Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Libertarian to Liberal

This noise has started again. I don't really see Libertarians fitting in either political zone as is commonly believed. I do think that in the past the Libertarian has fit more with the conservative side for simple reasons like the desire for limited government and for many gun rights. No doubt it is much more complex in reality.

Most of the present discussions are due to the flint-and-steal of Brink Lindsey, of CATO writing in The New Republic. (The original article is a pay-for.) I linked QandO above for the initial discussion.
So he's right when he says the perception of the GOP in general certainly changed over the last decade, and the cases indicated have certainly unraveled the hoped for libertarian fusion. The "fusionist synthesis" Lindsey identified had indeed come apart and many libertarians refused the GOP the support it needed because of its perceived drift from traditional conservative principles to this new populist form of conservatism which called for more government intrusion.

The Democrats, of course, want the votes (and know they got some of them) of libertarians because, in the evenly split electorate, 2 to 5 percent spells victory.
To date, Democrats have made inroads with libertarian voters primarily by default. Yes, it's true that Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame caused something of a stir by proposing the term "Libertarian Democrat" to describe his favored breed of progressive. And the most prominent examples of his would-be movement—first-term Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, fellow Montanan Tester, and Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb—have sounded some libertarian themes by being simultaneously pro-choice and pro-gun rights. At the same time, however, their anti-nafta, Wal-Mart-bashing economic populism is anathema to free-market supporters.

In short, if Democrats hope to continue appealing to libertarian-leaning voters, they are going to have to up their game. They need to ask themselves: Are we content with being a brief rebound fling for jilted libertarians, or do we want to form a lasting relationship? Let me make a case for the second option.
Again, a pretty honest and on-target assessment. They did indeed make inroads with libertarians by default. They, unfortunately, were all that was left, speaking of a viable party, when libertarians began turning their backs on the GOP. Where else to go? And in this case, Democrats were somewhat less objectionable than Republicans.

As is obvious, Lindsey's fantasy, as it is with most conservative Democrats, is to find a way to make a permanent home for libertarians among Democrats. And Lindsey makes a valiant effort.
Today's ideological turmoil, however, has created an opening for ideological renewal—specifically, liberalism's renewal as a vital governing philosophy. A refashioned liberalism that incorporated key libertarian concerns and insights could make possible a truly progressive politics once again—not progressive in the sense of hewing to a particular set of preexisting left-wing commitments, but rather in the sense of attuning itself to the objective dynamics of U.S. social development. In other words, a politics that joins together under one banner the causes of both cultural and economic progress.
In reality, depending on the particulars, the game plan isn't a particularly bad one, and, I'm certain, there are those libertarians among us who would be open to a fusion with "progressives" if indeed the liberalism talked about were the traditional liberalism of Hayek and von Mises, and not that of Chomsky and Pelosi. Of course that's what Lindsey is calling for, but I cannot imagine the modern Democratic party jettisoning its "preexisting left-wing commitments" in favor of a more traditionally liberal agenda. Because a more traditionally liberal agenda would be more focused on liberty than egalitarianism, and egalitarianism is the core of today's progressive agenda.
I suppose there is something in that view. I definitely have been pissed about the out of control spending and increase in government that the GOP has done in recent years. They seem to be in competition with the Dems on who can piss away more money. The problem I'm having is that I can't see the power base of the Dems every coming even moderately closer to the small government or fiscally responsible side. I think the Repubs can be driven back to their traditional stand on these things, but I don't see the Dems moving.

The Volokh Conspiracy has several entries on this topic. Todd Zywiki starts:
Both Mallaby and Lindsey focus on the level of specific policies, but I think there is a more fundamental question here about philosophies.

I often have pondered whether in the post-Cold War era a more natural alignment of American political parties are along the general lines of libertarian v. populist, rather than the traditional conservative v. liberal distinctions.

Many have remarked on the tension in the coalition of religious traditionalists and libertarians on social views. But I've never really understood why religious voters would be partial to free market economic policies. There seems to be an obvious distrust of the amorality of the market there, especially as it often produces what religious voters obviously consider to be immoral entertainment and other products. Nor have I ever seen among religious folks a particular appreciation of the invisible hand process of the market, as their worldview seems much more comfortable with a constructivist rationalism than spontaneous order systems. To the extent that there is a coherent economic philosophy here, it seems to me that it is more naturally communitarian than free market. This is consistent with the more specific policy observations that religious voters seem perfectly content with economic policies like farm subsidies, steel tariffs, immigration limits, and distrust of the WTO and other international trade organizations. Note also that during this past election, support for ballot initiatives that increased the minimum wage drew overwhelming support in the red states on which they were proposed. That doesn't seem very consistent with a free-market worldview.

Then there is Ilya Somin:
In my view, it is important to differentiate the theory of intellectual coherence between liberalism and libertarianism from the much more dubious possibility of a political alliance. In my view, liberal and libertarian ideologies have much in common. But that commonality is unlikely to lead to a political alliance anytime soon.

At the level of ideology and political theory, libertarians and liberals have much in common, probably more than libertarians and most conservatives do. Both groups value individual liberty; both believe that the government should generally stay out of religious and "values" issues, which should be left to individual choice (though there are some countervailing strands of thought on this among some "communitarian" and feminist liberals); both place no special value on tradition; and both want to maximize individual happiness and utility. Some conservatives also share these values, but there are a great many who do not because their version of conservatism stems from either an adherence to traditionalism for its own sake or fundamentalist religious principles.

Liberals believe that they should stay our of religious issues? Since when? Last I saw, and heavily supported by the actions of the ACLU, is that liberals believe in the complete abolition of any religious content in the public realm. Especially if it relates to Christianity. I also think the contention that liberals believe in individual liberty is incorrect. They, like the conservatives, have their zones that they believe in, and other zones that they don't. Look at gun control for a clear example where this generic statement fails catastrophically.

Ilya Somin also has this piece.

All interesting reading. I don't see Libertarians fitting either side cleanly. That is pretty well agreed upon over all. If the Repugs can realign their philosophy back 10 years, and actually adhere to it for a while, I think they'll be able to draw back more of the Libertarians than the Dems will be able to draw in the near term.


Anonymous said...

We libertarians wish to have nothing to do with the Democrats. It's absurd to even suggest such an alliance. While we're dissapointed with out conservative friends, we'll hang with them, thank you.

At least they don't want to force seat belt laws on us, tell us what we can and cannot smoke and where,
force stupid helmets on our kids when they ride their bikes, take away our guns, and draft us into the Military to meet some stupid affirmative action quota.

Eric at

Nylarthotep said...

"We libertarians?" Nice that you are the chairman of that group. Unfortunately, there is a lot of discussion on the point, and you obviously don't speak for all libertarians.

I don't disagree that the majority of Libertarians will avoid the Liberal or Dem cause, I think that most of the commentary that has been made on the topic states that clearly. But there are those that are libertarian with the little "l" that tend to shift, and those are obviously the ones that the liberal activists want to ensnare.