I admittedly feel awkward attending Republican Party events, like this past weekend’s Texas state convention in Fort Worth. People I meet there are sincere and likeable, but I think sometimes misguided in the ways they promote the conservative values I often share. In campaigning to enact conservative political policies, particularly policies pursuant to their cultural values, Republicans commonly undermine the values they intend to promote.
I think they sometimes neglect the most suitable means of bringing about conservative values, upholding individual rights.
To take one example, Republicans typically support restrictions on people’s personal vices, like recreational drug use. The effect of drug prohibition, as far as I can tell, is to incentivize criminal behavior, to break up families, to make more dangerous and addictive drugs appealing, and to put greater financial strain on taxpayers. Even by a measure of conservative standards, drug prohibition results in a state of affairs worse than what would be the case if recreational marijuana use were legal. Granted, those are just the immediate unintended consequences of prohibiting people’s consensual behavior. There are more unintended consequences to bear.
As morality is contingent upon the existence of free will, only freely chosen decisions have moral significance. When we take away people’s opportunities to make bad decisions, besides creating resentment, that means removing people’s experience with making good decisions too. Just as it takes practice to improve one’s ability in any other endeavor, government intervention hampers people’s experience with making good decisions. To the extent that we have politicians make our decisions for us, which seems hostile to the notion of a limited government, people will have less experience making virtuous decisions, resulting in habits of poor decision-making and necessitating calls for further counter-productive political measures.
By curbing people’s experience with acting virtuously, restrictions on people’s consensual behavior also remove the positive feedback of acting virtuously. The consequence of using the government to nudge people in the right directions is that people’s ability to make good decisions on their own is less developed. Among other reasons, that is precisely why conservatives have traditionally viewed centralized government power with suspicion.
Because we are not omnipotent and cannot perfectly foresee the consequences of our actions, thinking rationally about the proper way to pursue our values requires that we think in principles. The relevant political principle for how people should be free to interact with others is called the principle of individual rights. To the extent that people are not free to act on their own judgements, to that same extent they cannot act virtuously to bring about their values. If conservatives want actually to have conservative values practiced more commonly, they should support libertarianism, which upholds liberty as the utmost political value for achieving moral virtue.