Friday, January 13, 2012

My How Dangerous You Are

I always thought the line, “You can’t be a fiscal conservative if you are not a social conservative,” would forever disqualify Jim DeMint from intelligent political discourse, this week he was able to change that. Mind you, I still do not have much of any use for him, but he did at least show he is paying attention when he said that the Republican Party needs to be paying attention to the libertarian minded amongst the electorate. Instead of that we have seen a steady stream of candidates and Conservative pundits tell libertarians how delusional and dangerous their ideas are. This, of course, is not a coherent strategy for winning people over to your side. The Republican tent seems like it should be big enough for libertarians, but their continued hostility makes little sense, unless of course you take into account that Democrats and their Progressive punditry are also very happy to insult libertarians and tell them how delusional and dangerous they are.

How can it be that each pole of our political spectrum can be so hostile towards those who simply profess a desire for liberty, freedom and limited government that respects the individual? It usually follows along the lines of my favorite game: WHAT IF? What if libertarians ran things? Progressives will tell you that if heartless libertarian policies were put in place, we would be cast under a dark cloud of dirty air and water, free from roads and schools in which we would all be enslaved by the corporations, working 20 hours a day eight days a week, and Grandma would just be left to die out in the cold. Conservatives will tell us how if the immature libertarian were making the decisions, we would be a nation bereft of a moral center, all enslaved in a soul crushing addiction to hard drugs while gays frolicked openly in the streets, all awaiting the inevitable Nazi/Korean/Iranian takeover of the now weak and defenseless isolationist America. The reason for all of this? Well, don’t you know that Ayn Rand said this, and Murray Rothbard said that, and Ron Paul believes this and so therefore all of you and everything you might believe in is completely invalid. That is pretty much it. Somehow or other, if people with libertarian principles were to attain any elected power in the United States, we would automatically and instantly get anything and everything we ever wanted. We would be all united under an unwavering banner of Randian Objectivism or Rothbardian Anarcho ideological purity (maybe even get a nifty uniform and special salute to do to each other). We would obviously not have to compromise, or acknowledge we live in a Republic that respects and protects minority opinion. We would of course get to violate the Democratic Bargain and swiftly and completely stifle all dissent and criticism from other political philosophies. We would also have no disagreement amongst each other about a proper policy or mode of implementation. We would simply swarm in, sweep away the old and create Libertopia here on earth, very rapidly realizing we need no government at all.

Seem reasonable? Do the Progressives or the Conservatives get everything they want when they win an election? If one of their thinkers said something stupid or controversial, does that instantly cast their ideology as untenable and disqualified from political discourse? Do all Progressives and Conservatives agree on everything within the banner of their philosophies all the time every time? When it comes to the political parties, do they not have a “big tent” where people gather under an overall umbrella of thought and discuss the underpinnings of their philosophy? Does a New Hampshire Republican resemble in any way a Texas Republican? Does a Texas Democrat resemble a Massachusetts Democrat? Libertarianism can also be a big tent. You can believe that there needs to be a government and be a libertarian. You can understand the need for some laws and taxes and be a libertarian. Will those thoughts get you castigated and insulted by some purists who claim to be keepers of the faith when it comes to all things libertarian? Absolutely, some people and organizations out there would certainly do that to me, and there is real infighting within the community about what is a “libertarian”. Does that matter? I believe it is very important that people are having discussions about the nature of government, freedom, the individual, markets and capitalism, and our relationship to the state.  These discussions have people thinking about the long held notions and traditions of this country, and, I would agree with the punditry, it is exceptionally dangerous.

Now, when I say dangerous, I mean dangerous to them, of course. People across the country have less and less use for the D or the R after the name. It has shown itself to be of little consequence to those who are seeking and obtaining power in this country. The TEA Party made a splash because they elected non-establishment candidates who actually attempted to reign in spending. What did it get them? Condemnation from all corners. People see this and they are smart enough to see that the D and the R are not what is important. What concerns people? $16 Trillion is finally starting to concern people. We keep hearing about how horrible it would be if we cut back on this program or that entitlement. I always enjoyed the Susan B. Anthony quote about people professing to know the will of God and how she did not trust them because that will salways seemed to line up with their own interests. It is the same with the “dangers” of libertarian thought; it is always the implied threat to their core constituent program that will bring down the Republic. Americans, I hope, can see through what is essentially a game of “no-backsies”. The powers that be (or have been) created something they considered to be the most important achievement of all time, be it Medicare or the U.S. Military, and there can never be any discussion about altering it in any way ever. We, the people, just need to accept that there are some things that just “are” for our own good, and that changing it is not allowed. That is starting to ring hollow with people now, as well it should. Not really very Democratic or American if you look at it reasonably.

While I will not claim they are hankering to throw an L after their name in place of the R or the D, we are able to see some very important things from this shift. People do not see a bigger and more powerful government as being a solution to the problems that ail us. While the generation of the Baby Boomers and their parents were willing to trust in government and accept certain regulations and intrusions, the next generations are less willing to accept the conventional wisdom of the last century. We are entitled to do that as well. We are allowed to discuss the possibility of a world without Social Security or troops in 130 countries and not be told our ideas are forbidden from the discussion. We are allowed to think outside of the Left/Right dichotomy, and possibly come up with a plan that does not involve the old forms or old players. Complacency and a refusal to explore new ideas is the true danger, for it was not libertarianism that got us where we are. Expanding options and discussions beyond where they have been stuck for decades will not make the problem any worse, of that we can be sure.


  1. Good article. Just one thing. I noticed you capitalize "libertarian." There is a difference between lowercase 'l' libertarian and capital 'L' Libertarian. Capital Libertarian means a member of the Libertarian Party, but if you use lowercase libertarian you will include people who adhere to libertarian philosophy/ideology who are not necessarily members of the Libertarian Party. FYI.

    1. Thanks Mike, this is one I kind of struggle with because I would capitalize "Conservative" when describing someones ideological underpinnings. I changed libertarian to a small "l" in this post to see how it flows.

  2. Good post. These truly are exciting times. I can not imagine how happy I would be if Objectivists were in power and their chief opposition came from Rothbardians.