Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’
Posted on December 5, 2013 at 6.50 pm
Q. Is expansive individualism inherently part of Libertarianism? I know a lot of people who are extremely suspicious of top-down solutions but strongly believe in community-based problem solving. Some would call themselves anarchists. — squashed, from tumblr.
A. To the extent that I can generalize, I would say that most well-informed, reasonable libertarians don’t see individualism and community-based problem solving as opposing sides between which they must choose — at least, I know I don’t, and I’m sure many voluntaryists would agree.
For me, and for many libertarians I know, individualism is an emphasis on the rights and worth of each person — as well as an interest in independence, responsibility, and self-reliance.
But none of that suggests a belief that we live in some sort of state of nature in which working together to solve problems somehow diminishes or persecutes the individual. After all, our ideas on the market itself are predicated on the idea that it’s good to voluntarily interact with others in society, and that we’re all made better off by doing so.
If anything, I’d suggest that the individual worth/personal responsibility aspects of individualism push me toward civil society, not away from it.
Remember when Obama (kinda) said the infamous “you didn’t build that” line? When that happened, some pro-liberty types engaged in a knee-jerk reaction by all reposting an Ayn Rand quote about the Magnificent Entrepreneur Doing Everything All by His Lonesome (he’s so good at business he doesn’t even need his customers!!!).
It was inane.
But from more thoughtful libertarian circles, we got responses like this one from Sheldon Richman at FEE:
Of course no one succeeds alone. In society no one does anything of value in isolation. We think in a language and compute with numbers that others taught us. We all continuously benefit from, imitate, and build on what others have done. That’s what society is….
All of us depend on social cooperation, which is the very essence of the marketplace. Yet the greatest obstacle to such cooperation is government social engineering. Therefore Obama’s justification of big government in the name of social cooperation fails.
Libertarians (justifiably) complain that our opponents like to equivocate our opposition to the government doing something with opposition to that thing existing or happening at all. But with individualism and community-based solutions, I think some libertarians accidentally do the same thing to themselves: In rushing to oppose government-managed solutions to societal problems, we can sound as if we oppose having solutions to those problems period (especially if it involves more than the isolated efforts of our Magnificent Entrepreneur to make it happen).
That perspective may be orthodoxy for the strictest Objectivists — after all, Rand really did think charity was neither a virtue nor a moral duty — but it’s not libertarian dogma. To my mind, anti-society rhetoric paints a picture of a free world which is underwhelming and repulsive all at once.
As libertarians we are not anti-community or anti-cooperation; we are anti-government co-opting those very virtues.
And, yes, Ron Paul is with me on this one.
Posted on December 1, 2013 at 2.47 pm
Q. [This fall] the US government was shut down because the House couldn’t pass the necessary appropriation bill and now it seems to me the whole political system of the United States is blocked because of a small group of libertarian/tea party/conservative representatives (to be honest I’m still a little bit confused where the difference between the first two is). My question is, don’t you think that the government shutdown is a rather bad thing for libertarian groups reputation because the people notice that at least for some tasks the government is necessary? Additionally I’m getting the impression that a large majority of the population of the United States wants “more” governmental control and support programs, isn’t that kind of weakening the libertarian position? — Jakob, from Germany
A. Thanks for your question, Jakob. Since it’s really three separate questions, let’s address them separately.
1. What’s the difference between libertarians, the Tea Party, and conservatives?
We could talk about the finer details of this distinction for hours, but for now, I’ll just give you the short version. Libertarians are the best-defined of the bunch. We support smaller government all around, even in foreign policy. As I like to explain it, libertarians want the government out of your church, your bedroom, your wallet, Wall Street’s pocket, and the Middle East.
The Tea Party began as a fairly libertarian movement — the very first Tea Party even was associated with Ron Paul — albeit with generally an older crowd. It’s comparatively rare to find young people taking the Tea Party label, and in general it’s a less popular designation than it was a few years ago. These days, my perception is that the Tea Party’s uniting issue is fiscal conservatism/economic freedom. They’re interested in other policy areas (and of course there’s ideological diversity within the movement), but cutting spending is the central idea.
Conservatism is a bit more nebulous, and a very broad label today. In political philosophy, it’s generally used to refer to people who want to preserve (or conserve) the status quo. There’s a strong focus on tradition and avoidance of change.
In practical politics, people who claim and/or are given the conservative label vary widely. Some of them are basically libertarians; others can be hawkish neo-conservatives like Dick Cheney or nanny-state social conservatives like Rick Santorum. Generally, though, you can assume that when someone is called a conservative, it means they share the interest in cutting spending that libertarians and the Tea Party has, but they possibly want more social regulation and military spending than a libertarian would.
To make things more confusing (ha!), there are plenty of people who will claim any combination of these terms for themselves. Likewise, groups claiming one or more of these labels often tend to work together on the issues where they agree (like spending). Usually, however, you won’t need to parse all that to dissect American politics.
2. Does shutting down the government over spending debates give those responsible a bad reputation?
Well, for Senator Ted Cruz, the leading shutdown advocate, it certainly did (Cruz is Tea Party and conservative, by the way, but not libertarian). Sen. Rand Paul, by contrast, took a more congenial approach — despite sharing Cruz’s conviction on the need to cut spending. His reputation did not take the same hit.
Posted on November 12, 2013 at 4.15 pm
Q. I am curious about your thoughts on the “libertarian phase” many people experience. I myself have switched between having conservative or libertarian political views numerous times over the past decade and am wondering whether you have experience something like this and if you have any advice on how one stays consistent politically. Thank you! — Greg, from the internet.
A. For me, libertarianism hasn’t really been a phase—or rather, if started out that way, it’s stuck around long enough that I think we can officially retire “phase” in favor of a label with a little more permanence. My introduction to politics and interest in liberarianism started pretty simultaneously, though I didn’t have a name for my perspective at the time. You can read that whole story here.
For others, though, the journey to a relatively settled political perspective has more twists and turns. (I say “relatively settled” because no thoughtful worldview is ever set in stone; confidence in one’s opinions is good, but refusal to grow in the face of new evidence is not.) It sounds as if your philosophical history is more along those lines.
I mention all this to say that maybe I’m not the best person to give advice on this subject since I haven’t really done that kind of bouncing back and forth. Nevertheless, I am a blogger, and we do always have at least a few thoughts on nearly every subject, so here goes:
Consider working on an issue-by-issue basis. What I mean is this: Pick a single policy area. It can be fairly broad (e.g. foreign policy, including our various wars, spying, etc.) or fairly narrow (e.g. federal involvement in education).
Read up and follow news primarily on that single issue for a set period of time.Try to look at perspectives to the left and right of you, both modern andhistoric. Keep a running blog series or even just a Word doc with the important facts and interesting perspectives you encounter.
At the end of your set period of time, hash it out. Having looked at the evidence and persuasive arguments from people who disagree with each other, where do you fall? Don’t worry if your opinion on Issue A is more libertarian and your opinion on Issue B is more conservative. Just make sure you’ve given all sides a fair shake and could explain to someone with no expertise in this matter why you’ve taken the position you find most convincing.
Do this repeatedly for multiple issues on which you’ve changed your mind more than once. Maybe give them each a month, depending on your schedule.
When you’ve gone through all the issues you think it’s necessary to examine in this way, step back and look at the big picture. Are you philosophically consistent across issues, or do hypocrisies jump out at you? If they do, you may need to go back to the drawing board and look at some of your issues in relation to each other rather than in isolation.
Then, looking at the big picture, see if you fall more toward the libertarian or conservative side of things—or maybe you’ll even end up more anarchist, or progressive, or something else entirely.
Fitting into a single label ultimately isn’t hugely important. I know lots of people who say they feel conservative around libertarians and libertarian around conservatives. Rather than identifying entirely with any one group’s views, your goal should be to find a place of conviction where you can more or less stay (again: this is about being relatively settled, not set in stone). That resting place should be philosophically consistent, feel intellectually honest, and match with your broader system of ethics.
I can’t guarantee that this process will work (it’s kind of an abbreviated and intentional version of how I got to my own opinions), but maybe it will help. The underlying point, I think, is that if you can get to a good place politically, I doubt you’ll have as much difficulty staying there.