That’s the question Michael Heath asks, on the “Libertarian Straw Man” thread.
Do you have an opinion on any notable trends in the Libertarian party or American libertarianism?
…The reason I ask is that it appears some emergent leaders are coming out of the movement who might actually wield real political power but also are representative of the type so despised by Raging Bee (conservative-libertarians or arguably neo-confederates). …
So while I enjoyed hearing your support for liberaltarianism on Ed’s radio show, I wonder if it’s not shrinking before our eyes or just being temporarily overlooked because of the rise of the Tea Party and some demand it put forth some candidates to run against establishment Republicans.
There do seem to be some interesting confluences here, with the connection of some self-proclaimed libertarians to the Tea Party and the alleged purge of liberaltarianism. I think, however, that these are coincidences and signify little to nothing.
The primary problem with libertarianism politically is that Cato/Independent Institute-style thoughtful libertarianism is the antithesis of the type of fear-mongering that moves people politically, and Cato/Independent Institute are not really conservative in essence. The Lew Rockwell/Libertarian Party approach is conservative in essence, and plays on people’s fear to draw a strong, if not large, following. This is the type Raging Bee hates, and I join him in my disdain for them (where we differ is in whether this type is the proper representation of libertarianism or not).
I think these Tea Party libertarians are simple anti-government types, but of the type who want their services, just not anyone else’s, and don’t realize that cutting taxes too far will diminish their own services as well. That is, they’re typical all or nothing types who want government to serve their needs, but not the differing needs of others. Having it your way is fine when you go to McDonalds, but a) their needs are being met with those other people’s tax dollars as well, so they’re really asking for a one-way transfer of wealth, and b) you can’t aggregate a large number of people into a single pool for services while giving everyone exactly what they want and precisely the price they want.
And I think the alleged “purge” of liberaltarians is overblown. Even if Cato in fact pushed them out–something for which I have seen zero evidence–it doesn’t deny the extent to which there is some agreement between liberals and libertarians. Personally, I don’t see nearly as much of that as Wilkinson does, but that’s OK. I’d rather live in Wilkinson’s World than the right-winger’s world.
But notably the conservatives seem nervous about the direction of libertarianism. There was some mild panic about the fact that Obama got more votes from self-professed libertarians than McCain did, and there’s mild euphoria about Wilkinson’s and Brink Lindsey’s departure from Cato. Conservatives seem awfully eager to claim conservatives for their own voting base, in a way that would be unnecessary if they actually were confident they’d retain that base.
But the only type of libertarians Republicans can consistently hold are the emotional ones, the ones who gravitate toward a politics of fear-mongering. Most thoughtful libertarians (I believe, without proof) recognize that a world of foolish regulation bordering on socialism (the liberal world) is superior to a world of corporate cronyism, militarism and a police state. One of those is a lot more antithetical to liberty than the other.
Back when the Republican Party contained folks like Gerry Ford, a libertarian could comfortably stand with them, especially since the biggest threat to liberty seemed to be Soviet-style communism (in retrospect the threat was surely overblown, but at the time it seemed very real), and it made sense to stand against the biggest threat.
Today the biggest threat to liberty is conservative militarism and police-state policies, not terrorism, as they would have you believe. Terrorism is merely their excuse for expanding the militaristic and police-state. Additionally, I think libertarians have become a little more sophisticated, and come to recognize that conservatives are no more free market than liberals, they’re just shills for corporate cronyism.
So it’s little wonder that thoughtful libertarians are less likely to stand shoulder to shoulder with Republicans today. And there’s really no wonder that the fear-driven ones (not to mention the neo-confederate types) still stick with the conservatives. But I don’t expect they’ll have any more influence on the direction of the Republican Party than has Ron Paul.
But Cato/Independent Institute style libertarianism will never be a powerful political movement. It’s often said that the resurgence of American conservatism began with the rebirth of intellectual conservatism. That’s true to an extent. It’s true that for a while the Republican Party was the party of ideas. But what really drove their party’s political resurgence was fear-mongering politics. Fear of minorities, fear of godless communism, fear of anyone who isn’t white middle class like you. And in the end that came to dominate the Republican Party, driving out the people with ideas.
So Cato-style libertarianism, because it is at odds with fear-driven libertarianism, cannot become an effective political movement, and that may be good, lest it become similarly corrupted.
But what we can hope for is that by standing aloof from commitment to each side (following George Washington’s advice to have no permanent allies), we may be able to intellectually influence each side. There will never be a libertarian state in the U.S., but it can be more or less libertarianish, and the degree to which we shape the way leaders in both major parties understand the world, the more libertarianish the U.S. may be.
All we can hope to do is intellectually infect people in both major parties.