Tag: libertarianism

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?”

Is Justice Kennedy Libertarian?

Early last year, Cato hosted a book forum for Helen Knowles’s The Tie Goes to Freedom: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Liberty.  This really is a remarkable book, with an ambitious goal: trying to make coherent sense of the oft-frustrating “swing justice.”  And now I have a lengthy review of it that just came out in the latest issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Politics (where Bob Levy also has an essay, on the aftermath of District of Columbia v. Heller).

Knowles makes the provocative argument that Justice Kennedy’s jurisprudence is “modestly libertarian.”  I think that this argument, in the limited ways Knowles makes it – with respect to free speech, equal protection, and individual dignity – is probably sound.  Still, that deduction is a small discovery considering the broad swath of Supreme Court jurisprudence.  Moreover, it says little about whether Kennedy is faithful to the Constitution, which is a stronger measure of libertarianism (as Randy Barnett described at Cato’s 2008 Constitution Day Conference in his B. Kenneth Simon Lecture in Constitutional Thought, reprinted in the latest Cato Supreme Court Review).

Here’s how I conclude:

Good on speech and race, bad on government power, and ugly on abortion and the death penalty, Justice Kennedy is a sui generis enigma at the heart of the modern Supreme Court.  However new Justice Sonia Sotomayor affects the Court’s dynamics, it is unlikely that Justice Kennedy will shift from his role as the deciding vote in most controversial cases.  Helen Knowles has thus done us a great service in deconstructing Justice Kennedy’s faint-hearted libertarianism and helping us better understand the “sweet mystery” of his jurisprudence.

For details on how I reached this conclusion, read the full review (which you can also download from SSRN).  I should add that Knowles’s book is more useful to us Court-watchers than Frank Colucci’s Justice Kennedy’s Jurisprudence: The Full and Necessary Meaning of Liberty – whose shortcomings I won’t detail but instead refer you to Eric Posner’s thoughtful critique.

Libertarian Surge

David Paul Kuhn at RealClearPolitics sees a surge of libertarianism in the current political scene:

The philosophical casualty of the Great Recession was supposed to be libertarianism. But signs to the contrary are thriving.

Americans are increasingly opposed to activist government programs. The most significant social movement of 2009, the Tea Party protests, grew out of that opposition. Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand is as popular today as ever. Rand’s brilliant and radical laissez faire novel “Atlas Shrugged,” sold roughly 300,000 copies last year, according to BookScan, twice its sales in 2008 and roughly triple annual sales in recent decades.

We are witnessing a conservative libertarian comeback. It’s an oppositional advance, a response to all manners of active-state liberalism since the financial crisis. It’s a pervasive feeling of invasiveness. The factional bastions of traditional libertarianism, like Washington think tank Cato, now have an intangible and awkward alliance with a broad swath of the American electorate….

This limited libertarian resurgence has haunted Obama’s domestic agenda. The fundamental mistake of the Obama administration in 2009 was underestimating the American public’s ongoing tension with active-state liberalism, a fact visible from the outset and one only belatedly confronted by Obama….

Today’s limited libertarian revival is a response to a sense of overreaching elite technocrats as well as fear of an intrusive bureaucracy. Responsiveness is the core impulse. Rand’s radical libertarianism, where man is an ends in himself and the welfare state is fundamentally immoral, was a response to the radically invasive Soviet state that weaned her as a girl. On a drastically less extreme scale, one side of this American debate could not exist without the other. The Obama administration brought with it ambitions of a resurgence of FDR and LBJ’s active-state liberalism. And with it, Obama has revived the enduring American challenge to the state.

I’ve been struck by the fact that two recent profiles in the New York Times magazine — one on Dick Armey and one on the rise of Marco Rubio in Florida — have identified Tea Party protesters as libertarians, which I think is largely right but not generally noticed by pundits who can only hold two concepts (red and blue, conservative and liberal) in their minds at once. It’s not that the Tea Partiers are carrying pro-choice or anti–drug war signs, it’s just that their focus and their energy are, as the Armey profile put it, “libertarian, anti-Washington, old-fashioned get-out-of-my-way-and-I’ll-make-it-on-my-own American self-sufficiency.” They’re up in arms about spending, deficits, bailouts, government handouts, and a government takeover of health care. That’s a populist libertarian spirit.

Kuhn describes the current mood as “conservative libertarianism,” which he contrasts to “traditional libertarianism” that embraces a laissez-faire approach to both economics and personal freedom. He may be right that a lot of the Tea Partiers are not as comprehensively pro-freedom or “anti-government” (really, pro-limited government) as I’d like. But I see some evidence of a social libertarian surge as well, as I wrote back in May. Polls are finding growing support for marijuana legalization and for marriage equality, especially among young people. As young people and independents also become increasingly disillusioned with President Obama’s big-government agenda, this may be a real shift in a libertarian direction. And don’t forget, at 90 days into the Obama administration, Americans preferred smaller government to “more active government” by 66 to 25 percent.