Best of FF: Have Libertarians Lost Their Way?

December 28th, 2011 at 12:59 pm | 47 Comments |

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As 2011 comes to a close, FrumForum plans to re-run some of our best featured pieces from the year. Kenneth Silber’s piece on the libertarian movement is especially important in light of Ron Paul’s recent surge in the polls

Last fall, I wrote for FrumForum about “How I Joined the Vast RINO Conspiracy,” tracing how I, a longtime self-described “libertarian conservative,” got out of step with the right as the right moved further right and as I moved toward the center. Some readers applauded my independent thinking and others invited me to drag my backside out of the Republican Party (something I’ve declined to do).

A new book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America, by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, respectively the editors of and Reason magazine, has given me much to contemplate, on how libertarianism fits into American politics, how Reason fits into libertarianism, and why I, a onetime fairly regular contributor to that magazine, eventually failed to fit in at Reason.

Noting the rising numbers of unaffiliated voters, Gillespie and Welch argue American politics is moving beyond the longtime duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties, much as new technologies and empowered consumers have undermined duopolies in other fields — Macy’s and Gimbels, MCI and AT&T, Kodak and Fujifilm. In a somewhat strained literary metaphor, the authors liken the two major parties to Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” as both are complicit in bloating government.

The weakening of the two big parties is ushering in a “libertarian moment,” according to Gillespie and Welch, as the public shows growing affinity for a “default preference for the freedom to pursue happiness as we define it without interference from government.” The authors predict not some surprising Libertarian Party surge but rather that fluid coalitions of independents and disaffected major-party members will be increasingly influential, “provoking purple-faced rebukes from the political establishment, and pushing politicians in directions they had no intention of going.”

A sizable chunk of the book is devoted to “case studies in making life richer, weirder, and better” over the past 40-odd years, ranging from Czech rockers undermining the Soviet Empire, to Southwest Airlines toppling airline regulations, to Fred Eckhardt’s 1970 pamphlet on then-illegal home beermaking paving the way for a thriving craft brew industry. The authors celebrate the maverick career of baseball statistics whiz Bill James as an example of the demise of the mid-20th century organization-man ethos of conforming to some big institution and staying there for decades. They applaud Tiger Woods for bucking ethnic categories by calling himself a “Cablinasian.”

It’s no accident that some of the case studies have little to do with politics. This book, its authors proclaim, is not just a manifesto for independents in politics but also for independence from politics — for shrinking the political realm so more of our lives can benefit from the choice and innovation that government stifles. Gillespie and Welch describe their own Reasonoid libertarianism thus:

Like the magazine we write for, we agitate for the aspirational goal of “free minds and free markets,” celebrating a world of expanding choice — in lifestyles, identities, goods, work arrangements and more — and exploring the institutions, policies and attitudes necessary for maximizing their proliferation. We are happy warriors against busybodies, elites, and gatekeepers who insist on dictating how other people should live their lives. Like John Stuart Mill, we’re big on “experiments in living.” Within the broadest possible parameters, we believe that you should be able to think what you want, live where you want, trade for what you want, eat what you want, smoke what you want, and wed whom you want. You should also be willing to shoulder the responsibilities entailed by your actions. Those general guidelines don’t explain everything, and they certainly don’t mean that there aren’t hard choices to make, but as basic principles, they go a hell of a long way toward creating a world that is tolerant, free, prosperous, vibrant, and interesting.

As general guidelines, those sound pretty good to me. I note, also, that they seem to admit some degree of flexibility, with mentions of “broadest possible parameters” and “hard choices.” That’s a different attitude than in some libertarian arguments, where government must be limited or abolished in accordance with some abstract doctrine rigorously provable as a matter of simple logic, and where natural or constitutional rights are no less cut-and-dried than the beef jerky in your basement bunker.

I would have been interested, however, to see Gillespie and Welch actually address some “hard choices,” delving into areas where they see exceptions or ambiguities in the application of their guidelines (or where they accept unpalatable outcomes for the sake of holding to them). The book tends not to get into such matters. There’s no analysis, for instance, of whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act was warranted in its limitations on property rights (I say yes; Ron Paul says no).  To choose another unaddressed issue, might some government action to limit the risks of climate change be justified, or are greenhouse gas emissions just high-carbon experiments in living?

Moreover, it seems to me that sometimes government activism helps produce the “expanding choice” this libertarian manifesto champions, even if the authors show little interest in exploring that connection. Surely, the Interstate Highway System gave people some new options, as did the Erie Canal way back when. Gillespie and Welch celebrate the Internet as driver of choice and opportunity, but describe its 1969 invention rather obliquely (“a new technology allowing university computers to communicate with one another went live”) without mentioning the Pentagon agency that did it.

Would America be more vibrant, prosperous and interesting if the small sliver of the federal budget devoted to science were excised by measures such as Rand Paul’s push to eliminate the Energy Department? It’s hard for me to see how terminating research projects that are too large-scale or long-term for the private sector would yield greater choices of technologies and careers. It would produce more freedom only in the sense that a man stranded on a tiny desert island is wonderfully free because he doesn’t have to pay any taxes.

Such qualms about stringent libertarianism have shaped my thinking as a center-right dissenter, a deviationist apostle of the Frumian Heresy. But as I was once a contributor to Reason, my checkered history with the magazine merits some elaboration, in the interests of context and disclosure.

During the 1990s, when the estimable Virginia Postrel was editor of Reason, I wrote a dozen pieces for the magazine, on topics ranging from space property rights to fluctuating sperm counts to the free market’s possibilities for offshore platforms.

I was attracted to Reason in large measure because its libertarianism tended to avoid dogmatism and utopianism. The magazine in the Postrel years had an empirical bent and a focus on policy details. I could, for instance, write about radon regulation in late 1998 at a moment when the Weekly Standard was overflowing with the Monica Lewinski scandal (fun fact: I tried selling the radon story idea to theStandard first and was told by an editor there that they weren’t currently publishing anything not about the scandal).

For a few years early in this millennium, I drifted away from Reason, so to speak; I was busy with, among other things, writing aboutouter space for Lou Dobbs but by 2005 Gillespie, then editing the magazine, coaxed me to write some more articles, which I did on subjects including artificial intelligence and intelligent design.

Unexpectedly, at some point in late 2007 or so, Gillespie and his managing editor Jesse Walker stopped replying to my emails. It wasn’t clear why. Perhaps I had failed some ideological purity test, though it was also possible that my topic interests were deemed peripheral to the magazine’s or that my rapport with the staff just lacked the good chemistry it’d had during the Postrel years. I didn’t press for an explanation. From long years of freelancing, I’d learned that if someone is wise or foolish enough to not want your writing, there’s no point arguing about it.

Then, in 2008, Matt Welch, whom I didn’t know personally, was appointed Reason’s editor, and Gillespie moved to the online side. One of Welch’s early contributions was an essay that sniped at David Frum’s book Comeback for calling on Republicans to “cave on new spending and regulations … in exchange for tax cuts.” That description suggested a surprisingly poor grasp of Frum’s book, which I had reviewed for the New York Post, and both David and I had some fun pointing this out.

Such was my parting with Reason magazine. Be it noted that I am on friendly terms with several ex-girlfriends with whom I had messier breakups than the one I had with Reason. Notwithstanding the ideological differences outlined above, this ex-Reasonoid still finds much appeal in the magazine’s live-and-let-live ethos of free-market economics, social liberalism and cultural eclecticism. But how well is that ethos reflected in the “libertarian moment” the authors see arising, for which they present as evidence the political ascents of Ron Paul and Rand Paul and the Tea Party?

Consider this statement by Gillespie and Welch in The Declaration of Independents:

Those pushing for smaller government are not members of some sort of reactionary John Birch Society recoiling from a world that might pollute our precious bodily fluids. By all indications, Americans are more comfortable with ethnic, social, gender, cultural and religious differences than ever before.

That strikes me as whistling past the graveyard, or at least past the venue where Ron Paul was keynote speaker for the John Birch Society. Similarly, the authors’ desire to let you “live where you want [and] trade for what you want” jibes poorly with antipathy to immigration and trade pacts, let alone fears expressed by Ron Paul and Rand Paul that a “North American Union” will run a “NAFTA superhighway” through our country and impose a new currency, the “amero.” Perhaps we’re living in a “conspiracist moment” rather than a libertarian one.

Gillespie and Welch acknowledge Ron Paul’s “conspiracist belief in the nonexistent North American Union” and cite it, along with “his role in disseminating racist newsletters in the early 1990s” as two of “a thousand reasons” (I wish they’d given the full list) why “Ron Paul is in no way a viable candidate for anything other than his safe congressional seat.” But they treat these as mere personal quirks that should not be allowed to distract from Paul’s valuable message of smaller government.

I don’t think message and messenger can be separated that neatly. When Ron Paul rails against the Federal Reserve and its “cronies” on Wall Street, for instance, he is not just expressing a position on central banking (one with which I disagree); he is also stirring up resentments and stereotypes that have little to do with tolerance and comfort with differences.

Insofar as we are entering a “libertarian moment,” it seems to be one in which the nature of the libertarian idea is very much up for grabs. I hope The Declaration of Independents receives a wide audience, promoting the relatively benign version of libertarianism sketched out by Gillespie and Welch.

Originally published on June 18th, 2011.

Recent Posts by Kenneth Silber

47 Comments so far ↓

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  • Nanotek

    Thank you, Mr. Silber and FF for reprinting it. I’d missed it.

    After reading this piece, I had the feeling I’d been allowed to light a torch from a campfire. My thanks.

    Will buy and read The Declaration of Independents.

  • icarusr

    This is a clear-eyed piece.

    It seems to me that the writer, while cogent on specific policy issues that depart from libertarianism, might well have noted the fundamental incoherence at the heart of any libertarian movement that is not also anarchic. For, the sole difference between anarchy and libertarianism is the latter’s core belief in harnessing the power of the State to protect “private property”. Herein lies the challenge for libertarian coherence: they expect the State to protect property, but do not permit the State (in democratic states, the people acting as the State) to set out rules and conditions for the provision of said protection.

    Where anarchism is, for all its faults, coherent in rejecting any State authority over the individual, libertarianism is, at its core, a toddlerised philosophy: it claims “MINE” with the vehemence of a two-year old, demands the protection of same by MummyandDaddy State, but flies away in a tantrum the moment Mummy pushes the greens or Daddy turn the TV off.

    • busboy33

      Very, very well said.

    • Baron Siegfried

      Yes, Libertarians tend to fall into a pair of categories – contrarian MENSA geeks who delight in being provocative and who think that when it all comes apart, they’re going to be safe in Galt’s Gulch. Sadly, their utter lack of clues prevents anyone capable of critical thinking from taking them too seriously.

      The other is the bitter old miserly types who simply seeks a philosophy that justifies grabbing & holding all they can, devil take the hindmost. However, what is also characteristic of both is that the depth of their knowledge is largely limited to websites, wicki, slogans, and partisan books. Lots of people like to quote von Mises, who is easily the most turgid writer I’ve ever encountered, but not one in a hundred who quotes him has read him. I tried, and gave up about halfway through (compared to him, Marx reads like Tom Clancy) If you’ve gotten all the way through ‘Human Action’, my sympathies and more power to you . . .

  • Anonne

    This is a somewhat thought-provoking piece on libertarianism:

    By and large, I think it’s right.

    • valkayec

      Beautifully written. I wish I’d said it myself, since I’ve often argued the same point.

    • Graychin

      Annone – thanks for that link. I really enjoyed reading it.

      I would love to see a self-styled libertarian respond to the central point of that post.

    • Geprodis

      I am not a hardcore Paul supporter, I just prefer him to any other candidate.

      The “Noahpinion” article starts off in the first paragraph by calling Ron Paul and all his supporters racists.

      In the second paragraph the author says the exact same thing as the first paragraph but attempts to make himself appear more reasoned.

      The tyranny of the Work Bosses! The all powerful elite group of work bosses, tell me, if you are a valuable employee…wouldn’t the work boss be afraid of losing you to another company? I guess the author is referring to unskilled workers being abused because they can easily be replaced. What about state and local government? Oh I forgot, the evil people running the city government are going to ban blacks from restaurants.

      Tough violent men are going to kill our families under the Libertarians! Wait…what about local and state police?

      The Ku Klux Klan (what the author means by neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, and social conventions) will dominate all the state least in the South. I guess under Libertarians the people will have to move to the “safe” states.

      In the Libertarian America, the rich people would buy all the beaches!! The State government would be powerless to stop them!

      Ron Paul is for punishing polluters….

      the author of this article has done no research on Ron Paul. He got a hold of the Newsletters and just wants to go hog wild on the racist accusations against Libertarians.

  • Geprodis

    What a completely uninspired piece of prose.

    The authors point is the world is more complicated than Libertarians would like to believe.

    “See, now I am pro-imperialism, pro-federal reserve…the world is very nuanced..”

    The author is still in intellectual purgatory with Frum and his dull banner.

    • valkayec

      From my discussions with advocates of the Austrian School, specifically those who follow Hayak, and from my own research, I’d say yes, the world is far more nuanced and “complicated than Libertarians would like to believe.”

      • Geprodis

        Valkayec: accusing others of being simplistic…but cannot explain their own philosophy because it’s too complicated for anyone to understand. (“No, just too complicated for Libertarians”..please spare me the clever retort)

        • valkayec

          I wasn’t asked to explain my philosophy of governance; thus, your charge is spurious at best. Oh, and my right of free speech guaranteed under the 1st Amendment permits me to disagree or refute any statement by anyone else as I choose. Even hard core, Hayek-loving libertarians agree with me on that point.

    • Traveler

      No effin sh*t, Sherlock. The world is nuanced.

      Thanks Valkayec, for stating the obvious more politely. Our new libertarians are having fun showcasing their theoretical economic brilliance while shining a spotlight upon their total lack of the very basics of sociology that underlie the very same economics. This pseudo-intellectual sophomoric BS is thoroughly and completely denied by the abundant the monetary and debt literature going back 5 millennia. Read “Debt” by David Graeber for a comprehensive and illuminating discussion of the various sociological forces that underlie so called money. Dominated by a debt vs. exchange perspective, the past was frighteningly nasty, and these “experts” want to bring us back into it. Without this understanding, it is the only way that permits their theories to function.

      • Geprodis

        Traveller: are you really trying to accuse others of being sophomoric? Your post was just a bunch of clumsy insults.

        • busboy33

          . . . says the commenter whose post was 50% dull insults. Adorable.

        • Geprodis

          I insult Frum and the editors because they keep insulting Ron Paul: tit for tat

          Also, the insults weren’t dull, they were right on :)

        • valkayec

          Geprodis, this is Frum’s forum. He is entitled to any opinion he chooses to hold. You may disagree agree with him and any other person commenting on this forum as is your right. But if you agree with 1st Amendment rights and the right of private property (and this forum is private property), then you have to agree, logically, that Frum can write anything he chooses to write. Moreover, you are perfectly free not to frequent this forum and are perfectly free to start your own forum on which defend Paul and refute Frum.

          By the way, since you’re fairly new here, invectives won’t win over many people to your side or win you many arguments. One thing I’ve learned over the months I’ve read Frum Forum, the people who comment here are very highly educated, highly knowledgeable on a variety of subjects and are well informed. If as you say, you adore Paul, surely you can present a case for him that neither insults (the intelligence) of others or demeans those who hold opposing views. Your challenge is to present his case, e.g. what he is for, why he is for it, and how it will help the commons in general. If you cannot do that – that is present a positive case for Paul – then I’m afraid most here will see you as a troll and ignore you. I’m sorry, but that’s life. Free will and all that.

        • Geprodis

          Valkayek – I don’t recall arguing against free speech. I’m not new here – I just haven’t been back in awhile.

          I gather you are a frequent commenter and obviously consider yourself

          “very highly educated, highly knowledgeable on a variety of subjects and are well informed.”

          thanks for the laugh, I am always amused when people need to tell people very bluntly that they are a smarty pants.

          When did I say I adored Paul?

          David Frum has not said anything about Ron Paul’s domestic or foreign policies…he just keeps calling him a crazy racist and other insults.

          Do I think David Frum should pull down Frum Forum because of this?
          Do I think I should be able to give him a taste of his own medicine?

          “If you cannot do that – that is present a positive case for Paul – then I’m afraid most here will see you as a troll and ignore you. I’m sorry, but that’s life. Free will and all that.”

          The positive case for Paul is pretty obvious:
          1.) Every other candidate will most likely increase the military and attack another nation.
          2.) Every other candidate will balloon the debt, increase the budget deficit, waste taxpayer money.
          3.)Every other candidate is for eroding civil liberties -Patriot Act and the recent Defense Act

          I obviously touched a nerve (when I challenged you to explain your philosophy rather than call Libertarians simplistic), I didn’t realize you were the forum moderator.

        • Traveler

          I merely stated that your ilk have an incomplete awareness of reality. I then went on to describe how and provide a good reference for you to examine. The fact that you take the “entire post” as a “bunch of clumsy insults” proves my case far better than I ever could. For this, I thank you.

          You might want to try to read and comprehend what others write before you reveal your arrogant ignorance. Until then, please STFU.

        • Geprodis

          Traveler – more insults, nothing of substance. I’ve got your number.

        • Traveler

          You talking about yourself? When truth hurts, lie.

      • Nanotek

        Thanks, Traveler. Graeber’s new to me. Will check him out.

        • Traveler

          I am still plowing through it, as it is a bit repetitive. Guaranteed to get me to sleep. But the underlying thesis is quite well supported, and somewhat novel to me being a techy guy. I hated sociology as it was a prerequisite which i ended up taking in my senior year. I had great discussions with Tony Campolo (of Clinton fame) in lecture hall of 300. Now I find that there is a lot of meat to the topic. Explains a lot of what is going on. So give it a read. I would love your take on it.

  • ZachB

    Libertarians lost its way because they fail to realize the importance of government. It is not much different than socialists failing to understand the importance of markets.

    No matter how you dress it up, it was always a utopian ideal.

    • Nanotek

      U.S. military seems both a socialist enterprise maintained by markets and an aspect government.

      I don’t understand your points of distinction.

      • ZachB

        Most element of our economy have both socialistic and capitalistic aspects that work in sync.

        Libertarians fail to understand the government services and regulations that help makes us a more free and prosperous society. This idea that free markets and hands off government will solve all our problems is a utopian ideal which ignores reality.

        • valkayec

          It not just ignores reality, it ignores human behavior. Libertarianism, like pure socialism, are utopian in that they both assume humans always behave righteously (e.g. rationally) in the common good. But millennia of human history shows the opposite: humans tend to act in their own, often selfish, self interest. Centuries ago, when one tribe invaded the lands of another it was for profit and greed, regardless of how many died as a result. European Imperialism was exactly the same. Nothing really has changed all that much about human nature since those earlier eras. Humans are not inherently good; they are filled to the brim with conflicting emotions, often engaging in the worst behavior just to get along or because they believe it’s in their self-interest. The laws and regulations the commons developed over centuries, and to which we are the inheritors, while not always perfect are meant to curb or restrain the worst impulses in human nature.

          For me, at least, this understanding of human nature and behavior as well as history is why I firmly believe libertarianism will never work or create a stable, growing commonwealth.

  • Houndentenor

    Have Libertarians lost their way? How can one lose something on has never had?

  • armstp

    How do Libertarians expect to compete in the world of China, Germany, Brazil, etc. ? Good luck… the world is moving to more government-assisted capitalism, not less.

    • valkayec

      When I asked that very question of a high-profile follower of Hayek, he didn’t have an answer.

      • Nanotek

        I may be missing some important distinction regarding libertarianism:individualism but cooperative enterprises by individuals — like some corporations — seem to compete on an even footing

        • valkayec

          I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your comment. Would you elaborate?

        • Nanotek

          my confusion centers on the question of how Libertarians can compete against the global trend toward government-assisted capitalism, such as in countries like China, Germany, Brazil, etc.

          I thought libertarianism, as a philosophy, includes voluntary collective enterprises — like corporations; and don’t some private and publicly-traded corporations compete effectively against Chinese, German and Brazilian government-assisted corporations?

          that said, I get that government-assisted corporations are part of America’s DNA — like the Louisiana Purchase, the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Acts and the Alaska Purchase.

          I hope that helps, valkayec; I’m just no expert of libertarianism or economics.

        • valkayec

          Well, Nanotek, therein lies the conundrum. In my conversations – actually philosophical debates – with Hayek followers, there is no answer to your main question about government assisted corporations from China, et al. One can only suppose that libertarian ideals and the laissez-faire free market will be so successful that they will somehow convince those governments to convert. To libertarians, companies must compete on their own or go under. No economic support or assistance is permitted.

          As for competing successfully against China, etc., I’m no expert on that subject currently. I’ll have to leave that discussion for others here. What I’m seeing in the market – at least from what I see and read at Bloomberg and the NYT Business section – our corporations, devoid of any governmental assistance particularly as it pertains to China and India, are not competing well. China requires certain restrictions on foreign companies doing business in their country. As a result, those companies are not wholly competing on their own but are part of the Chinese managed economy. I can’t speak for Brazil and Germany, except to say that Germany has very stringent trade laws and does provide economic support to their companies.

        • Traveler

          Basically, the GSEs in China are set up in one of two ways. Some are the totally state run enterprises, such as the high speed rail. A colleague of mine recounted a story when he was toured around by no. 36 in the CCP, who had a massive limo with the plate no. 000036. The functionary pointed out to him, “see that bullet train from Germany (the first line from Shanghai), that is the only one we are going to buy”. Sure enough, they reverse engineered the technology, and built thousands of miles in the three years since then. Formidable indeed.

          The second type is even more insidious. In this case, companies like GE, Siemens and Veolia are forced to partner with a GSE as the 51% partner, and share their IP with them. So the GSE gets half the revenue, and all the IP, and eventually takes over the business. The only reason the companies permit this is that they all do it, and would lose out on even that small portion of a very vast market. Kind of pathetic. Like our sanctions on Iraq that the French and Germans gleefully bypassed.

          This is why we need to have more teeth in our trade discussions. Its not the currency issue at all. Its the unfair practices that really hurt. Libertarians would be able to tolerate this even less.

  • PracticalGirl

    Ron Paul’s singular governing characteristic is his near total failure to coalesce support around anything that even remotely upholds Libertarian principles. In his decades as a government servant, he’s sponsored 620 measures. Just 4 have made it to the floor. Only one has become a bill signed into law, HR 2121, which allowed for the sale of one custom house in Galveston. Paul’s colleagues describe him as genial but without much interest in the labors of real governing- building coalitions to back his ideas. It appears that he’s not just finding the task difficult, but that he’s simply not interested in building broad support for Libertarian ideas.

    So- Have all Libertarians lost their way? Not sure, but I think those who point to a 12-term Republican Congressman- ineffective in gaining any traction at all for this school of thought- as one who best exemplifies Libertarianism certainly have.

    • Geprodis

      What are you talking about? Libertarianism is more popular than ever BECAUSE of Ron Paul. Frum is talking about it everyday and you’re talking about it now.

      Ron Paul has achieved a lot – you are looking at the small picture.

      • PracticalGirl

        Ron Paul demonstrates only that Libertarian thought is unworkable in government. Or at the very least that he, himself, is unwilling to work it. Tell me- what has he accomplished in 22 years in government? Nothing. If that’s the Libertarian legacy you’re searching for, that’s fine. But if you’re looking for any real movement from the movement, Paul isn’t it. He has, however, found a really slick way to use Libertarians to his advantage. He’s never short of fundraising to keep his job or run for President.

        • Geprodis

          Even the mainstream media says Ron Paul is getting 15% of primary voters….shouldn’t it be 1% by your measure?

          Libertarianism is becoming more popular because of Ron Paul.

          Yes, 1 Libertarian Congressman can’t do much, really anything, to stop the other 434 from making mistakes.

          Ron Paul lacks charisma..I mean he has none. So yes, building coalitions would be difficult…but cutting government spending would be possible if he was President.

  • think4yourself

    Kenneth Silber’s romanticism of Libertarianism is attractive to me – but so is a collective existence where I and my fellow man share all of our resources to all of our betterment.

    Ron Paul and his ilk would have us think that the Federal Gov’t is the bogeyman and all powers should be exercised by the states – but they don’t want the states to exercise power either. If we ended the departments the RP wants to close at both the Federal and State level, then individuals would have no protection for houses that collapse due to faulty construction (think China, Turkey, Iran, etc), there would be no investigative body when a virus runs through the nation unchecked, etc.

    I like the ideas the Silber holds (and is well spoken here), but don’t see how they stand up in the light of the modern world. What would be the Libertarian position on (1) Abortion (2) Stem Cell Research (3) International trade (4) Any kind of consumer protection (5) Any kind of protection against the malfeasance of large, multinational corporate interests (6) Right to die (see Terry Schivo) (7) Any limits on 2nd Amendment rights (ie is okay for me to keep Sarin gas so long as I don’t deploy it except in defense on my own property?), etc.

    • valkayec

      I’d guess the answer on your positions question depends upon which self-identifying libertarian you ask. For example, the Pauls state they are true libertarians, e.g. government should have no control over individual actions. Yet, both Ron and Rand Paul are firmly against abortion and consider life begins at conception. Another libertarian might say a government of kind has no authority or right to interfere with individual decisions…that the individual holds primacy and no government should restrict or interfere with that primacy.

      So, as I understand it, from libertarians with whom I’ve discussed the philosophy:

      - On trade, it should be completely free and open regardless of the consequences to workers and thus the overall economy. For example, I was told that free trade reduces prices for the masses which is good, but the resulting job losses were inconsequential because workers should look elsewhere or retrain themselves at their own expense. So, buying cheap goods from China is good for workers in general because prices are reduced and those laid off as a result of out-sourcing should be left to their own devices to find re-employment. FYI, Constitutional libertarians will say income taxes should be eliminated or greatly reduced and tariffs increased to conform to Constitutional taxing thought back in the 1790s.

      - I’ve not discussed stem cell research per se, but I would guess it falls under the “individual is primary” modus operendi.

      - Consumer protection is not needed as it interferes with rights. Government should not be in the business of regulating the rights. In a laissez-faire, free market, if a business does something that harms others (e.g. kills children with a dangerous or poisonous product) people can choose to sue the company or choose not to purchase the company’s products, thus putting it out of business.

      - As far as corporate malfeasance is concerned, it’s the same as as above.

      - On the right to die and 2nd amendment rights, again those are individual rights to which the government has no right to interfere. Government only has a right to interfere – take you to court – if you harm someone else.

      As I wrote earlier, it’s a pretty utopian ideology that assumes everyone, including financiers and corporations, will behave in the best interests of the commons. And those that don’t will be punished by the free market through loss of sales and market share or by civil courts in cases of physical harm, i.e. death.

  • Falling Rock

    I’ve had many flirtations with libertarianism, but have come to some conclusions:

    Libertarianism as a movement is doomed to fail. It’s the manna for everyone out of power. If the Republicans capture both the executive and legislature, then libertarianism will suddenly appeal to Democrat leaning people. The reverse is true when power shifts. They should simply be honest with themselves, they’re Republicans – that’s alright.

    There are some on the right who believe that libertarianism is system that belongs to the right. Parts of it are. Some parts of it decidedly do not. They will make sure the libertarian tent is untainted by anyone interested in civil liberties. These are people who like to call themselves libertarians and have decided they hate Democrats more than they hate Republicans.

    Libertarianism is a wonderful and very useful ideology to approach almost any issue. It’s a lousy ideology for solutions.

  • baw1064

    My view is that the role of government should be restricted to things which can’t or shouldn’t be left to the private sector, voluntary organizations, or individuals. Obviously lots of room to debate exactly what fits into that category.

    So in a sense I consider myself libertarian–but most people who self-identify that way take things waaaay too far.

  • Danny_K

    This reminds me of why I stopped hanging out at the Reason weblog. I learned to love the libertarian impulse, but the libertarian party line seemed less and less relevant to the world we live in. Particularly after the massive bank bailouts, the idea that we live in a free market and that the government has no right to intervene seems laughable — the government is already up to its eyebrows in the markets, and it’s not leaving any time soon. The libertarian hatred of regulation amounts to abandoning the field to the moneyed interests. After a while, I came to believe that this is the reason that libertarian organizations and think-tanks like Cato and Reason are supported by wealthy companies and individuals — they provide a steady stream of arguments for deregulation while leaving the way clear for those individuals to shape the marketplace to suit their needs.

    But if you acknowledge the racket, you’re kicked out — see Dave Weigel.

  • think4yourself

    I always viewed that I and everyone else had the right exercise and all personal freedoms I wish, up to the point where my exercising those freedoms impinged on someone else’s freedoms. Then government (be it Federal, State or Local) was available to address that conflict of freedoms.

    Therefore, while I could ride my motorcycle without a helmet, but if resulting accidents involving lack of helmets led to increased costs that all had to pay, then government could put restrictions regarding helmets. Same with seatbelt laws (although both make me uncomfortable from a rights point of view).

    That’s why it was easy for me to be pro-choice. I don’t view a collection of cells growing inside another person as a separate individual with rights and I don’t think a bunch of old white guys have the right to force a woman to have a baby – it’s a Libertarian argument for me.