23 June 2010

'Where Do Libertarians Belong?'

Some readers may already have some snappy answers in mind to our title question, but let an actual libertarian try to answer it himself. Brink Lindsey is a contributing editor of Reason magazine and a research vice president of the Cato Institute. He has the cover story for Reason's summer issue, in which he poses just that question and answers: not with the Republican Party or the Tea Party movement. While the revival of "libertarian rhetoric" since Barack Obama's election may tempt libertarians to ally with conservative forces, Lindsey argues that conservatism is "a political movement with no realistic potential for advancing individual freedom" and "so deeply under the sway of its most illiberal impulses that they now define what it means to be a conservative." Writers for The American Conservative might object, but that sort of thoughtful paleocon isn't in Lindsey's sights. He judges conservatism by talk radio and the Tea Parties and perceives "a raving, anti-intellectual populism," "a brutal nationalism, as expressed in anti-immigrant xenophobia," "a dogmatic religiosity, as expressed in homophobia, creationism and extremism on beginning-and-end-of-life issues," and in general "a noxious stew of reaction and ressentiment [that] is the antithesis of libertarianism." Republicanism is too concerned with "building a rabid fan base by demonizing the other side and stoking the audience's collective sense of outrage and victimization" -- what he later calls "the conservative message machine's toxic mix of intolerance and self-pity [that] has veered off into feverish self-delusion." Republican/Tea Party "populism, nationalism, and dogmatism" makes it "a fundamentally illiberal and authoritarian movement." Instead of identifying themselves with an irrational Right, Lindsey advises libertarians to claim the Center while admitting that it will take their movement "in a new direction" and "make for a very different movement than the one we've got now." The libertarian center would cooperate with the right on economic issues, with the left on civil liberties and foreign policy, and would presumably steer its own course on other matters.

Reason invited a Republican and a Tea Partier to respond to Lindsey. Republican columnist Jonah Goldberg reminds readers that Lindsey had previously tried, unsuccessfully, to ally libertarians with liberals, and argues that the failure of that venture proves the necessity of continued cooperation with conservatives. Clearly resenting what he saw as Lindsey's caricature of conservative opinion, he counters with his own caricature of an intolerant, politically-correct, secular Left. In other words, in classic Bipolarchy fashion he brandishes a straw man and tells Lindsey and his fellow libertarians: this is your enemy! Goldberg also openly sneers at Lindsey's aspiration to occupy the center, noting that the center will never endorse drug legalization, full marriage rights for gays and other libertarian demands. He closes, however, with an appeal to all readers (including liberals and progressives) to get behind an ideal of federalism that would give every ideology the chance to prevail in some part of the country without interference from the others or the federal government. The Tea Parties are represented by FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe, who quotes The Fountainhead at Lindsey and basically tells him to get off his high horse and get his hands dirty alongside the reactionary rank and file. Kibbe calls Lindsey a conservative because he resents the fact that "citizens are no longer dependent on old-school institutions [including libertarian think tanks] for information and good ideas." He revels in the decentralized information network available online and claims that TPs make scrupulous use of it. He also reminds readers that the Tea Parties were first formed in opposition to the big bailouts of 2008, which he remembers were a Republican idea.

If anything, this fascinating exchange of views reminded me that libertarianism as a body of opinion is as diverse as "conservatism" or "liberalism." Lindsey's attack on the Right exposes a major divide between what we might describe as Progressive Libertarianism and Reactionary Libertarianism, the former taking a utilitarian view of individual freedom as a progressive force opposed by traditionalism as well as socialism, the latter being the "Leave Me Alone" or "Don't Tread on Me" element most tempted by the rise of the Tea Parties. Just as leftists vie with centrists to define liberalism and paleos, neos and theos contest the truth of conservatism, so the progressives and reactionaries are destined to have a long debate over the meaning of libertarianism, if not the meaning of liberty itself. It may be that libertarianism will not become the influential force, moderating or otherwise, that Lindsey and Reason hope it will be until this debate is settled and one side or the other defines itself as something else altogether.

16 comments:

Solomon Kleinsmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crhymethinc said...

You claim to be "moderate" and yet I see phrases such as "loony lefty" that belies that sentiment. I'm guessing you wouldn't really know moderate if it slapped you in the face.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Whoops...

Does my plain speaking get your prurient sensibilities all in a kerfuffle?

You've apparently been suckered into the thinking that a political moderate must also only merely have moderate levels of honesty and passion for his or her beliefs. This garbage is one of the main problems holding back moderates/centrists and independents... falling into the myth of the "mushy middle".

"Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds"

Crhymethinc said...

Yes, your "purpose", to destroy the planet, polluting water, air and earth for the profit of your corporate overlords, meanwhile spreading lies and propaganda against those who would, instead, form a brotherhood among the labor class so we might have more power over our lives. Push off, indeed. I look forward to the day when the average American has finally figured out that people like you are just bs artists and deal with you and your sordid ilk accordingly.

Samuel Wilson said...

I checked out Mainstream Current and I think Crhymethinc may have jumped to conclusions based on the first post he saw. But even some liberals use the epithet "loony left," and it doesn't follow that anyone who uses it thinks that everyone on the "left" (of what, for that matter?) is "loony." A self-described moderate also presumably acknowledges the existence of a "loony right," and Solomon does take some non-"right" positions on issues when you read further into the blog. His response to Crhymethinc, however, shows a hostility toward a perceived leftist that remains to be matched by similar hostilty to a perceived attack from the right. You guys can fight it out if you like; it keeps the blog entertaining.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

You are a fan of Jim Traficant? I think most liberals are regular people I just happen to disagree with. Traficant is a whack job...

You don't know a damn bit about me man. I made it through part of college working in a warehouse, driving a forklift, part of the local sheet metal workers bargaining unit. I'm not for card check, but I'm for most of the rest of what was in that bill.

And I would be willing to bet whatever you would be willing to put up that I live a more environmentally friendly life than you do. Want to have a green pissing contest? I'm game.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

"You guys can fight it out if you like; it keeps the blog entertaining."

Isn't that what blogging is for ;)

Offer still stands for the site redesign. You have my contact info.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Oh, and in case you think I believe that the right and left have a monopoly (or duopoly, haha) on crazy, I've met plenty of them in the center as well, that are centrists for reasons that make no sense...

Conspiracy theorists and crackpots are rampant across the spectrum. We just notice the ones on the right now because they're the most out of power, and as such have more anger to express when they see what is happening in government. When Bush was in power it was the left hat set the bar on crazy.

I doubt Obama could be beat by anyone I've seen on the right lately in 2012... but its a totally different ballgame once he's done... especially if Biden runs. If the reps take back DC... we'll see the weirdos on the left bubble up again. Just the nature of things.

Crhymethinc said...

I really don't see what being "green" has to do with anything. That is just a sensible approach towards living on planet earth without destroying it. It isn't a matter of "right" vs "left" on that. It's simply an ability to see in the long term. Although your desire to "Want to have a green pissing contest?" really tells me all I need to know about you. Like all right-wingers, you simply cannot understand that cooperation will net more than competition. You must, in your mind, always have a "winner", rather than set things up so everyone is a winner. I'm not really sure who "Jim Traficant" is or why I would be a "fan" of his.

Crhymethinc said...

Now, having looked the name up, why would I be a "fan" of a corrupt politician? 1) He's a democrat. I refuse to support either party as both parties are corrupt. 2) He's a Roman Catholic and I don't support anyone who supports superstition over reason.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

I asked you if you supported Trafficant because thats the guy who I called a looney lefty... because he's a looney lefty. Now that you've looked him up, do you not agree?

I'm an agnostic myself... I can't say I'm so picky as to only support people who agree with me on religion, or lack thereof. Already hard for me to find people I can support that run for office that are reasonable moderate/centrists and independents, haha

I mentioned my being green because you vomited some garbage about me supporting overlords who want to destroy the planet/water/air/etc.

I assumed you meant evironmentalism... did you mean something like the baddies on Spaceballs? Are these overlords you speak of going to vacuum up our resources?

Joking aside, what the heck did you mean by that anyway? Overlords? Really?

Samuel Wilson said...

About Jim Traficant: I'll agree with the "looney" part -- he certainly looks it -- but what exactly makes him "left?" The fact that he used to be a Democrat? The fact that he criticized a pro-Israel foreign policy, as have some conservatives? At present he consorts with Tea Partiers and seems most passionate about combatting illegal immigration. That's not exactly a leftist dossier. You could call him a demagogue, but that label transcends left-right divisions, as Traficant himself may in his "looney" way.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Hey-soos effing chris-tohs... could you be any more sensitive for effs sake?

I didn't say he was an extremist, leftist or otherwise. You can disagree with his being a lefty if you want (which doesn't imply extremism I don't think, just that he's on the left), I disagree, but I don't have a problem with his being liberal (even if he's not as liberal as you'd like him to be). I quoted the things that I think are damning of him. If I thought he was an extremist, I would have said so.

Samuel Wilson said...

Solomon, if your latest was addressed to me, then I deny any sensitivity on behalf of Traficant or "the left." I only ask for greater precision, or less eagerness to categorize. I'm less interested in defending the left from association with Traficant than in dissuading people from categorizing everything in "left," "right" and "center" terms. Don't be so sensitive about this!

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Asking you to not be so sensitive about the labeling somehow makes me sensitive?

I think you're assuming tone. I'm a pretty off the cuff, cheeky, informal writer.

I don't have a problem being pigeonholed into being in the center, and don't think its wrong to point out that someone is liberal, conservative, or if they're an extremists as long as its accurate.

I love this blog... but I'm not aiming to imitate it. Hopefully I'll be able to drive more traffic to this site though.