Category Archives: Libertarians

The Intellectual Absurdity Of Libertarian-Conservative Fusionism

The libertarian movement finds itself immersed once again in a debate over strategy and where, exactly libertarianism fits in to the American political milieu. Specifically, I’m referring to the ongoing debate about “fusionism” that is perhaps best typified by the May 2013 exchange of essays over at Cato Unbound, which I recommend that everyone who is concerned about the future of what some people have started to call “the liberty movement” read. In it’s most basic form, fusionism refers to the idea that libertarians ought to ally themselves with the conservatives as a way of advancing their ideas. Implicit in this position is the idea that libertarians and conservatives have enough ideas in common to form a coherent political alliance, and that the differences are minor enough that the political alliance can be maintained without one side being subsumed into the other and rendered a virtual nullity.  Most specifically, I would argue that this is the danger that libertarians face in any alliance with a conservative movement that is far more numerous and political powerful, and one of the many reason why any argument in favor of fusionism should be viewed with deep skepticism.

The most important thing to remember in dealing with the entire fusionism debate is that, contrary to Ronald Reagan’s famous quote in a 1975 interview with Reason Magazine that “the very heart of  conservatism is libertarianism,” there are and always have been significant differences between conservatives and libertarians when it comes to basic political philosophy.Where conservatives place significant value in the preservation of “tradition” and generally stand against the idea of radical change, libertarians generally advocate a political philosophy that stands in direct challenge to the status quo, rejects the idea of tradition for tradition’s sake, and emphasizes the primacy of the individual over the group, whether that group be the “traditional family,” the church, or the state. On some level it’s hard to see how conservatives and libertarians can be compatible with each other on any level given their significant core differences.

Even getting beyond the core differences, though, the similarities between conservatives and libertarians are far less obvious than might seem at first glance. For example, it is often stated that libertarianism is basically a mixture of “fiscal conservatism and social liberalism,” meaning that libertarianism is a blend of conservative economic policy and “liberal” social policy on issues such as personal freedom. However, as Jeremy Kolassa pointed out in his initial essay during May’s Cato Unbound debate, there are significant differences between libertarian and conservative views on economics and government fiscal policy:

[W]hat about economics? Surely we can agree with conservatives there. But let’s be honest, Jonah Goldberg was incorrect in saying that Friedman, Hayek, et. al were the Mount Rushmore of conservative economics. Conservative economics is more aptly described by the term “trickle down”: By giving tax breaks and subsidies to corporations and those at the top, the wealth will flow downward and lift the boats of those at the bottom. But that is not increasing freedom or limiting government, it is merely tilting society in the direction of one group rather than another.

That’s not libertarian. A libertarian economic policy would be to eliminate all the subsidies given to businesses, give the tax breaks to everybody, and knock down the barriers that prevent newcomers from setting up businesses. Libertarianism is universalist, not top-down.

This highlights the major difference between “libertarian” and “conservative” economics. Libertarians are pro-capitalism. Conservatives are pro-business. While they sound similar, these ideas are emphatically not the same and never could be. Through the means of creative destruction, capitalism frequently tears down and destroys established businesses. Conservatism, however, in its quest to maintain the status quo, steps in to prevent this. The best example? 2007. If conservatives were truly pro-market, they would have never passed TARP, but they did and bailed out the banks. That’s a conservative, not a libertarian, economic policy.

If conservatives and libertarians can’t even really agree on economic policy, then where’s the basis for the alliance?

Perhaps my biggest problem with fusionism in its current incarnation, however, is the extent to which it demands that libertarians silence their criticism of their so-called conservative allies in the name of “unity.” Even if one accepts the argument that libertarians and conservatives are on the same side when it comes to economics, there is no denying that there are significant differences between the two sides on many issues. The most obvious, of course, are social issues such as gay marriage, the drug war, pornography, and, for some but not all libertarians, abortion rights. In addition to that, it’s generally the case that libertarians have a far more restrained view of what proper American foreign policy should be than conservatives do, even in today’s era where conservatives suddenly seem to have become anti-war when the war is being led by Barack Obama. Based on those differences alone, the idea that libertarians and conservatives are just two sides of the same coin is clearly false.

So, this leads us to the inherent flaw of modern fusionism. People who consider them libertarians are expected to join conservatives in their vehement, and often insane when expressed by people like Michele Bachmann and Allan West, criticisms of the left, and they are also expected to keep their mouths shut when it comes to criticism of their so-called conservative allies when they advocate policies that clearly violate libertarian principles. That’s not an alliance, it’s surrender. If libertarians stay silent while conservatives continue to push continually absurd arguments against marriage equality that advance hateful and bigoted stereotypes about homosexuals, for example, then they are essentially abandoning their principles in favor of short-term, and likely quixotic, political gain. There is no value in keeping your mouth shut just so you can be part of the political “Cool Kids Club.”

None of what I’ve said here should be taken as a rejection of the idea that libertarians should reject the idea of temporary alliances with people on the right to advance specific issues. There are plenty of such issues where conservatives and libertarians can find common ground to push through policies and make progress on the local, state, and federal levels, and coalitions have always been a part of politics in the United States.  However, there’s a difference between coalitions and surrender, and it’s clear to me that fusionism demands nothing more than abject surrender from libertarians and expects them to become little more than the lapdogs of conservatives. Well, we’ve tried that one before, my friends, and it didn’t work. We’d be foolish to try it again.

On a final note, I’d like to note that conservatives aren’t the only ones at fault here. One of the major problems with libertarianism is that, in many ways, it is not a coherent philosophy but rather a hodgepodge of different philosophies that have united under the banner of libertarianism. Among our ranks there are minarchists, Hayekians, the Mises crowd, fans of Milton Friedman, utilitarians, Christian libertarians, anarchists, and anarcho-capitalists. Given that the general principles of libertarianism are still very much in the minority in the United States, perhaps its inevitable that people who clearly have their own deep philosophical differences. However, the lack of a core philosophy is, arguably, one of the biggest weaknesses of libertarianism. I intend to address that issue in a future post.

Quote of the Day: Unequal Treaty Edition

For those of you who have not seen this yet, there is a really important debate about libertarian/conservative “fusionism” at Cato Unbound. Among the essays responding to the lead essay authored by Jacqueline Otto is Jeremy Kolassa’s essay entitled: An Unequal Treaty.

Here is one excerpt from his essay explaining why fusionism has failed to deliver more liberty:

In her opening essay, Jacqueline Otto makes several points about where libertarians and conservatives converge. But notice the elephant in the room: social issues. At no point in her essay does she write about gay marriage, drug legalization, civil liberties, feminism, or even foreign policy or immigration […]


For libertarians, this is a question of the individual’s right to rule his or her own life. That is, after all, what liberty is about. For a conservative, society to a great extent rules a person’s life. It is not always a question what the individual wants, but of what is right for the community. The community, in turn, is built on centuries-old traditions. Allowing gay marriage would break these traditions, which is why most conservatives are denouncing it as rampant immorality. Viewed in this light, conservatives are really just the other side of the progressive coin. Both put the community in charge.

As long as conservatives wish to use the machinery of the state to enforce their moral code, fusionism will be doomed and the so-called progressives will continue to prevail. Alliances with conservatives need to be formed but we libertarians can no longer accept this unequal treaty, as Kolassa describes it (and quite accurately, I might add).

Quote of the Day: Pye r Squared Edition

Former Liberty Papers contributor and Editor-in-Chief of United Liberty Jason Pye has been making the rounds lately speaking at FreedomWorks’ Spring Break College Summit in Washington D.C. and interviewing leaders in the liberty movement such as Cato’s David Boaz, Sen. Mike Lee, and Igor Birman.

Here’s just an excerpt from his recent speech entitled: “Standing on the Sidelines is Not an Option for the Freedom Movement”

Recently, I had dinner with a friend and we were talking about some of the issues in the freedom movement, including the resistance to those who are interested in our message. He explained that he found it odd that those who are the most likely to quote Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek are the same people who face so much animosity from some people in our movement. I completely agreed with his assessment.

In his book, Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman explained why economic liberty serves as the basis for a free society. From where I stand, it makes no sense for any of us to be fighting amongst ourselves when the very basis of liberty is under attack. We should have discussions along the way about ancillary issues, but we have to understand that person who disagrees with us on 10% or 20% of issues is not our enemy.

Very well said, Jason.

A Few Personal Observations From a Contentious Town Hall Meeting

This past Saturday, I decided to meet up with Colorado Libertarian Party members to take part in a town hall meeting at the Smoky Hill Library in Centennial, Colorado. Several members of the state legislature hosted the event: Sen. Nancy Todd (D-Sen. Dist. 28), John Buckner (D-House Dist. 40), and Su Ryden (D-House Dist. 36). Senate Majority Leader, Morgan Carroll (D-Dist.29) was a no show.

When I received the invitation, in my inbox, there were 11 others who RSVP’d to attend the event. I really had no idea if we would be the only individuals in attendance who would challenge these legislators or if we would be in good company. All I knew was all of these legislators would be Democrats in favor of most, if not all, of the gun control measures (at least in principle) being considered at the state capitol. I fully expected that we would be crashing their party.

As it turned out, the Colorado Libertarians who responded to the Meetup invitation were not the only party crashers (I’m not entirely clear on who was part of ‘our group’ and who wasn’t). Before the meeting, several of  us were outside with our pro-gun rights signs. Rep. Ryden and Sen. Todd were kind enough to talk with us briefly before the meeting started.

Just before the meeting started, we were advised to write down our questions on the 3X5 cards the meeting organizers provided to us rather than take random questions from the citizens. As the meeting progressed with a small number of the questions being read, many in attendance were not too pleased with this “I thought this was supposed to be a town hall meeting,” one person complained. About halfway into the meeting after several unsatisfactory answers from the legislators concerning the right to bear arms, one elderly gentleman stormed out.

Throughout the meeting, the legislators tried to steer the discussion toward other issues but a very vocal section of the crowd would have none of it, routinely interrupting their responses saying things like “Our rights don’t come from you, they come from God!” and “You aren’t tak’n mah guns!” etc.

I cannot say for sure if the majority of those in attendance were opposed to the upcoming gun control legislation but they certainly were louder than the supporters. While I certainly agreed with much of the sentiments being expressed toward the law makers and was very pleased that they made it known to them that some Coloradans aren’t too keen on the idea of registration, magazine limits, the proposed “Assault Weapon Responsibility Act” (liability for owners, sellers, and manufacturers of ‘assault weapons’ and ammunition – the most asinine of the seven bills being considered IMO), etc. I have to say that their antics probably didn’t win over anyone who was on the fence. They certainly didn’t change the minds of the legislators when they were being called “Socialists.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is a very emotional issue and those of us who favor the right to bear arms feel like we have been backed into a corner. Before the bodies of the precious school children were even cold at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the media and the gun control advocates demanded that our elected officials “do something” to make sure this “never happens again.” They made us out to be the bad guys. I fully understand that it can be emotionally satisfying to lash out at these people in a public forum. If the goal was to give these individuals an ear full, then let me put on my flight suit ala George W. Bush and say “mission accomplished.”

My goal, however; was somewhat different. I was hoping to have an intelligent discussion with these people about these proposals. I was hoping to point out to both the legislators and those in attendance that according to the FBI, violent crime in 2011 was at a 19-year low (I believe it was Rep. Buckner who erroneously said that violent crime was increasing). I also wanted to point out that out of all the homicides in the U.S. in 2011, so-called “assault rifles” made up for perhaps 2% of the total and that every school campus will have one murder every 12,000 years. It seems to me that the Democrats, who control both the executive and legislative branches in Colorado, are proposing solutions in search of a problem.

Those were the points I hoped to get across. Fortunately, I did manage to have a civil discussion with Rep. Ryden after the meeting. She was kind enough to allow me to give her a printout of these statistics, the blog post I posted here last week, and my contact information. We shook hands and I thanked her for her time.

Did I make an impression on her? Maybe. I would like to think that  she was more open to listen to my point-of-view as opposed to saying things like “you’re not tak’n mah guns!”

Will she ultimately change her mind? Probably not. But if we want these people to take us seriously, to consider another viewpoint, and if we don’t want these people to think we are the fools the media makes us out to be, we need to stop acting like fools. We should leave that to the other side.

Hey Ann, the War on (Some) Drugs is a Welfare Program

According to Ann Coulter, libertarians are “pussies” for wanting to end the war on (some) drugs and for agreeing with the Left on certain social issues such as gay marriage. Coulter was a guest on Stossel at the Students for Liberty Conference.

Coulter elaborated:

We’re living in a country that is 70-percent socailist, the government takes 60 percent of your money. They are taking care of your health care, of your pensions. They’re telling you who you can hire, what the regulations will be. And you want to suck up to your little liberal friends and say, ‘Oh, but we want to legalize pot.’ You know, if you were a little more manly you would tell the liberals what your position on employment discrimination is. How about that? But it’s always ‘We want to legalize pot.’


Liberals want to destroy the family so that you will have one loyalty and that is to the government.

Clearly, Ann Coulter hasn’t spent much time hanging around libertarians, going to libertarian events, or reading anything libertarians write. The war on (some) drugs is but one issue. The welfare and warfare state receives at least as much attention by libertarians as the war on (some) drugs. Libertarians have certainly been more vocal about the welfare state than the conservatives of her ilk. I suppose when we agree with her on these issues, progressives should say we are ‘sucking up’ to our conservative friends. It couldn’t be that we have our own principles (such as the non-aggression principle which neither the Left nor the Right practices) and our own reasons for having them.

And speaking of destroying families, what does she think the war on (some) drugs does to families? What about the “magnificent war” in Iraq (her words), war in Afghanistan, or war in general? I wouldn’t suppose war plays any role at all in destroying families. There are the multiple long deployments, soldiers coming home physically and/or mentally disabled, or worse, come home in a box. For all the concern about the destroying of families, one would think that Ann Coulter would want to be a little more careful about when troops are called to risk life and limb (maybe she should consider the Just War Theory ). I would further argue that the military adventurisim our military is engaging in is its own kind of welfare. Most of what our military does is defend other countries rather than ours.

When respoding to a question from a young woman in the audience asking Coulter why it’s any of her business what someone else puts in his or her body Coulter responded:

It is my business when we are living in a welfare state. You get rid of the welfare state then we’ll talk about drug legalization but right now I have to pay for, it turns out down the pike, your healthcare. I have to pay your unemployment when you can’t hold a job. I have to pay for your food, for your housing…

Coulter went on to say that if not for the welfare state, she would be okay with legalizing drugs.

What does she think incarceration does? When someone is incarcerated, s/he is quite literally being housed, fed, and provided healthcare at the taxpayers’ expense. In California, it costs taxpayers $75,000 per year for each inmate. As terrible as the welfare state is (and yes, it is terrible), I cannot imagine that ending the war on (some) drugs would be any worse for taxpayers as what drug prohibition has done. The drug war costs state and federal government over $30 million per day.

If Ms. Coulter wants to talk about people not being able to hold a job she should consider what wonders a criminal record does for a person’s job prospects. All too often, the only kind of job an ex-con can get is selling illicit drugs which s/he will eventually get arrested and be incarcerated once again. For some repeat drug offenders, the thought of going back to jail or prison isn’t much of a deterrant. It’s ‘3 hots and a cot’ plus security and structure (believe it or not, there are some people who don’t know how to live outside of prison).

Far from being pussies, Ann Coulter, we libertarians have the balls to be consistent in our criticism of the welfare state. Yes, Ann, we should join hands in opposing Obamacare, the out of control welfare state, and reckless spending. Rather than providing drug users food, housing, and healthcare via incarceration, why not join with us and say that everyone should be responsible for their own lives?

With freedom comes responsibility. Is that manly enough for you?

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