Conservative entryists and universal suffrage

Conservative entryists and universal suffrage

It's no secret that libertarians are not a fan of political democracy. A political system of pure democracy would be incompatible with liberty where every aspect of an individual’s life could be encroached upon. Such a system would be unstable and therefore modern political democracies get around this by having a rule of law that restricts the avenues of such encroachments. However, this still leaves plenty of room for interpretation allowing the state to encroach upon individual rights as rule of law evolves to allow for it.

Conservatives also are not a fan of political democracy. They champion the rule of law and want to return it to its former glory, or at least conserve it and prevent further degradation of the rule of law. Many conservatives see themselves as defenders of the republic against democratic forces pushing for bigger government and more encroachment upon individual rights.

These positions sound very similar. Sure enough many conservatives either consider libertarians to be fellow travelers or want to use this as a common ground for entryist tactics. Consider the conservative opposition to suffrage. Conservatives point out that since universal suffrage we have seen an increase in welfare spending, taxes, and in general an increase in the size of the government. Since libertarians oppose all of the above and seemingly value intellectual consistency they end up echoing the above argument. A good example of this is Peter Thiel who is becoming increasingly conservative and has echoed this argument.

It seems that conservatives would readily accept a political democracy if voting rights were limited to the propertied class which they believe have an interest in maintaining a strong rule of law. Which begs the question: why are libertarians opposed to this system of democracy? Why do libertarians not oppose universal suffrage? Any libertarian having a hard time answering these questions is susceptible to conservative entryism.

To answer these questions we must understand the two conceptions of property rights; one which libertarians support and the other which libertarians oppose.

The two kinds of property

These are customary property rights and statutory property rights.

Customary property rights are mutually recognized by the members of society without necessarily a dictate from authority. While statutory property rights are granted and recognized by an authority often in opposition to customary understanding of property rights.

Customary property is obtained through mixing one’s labor with natural resources, often called the homesteading principle by libertarians. Statutory property is often claimed by an act of enclosure and a legal deed.

Both customary and statutory property rights are backed by violence (since all rights are backed by violence) but the latter can only be backed by authoritative violence. The government with its monopoly over violence often fulfills this role.

Historically most people have acquired their property through homesteading. Unfortunately, most property (particularly land) has been acquired through the act of enclosure and authoritative violence. I think this is an important distinction to make. People want property rights but only a few benefit from statutory property rights.

Libertarian positions on statutory property rights vary. Some, like minarchists, would like statutory property rights to closely match customary property rights. They would like the legal system to protect property acquired through labor and free trade. While anarchists would like to abolish the concept of statutory property rights completely. Both, however, recognize that for a stable and prosperous society customary property rights must be defended and the statutory legal system must not be used to violate these rights.

Historical context on property and voting

Historically it was often the propertied class that had direct influence over the government. At first, they were the nobles (or zamindars) who did not acquire their property through labor but legal deeds granted by the king. The serfs (or majdoors) who mixed their labor with the land never had their property rights recognized. Without statutory property rights being granted by the king to nobles customary property rights would have been recognized by society for those who tilled the land. As such under libertarian principles, this was a violation of property rights.

Kingdoms eventually started to get replaced by democracies in part because they allowed for a peaceful transfer of power. Earlier if the nobles were unhappy with the king their only recourse was violence. Now the propertied class could replace the “king” if he acted against their interest.

This also coincided with the industrial revolution which required or thrived on the stability provided by the democracies. The shift from agriculture to industry changed the propertied class from nobles to “capitalists”. Factories could be set up on land acquired by enclosure rather than by labor and free trade.

This is not a condemnation of capitalism since capitalism can also be practiced, and is often practiced, with the customary property. While State socialists would like to use statutory law to enforce collective ownership of the means of production, libertarians would like to abolish or render benign the statutory property rights so that customary property rights can be upheld.

With this understanding, we can place conservatives and libertarians on the opposite ends of this issue. Conservatives hate political democracy because it interferes with statutory property rights, where the propertyless can vote for welfare and affirmative action. Libertarians hate political democracy because they hate political authority interfering with customary property rights at all. Universal suffragists would be considered somewhere in the middle who are trying to do their best with the political system they have inherited.

From a libertarian perspective, universal suffrage has failed since statutory property rights still benefit only a tiny minority. From a conservative perspective, universal suffrage has failed since propertyless often vote for welfare, affirmative action, etc.

A reversal of universal suffrage would be in the conservative interest and not the libertarian interest. It might even be against libertarian interest since it would legitimize the concept of statutory property rights and undo the work libertarians have done towards spreading ideas on just property rights.