While no libertarian, I do have a pretty strong indifference to other people’s lifestyles. This is common among American conservatives. In other words, I strongly believe in aloofness to private vice and idiosyncrasy so long as it is undertaken in a way that is respectful of the community. This is what distinguishes the Old America’s kooks and crazies from the “counter cultural America” that emerged after the 1960s. The old kooks wanted to be left alone; the new ones want to “raise our consciousness.”
In spite of its reputation for conformity, people had a wide range of religious, ideological, and lifestyle freedom before the Left set out to “shake up the world.” Snake handling churches, hippy communes, and people’s private opinions didn’t concern older generations of Americans nearly so much as similar “infractions” bother liberals today. For liberty-loving conservatives, the personal is not political and shouldn’t be. This is a core commitment of a free people, and it’s something that needs to find support not only in the laws but also in people’s private attitudes, judgements, and concerns. Ideas have consequences, as do sentiments and judgments. It’s hard to say something is the apotheosis of evil, but also say it should be legal. Older libertarians and conservatives knew that people’s attitudes, offensive art, and private behavior simply weren’t that evil and weren’t that harmful compared to legal intervention to stop the same.
This lack of respect for other people’s right to make odd or even offensive choices is why the civil libertarian aspects of regular liberalism have been swallowed up by the deeper liberal concern for equality, undermining traditional power structures, and avoiding hurt feelings among preferred victim groups.
So it’s kind of funny to me that the newest generation of libertarians, like cop-hater Radley Balko, spend so much sincere energy on whether things are offensive, racist, or outside the bounds of politically correctness. Do you think someone like Radley or anyone over at Reason knows why John Randolph wrote, “I love liberty; I hate equality?” Can you imagine Ron Paul or Murray Rothbard or any of the old guard giving a crap if some old-fashioned item might be considered “racist”? No, these folks didn’t make a point of self-congratulatory inquiry into whether some kitschy item in an airport gift shop is offensive.
The natural constituency of restoring historical American liberties can be found among the productive classes, men that are aware that the past wasn’t so bad and that also have a commitment to pulling their own weight. Everyone from country mechanics to Henry Ford and Charles Koch fit under this umbrella. But guys like this don’t give a crap about whether Aunt Jemima statues are offensive, and so long as libertarianism fights a two front war against socialism and conservatives–with especial venom for cultural conservatives–it will have an even smaller constituency and less influence than it already does. The one glimmer of hope (other than the Goldwater campaign) was during the early 1990s when an alliance of libertarians and paleoconservatives punished George Bush for his various transgressions against conservatism and good sense. Needless to say, we didn’t worry about the Willie Horton ad or “code language” about school bussing back then; we just wanted the government to stay out of our lives, and we didn’t mind if some people were attracted to this philosophy because they had strong feelings about the disastrous social engineering experiments they and their kids endured, like school bussing, affirmative action, Title IX, and a soft-on-crime justice system.