ARE LIBERTARIANS EXTREME ?
I had an interesting exchange with my prolific counterpart at Prometheus 6
on the nature of libertarianism that was sparked by comments made by Brad DeLong
and John Constantine
I commented on Prometheus 6's site:
Speaking for the Libertarians, if such a thing is possible, most are *not* as extreme as Murray Rothbard's zero regulation " anarcho-capitalism".
Most libertarians broadly defined and thinkers who influenced them including Ayn Rand, Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman and the " Chicago School" of Economics generally acknowledge the value of the rule of law and an orderly if sharply limited government. Not buying into government ownership of Amtrak or confiscatory tax rates is not to be equated with a desire to restore feudalism or become a gun-totin'warlord in a Hobbesian fight to the finish.
I understand that. My point, or John Constantine's with which I agree, is that the results of paring the government back to the point that your average libertarian-on-the-street promotes will result in social chaos.
Your problem is that the meaning of "libertarian" has been hijacked just as surely as the true meaning of "conservative" has been. We live in an age of extremists, Mark. Though for different reasons than Dickens, we can just as surely call this "the best of times, the worst of times."
Part of this debate revolves around whether we are discussing " Libertarians " or " libertarians". The former are usually adherents of the Libertarian Party
or are self-described, closed system Objectivists
( some irony to this as Ayn Rand repudiated the Libertarians and their guru Murray Rothbard
) clustered around Dr. Leonard Peikoff
, Rand's heir and successor. Both groups, despite their differences tend to promote a systemic and uncompromisingly radicals-for-capitalism critique of American society. Whatever their intellectual, moral or cultural influence, large-case " L " Libertarians have next to none politically - even Congressman Ron Paul
has switched back to the Republicans.
The reason for this is that their uncompromising, all-or-nothing, philosophical position is poorly suited for the American legislative process and their Free-market vision, however laudable, would be a total shock to the average American if suddenly enacted in toto. In a democratic society a libertarian legal-economic framework must be supported by a wider acceptance of libertarian values, an ethic of freedom and it's corrollary of personal responsibility. America has made tremendous strides since 1980 in terms of elevating Freedom and Free markets to pride of place but I would suggest that as a whole, we are still somewhat lacking in the self-responsibility department. Wanting low taxes and unlimited information, entertainment and educational choices combined with massive middle-class entitlement spending and government regulation of pornography, "hate speech", campaign commercials, abortion and prayer is not merely unreasonable - it's schizophrenic.
That's why I am a libertarian, small case " l ". Moving America in the direction of greater freedom in the sphere of economics and politics requires a sense of realism about the workings of our Constitutional democracy and no small measure of patience. Like Ronald Reagan we need to be prepared at times to take half or even a quarter of a loaf so long as we have the persistence to return to the bargaining table later on for more. There will also be a finite limit to the public acceptance to the extent of Free-Market prescriptions, most of which will sell themselves if enacted in a reasonable format. The electorate is simply not going to tolerate seeing examples of extreme Third World style poverty in a nation as rich as America regardless of how much screwed up individuals may have brought their condition upon themselves. And if we advocates of Liberty try to force that issue in the name of ideological purity the electorate will swing Leftward to folks whose agenda has a lot more to do with social control and maximizing their political power than actually helping the poor move upward.
Most libertarians are Republicans for the same reason that most socialists are Democrats instead of Greens. It's better to work within a larger party-coalition and lose some battles ( outside of the tax cut libertarians aren't doing so hot in the GOP lately - and even the tax cuts aren't what we'd like them to be) than to lose chronically as marginalized outsiders. An acceptance of a permanent but narrowly tailored social safety net constructed on libertarian principles that emphasize opportunity rather than governmental dependence is certainly far more palatable than someday reading Cato Institute reports on the wastefulness of President Hillary Clinton's new Department of National Child Care.
So, John Constantine is wrong to equate most libertarians, certainly a more numerous group by far than Libertarians, with fanatical idealists who would unleash some kind of wild anarchy. ( Frankly, I don't even think that description applies to most members of the Libertarian Party or Objectivists either). Perhaps the more pragmatic libertarians need to, as Prometheus suggested, speak up a bit louder than our more ideologically rigid cousins.
That way at least, we will be less likely to be confused with Men of Straw.