In a comment to yesterday’s post on liberaltarianism, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen’s Mark suggests that I may not grasp the full purpose of the proposed alliance. This is possible, since there’s much dialogue right now about it that I haven’t read. But I don’t think so, as I’ll try to explain.
He’s right to challenge me, though, because I should delve deeper into the topic. This is the only possible alliance in the near-term political future for libertarians. I’d accept it as a practical step to something better than we have now, if I thought it would be successful. I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, which is part of the reason I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. But I don’t think it would be successful. Maybe I’ve let my natural skepticism slide too far into cynicism?
I think Mark and I agree that libertarianism is distinct from both liberalism and conservatism as we know it today, and that modern liberalism is closer to libertarianism than modern conservatism. This point seems obvious, although I wonder whether liberals would agree if they thought about it. And I don’t think liberals will treat a potential alliance the way libertarians would. I don’t mean to imply that libertarians are more noble, but in an alliance, liberals have political power and libertarians mostly don’t. Liberals would have to cede some power to libertarians. I don’t see that happening.
Sure, it makes sense for liberals in the long-term if we’re correct that libertarians are a powerful voting bloc with good ideas. I want to leave aside the question of whether or not we are a powerful voting bloc for this; I’ll assume we are and that liberals agree. I don’t think they’ll conclude we’re right in ideas because there are legitimate philosophical differences. Do libertarians give up the individual or do liberals give up the collective? Who concedes? That’s a dead-end to me.
In the short term, I think the prospects are worse. Liberals have the White House and Congress. They don’t need us. Just as Republicans demonstrated during the middle (and latter) part of the Bush years, partisanship almost guarantees arrogance when one’s party has control of both. Liberals are already showing signs of this. It takes a principled statesman to overcome that. I don’t need to question principles to suggest that our politicians aren’t statesmen in that way. Partisanship corrupts principle, so until we have a more diverse party system, liberals have a party identity and we don’t. (We mostly don’t want one, of course, which exacerbates the problem.)
I don’t think liberals want to go back to their classical liberal roots. And, although we have more in common with today’s liberals, libertarians should’ve learned from the ongoing death spiral of the Republican Party that being a pawn will not advance our position to any worthwhile degree.
That is not to say that Mark’s purpose is flawed. In this recent post he states:
Simply put, the promise of liberaltarianism is that it can help to build a libertarianism that is more true to its classically liberal roots. …
If the call is for ways to shed some of the modern Right’s infection into libertarian thinking, yes, I’m behind that. Primarily I’m thinking of the paleolibertarian and the false promise of Ron Paul. That needs to go, and quickly. Liberty is more than just being able to buy an unregistered gun.
But, again, I don’t think looking to liberals will be successful. Mark offers an example:
So where are some of the areas where libertarianism has been corrupted by its affiliation with the political Right? One area is in what tends to be our reflexive opposition to labor unions; there is a false assumption that labor unions exist virtually entirely because of government intervention and that they are therefore inherently coercive. …
To an extent I am guilty of this. But when I think about my opposition, it’s not to unionization. That process is structurally unsound in the 21st century, but the ability of people to freely organize is within my concept of liberty. Voluntary associations I don’t like shouldn’t be a problem if they don’t harm me. The idea of a union fits that.
The reality, however, is different. My problem with looking to liberals as we reevaluate our reflexive opposition starts and ends with card check. It’s want thing to encourage free association and another to legislate the form. Modern liberals do not seem to want unions to be voluntary associations. Am I going to find common economic ground with someone who supports the Employee Free Choice Act?
Mark seems to agree, because he writes:
The trouble with all of these blind spots is that they largely leave libertarians on the sidelines when it comes to debate on relevant issues, reduced to more or less relaying the plays called by the political Right. So, instead of arguing for at least a partial repeal of Taft-Hartley, which would actually advance libertarian ends, as an alternative to EFCA (which really is a terrible law from a libertarian standpoint), we are reduced to union-bashing, resisting EFCA (and thereby neither advancing nor hurting the cause of individual liberty) without offering any kind of alternative.
This is where I think the issue rests. How do we as libertarians stop hindering our chances for eventual success? Project management isn’t Step 1, start, Step 2, finish. Right now, we’re behaving more like Underpants Gnomes than political tacticians. So, yeah, we have work to do. Whatever we propose as Step 2, will liberals agree to negotiate? Again, why should they?
In short, we need to scrub the anti-liberty nonsense from libertarianism by challenging those who spew it. While we accomplish that, if it can be accomplished, we need better marketing ideas. We need to offer constructive solutions, as Mark did with Taft-Hartley and EFCA. We need to sell our vision. That’s Step 2, not an alliance with people who don’t share that vision. This makes our task harder, but it has a chance of success.