16 October 2008

Libertarians And The American Political Landscape

I expressed the following thought to my brother the other day:
I think modern liberalism is so intellectually bankrupt that more and more, the only debate that rages in my head is between conservatism and libertarianism or between conservatism and extreme conservatism.
Such is the diminished state of liberalism, I do not believe it has anything to offer or any solutions to modern problems. I think it has become so narrowly defined and owned by the identity politics of the various wings of the Democratic party, that it isn't even really a philosophy anymore. Or if it is, it is morally relativistic and/or utilitarian--both of which I reject on philosophical grounds.

(for more on the intellectual bankruptedness of liberalism, see One Cosmos)

It's why I find things like the following article at Cato so interesting:
In the November issue of Liberty magazine I write about one factor that I think reduces the political impact of libertarian-leaning voters: the fact that they’re all over the map about which party or faction represents the lesser of the evils:

One reason why libertarians underperform politically is that they are politically split, not just between radicals and incrementalists, as can happen in any political movement, but also among various political movements — while being too small to influence any of them very much.

It seems to me that libertarians come in several political groupings:

(1) Those who care primarily about free markets and thus support conservative Republicans. Given the candidates on offer, that means helping to move the GOP to the right on social issues (and war and civil liberties) as well as on economic issues. This group would include the Club for Growth, Republican “Leave Us Alone” activist Grover Norquist, many donors to free-market thinktanks, and probably most libertarian-leaning politically active people.

(2) Those who want to make the GOP more socially tolerant and thus support moderate Republicans, which effectively means Republicans who aren’t very free-market. This would include Log Cabin Republicans, pro-choice Republicans, and lots of Wall Street and Silicon Valley businesspeople.

(3) Those who think the GOP is irredeemably bad on social issues and civil liberties and thus support Democrats. This would again include some Silicon Valley businessmen who are pro-entrepreneurship and fiscally conservative but just can’t support a party that is opposed to abortion rights and gay rights. A dramatic example is Tim Gill, the founder of Quark, who calls himself a libertarian but has contributed millions of dollars to Democrats because of Republican opposition to gay rights. There are also broadly libertarian people involved in the ACLU, the drug-reform movement, and other civil libertarian causes.

(4) Those who support the Libertarian Party. They don’t get many votes, but they include a large percentage of libertarian activists.

If only some candidate or movement could bring them all together.

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.