Reason has launched an interesting debate over the question of where do libertarians belong
, politically speaking. Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute (who's previously been a proponent of a libertarian-liberal movement) argues now for a libertarian-centerism that can play off the limited government leanings of both the right and the left. Jonah Goldberg of National Review (a conservative) and Matt Kibbe of Freedomworks (a more libertarian-leaning conservative) both argue against Lindsey in favor of the more traditional libertarian alliance with the right. Reason has a roundup of some of the reactions around the interwebs here
What's fascinating about Lindsey's position is that he explicitly rejects the Tea Parties as too reactionary. Meanwhile, some libertarians- Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano comes to mind- have been enthusiastic in their embrace of the tea party. (And check out the footage of Napolitano here
, arguing on CSPAN's Book TV that George Bush and Dick Cheney should have been indicted for torturing, spying, and warrantless arrests.) I bring up Napolitano because intellectually speaking, he and Lindsey seem to share virtually all of the same values. Where they differ is who they chose to associate with- Lindsey would rather have nothing to do with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, while Napolitano has filled in for Beck and had Palin as a guest on his own show- which is precisely what the Reason debate is all about.
Reason presents this in the context of political maneuvering, that is, which political alliances are best suited to reigning in government and promoting individual freedom. But there's a subtext here that's just as much about high school squabbles as it is pure politics. And I don't mean high school in a purely pejorative sense. Except for perhaps the most staunch individualist (of the sort who wouldn't be interested in politics in the first place), we all care about the people we associate with and with whom we share ideas. Many commentators would prefer to divide these associations along the traditional left/right divide, in part because it gives them the largest possible audience and in part because it makes for the simplest, most compelling narrative. Libertarians may be the biggest showcase where that dividing line just doesn't work, but it's a problem for those within movements as well.
Cato's Julian Sanchez sparked a debate several months ago when he brought up the term epistemic closure
in regards to the conservative movement's tendency to become far too inwardly focussed and disengaged from real intellectual debate with the other side. My post on "the coming intellectual crisis"
was a variation on the same theme, the idea being the vast swath of ideas that adherents to a particular ideology are expected to hold and how those ideas are never given self-scrutiny over time. This happens on both the right and left, but in terms of the left, one only need to look and see the way that the left was honest in their attempt to sell health care reform as fiscally responsible to see how the left has put their ideas to the fire over the last several decades. Where the left fails to self-examine is where it prays to the Goddess of regulation. Liberals who question the need of the regulatory state tend to suffer the same fate as conservatives who would question the size of our military and the scope of it's mission.
To return to this idea of "people we chose to associate with," the point isn't that conservatives or liberals should abandon the more heterodox elements of their ideology, but that this heterodoxy is only a problem in the context of our two-sided debate. That this heterodoxy is imposed by either side is both anti-intellectual and anti-productive in terms of providing ideas for the political arena. Take for instance drug prohibition, a topic of which there is much dissent from the pro-prohibition position on both the right and the left. You won't be cast out by either side for questioning prohibition, but it's a non-starter in terms of the effecting of any changes. Perhaps there's a majority or a strong vocal minority of Americans opposed to the war on drugs, but that group, however big it might be, has no real voice or outlet in our current system.
And this is precisely where we come back to Brink Lindsey's idea for a libertarian centerism. It's not entirely unrealistic to think that small government could claim the political center, although I have no idea how one goes about combating the institutionalized ideology that already exists.
Personally, I still like the term "liberaltarian" because it highlights the work that libertarians still need to do with the left. The right (and the tea parties) tend to use the same buzz words- small government, individual rights, ect.- but there's still a great deal of hostility toward the idea of limited government on the left. Heterodox conservatives dismiss libertarians as well-intentioned folks going a bit too far, but the heterodox left can, at times, treat libertarians as potentially more evil than conservatives. Selling libertarianism to the left is at least a few steps behind it's sale to the right. But whether it's through a push to the center or through a fragmented group of coalitions for individual issues, I've got to agree with Lindsey that the future of libertarianism lies with neither the left or right. The left is utterly dismissive of any notion of economic freedom, while the divisions with the right over issues like national security and immigration seem too big to overcome.