Libertarians’ Proper Allies

Reason magazine recently hosted a debate in its pages over “where do libertarians belong?” The question was really whether libertarians ought to continue a tactical alliance with Republicans and the right, embark on a “liberaltarian” project, or disassociate themselves from both sides. The Cato Institute’s Brink Lindsey had previously argued in favor of the “liberaltarian” course (indeed coining the term), but after lack of constructive response from the left and the record of the Democratic Party in power has come to the view that libertarians should see themselves as occupying the center of the political spectrum, occasionally throwing their support to one side or the other. Jonah Goldberg argues in favor of the traditional libertarian-conservative alliance, while Matt Kibbe wants libertarians on board with the Tea Party.

The main critique of Lindsey’s argument is that the U.S. political system simply does not allow libertarians to be represented in office as such. To get elected, libertarians will have to don either the Democratic or Republican label. Moreover, the “center” of the political spectrum is really not libertarian, but a David Brooks-ish, pragmatist mish-mash (Pileus on Brooks).

My response to the whole debate is, Why do we have to choose? Libertarianism is by its very nature a diverse, nonhierarchical, individualistic movement. We can retain a concept of ourselves as a movement while nevertheless working both sides of the aisle. I know elected libertarian state legislators (on whose campaigns I worked, no less) who are both Democrats and Republicans. Now, the Democrats come under much more pressure from party leadership to compromise their principles. It’s a harder row to hoe. But the Democrats have a history in this country of being something of a catch-all party, and their electorate still reflects that to some extent. There are lots of “weak Democrats” out there who are very much open to liberty-based solutions.

At the state and local level, at least in smaller states where state politics has not been professionalized, it’s particularly easy to work within both parties, because the primary campaigns are less high-profile and ideological and more centered around name recognition. Libertarian political activists need to think outside the LP box, start holding their noses, and get involved in their local Republican or Democratic parties. At the federal level, of course, the only constant is that things keep getting worse. Every time you think that there can be nothing worse than the federal Democratic Party, the Republicans take over and prove you wrong, and vice versa. The best we can hope for there is gridlock and widespread disillusionment and mistrust of incumbents. We have no interest in defending virtually any incumbents at that level. (There are a few people I would make an exception for, like Ron Paul and Tom McClintock.)

Where do libertarians belong? Everywhere!

7 thoughts on “Libertarians’ Proper Allies

  1. I agree that libertarians are a broad group, but the question of party affiliation seems to me to hinge on what set of issues are more important to you. If you are a libertarian who is most passionate about free markets and economic liberty, naturally you choose Republicans. If you are a pot and prostitution libertarian, you naturally would choose Democrats. If you are both, you become a movement libertarian but maybe you hide out in one of the parties.

    I think Lindsey’s argument is silly, since ‘m not sure what a centrist libertarian would even look like. A lot of centrists find libertarian ideals attractive in the abstract, but when it comes down to actual policy proposals, they end up not being libertarian at all (our education does a very bad job of forcing people to face this fact, as people say “we love freedom, but let’s go ahead and have an authoritarian welfare state anyway”). Aren’t most centrists just people who don’t take ideas seriously?

  2. Speaking as a moderately Libertarian Centrist (I identify with being a Centrist equally as being a Libertarian), I can say that I am 100% behind…

    COMMUNITY STANDARDS, assuming they do not violate the 1. National Constitution and 2. State Constitution.

    Personally, I think the LP is ready to have it’s day in the sun.

    1. But a major purpose of the Constitution is to protect us all from community standards.

      I do agree, though, that in areas where the federal government has no Constitutional role, the states and local communities should be deciding how things are done, not the federal government, which is what I think you are saying.

    2. To put a little edge on this, Dave, you just want your tyrant to be a little closer – a grassroots tyrant intead of one from DC? That way you and your plurality in Gilbert AZ, for example, can make sure that no one, anywhere in town can build a house that looks unique. So that no one, anywhere in town can paint his house pink. So that no one, anywhere in town can buy porn, birth control, or whatever the locals don’t like. So much for freedom of association, contract, and property rights.

      Ok, now I’m going to flip around and argue from the other side. Now let’s suppose your town is one in which there is 100% consent to the constitutional form established at the beginning and free exit — then I can imagine community standards could evolve in ways consistent with property rights/individual liberty. Then we’d get a lot of different experimental communties — trusting that the state govs and federal gov didn’t put too many restrictions on what kind of communities there could be and what kind of community standards that could evolve. But we’d all have to increase our levels of tolerance so that a town in Utah could issue polygamous marrage licenses, a town in California could issue same sex marriage licenses, and a town in Massachusetts refuse to issue any marriage licenses at all (assuming that these rules emanated from the legal order determined at the outset). That, my friend, is Nozick’s Utopia of Utopias — which in theory I can accept.

      The problem is that in practice we get 1000’s of little nannies underneath a big brother and an even bigger one (the Fat Man as Eisner says) without the right to live as we see best.

      1. If I put on a communitarian hat for a minute (but only a minute), we are not millions of little islands living “as we see best” but a species of beings inseparably connected to each other by nature and practical necessity. Thus the question becomes what do we want those social connections to look like?

        I think that the libertarian answer is that we want the social bonds to involve as little coercion as possible, but we realize that some collective coercive force is desirable and even necessary if we are to avoid chaos. And, as a general rule, to the extent that we have to submit to a collective force, it makes sense for choices to be made on as local level as possible.

  3. No need to put on the communitarian hat. This is what libertarians like Friedman have argued. You are a Chicago Boy through and through 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s