Libertarian Tent-Shrinkers

One of the reasons that American libertarians as a political movement never amount to anything is that they can be incredibly intolerant people. This may seem counterintuitive, but while a great many fiscal and social conservatives are willing to seek compromise in common purpose, libertarians are forever in search of hills to die on for their noble and incorruptible principles, particularly when it comes to locally grown produce or which is the best Von Mises book (Human Action you say? Poseur!). Libertarians form factions within factions, cliques within cliques, and the more libertine they are, the more oppressively dull.

Consider the response of some of the more urban libertarians to the Tea Party, which obviously contains many libertarian minded individuals. But survey data also indicates that much of the Tea Party is opposed to abortion and generally traditionalist in perspective on marriage – they are and were disaffected small-government conservatives, not just fiscal ones. Upon discovering this, some big city libertarians became strongly anti-Tea Party, including certain ones, like David Boaz of the Cato Institute, who took to lambasting Sarah Palin and other Tea Party figures as dull-witted country mice. Where’s the evangelism, folks? If churches took such attitudes toward theological questions, no religious body would exist beyond one or two people.

See this rant from Boaz for a measure of the fault lines between the vast majority of the right and the tiny minority of true libertarians. Boaz argues that conservatives are awful because they have a bad record on personal freedom. Allow me a bit of devil’s advocate:   “Conservatives, like National Review, supported state-imposed racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.” Does Boaz support the Civil Rights Act, which included government mandates over the behavior of private businesses regarding segregation? Forget whether that’s right or wrong: how exactly is that libertarian? “Conservatives opposed legal and social equality for women.” Does Boaz support the Equal Rights Amendment? Why not? Was Barry Goldwater wrong to oppose it? “Conservatives supported laws banning homosexual acts among consenting adults… Conservatives still oppose equal marriage rights for gay couples.” Is Boaz not a federalist? Does he disagree with Justice Thomas’s opinion on the matter that this is not an item for the federal purview? Does he believe in a living constitution? “Conservatives (and plenty of liberals) support the policy of drug prohibition, which results in nearly a million arrests a year for marijuana use.” Sure, but what about crack and heroin? And any libertarian who supports drug legalization prior to the end of the welfare state is not really thinking this through. Prior to that happening, isn’t legalization (as opposed to lighter sentencing) just an act of redistribution and subsidization? “Conservatives support state-imposed prayers and other endorsements of religion in public schools.” I’m not sure about that; I can’t recall the last “state-imposed” prayer law. They do support, however, I must admit, that short ecumenical (but Christian) prayer that is offered in the halls of the U.S. Capitol prior to every day of Congressional action. For Boaz, this is evidently a bridge too far toward the impurities of socialism. Get out of the tent, you blasted liberty haters! There is only room enough here for the truly pure of heart. The ideal libertarian political party, you see, is a party of one.

  1. Aaron Miller
    Guruforhire: Yes, all of that is true, and they are still less insane than the Republican Party.

    But they cannot have a President except through the Republican Party.

  2. Robert Lux

    “The ideal libertarian political party, you see, is a party of one.”

    Exactly!!

    Elitist libertarianism is simply the projection of nihilist individuality: Thoughts about Cleavage.

  3. Skyler

    I think you’re wrong.  Libertarianism has grown quite a bit.  The party is a mess, but the ideology has been very influential, especially with the Tea Party.  

    You can say the same of “conservatives,” whatever you might want that to mean.  Conservatives will insist that we have school prayers.  They will not allow any talk of defense budget cuts.  They go absolutely nuts if you talk about immigration.  They will not tolerate legalization of drugs.

    The republican party is made up of non-conservatives and the party itself is not conservative.  It is an amalgamation of fundamentalist christians, libertarians, and whatever else.  There are also plenty of libertarians who are in that group and vote consistently with them.

    Your insult of libertarians is misplaced and indicates that you don’t like them.  I’m not sure why you have this hostility.

  4. Guruforhire
    Aaron Miller

    Guruforhire: Yes, all of that is true, and they are still less insane than the Republican Party.

    But they cannot have a President except throughthe Republican Party. · 12 minutes ago

    When has that ever been true?

  5. Mr. Bildo

    Speaking of shrinking tents, based on the main feed this afternoon, one might get the impression there is no room left at Ricochet for those lousy libertarians and their ilk.

  6. Ecdysis

    The straw man is dead.

    Boaz never said he supported the Civil Rights Act, he does not support state imposed racial segregation. Also, in re: to banning sexual acts, your federalism argument is totally irrelevant, he never said it wasn’t a state issue, he is saying it was intolerant at the state level. The argument that you make about drug prohibition is a good one, but it assumes that if we legalize heroin and crack that the welfare logs with increase. There are reasonable minds that disagree with that premise. I do think Boaz’s comment about state imposed religion is a straw man that he built, I am unaware of any such laws myself. 

    Boaz correctly points out areas where conservatives are more willing to use the power of the state of shape social structure. Pointing out that objective truth is not being intolerant, and I am sure you have reasons why you think some state action to shape social structure is justified. But to say that pointing out disagreements and policy differences is being intolerant is just plain wrong. Libertarians just hate being at the nodding conventions that are the democrat and republican parties. 

  7. BrentB67
    Mr. Bildo: Speaking of shrinking tents, based on the main feed this afternoon, one might get the impression there is no room left at Ricochet for those lousy libertarians and their ilk. · 4 minutes ago

    Between Bob Dylan presidential freedom medals and bikini self esteem I think the main feed is becoming less relevant. The action is in the Member Feed.

  8. Robert Lux
    Mr. Bildo: Speaking of shrinking tents, based on the main feed this afternoon, one might get the impression there is no room left at Ricochet for those lousy libertarians and their ilk. · 4 minutes ago

    No, I think — along with most other conservatives — libertarians should just stick to what they know best: strictly economic policies, particularly monetary policy.  On moral-political matters they are generally off the map.

  9. Todd

    The best thing that has happened to the Republican party in the last 2 years has been the rise of libertarianism in the conservative movement. 

    Reagan built a coalition that included libertarianism and libertarians (he famously said “the heart of conservatism is libertarianism”), but by 2008, the Haster/Delay/W. Bush Republicans had banished them from the movement, and conservatism had turned into a  two-legged stool which could no longer stand.

    And are you serious?  You are mocking Von Mises?

    Paul Ryan gave every member of 2010 Freshman class a copy of Economics in One Lesson, which is basically layman’s version of Von Mises.  How dare he!

  10. Barkha Herman

    If you are looking for people walking in lock step with each other, then cults are the most likely place.  For all other groups of people, diversity is the name of the game.  Add that to a philosophy that exalts the individual over everything else, and you get libertarians – they are not so much a set of people but a set of sets of individuals….

    To a certain extent, the idea of libertarianism appeals to those who reject those other sets.. so yes, they do appear to be intolerant, disjointed sets rather than a cohesive one.

    The other groups come together over a cause and libertarians tend to have rejection of other causes as the only common theme.   Yes, politically, they are not powerful.  It’s not important that libertarians unite or follow a cult leader.  What is important is that, in every politicians life come moments of libertarian thoughts – especially when signing bills.

    It makes perfect sense to me that the “tent” is really millions of one man tents.  So long as we all respect individual liberty and don’t trample on anyone else’s rights, I don’t want to be in any tent with other smelly people…

  11. Todd
     Add that to a philosophy that exalts the individual over everything else, and you get libertarians – they are not so much a set of people but a set of sets of individuals….

    The idea of extreme individualism is one small strain of libertarianism – the one advocated by Ayn rand. 

    “Power not liberty or reason, was the central thrust of the Randian movement.” — Murray Rothbard

    Libertarianism is primarily concerned with the idea of state coercion.  The idea that it is about extreme individualism is usually a slander we hear from the left.

  12. Barkha Herman

    Exactly.

    Todd

     Add that to a philosophy that exalts the individual over everything else, and you get libertarians – they are not so much a set of people but a set of sets of individuals….

    The idea of extreme individualism is one small strain of libertarianism – the one advocated by Ayn rand. 

    “Power not liberty or reason, was the central thrust of the Randian movement.” — Murray Rothbard

    Libertarianism is primarily concerned with the idea of state coercion.  The idea that it is about extreme individualism is usually a slander we hear from the left. · 7 minutes ago

    Edited 0 minutes ago

    The only thing I will add is that it’s not so much about “state” coercion but coercion by any group.  Liberty for each individual.  Different degrees - but at the heart is individual liberty.

  13. Aodhan

    It’s prejudical screeds like this that make me disidentify with conservatism proper.

    Keep up the good work, Mr. Ecumenical!

  14. Bereket Kelile

    Great post. This is why I’ve always been skeptical of the conventional wisdom that said the GOP should be nice to Paul in order to keep his supporters. They’re not interested in the GOP. Also, as interesting aside, half of Paul’s supporters approve of Obama’s job. What’s funny is that the same cult of personality around Obama was reflected in Paul’s cult. Libertarians often seem to be the most predictable and lockstep. I think it’s best to think of them as a herd of independent thinkers.

  15. Aaron Miller
    Guruforhire

    Aaron Miller

    Guruforhire: Yes, all of that is true, and they are still less insane than the Republican Party.

    But they cannot have a President except throughthe Republican Party.

    When has that ever been true?

    We have always had a two-party system. If Libertarians want a President, they’ll have to usurp Republicans’ position as the party of the Right.

    But Congressional seats are always up for grabs.

  16. Guruforhire
    Aaron Miller

    Guruforhire

    Aaron Miller

    Guruforhire: Yes, all of that is true, and they are still less insane than the Republican Party.

    But they cannot have a President except throughthe Republican Party.

    When has that ever been true?

    We have always had a two-party system. If Libertarians want a President, they’ll have to usurp Republicans’ position astheparty of the Right.

    But Congressional seats are always up for grabs. · 2 minutes ago

    Not entirely true.  We have recent history in canada, and the demise of the whig party in america as examples.  The republican party WAS a third party.

  17. Barkha Herman
    bereket kelile: Great post. This is why I’ve always been skeptical of the conventional wisdom that said the GOP should be nice to Paul in order to keep his supporters. 

    I have to admit – I am skeptical of any group that has the conventional wisdom that they should be “nice” to someone to keep their followers.  I would like to learn more about this.  Where is this conventional wisdom acquired / documented / preached?

  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Mr. Bildo: Speaking of shrinking tents, based on the main feed this afternoon, one might get the impression there is no room left at Ricochet for those lousy libertarians and their ilk. 

    So… libertarians want to shrink the tent and non-libertarian conservatives want to kick libertarians out of the tent?

    This is what the good Lord invented alcohol for. Have a beer. Now you’re in a beer tent. Isn’t that better?

  19. Aaron Miller

    What I love about libertarians is how they like to pretend social conservatives are welcome in the Republican Party while libertarians are not.

    It’s not Libertarians versus All Other Conservatives. Libertarians are just one of several variations of conservatism.

    None of us thinks the Republican Party as it is represents us very well. Don’t leave it. Change it.

  20. Robert Lux
    Todd

     Add that to a philosophy that exalts the individual over everything else, and you get libertarians – they are not so much a set of people but a set of sets of individuals….

    The idea of extreme individualism is one small strain of libertarianism – the one advocated by Ayn rand. 

    “Power not liberty or reason, was the central thrust of the Randian movement.” — Murray Rothbard

    Nonsense.  Whatever the differences between the two, Rothbard’s extreme individualism was why, as Charles Kesler pointed out, William F. Buckley

    deplored those, such as the ultra-libertarian Murray Rothbard, who were “so much the captive of anti-statist obsession” that they “loudly professed” that they couldn’t distinguish “between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the leaders of the United States.”

    And as WFB elsewhere wrote, Rothbarians surely in mind: “If we cannot hold up the Bill of Rights over against the Communist Manifesto and declare the one a benchmark of civilization, the other of modern atavism, then learning is really of little use….”