Libetarianism Co-Option Watchby Doug Mataconis
A lot of people are calling themselves libertarians these days, but it seems doubtful that many of them really believe in a consistent philosophy of individual liberty. When the word “libertarian” can be used to self-describe someone like Bill Mahr or Markos Moulitsas, it’s pretty much devoid of any meaning.
The latest example comes from Patrick Ruffini, who has a column up Hugh Hewitt’s blog discussing what he thinks libertarianism’s future is all about:
Assuming Paul loses, where does small-l libertarianism go from here? His movement already did the smart thing by making peace with social conservatism. Libertarianism is no longer aligned with libertine stances on abortion and gay rights.
To become the ascendant ideology within the GOP, I suspect they’ll have to find a way to do the same thing on national security. The war on terror writ large is the one big thing social and economic conservatives agree on, and Ron Paul is vocally aligned against both.
Mainstream Republican libertarians might be gung-ho for Paul’s small-government idealism, they might adopt Glenn Reynoldsish skepticism of the homeland security bureaucracy, and even John McCain has lately made a thing of ripping the military-industrial complex, but there is no way — I repeat NO WAY — they will embrace Ron Paul if he continues to blame America for 9/11 and imply that America is acting illegally in defending itself around the globe. Even if they aren’t the biggest fans of the war, most people that are available for Ron Paul on the right are by temperament patriotic and will never vote for someone who sounds like Noam Chomsky.
When he’s analyzing elections, Ruffini is top-notch, but he’s also a conservative so it’s understandable that he’d be under the mistaken impression that just because Ron Paul opposes abortion rights and thinks that states should have the right to ban gay marriage that libertarians as a group have suddenly adopted the social conservative gospel on either of those issue. If he paid more attention to libertarians than he apparently has before Ron Paul ran for President, Ruffini would know that his positions on abortion and gay rights are not shared by most other people who call themselves libertarians.
In Ruffini’s mind, then, Ron Paul has succeeded because he melded libertarianism with social conservatism. Therefore, he seems to argue, if libertarians really want to succeed, they should adopt neo-conservative foreign policy.
But then it really wouldn’t be libertarianism would it ?
Libertarians can and do disagree on foreign policy issues, and there’s been more than enough criticism of what sometimes seems like a naive view of Islamic terrorism that comes from some corners of the movement. And there is plenty of disagreement with the idea that the United States should withdraw inside its borders and not worry about any nation that can’t directly strike us. But there’s absolutely nothing that neo-conservatives who think that invading Iraq was a good idea, even if it was badly executed, can offer that would be of value to libertarianism.
So what would Ruffini define as libertarianism ?
As someone who routinely called myself a libertarian prior to 9/11, here’s how I would square the circle: Absolute freedom within our borders, for our own citizens; eternal vigilance and (when necessary) ruthlessness abroad. For libertarian ideals to survive, they must be relentlessly defended against the likes of Islamic extremists
On some level, this almost sounds appealing. Absolute freedom at home ? Sounds good to mean. Eternal vigilance and ruthlessness in the face of our enemies ? Sounds fine too.
The problem comes when you remember that the “absolute freedom” that Ruffini talks about is tempered by social conservative and Christianist restrictions on personal liberty for those deemed to be engaging in “unacceptable” behavior and that our experiences since 9/11 have indicated that the price of vigilance all too often includes unacceptable intrusions into the civil liberties of American citizens and that ruthlessness often includes the use of methods of torture that one would have thought the civilized world had left behind long ago.
Ruffini is right that the American public may well react negatively to someone who says that the United States is to blame for 9/11. Additionally, opinion polls consistently show that the American public has a different view of the War on Terror than they do of the Iraq War.
But opposition to the Iraq War doesn’t necessarily equate to adoption of the foreign policy views of the guys over at LewRockwell.com, and there’s no need for libertarians to turn into Norman Podhoretz for the sake of winning elections.