Tag: libertarianism

Communitarians and Libertarians

Communitarian “guru” Amitai Etzioni debated Roger Pilon at Cato two weeks ago. Also me, 18 years ago. And last week he had two postings at the Encyclopedia Britannica blog. I offer some thoughts on individualism, communitarianism, and implausible misrepresentations of libertarianism at the Britannica today.

When I hear communitarians like Etzioni describe the libertarian view of individualism, I wonder if they’ve ever read any libertarian writing other than a Classic Comics edition of Ayn Rand….

There’s no conflict between individualism and community. There’s a conflict between voluntary association and coerced association. And communitarians dance around that conflict.

Do you believe that “The libertarian perspective, put succinctly, begins with the assumption that individual agents are fully formed and their value preferences are in place prior to and outside of any society”? Of course not. Who would? Read the Britannica column to find out who says you do.

Gerson Gets It Wrong Again

Michael Gerson’s predictable, reflexive attack on Rep. Ron Paul in his May 10 op-ed in the WaPo for Paul’s sensible stand in favor of ending the futile crusade called the War on Drugs, makes a curious argument.  He asserts that there is a “de facto decriminalization of drugs” in Washington, D.C.  Curious, because there are few places in the nation where the drug war is waged more vigorously.  Doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

Yet Gerson would expand the effort.  Never mind that the social pathologies in the District for which Gerson’s compassionate conservative heart bleeds are mainly a result of making drugs illegal:  Turf wars with innocents caught in the crossfire; children quitting school to sell drugs because of the artificially high prices prohibition creates; disrespect for the law due to a massive criminal subculture.

Gerson, one of the chief architects of the disastrous Bush II administration, should step away from his obsessive disdain for libertarianism and consider the nationwide decriminalization of drugs undertaken in Portugal in 2001.  Drugs use is down, particularly among young people, and drug-related crimes have dropped precipitously.  There is a reason hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have taken to the streets to call for the end to the war on drugs there that is tearing apart the fabric of Mexican society.  On top of the social aspects of the drug war dystopia, Cato senior fellow and Harvard economist Jeffery Miron estimates that ending the drug war in the U.S. would save $41.3 billion annually.  As usual, Ron Paul has it right.

The Libertarian Moment?

On NPR, Mara Liasson tells Melissa Block that we’re in a “libertarian moment” in politics:

BLOCK: And Ron Paul appears to be running. Again, he got a lot of devoted followers on the Internet last time during the 2008 bid, not so many votes in the primary. So this time around, is he a significant addition to the Republican field or more of an asterisk?

LIASSON: Well, I don’t think he’s a huge factor in terms of the nomination. In the 2008 GOP primary, he got only about 6 percent of the Republican vote. However, as you said, he does have a devoted following, lots of libertarian-leaning young people. He can raise millions of dollars online in a single day in one of his famous money bombs. So he brings energy to the party, and the Republican Party base seems to have caught up to him on the issues.

The GOP is in a real libertarian moment right now, and Paul has always been all about the debt and the deficit and taxes and spending. You could call him the godfather of the Tea Party.

Of course, Paul may have to split the libertarian Republican vote with former two-term governor Gary Johnson. Johnson also was “a Tea Partier when tea-partying wasn’t cool,” according to the Capitol Report of New Mexico. He vetoed 750 bills in eight years, not counting line-item vetoes. And since today’s libertarian moment goes beyond spending and health care to include rising support for gay marriage and marijuana legalization, Johnson might be better positioned to ride that wave and attract younger and independent voters.

Footnote: Two weeks ago NPR speculated about an Ayn Rand moment building from the financial crisis to the opening of Atlas Shrugged.

Is Libertarianism Selfishness?

That’s what Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, writes in the Washington Post. I take a different view in my new column at the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog:

Libertarians want to live in what Adam Smith called the Great Society, the complex and productive society made possible by social interaction. We agree with George Soros that “cooperation is as much a part of the system as competition.” In fact, we consider cooperation so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about….

The American, and libertarian, belief in freedom is not a “mania,” nor is it “selfishness.” It’s a philosophy of individual rights, the rule of law, and the institutions necessary for social cooperation. Read Locke, Hume, Smith, TocquevilleHayek—and yes, Rand—if you seriously believe that the philosophy of freedom can be summed up as “selfishness.”

Much more at the Britannica.

Catholicism and Libertarianism

Here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter I sent to the editor of The Washington Post:

Michael Gerson’s claim that “Catholic social teaching is simply not libertarian” [“A Catholic Test for Politics,” Feb. 8], reveals that Gerson either does not understand Catholicism, or libertarianism, or both.  Immediately thereafter, he cites many libertarian aspects of Catholic social teaching: “the necessity of limited government,” subsidiarity, respecting the human rights of “even illegal immigrants,” etc.  When he claims that repealing ObamaCare or government funding for AIDS and malaria conflicts with Catholic social teaching, he ignores that government coercion is inherent in those policies.  Is Gerson claiming that Catholic social teaching condones using violence or the threat of violence to heal the sick?  Catholics who reject those policies do so because they want to heal the sick through peaceful, non-coercive means. They cast their lots with Christ – not Caesar, as Gerson recommends.  Gerson should spend some time learning about libertarianism, from actual libertarians. I would be happy to arrange it.

Just another uninformed potshot from the columnist who sees libertarianism’s emphasis on limited government as “morally empty,” “anti-government,” “a scandal,” “an idealism that strangles mercy,” and guilty of “rigorous ideological coldness.”

Reagan’s Libertarian Spirit

At the Britannica Blog I take a look back at Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his impending 100th birthday (February 6):

Libertarians have mixed feelings toward Ronald Reagan. When we’re feeling positive, we remember that he used to say, “Libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.”

Other times, we call to mind his military interventionism, his encouragement of the then-new religious right (“I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.”), and his failure to really reduce the size of government. But the more experience we have with later presidents, the better Reagan looks in retrospect….

And in those moments we’re tempted to paraphrase the theme song of All in the Family and say, “Mister, we could use a man like Ronald Reagan again.”

Bonus: The entry contains links to Encyclopedia Britannica entries on such topics as libertarianism and individualism, normally available only to subscribers. More Britannica reflections on Reagan here. Some other Cato thoughts on Reagan here.

Libertarians in the News

Libertarians are getting strange new respect. Or at least the major media are mentioning libertarians and libertarian ideas more often. Just a few items I noticed this weekend:

New York Times political reporter Matt Bai profiles David Kirkham, founder of the Utah Tea Party, one of the first Tea Party groups to draw political blood when it knocked off Sen. Robert Bennett in the Utah Republican caucuses. Kirkham, he says, is a classic car enthusiast and a father of four. He was largely apolitical until he saw how socialism worked in Poland and then was shocked by the bailouts and overspending here at home. And, Bai says, now he’s a “self-described libertarian.”

The Los Angeles Times reports from Flushing Township, Michigan, on how four “budget hawks,” including libertarian economist Mike Gardner, got themselves elected to the township Board of Trustees and started cutting the budget. So far they have “shrunk the Police Department from 13 officers to six, eliminated the building inspector and park staff positions, and cut board members’ dental, vision and guaranteed pension benefits.”

And my favorite: The Washington Post speculates on how a newspaper in 2020 might look back on the legalization of drugs if it happened in 2010. One of their fantasies:

As Ohio and other states ask their voters to make a choice on marijuana, the decades-old debate over coast-to-coast legalization shows signs of becoming a central focus in the 2024 presidential campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton, again seeking her party’s nomination, may back legalization as a way to win over libertarian-minded voters who still think of her as a big-government Democrat, even after her stint as chairman of the board at the American Enterprise Institute.

Yeah, it’s hard to imagine those libertarian-minded voters not liking Ms. Big Government, even after she allied herself with the think tank that housed many of the intellectual architects of the Iraq war.

Meanwhile, here’s a story on a non-libertarian politico. In a wrap-up of Democratic problems in the Midwest, the Washington Post tells of one activist at Ohio State University:

Joey Longley, a 19-year-old sophomore, showed up on campus as an evangelical Republican. But five of the seven young men in his Bible group were Democrats, and he found that his Democratic friends shared his socially conservative, fiscally progressive views.

David Kirby and I have written a lot about fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters and how they give a libertarian tilt to voters often called “moderate” or “centrist.” But this is a reminder that some swing voters hold the opposite set of views.