

Having said that, certainly social liberalism is more in evidence now and can be found in all political parties, as can social conservatism (at least in the majors).

I still think consistent economic/social liberals are pretty rare in Australian politics, and getting rarer. As I

15 thoughts on “The invisible classical liberals

  1. Personally, I amazed (perhaps even disturbed) at how conservative the average person is, at least when filling in these sorts of surveys.

    What would be really interesting is see to what extent people stick to these views in more personal situations. Things like IVF for single parents are a good one — my guess is that a lot of people think it is bad simply because of incorrect stereotypes (poor single females). In case they happened to know someone that wasn’t this stereotype (say, a rich middle-age female that put their career before breeding — probably quite a common occurence), I’m sure attitudes would differ. The same would be true for abortion and themselves.

    The other one that is completely hyporitical is the marijuana question. If you look at the proportion of Australians that have/do smoke marijuana, most surveys suggest it is quite high. Even looking at joint probabilities with other questions, surely this is a case of “don’t do what I do or have done, do what I say”. There are clearly lots of people out there that think things that they have done themselves, which are basically harmless to others (and themselves in small quantities) should be illegal. Perhaps they should start performing self flagellation on themselves for these illegal activities.

    It also suggests that people either a) think things should be illegal simply because the government does; or b) are clearly ill informed about the questions at hand — presumably due to propaganda released by various groups.


  2. Conrad – I was applying fairly strict criteria to get those numbers; believing two things at once. Overall, 35% thought IVF should be available for single women and 28% thought marijuana should be decriminalised. That may not be hypocritical – in the AIHW drug use survey less than 40% admitted to having tried it, and only 11% had used it in the last year. People who had tried it could reasonably conclude that it is bad and should be banned. Surely the greatest hypocrisy is among those who oppose free trade but buy imported goods.


  3. I’ve been playing around with my stacked AES dataset on the small-l liberal vote. Unfortunately the AES haven’t been consistent in their questions so it’s quite hard to get time series. Using questions on taxation and marijuana I estimate very small numbers for small-l liberals. When I use attitudes to migration, I get even smaller numbers. So the notion that classical liberals are rare is supported (at least given the proxies I can create).


  4. “Surely the greatest hypocrisy is among those who oppose free trade but buy imported goods”

    I wouldn’t disagree with that, although perhaps your anti-globalization friends who want to stop poverty in the third world might beat them.


  5. Free trade is a good proxy for classical liberalism and it was interesting to see how both parties managed to avoid giving out clear free trade messages even when there was just about bipartisan agreement on the desirability of the deregulation agenda. The Coalition was bitterly divided on the issue at least up to 1990, Keating hedged in 1993 and the Coalition retreated after the debacle of 1993. Then Labor in opposition did not attempt to take credit for the benefits of deregulation. The result is that the public has never had a straight feed on the benefits of free trade and cognate reforms.


  6. Rafe you have never experienced international free trade in goods, services and labour. Neither have any of the thinkers you drag up from their well worn tombstones, or the emancipist chancers who hire you. So how exactly would any of you know what the benefits of free trad are?
    You can only guess, admit it.


  7. We gain knowledge of preferences not from what people express them as but as their behaviour reveals – ie watch what they do, not what they say. And politically libertarians are everywhere in bed with conservatives, not progressives.

    Why? An old-fashioned Marxist would no doubt mumble something about ‘class interest’. I find it disturbingly difficult to dismiss that thesis out of hand.


  8. “Rafe you have never experienced international free trade in goods, services and labour”

    I suppose you have, Parkos, as a white slave.

    DD, the ‘progressives’ don’t make it easy for libertarians to get in bed with them. Can you give us some examples of where these opportunities are?


  9. Pretty obviously, Jason:
    – concern for civil liberties
    – distrust of the defence lobby and the national security state
    – contempt for crony capitalism
    – getting the state out of the bedroom and out of the drugs cupboard.

    Its true that on many of these progressives and libertarians differ on means, but my point is that we have in common that we differ from conservatives on these ends. That libertarian/conservative alliance has the objective outcome of furthering conservative ends on all these issues.


  10. DD – I would have thought that the progressive agenda had been largely realised. One of the reasons libertarians and conservatives have ‘teamed up’ is to wind back the progressive hegemony.

    You’ll have to be more specific about your reply to Jason on areas where libertarians and progressive could cooperate more. Just looking at them I see little room for cooperation.
    On civil liberties the biggest problem Australia has is in mandatory detention of illegal migrants – introduced by the ALP.
    Australia does not have a defense lobby nor a ‘national security state’ – if anything spending on defense is too low.
    Contempt for crony capitalism – agreed. But the ALP is talking about reintroducing active industry policy and support for so-called quarantine and farm protection is bipartisan.
    Getting the state out of the bedroom – this happened years, if not decades, ago. Getting the state out of issuing marriage licences to one man and one woman is an objective. Getting the state out of the drugs cupboard, we can agree there too, but I would ahve thought that progressives support the PBS, and would be loathe for it to be abolished.


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