Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

The Trouble with Libertarians pt.II

Via Andrew Sullivan Have Tea Parties and Stimulus broken the bond between liberals and libertarians?

Reason.Com’s Matt Welch: Speaking only for myself, I don’t see libertarianism moving rightward, I see rightward moving libertarian. Which is to be expected, what with the whole not-having-power thing (as Kilgore points out, the Democrats’ wilderness years included such incongruities as Markos Moulitsas penning “libertarian Democrat” manifestos)….What I do care about, regardless of who’s president, is human freedom and prosperity. And I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek. Republicans diss libertarians when they’re in power, and Democrats diss libertarians when they’re in power. Their changing attitudes toward our little (albeit growing) tribe is mildly interesting, but it’s about as newsworthy (and painful) as a dog biting a chew toy.

Of course it doesn’t seem as if Liberals and Libertarians ever had a real world political alliance (as economic liberals and social conservatives had), but it is unfortunate if major participants seem to be giving up on an idea of closer and more empathetic discussions between those of these two philosophies, given the significant mutual benefit that is possible and the over-riding consensus on the end outcome: Expanding Freedom.

As a Liberal with libertarian instincts what gets me about Libertarians is statements such as “I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek” which seems such a catch all/process over outcome position that it jars badly with Libertarians claims to be driven by reason and evidence. It’s akin to the communists position that class is the dominant factor in all social relations. Well they arn’t, and basing a society around trying to fix that one issue doesn’t work. Welch’s claim also isn’t even true by libertarian standards as government power of law and order and enforcing contracts arte seen as creating the basis of a free society for libertarians. So Libertarians grant that some government power can enhance freedom, yet despite this making them different from liberals only by a matter of degrees, they tend to side-step this in order to play up the fundamental differences. It may make arguing for Libertarianism simpler and easier, but it also serves to ensure their views almost never help expand individual freedom, but are unheard on the sideline, when they ought to be a much more significant voice.

I’ve mused about this issue before, but I think it’s probably worth reposting. My trouble with Libertarians is twofold, that they put process above outcome, and it would be nice to see them occasionally worry about non-economic issues.

A marriage of Libertarianism and Liberals would be beneficial for both groups. For Libertarians, to help shift its principles into the mainstream debate and away from just the field of economics, and for Liberals to use this new public voice to help steel themselves during times of conservative or leftist attack which make maintaining & defending distinctly a non-liberal status quo seem an easier political path than engaging reform as needed. This does not mean that these philosophies will not differ in their response to challenges such as the economic crisis, but each could learn and mutually benefit from the others expanded role. Their end point is the same, individual freedom. The question is what pragmatic approach achieves that outcome, without causing more social harm than it seeks to benefit. Such an answer differs over time and context. Something that Liberals seem to have learnt if a little too well in their desire to be seen to do the right thing to keep their role in governance, and that Libertarians find almost offensive which works to keep them from having consequence via governance (or as in Iraq abysmal effects). One weak but involved, one strong but isolated. It’s not a marriage made in heaven, but then what of mans hand ever is…

Read the rest here