No, I’m not suggesting a name change for the blog. What I’m talking about is the concept called “ordered liberty,” which is frequently used by conservatives as an attempt to appeal to libertarians. “Why, yes,” they say, “We believe in liberty, but we think it should be ordered.” It came up during a debate at Cato last year between Cato interns and Heritage Foundation interns (unless my memory is horrifically mistaken) and I’ve seen it be deployed in arguments across social networks. It was recently used on one blog, regarding the Amendment One vote in North Carolina, noting that incestrous relationships and polygamy were “detrimental to ordered liberty.”
But what exactly is ordered liberty? I’ve never really figured out just what, if anything, people using the term are really trying to say.
The two people that the term appears to have come from are giants in the field of conservatism: Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. These two are probably the intellectual giants of modern American conservatism*, along with William F. Buckley. It was they who came up with this phrase, which, for what I can deduce, is essentially that liberty is not allowed to run completely amok, and that there must be some limits.
Now in the political beliefs of what we call “Christian civilization” or “Western civilization”—of which American civilization is a part—there are three cardinal ideas: the idea of justice, the idea of order, and the idea of freedom. These three great concepts are the cement of American society.