Politics and Public Opinion

Left, Right, or Nowhere: Libertarians in the Wilderness

handshakeThanks to Jonah’s exchange with Cato’s Brink Lindsey in print and in person, there’s lots of chatter in libertarian circles once again about the future of “liberaltarianism,” Brink’s project to fuse libertarians and liberals into a viable political coalition (in contrast with the old fusionist alliance of conservatives and libertarians). Tim Lee weighs in here and says:

Political alliances are built by concrete actions toward shared goals, not by abstract statements of philosophical agreement.

This assertion misses something fundamentally important and helps get to the heart of what’s flawed about liberaltarianism. The original fusionist project of Frank Meyer and others was predicated on a belief that libertarians and conservatives (social/religious/paleo) actually agreed on some basic philosophical principles, not just shared goals such as opposing Soviet communism (as important as that was). Two of these have always been paramount: The importance of protecting individual liberty, and an appreciation for the vital role played by civil society and traditional mediating institutions that made American culture and ordered liberty possible.

One reason liberaltarianism faces a steep uphill climb is because of liberal/progressive indifference (at best) or hostility to both elements of this philosophical orientation.  Think of the progressive hostility to economic liberty and enterprise; or indifference/hostility to the original intent of the Constitution. Lasting political alliances that are effective have to be built on shared philosophical principles, which might explain why after his overtures to the left Brink now thinks libertarians must spend some time in the wilderness alone (“it’s clear enough that for now and the foreseeable future, the left is no more viable a home for libertarians than is the right” he writes).

Most of the interesting hashing out on the political right needs to take place between conservatives and libertarians over how institutions, norms, and laws evolve and adapt in liberty-reinforcing ways; this can’t take place among conservatives alone. That’s why it’s a shame Brink seems so committed to picking up his marbles and leaving. From my talks with lots of other libertarians, they think this move is premature.

Image by Aidan Jones.

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