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November 27, 2007

Libetarianism Co-Option Watch

by 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.

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20 Comments

  1. 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.

    That would be George W. Bush, right? He is the one always saying that al-Qaeda attacked us because of the way we live.

    Comment by D.L. Mitchell — November 27, 2007 @ 9:28 am
  2. The flavors of Libertarianism according to Wikipedia:
    Geolibertarianism
    Green libertarianism
    Left-libertarianism
    Libertarian feminism
    Neolibertarianism
    Paleolibertarianism
    Progressive libertarianism
    Right-libertarianism

    Ruffini would probably be advocating Neolibertarianism.

    Ron Paul isn’t blaming America. He’s trying to help us understand our enemy. Muslims aren’t out to kill us because of our freedoms. He introduced this a couple of months ago: H.R. 3216: Marque and Reprisal Act of 2007.
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-3216

    I’m sad and frightened that Osama is winning. The US is heading for hard economic times. Al Qaida is in an unstable country with nukes. They have been given a pass from a Saudi Sheik to kill 10 million of us. If they get a nuke inside here then it’s checkmate. Iran isn’t going to strike the US. It has too much to lose. Osama needs us out of the way so he can take on all those regimes we have been protecting.

    Comment by uhm — November 27, 2007 @ 9:36 am
  3. 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.

    Amen.

    However, the Iranian issue is the better test IMHO. The question of “Do you support an attack on Iran?” (and if so, why?) is the most important one we need to ask when dealing with people who call themselves “libertarians”.

    Comment by Kevin — November 27, 2007 @ 9:47 am
  4. “For libertarian ideals to survive, they must be relentlessly defended against the likes of Islamic extremists…”

    As I commented elsewhere: I am more afraid of the local school board than I am of Islamic extremists. And that is why I am also afraid of Ron Paul.

    Comment by KipEsquire — November 27, 2007 @ 9:55 am
  5. Talk about timing: Exhibit A.

    Comment by KipEsquire — November 27, 2007 @ 10:12 am
  6. Two simple tenants of libertarianism: laissez-faire free markets and non-coercion. Everything else is people latching on to buzzwords.

    Comment by js290 — November 27, 2007 @ 10:14 am
  7. UHM—Man are you serious. YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS.
    Osama is winning..hum! Listen UHM you seem reasonable…You’ve been what they call hoodwinked my friend. Osama is our new Hitler..You know war on terror..Trillions from the treasury not for you and your kids. From you and me to steal..Like the war on drugs, $400 Billion and no reasonable end in sight. The Taliban in Afghanistan had completely eliminated poppy(heroin) production by 2001. This year they are set for a world record harvest..WE’RE THERE UMH…Torah Bora we had Osama cold and let him slip into Pakistan..Pakistan has nucs and we sent them $10 Billion (with a B) that’s your money you seem to be playing the fool?

    Comment by Keith — November 27, 2007 @ 10:51 am
  8. “Two simple tenants of libertarianism: laissez-faire free markets and non-coercion. Everything else is people latching on to buzzwords.”

    I know this wasn’t what js290 was referring to, but I think it’s worth pointing out that attempts to silence any discussion of Ron Paul being something less than the incarnation of John Galt are explicitly a violation of the non-coercion tenet.

    Comment by Mark — November 27, 2007 @ 10:59 am
  9. Ron Paul is steam rolling his way to the Republican nomination. He dominates in straw polls, debate polls, fund raising, web traffic and grass roots networking. I have created a website to support this statement.

    Please visit http://www.thecaseforronpaul.com and judge the evidence for yourself.

    Comment by Cleaner44 — November 27, 2007 @ 12:52 pm
  10. Doug:

    Paul’s position is that marriage should be a private contract, no government involvement at all. That quote inidicates he opposes government coercion to redefine marriage….

    Comment by Kaligula — November 27, 2007 @ 2:43 pm
  11. If you are not an anarchist, you are some sort of statist and you can not be consistently pro liberty.

    That being said, the closest thing to anarchy in reality is federalism. Since federalism, meaning a weak and virtually non existant federal (or imperial) government, means competition amongst states. In anarchy there is competition regardles of geography but libertarians should take moving from one state to another in the case of federalism.

    Competition amongst states with similar language and culture is what caused Industrial Revolution in Europe and same competition made the US the most properous and free state in the world.

    Whatever Ron Paul is, it is enough for him to be a federalist for libertarians to support him. It is not relevant what he thinks on other issues. If he can put the power in the hand of the states, the states will have to adopt libertarian laws or they will lose population.

    That is why these debates amongst libertarians on whether to support Ron Paul or not is plain stupid. Every libertarian, should be backing Paul with all hes got.

    Comment by zagalo — November 27, 2007 @ 3:02 pm
  12. The Iranians wanted to talk to us right after the Iraq war when everything was going good for us. We should have taken them up on it. I would’ve went for that agreement. If they are a threat to our oil then the only logical course is to kill them.

    Keith, I’ve heard people say that but I haven’t seen a credible source about it. Then why would the government want to spray and kill the poppie?
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ac35906e-0aeb-11dc-8412-000b5df10621.html

    We don’t have enough troops in Afghanistan is the problem. I’m against aid to Pakistan unless the aid bears fruit and I’m wary of spreading the war there. I agree with you that the War on Terror has been a waste of money. Either the government is finding an excuse to secure our oil, hoping the Arabs will tire themselves out, or is a complete idiot and is only interested in making businesses surrounding the Military Industrial Complex money, appeasing nutty supporters in the process.

    People around Sibel Edmonds say Al Qaida made money off heroin. Then it went to Turkey where they made money off it too and bought weapons from us. Yet, Congress won’t let her speak. She has offered to go on TV and tell us the forbidden information but the Mainstream Media isn’t biting in the US.

    Comment by uhm — November 27, 2007 @ 4:28 pm
  13. Ron Paul is on target. The US policy of terrorism against muslims in general and Palestinians in particular for the past sixty years came back as 911. The US and Israel must recognize Palestinian sovereignty, and pay reparations for the US supported 1948 invasion by Zionists. Palestinians must have equal rights to live in their own country and vote. Anything less is hypocricy. One billion muslims in very wealthy nations are keenly aware of US Israeli hypocricy and they are as unlikely to forget over the coming sixty years as they did not forget over the past sixty years. The big difference is that muslims now have nuclear weapons, modern industrial societies, and oil wealth. Prudence suggests making amends. Wars of aggression and terror against Iraq and Afghanistan were precisely the wrong policy.

    Comment by KGB — November 27, 2007 @ 9:07 pm
  14. Ron Paul is rising and Fred Thompson is going down in flames… http://truthalert.net/Republican%20Presidential%20Candidate%20Rankings.htm

    Comment by Mike — November 28, 2007 @ 12:48 am
  15. Mike,

    All that means is that he’s in Fifth place behind Giuliani, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — November 28, 2007 @ 5:22 am
  16. Let’s just say that Ron Paul wins. There seems to be a trend of Libertarians wanting to distance themselves, which is kind of sad. Think about it, if you were Ron Paul, would you want to pick a Republican vp or a Libertarian vp? Ron Paul is a long shot, but it might be the closest a Libertarian gets to the white house either as president or vp.

    Comment by Leanne — November 28, 2007 @ 11:40 am
  17. Leanne,

    Given that the Vice-Presidency is, constitutionally, a nearly powerless office it barely matters to me who any nominee picks as VP as long as they’d be qualified to fill the position of President in the historically unlikely event that they’d be called upon to do so.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — November 28, 2007 @ 11:45 am
  18. Leanne:
    If Paul wins the primaries, it will be because he managed to erase the stain of his association with certain groups or had some other sort of a Sister Soujah moment. If he manages to pull of an upset in the early going, you can be certain that his ties to those groups will become the defining issue of his campaign, whether he wants it to be or not.

    You can rest assured that the second he does that, all the libertarians who have left him will be back on board, even if we don’t think he’s perfect.

    Comment by Mark — November 28, 2007 @ 12:15 pm
  19. Given that the Vice-Presidency is, constitutionally, a nearly powerless office it barely matters to me who any nominee picks as VP as long as they’d be qualified to fill the position of President in the historically unlikely event that they’d be called upon to do so.

    If Paul gets the nomination, his VP choice will be very important; he’ll be picking the future flag-bearer. Wouldn’t you want to make sure he picks someone more libertarian, not less?

    Comment by Jeff Molby — November 28, 2007 @ 12:49 pm
  20. Jeff,

    On the whole yes, but I can’t think of any reason why a VP choice would cause me to vote for a Presidential candidate I otherwise wouldn’t vote for.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — November 28, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

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