Principles of Liberty vs. Politics of Selfishness

To stay on the Michael Kinsley theme, his new essay in Time discusses libertarianism. Calling Ron Paul a libertarian isn’t the only mistake (omission?):

To oversimplify: Democrats are for Big Government; Republicans are against it.

This is a slam-dunk, so no need to feel like it’s an oversimplification. Mr. Kinsley is correct about the former, but he should’ve replaced against with for in that sentence.

To oversimplify somewhat less, Democrats aren’t always for Big Government, and Republicans aren’t always against it. Democrats treasure civil liberties, whereas Republicans are more tolerant of government censorship to protect children from pornography, or of …

Selective, no? Democrats do not treasure civil liberties any more than Republicans. They treasure different civil liberties, but Democrats are no more prepared to defend what they dislike than Republicans. You can look at pornography, as long as it doesn’t offend your neighbor’s feelings that you like only heterosexual caucasian pornography in which the man works for a living before coming home to have sex with his stay-at-home-mom wife. I exaggerate, of course, but how many First Amendment issues do Democrats cave on at the first hint that someone is offended?

Many people feel that neither party offers a coherent set of principles that they can agree with.

The first truth in the essay.

… For them, the choice is whether you believe in Big Government or you don’t. And if you don’t, you call yourself a libertarian. Libertarians are against government in all its manifestations.

Followed by an oversimplification. Anarchists are against government in all its manifestations. Libertarians (with a small-“l”) recognize that the government has a legitimate function, represented by powers expressly given to it in the Constitution.

Mr. Kinsley continues with more oversimplification, which I will ignore through ommission. Picking up later in the paragraph:

… And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights.

Both Democrats and Republicans behave as “communitarians”. Democrats treat wealth as community property. Republicans treat marriage as a collective right for two people rather than an individual right. Need I continue?

Like the AMT entry, I think Mr. Kinsley mostly gets it. The second half of his essay is good, apart from the “Ron Paul is a libertarian” part. I recommend the essay if you have any mistaken notion that libertarians are anti-social loners who think we should each command our own army and trade little children as day laborers so we can all save one penny on a pair of shoes. I just wish he didn’t play loose with the truth about communitarians Democrats and Republicans to set up his conclusion. He could’ve gotten there with the truth.

2 thoughts on “Principles of Liberty vs. Politics of Selfishness”

  1. I think it’s accurate to say that Ron Paul is a (small l) libertarian. For that matter, since he is a member in good standing of the Libertarian Party (last I heard) it is accurate to say he is a (big L) Libertarian.

  2. I have sympathy for what Rep. Paul is trying to do (except the nonsense about the gold standard). Some honesty is needed in the electoral process. But he is not a libertarian. He is not advocating for limited government and respect for individual rights on principle, just limited federal government according to the text of the Constitution. He represents following the letter, not the spirit of that and other founding documents.
    That’s admirable compared to the rest of the presidential field, but I don’t particularly care if my rights are trampled by Congress or my state legislature. Rep. Paul has stated that the latter is fine because it’s local. I don’t accept that.

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