Tag: libertarianism

What’s a Libertarian?

In a new episode of Stossel,  Cato’s David Boaz and Jeffrey Miron join a panel of experts to discuss where libertarians stand on a host of major issues facing the nation today.  They tackle libertarian views on war, abortion, the welfare state, gay rights and more.

Watch the videos below for a full re-cap.

The first video covers the so-called culture wars, including gay marriage, abortion and immigration:

More videos after the jump.

In the second video they discuss the role of government in providing aid to the poor:

In the third video, the panelists discuss libertarian views of war. Should the United States leave Afghanistan and Iraq? What should we do about Iran? Watch:

If you’re hungry for more, the segment is a great supplement to David Boaz’s timeless book, Libertarianism: A Primer and Jeffrey Miron’s forthcoming book Libertarianism: From A to Z.

Up from Slavery, Continued

Jacob “Bumper” Hornberger has posted a gracious response to my article “Up from Slavery, ” which among other things criticized his essay “Liberal Delusions about Freedom.” It’s a pleasure to engage in intelligent and civil debate with another committed libertarian.

Hornberger says that he should have mentioned the “tragic exception” of slavery in writing about American freedom in the 19th century, and he links to many articles where he did so. I am glad to know that the article I criticized was an exception. Still, I’m not sure that parenthetical asides, as in this first linked article, quite suffice:

With exceptions (slavery being the worst), during the first 150 years of America’s history, people were free to live their lives in any way they chose as long as their actions did not entail violence or fraud against others.

Slavery was not just an exception. It was the foundation of the Southern economy. Slaves made up 19 percent of the population at the beginning of the 19th century – about 50 percent of the Southern population – and there were four million Americans held in chains in 1860. And of course, one might also note the exclusion of women not just from voting but from property ownership in the early 19th century. So that means that only about 40 percent of “people” were free to live their lives as they chose in the pre-Civil War era.

Hornberger goes on to posit a more plausible golden age, 1880:

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

Good points. But Will Wilkinson responds:

Nope. Sorry.

How about the female half of the population? By 1880 coverture laws, which basically denied married women any meaningful property rights, were still in place in many states. (Coverture laws persisted in some states until the 1920s.) And there were plenty of further paternalistic regulations on the sort of work women were allowed to undertake. Of course, women in 1880 had almost no meaningful rights to political participation, ensuring that they were unable to demand recognition and protection of their basic liberty rights through the political system.

Slavery was gone in 1880, but systematic state-enforced racial apartheid was going strong. The economic and political rights of blacks were severely curtailed under the various antebellum state Black Codes and then under the Jim Crow laws. What formal rights Southern blacks did have were often denied in fact by extralegal enforcement of racist norms by lynch mobs and other campaigns of terror.

By 1880, most of the the U.S.’s imperialist efforts to secure North American territory against the claims of competing European imperial powers were complete. But the government’s campaign of murder, theft, and segregation against native populations continued.

One could go on and on in this vein in gruesome detail. But this is enough to establish the point: 1880’s America was a society in which well more than half the population was systematically and often brutally denied basic liberty rights. If that’s golden, I’d hate to see bronze.

I’d make one more point in response to Hornberger. He writes:

Boaz raises another point that needs addressing: He attempts to diminish the significance of what our American forebears achieved.

I certainly did not attempt to do that, and I don’t think that’s a plausible reading of my article. I am a great admirer of the Founders, as I write on many occasions. When I talk about the progress we’ve made in expanding freedom for blacks, women, gays, and other once-excluded groups of people, I often say that we have “extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – to more and more people.” I love and respect those promises, I appreciate the extent to which the Founders made good on them immediately, and I am glad that they have indeed been extended.

I share Hornberger’s commitment to a world with no income tax, no alphabet soup agencies, no central banking, no drug laws, and so on. I’m just not sure that the world of 1880 – much less the world of 1850 – is actually more free, on balance, for Americans as a whole, than today’s world. But that’s a reasonable argument, and I am happy to engage Hornberger and others in it.

Of course, the world is full of unreasonable arguments, too. In case anyone’s been reading some of them in the Reason comments or elsewhere on the Web, let me make just a few comments: I did not “attack” or “malign” Jacob Hornberger; I criticized an article he wrote. In fact, I took pains to call him one of the “libertarians who hate slavery” in distinction to some self-styled libertarians who sound like neo-Confederates. I did not say that “we have to accept” the Civil War, anti-discrimination laws, the income tax, or anything else as the price of abolishing slavery; I just said that we shouldn’t overlook the crime of slavery when we write paeans to 19th-century freedom, and that on the whole we may very well be freer today than in antebellum America. I did not say that “it was necessary to reduce everyone’s freedom drastically before we can morally allow anyone to have more freedom than another.” Here’s a tip: If you’re shocked by what someone says my article said, please read the article.

OK, that’s all for this topic. I have a D.C. power-elite meeting to go to, and then a Georgetown cocktail party.

John Stossel on Libertarianism

Don’t miss “Stossel” tonight on the Fox Business Network at 8:00 p.m. ET. He’ll be discussing “What’s a Libertarian?” with P. J. O’Rourke, Andrew Napolitano, and a panel including Cato senior fellow Jeff Miron and me. Here’s a column Stossel wrote after taping the show about his own evolution from “Kennedy-style liberal” to libertarian.

When I did talk shows after the publication of Libertarianism: A Primer, I was always asked, “What is libertarianism?” I said then, “Libertarianism is the idea that adult individuals have the right and the responsibility to make the important decisions about their lives. And of course today government claims the power to make many of those decisions for us, from where to send our kids to school to what we can smoke to how we must save for retirement.”

Here’s another way to put it, which I believe I first saw in a high-school libertarian newsletter from Minnesota: Smokey the Bear’s rules for fire safety also apply to government: Keep it small, keep it in a confined area, and keep an eye on it.

For more on libertarianism, check out Libertarianism: A Primer and The Libertarian Reader. For deeper thoughts, take a look at Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice. Find an 80-minute interview on libertarianism here and a short talk here. And for a week-long seminar on libertarianism and our current crisis, come to Cato University this July at the beautiful Rancho Bernardo Inn outside San Diego.

What’s a Libertarian?

That’s the question that John Stossel will be asking Thursday night to a motley collection of guests, including P. J. O’Rourke, Andrew Napolitano, Jeffrey Miron, and me. Tune in the Fox Business Network at 8:00 p.m. ET.

It repeats many times, as noted here, but you know, it’s like the NCAA championship: you don’t want to watch the repeat on ESPN Classic, you want to watch it live with everyone else for the collective experience. So be there at 8:00 Thursday.

Or of course you could just read Libertarianism: A Primer and The Libertarian Reader.

Libertarian Summer Seminars

Students: Apply now for 11 weeklong, interdisciplinary seminars on liberty in its various aspects, hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies at locations around the country.

And don’t forget: Students and everyone else are invited to Cato University in beautiful Rancho Bernardo, California, the last week of July.

Learn about liberty! Enjoy beautiful weather! Meet your favorite libertarian thinkers! Make lifelong friends! And all for the low low price of – well, the IHS seminars are free. There’s a charge for Cato University, and some student scholarships are available.

Tom Palmer on Life, Liberty, and Moral Relativism

Cato senior fellow Tom Palmer is profiled in the Washington Examiner’s Sunday “Credo” column. He talks about the meaning of freedom and about people who have risked their lives to protect the rights of others, and offers some interesting thoughts when asked about “moral relativism”:

You say that for many people, the idea of right and wrong has been degraded in our culture. Why? When did that happen?

The growth of moral relativism is an interesting thing to chart. Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago argued that it was an unintended consequence of a positive development, which was the integration of different races and religions. As that happened, it became the easiest way to tell schoolchildren not to fight by saying, “Everyone and everything is as good as everything else.” It is an easier route to say that there are no moral truths, but the outcome is not more mutual respect. It undermines the foundation of mutual respect.

Moral relativism was a lazy shortcut for a pluralistic society. A better approach is to say you should respect others because they’re human beings, and because they have rights.

Find the whole article here or see it in newspaper-page format on page 34 of the digital edition.

And buy Tom Palmer’s Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice here.

Nozick in the News

Charles Krauthammer writes about “liberal expressions of disdain for the intelligence and emotional maturity of the electorate” and the conceit that “Liberals act in the public interest, while conservatives think only of power, elections, self-aggrandizement and self-interest.” He has plenty of contemporary examples, but he also recalls one from a few years ago:

It is an old liberal theme that conservative ideas, being red in tooth and claw, cannot possibly emerge from any notion of the public good. A 2002 New York Times obituary for philosopher Robert Nozick explained that the strongly libertarian implications of Nozick’s masterwork, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” “proved comforting to the right, which was grateful for what it embraced as philosophical justification.” The right, you see, is grateful when a bright intellectual can graft some philosophical rationalization onto its thoroughly base and self-regarding politics.

Nozick, of course, was a libertarian, not a conservative, as the more insightful obituary by the philosopher Alan Ryan in the British Independent notes: the book’s ”criticism of social conservatism is at least as devastating as its criticism of the redistributive welfare state.” But Krauthammer is right to note the casual assumption by the New York Times that conservatism desperately needed ”philosophical justification.”

Sunday’s Washington Post contains a related article by political scientist Gerard Alexander: “Why are liberals so condescending?”