Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Futility of Liberaltarianism

Championed by Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, liberaltarianism is an attempt by a few libertarian intellectuals to create a "progressive fusionism" within the American center-left and to bring the center-left more in line with free market principles.  But it seems like more of a rationalization for affiliating with secular, cosmopolitan liberals even when alliances with conservatives (even if those alliances might be wary and conditional) might make more sense.

This doesn't seem like a great time for libertarians to seek an alliance with the liberals on economic issues.  Liberals just gave us a corporatist health care plan that is bound to be unstable and with the next step from the left of center being a single-payer plan.  The cap and trade plan would corrupt our energy sector (more so!) and move energy policy in a more statist direction and our spending commitments are unsustainable even as a new entitlement was added amid both record deficits and an impending fiscal pinch.  It is difficult to see what the center-left political coalition has, at the moment, to offer libertarians on the economy - aside from a slice of power. 

Liberaltarians might argue that liberals are educable on the economy - and they might be right to a point.  Liberaltarians could point out that much of liberal opinion has moved more in the direction of supporting charter schools and merit pay for teachers.  That is true, but it is also true that liberaltarians had little to do with it.  The liberal upper middle-class technocratic opinion on teachers can be seen in shows like the West Wing where the first season focused on hiring new teachers and the last season focused on a pre-Obama candidate who wanted to fire bad teachers.  An even better example of a place where the left-of-center has moved in a more libertarian direction would be on the Second Amendment.  Even with a Democratic President and Democratic congressional supermajorities, there is no movement to expand gun bans.  But once again, our liberaltarian friends had nothing to do with it.  The libertarian (or as many would call it rightwards) movement of Second Amendment politics had much more to do with election results in rural and suburban areas and the appointment of right-leaning Supreme Court justices.  The center-left political coalition repositioned itself in response not to liberaltarian arguments, but in response to gains by the center-right coalition.

You would think that liberaltarian intellectuals would take their allies where they found them.  That might mean allying with the center-right on opposing Obamacare (and working with the more creative conservative free market-oriented thinkers on alternatives) and working with a different (but partly overlapping) coalition on gay marriage.  But that might sometimes mean associating with those horrible tea people with their God, overt patriotism and general trashiness and that just won't do. The trajectory of liberaltarianism is to respond to the imposition of across-the-board wage and price controls with liberaltarians patting themselves on the back because they got their liberal senior partners to institute merit pay for park rangers.

Discussions - 6 Comments

About ten years ago, Ann Coulter thought she might like to see her local congressman (Christopher Shays) bounced out of office and might see to that by challenging him and splitting the Republican vote. So, she approached the local Libertarian Party about running on their line. She discovered in her conversations with them an impediment to her plan: "the only thing they gave a damn about was the drug laws". And there, I submit, is the motor of 'liberaltarianism'.

I think you're absolutely right, Pete. Liberals will not concede anything of importance to libertarians. Will (via his Facebook page) linked to someone else's (a liberal's) blog where this issue was discussed. A scan of the derisive tone of the comments shows how much regard liberals have for libertarians. True, I've also seen disrespectful comments about libertarians from conservatives, but not many. Most conservatives recognize that they need them in order win.

My years in the libertarian community have convinced me that, perhaps more than anything, most libertarians crave respect from liberal academics. They won't get it. Meanwhile they're looking down their noses at the tea parties--the closest thing to a popular libertarian movement the country has seen in at least a century.

Don't forget that without the pro-lifers Obamacare would have passed easily, and much more quickly--the result might have made for a more popular, and less well examined, bill.

Some libertarian intellecuals, perhaps most notably Instapundit, are quite sympathetic to the tea parties. Many of the Reason folks are too.

I went to the Wilkinson link, Pete, and boy am I feeling nauseous.

What is worse, the rancid maggot odors of casual offense-giving and smug superiority emitted from Wilkinson's words, or the more subtle background aroma of Frum-and-Friedersdorf-esque confusion emitted from the normally nourishing words of Douthat?

All these hotshot conservative blogger worriers about the conservative mind, something smells quite amiss about them. They claim to be standing for intellectualism, but the way they frame things is consistently...off. Consistently...unnuanced.

As for the liberaltarians, well, as a social con with a some Porcher sympathies, they are my political anti-matter. I have nothing but glee about the fact that 2010 is a low-point for their prospects, events having highlighted the ineducable leftist impulse of the progressives regarding political economy. Indeed, if I ever get to meet our President, maybe I'll say, "Thank you, sir, for making the liberaltarian project impossible for at least another generation."

Carl, In defense of Douthat, I think he was trying to explain the likely negative effects for governance of liberaltarianism becoming a mass movement of libertarian thinkers going into the center-left political coalition and becoming the efficiency review experts of social democracy, rather than liberaltarianism staying the project of a couple or three writers. Douthat did take note of Wilkinson's irrationality and malice in a post in his old Atlantic blog http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/02/when_the_last_pentecostal_is_s.php

And as for worrying. I sometimes worry that I might be slipping into being a scold, but I am a nonhotshot conservative who worries about conservatism's political prospects - though I hope not the kind who acts as a self-appointed police officer of the public discourse who notices the splinter in Mark Levin's eye but ignores the two by four in Andrew Sullivan's. On policy I'm really a pretty orthodox Reaganite (with allowance for changed circumstances). But I do worry that conservatives are having trouble crafting a positive policy agenda drawn from their principles that is right for our circumstances alongside the political problem of selling their principles to tens of millions of Americans (especially nonwhites) who might be persuadable, but have not already bought into the conservative narrative of the recent past.

"...who notices the splinter in Mark Levin's eye but ignores the two by four in Andrew Sullivan's..." LOL. Your sort of worrying suits me just fine, Pete, as did Mr. Hayward's here not so long ago. And I suppose I shouldn't let the perhaps necessary self-promoting drama of the hotshot conservatives annoy me so much.

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