Where are the Libertarians at Netroots Nation?

This week a number of my favorite liberal bloggers are tweeting and blogging from Netroots Nation, the annual conference for wired liberal activists. And as far as I can tell, there are no libertarians at the event. Certainly there don’t appear to be any on the agenda. And this isn’t due to a shortage of panels where libertarians could contribute. My colleague Dan Griswold would have been a great addition to this panel on immigration reform. My friend Julian Sanchez would have been a great pick for this panel on domestic surveillance issues. Cato chairman Bob Levy would have been an inspired choice for this panel on gay equality. And there’s this panel on drug reform, which mentions libertarians in the description, but doesn’t have any representatives of libertarian organizations among the panelists. It would be a natural place for my colleagues Tim Lynch or Radley Balko to speak. Yet I can’t find a single representative of a libertarian organization on any of the panels.

Compare that to the agenda for CPAC 10, which is probably the conservative counterpart to NN. I count at least eight speakers from explicitly libertarian groups like Cato, Reason, CEI, FFF, and the Institute for Justice, as well as many more from libertarian-friendly organizations like Freedom Works and Americans for Tax Reform.

My friend Adam Thierer says this is because “the Net Roots crowd is not interested in liberty.” I’ve already made clear what I think about that sentiment in general, but I think it’s particularly ironic coming from Adam. Adam is one of the libertarian movement’s leading First Amendment advocates. He has done a great job of building bridges with left-of-center groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology on free speech. If he gave a talk on First Amendment issues I bet he’d get a better reception from the NN crowd than the CPAC crowd.

So I don’t really get the hostility. It’s true, of course, that libertarians wouldn’t agree with everything they heard at NN. But the same is true of CPAC. Somehow, libertarian scholars and activists manage to promote liberty at CPAC despite the presence of the numerous theocrats, immigrant-bashers, warmongers, race-baiters, and the like. We could sit through a panel of statists talking about health care.

It’s this kind of grassroots disengagement, not the failure to craft a perfect liberaltarian manifesto, that makes a left-libertarian alliance seem far-fetched. And libertarians deserve a lot of the blame. Maybe if libertarian organizations regularly sent representatives to events like Netroots Nation, their organizers would be more likely to invite them to speak on their panels. Indeed, if libertarians were more involved in organizing events like Netroots Nation (as they are events like CPAC) they could nudge the agenda in a more libertarian direction, including more stuff on free speech or drug reform and suggesting more libertarian speakers.

Still, liberals could do more as well. Even if they think we’re troglodytes in general, it’s still useful to broaden the political coalition on specific issues where we agree. So in case any organizers of NN11 wind up reading this, a special note to them: email me! I know a lots of libertarians. Name a “social issue”—free speech, gay marriage, domestic surveillance, executive power, immigration, criminal justice, drug reform, foreign policy, feminism—and I can put you in touch with libertarians who can give crowd-pleasing talks on those subjects.

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22 Responses to Where are the Libertarians at Netroots Nation?

  1. CW says:

    Which libertarian would have been a good representative about climate change (not only the acceptance of it, but policy decisions needed to address it)? That seems to be the one important issue that libertarians such as Cato libertarians seem to disagree with liberals.

  2. Actually Ronald Bailey of Reason (who has acknowledged the reality of human-caused climate change and has advocated a carbon tax) and/or Megan McArdle (another advocate of a carbon tax) are two examples off the top of my head of libertarians who would be excellent contributors to a panel on climate change.

  3. David says:

    Do you think they would be welcome, their opinion on certain limited issues notwithstanding? Liberals use the language of liberty probably better than conservatives, but I think their actions usually say otherwise. Furthermore, I think conservatism is becoming more and more libertarian, while modern liberalism is becoming less and less. (The Tea Party movement is a great example, as it unites people around a desire for economic freedom almost irrespective of their position on social issues. And which side of the aisle has generally received this movement favorably, and which side demonizes it at every opportunity?) In my opinion, even when liberals are pro-liberty, for the most part they don’t seem to be so for a philosophically consistent reason. (How can you be pro-drug legalization, and at the same time in favor of banning trans fats, or example? They’re just engaging in whatever happens to be the fad of the moment.)

    There was a great triplet of articles about this in the last Reason magazine, by the way: http://reason.com/archives/2010/07/12/where-do-libertarians-belong

  4. Jim Harper says:

    RightOnline might be a better comparison than CPAC. Don’t know that it would change your thinking.

  5. Radley Balko says:

    I spoke at NN last year on a drug reform panel. It was surreal. A member from LEAP and I were basically attacked by Mark Kleiman and a professor from Carnegie-Mellon for advocating drug legalization. That is, the leftists on the panel attacked us for advocating too much freedom. The gist of their criticism is that we were naive and simple for thinking that people were capable of making their own decisions about psychoactive drugs. Kleiman agrees with me on police militarization issues, but he actually wants more cops on the streets, wants to keep all drugs but marijuana illegal (and even with marijuana, he’d ban advertising, marketing, and for-profit distribution), and wants massive government intervention to prevent people from making bad decisions. Kleiman actually argued that alcohol prohibition was a success, and disputed the idea that it caused black market violence.

    Kleiman of course doesn’t speak for all of the left, nor does the other professor on the panel (whose name escapes me at the moment). But I’m not convinced that in general, the left is an ally on drug prohibition. The biggest criticisms you hear from the left about the drug war are that it’s enforced unequally, and it disproportionately harms minorities (both are true, and certainly worth criticizing). But listen carefully, and you’ll find few leftists who argue that prohibiting drugs is in itself a bad or immoral or unjust policy.

  6. Adam Thierer says:

    Tim, I applaud your eternal optimism and always find it inspiring, but I’m so jaded these days that I just can’t share it. I can’t find anything about NetRoots or its past statements / efforts that lead me to believe they share our passion for liberty. Sure, I suppose we could find a few issues here and there where they generally agree with us… in much the same way that if I try hard enough I could find a few statements by people at Free Press or Media Access Project with which I generally agree. But let’s not pretend the exception is the rule. These people are first and foremost advocates of comprehensive economic regulation and it crowds out their interest in building bridges on the social issues where we might agree with them.

    Whatever you want to say about the conservatives – and as you know, I rarely have kind words for them – they are often prepared to put differences on social issues aside to work with us on the economic freedom agenda that we agree on. I increasingly find that the opposite is NOT the case with people and groups on the Left. There are exceptions, of course. As you noted, I work very closely with CDT and, over just the past few years, have filed a half dozen major joint filings with them in courts and before regulatory agencies. But CDT is a very different animal than most of these other people and groups involved with NetRoots. Most of them view libertarians like us with suspicion and disgust because of our views on economic liberty. The Net Neutrality issue alone has become like the abortion issue of high-technology and made almost any semblance of reasonable dialog impossible. (Do you forget the vitriol that was directed at you personally following the release of your Cato paper on the issue? It was unforgivable.)

    What’s worse: Their passion for comprehensive economic regulation increasingly crowds out almost any interest in the social issues and free speech agenda where we might agree. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw a major paper or filing by Free Press or Public Knowledge on First Amendment issues? Good luck finding one. And that’s indicative of what’s happening throughout the “progressive” movement more broadly: When you make crushing economic liberty your top priority, social / speech rights can quickly become an afterthought.

    Too bad these people don’t read Hayek on that point.

  7. Don Marti says:

    What the liberaltarian movement needs is a catchier name for “negative externalities.”

  8. Berin Szoka says:

    Tim, I take issue with the premise of this post: Getting “liberals” to talk to “libertarians,” because libertarians are “liberals” and what you (and nearly everyone else in this linguistically confused country) call “liberals” are anything but: They are leftists, paternalists, social democrats, socialists, statists, central planners, and… dare I say… top-down-ers? It may well be too late to redeem and reclaim the L-word, but we need not further abuse the word by misusing it to refer to what I would generally group under the label of “Leftists.”

    Now, I’m not just being a philological prig here: I’m actually suggesting this because I think there are fundamental philosophical differences here that make a left-libertarian alliance difficult. I’m not at all against finding common cause wherever possible and actually generally agree that it would be a great thing for true liberals (believers in individual rights and limited government) to actively seek out opportunities to speak to the Left, as you suggest.

    But I’m pretty skeptical that it’s going to yield the fruits you imagine it might, for the very reasons raised by Radley and Adam–which essentially boil down to paternalism. If the Left lacks confidence in the ability of “ordinary” people to make the right decisions about, say, their diets, we shouldn’t be surprised that they would want to “nudge” (or shove) us into making “smart” decisions about, say, smoking pot even after it’s legalized. I’m well aware that the Right can be just as paternalistic–say, by keeping pot illegal!–but would submit that the one measure that matters most is trending upward on the “Right” and downward on the “Left”: confidence in the individual to choose for himself.

    As a gay, atheist nisei (first-generation German-American), I have little patience for the religiosity, moralizing and xenophobia that characterizes (to varying degrees) much of (though not all of) the Right. But I at least see them drawing on an intellectual tradition grounded in liberty, decentralization, property, skepticism of power, and confidence in the ability of individuals acting in their own self interest to produce order, wealth and tolerance from the “bottom up.” I’m sorry to say I see precious little of that on the Left, even though I would find more in common with them on specific policy issues like opposing American Empire or legalizing drugs.

    But, really, there is something fundamentally rotten about a movement that rejects perhaps the most basic “social” freedom–the freedom of association enshrined in the First Amendment as the “right of the people peaceably to assemble”–in the name of tolerance or fairness or whatever. Three examples should, I think, suffice:

    First, if a voluntary organization (Tocqueville’s “civic society”), say a Christian law student’s group, would rather not associate with me because of my sexual deviance, what kind of “liberal” could possibly countenance forcing them to allow me into their organization? Yet this, of course, is precisely what the so-called liberals on the Supreme Court just held in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.

    Second, if I rent out a room in my house, and would prefer not to have, say, a Muslim or a Mormon or a East-Asian or an African-American as a roommate because, say, these groups tend to be highly homophobic, why on Earth should the State bar me from such “discrimination” (as the Fair Housing Act does–except that I am permitted to discriminate based on sex along where a bathroom, kitchen or common area might be shared). Indeed, why should it matter what my motives are? It’s my house, my property… mine! (I could go off about Kelo and takings here, which would equally prove my point about the profound philosophical corruption of the statist Left, who would allow developers to steal my home to subsidize developers! but I will stick to the theme of the freedom of association.)

    Third, the Left’s obsession with the “appearance of corruption” (or, conversely, their fixation on the Rousseauvian purity of the democratic process) has led them to the absurd results of arguing that the state could ban books, as Elena Kagan actually argued to the Supreme Court in Citizens United and, no less obscenely, prevent me (beyond a trivial donation cap) from “assembling” with those of like mine to pool our humble resources to fund wider dissemination of our speech than we could accomplish on our own–both in the name of “campaign finance reform.”

    I am disgusted by such profound iliberalism, as should all true liberals/libertarians. At the very least, I will not provide the “sanction of the victim” by allowing these statists to steal the word “liberal” alongside my liberties. Again, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find common ground to Leftists where their inconsistencies make them receptive to our message on some issues (generally “social” and foreign policy) but… don’t get your hopes up that it will lead to anything sustainable.

  9. Brian Moore says:

    I think it’s possible that both “libertarians don’t engage liberals much” (what Tim says) and “liberals don’t actually like libertarian policies when they hear them” (what Radley and Adam are saying) can both be true, without “we should try to convince liberals” being wrong.

    Libertarians should go to liberal conferences, and apply to speak at them. They’re gonna get shot down a lot. And I definitely agree, lots of liberal people there would (stupidly, in my opinion) disagree, as Kleiman did to Radley. But in nearly all situations, libertarian opinion is going to be disagreed with. That’s why it’s a marginal political faction. But it’s obvious that at some point in the past, libertarians said things that convinced a large number of conservatives to adopt (perhaps only nominally for some) some libertarian ideas. There’s no reason they can’t persuade liberals too, though I’m certain it won’t happen very quickly.

    I mean, I know this sounds naive, but if you’re a libertarian, then you genuinely believe that those ideas are best. So go persuade people. Most of the people I hang out with now, despite having pretty liberal inclinations, are a lot more libertarian than they used to be (don’t tell them I said that). And it’s not because I have a sweet dream device to plant ideas in their head like Mr. DiCaprio, it’s because, as naive and self-serving and annoying as this sounds, I’ve argued for what I thought to be the right thing with them, when the topics came up. And in many cases, I had to phrase my arguments in ways that would naturally appeal to someone with liberal inclinations: “maybe we shouldn’t have the govt fund the media because then when a Republican got in office, they’d support FOX News!” just like Tim is advocating.

    For other than a few people, libertarian ideas are going to have strong resistance. So, almost always, you’re going to be among people who disagree with you. We can’t avoid that. So, use ideas and words they recognize and already agree with in order to try to persuade them. Just because a group of people is officially opposed to your beliefs doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to persuade them. I loved this Penn Gillette quote, when accused that ‘If Hitler had a talk show, you’d probably go on that too.’:

    yes, I would, and I would tell the truth.

  10. Radley Balko says:

    I definitely agree with the idea that we should engage the left (and the right, for that matter). I’ve always been of the opinion that we should build alliances on an issue by issue basis, even if we have strong disagreements with those allies outside of a particular issue.

    I guess my point is that just as the Bush administration showed that the “we agree with the right on fiscal issues and the left on social issues” CW doesn’t really apply with respect to the right, I’m increasingly finding that it doesn’t really apply to the left, either. Outside of gay rights and abortion rights (and I don’t think the latter is a litmus-test libertarian position), the left’s paternalistic instinct and a consuming hatred of advertising/marketing seems to trump any concern for individual liberty.

    Tim, you asked in an email if the crowd was with me or Kleiman on my NN panel last year. Most were drug reformers, so they were with me most of the time. But when Kleiman turned the discussion to alcohol, how he thinks alcohol companies prey on people with their evil marketing and advertising practices, and how he doesn’t want to see corporations doing the same thing with pot or heroin, I sensed the crowd turning. I think most of them would still legalize. But they seemed sympathetic to the idea that we should ban all advertising and for-profit sales of now-illicit drugs. (And probably do the same for alcohol.)

    I’ve written this before, but I think the left values equality over all else. When choice and personal freedom conflict with their egalitarian instincts, equality is going to win almost all the time. That still meshes with some of our goals as libertarians, and it makes sense to form alliances when it does. But I really don’t think we have a shared respect for personal freedom when it comes to social issues and lifestyle choices.

  11. Adam Thierer says:

    Radley really nails it when he says of this crowd: “When choice and personal freedom conflict with their egalitarian instincts, equality is going to win almost all the time.” Exactly right. As Nozick taught us long ego, what many on the Left seem unwilling to accept is that “liberty upsets patterns;” they tend to equate less than perfectly patterned outcomes with unjust acts that the State must intervene to correct it and achieve a “fair” outcome. Of course, that’s just a recipe for more and more intervention and control in the name of “equality.”

    And Radley is equally correct to point to “the left’s paternalistic instinct and a consuming hatred of advertising/marketing seems to trump any concern for individual liberty.” The false consciousness narrative is part of every script they write. To them, we’re all apparently just sheep who don’t know what’s best for us, and so our anointed elites and philosopher kings must set things right… for “the public good,” of course.

    These are the primary reasons we cannot build bridges with the NetRoots people and the groups that make up that movement.

  12. Radley, thanks for sharing that story. I’m pleased to hear there’s been at least one libertarian at a NN panel. Once again, though, I think it’s worth asking which way the cause-and-effect runs. One of the main functions that libertarians play within the fusionist alliance is to push the conservatives to be more conservative on economic issues. When the Bush administration was spending like a drunken sailor, it was Cato, not Heritage or AEI, that was pointing out that this is not what conservatives are supposed to stand for. Cato was more effective in this role (though obviously not effective enough) because it has earned the respect of the conservative movement.

    Libertarians should be playing the same role on the left: pushing left-wingers to be more left-wing on “social issues.” Just as the Cato guy is likely to be the most right-wing guy on a CPAC panel on economic policy, it makes sense that the Reason guy would be the most left-wing guy on a NN panel on drug reform. So-called “liberals” often aren’t as liberal as they should be! And it ought to be our job to point that out and push them in a more liberal direction. I think that’s a valuable role for us to play even if we never convince a single left-winger of the merits of school choice or Social Security privatization.

  13. Berin Szoka says:

    @Don Marti: Perhaps what the “liberaltarian” movement needs, even more than a better term for “negative externality,” is… people! Besides Tim and Julian Sanchez, who are these liberaltarians, exactly? I’ve met a few in DC but then, if one extrapolated to the entry country based on DC cocktail parties, one estimate the number of neoconservatives in the tens of milllions instead of, say, the tens (most of whom work at the Weekly Standard, etc.).

    Again, I’m all in favor of taking the gospel of liberty to anyone who will listen, and in this regard, I would point to Murray Rothbard’s period in the late 60 working with the radical antiwar left on the Peace & Freedom party. But, as Radley’s suggesting, I think these alliances will form, if at all, around specific, compelling issues–like opposition to the endless wars of American Empire. Adam Thierer and I practice this already on a small scale, working with left-of-center groups on First Amendment issues. And I’d love to see others do the same, including at events like NetRoots, on issues where such common ground can be found.

    But again, I don’t see any grand liberaltarian coalition developing (in the way, say, that European parties end up having to work together to achieve parliamentary majorities) anytime soon. Why? Because the American Left has, for the most part, become so deeply illiberal that it is a gross abuse of language to all them “liberals.” The Left has just had three chances to redeem itself: on Kelo, on recognizing gun rights as civil rights, and on understanding that campaign donations are an exercise of speech and association rights, and each time, the Left has failed. It will be a long time before I forgive the ACLU for abandoning its once solitary position on the Left opposing “campaign finance reform” on First Amendment grounds. I’ve let my membership lapse and don’t plan to renew it anytime soon.

    Two final examples of the Left’s illiberalism: The Administration has essentially continued the Bush administration’s neoconservative, Wilsonian delusions about remaking the world through force of arms–the one area where I had most hoped they would advance a truly liberal agenda of peace and non-intervention abroad. Second, the Left has been largely silent in speaking out against the socialist totalitarianism of Hugo Chavez but, even worse, actually defended Zalaya’s attempt to hold onto power forever in Honduras in the model of Chavez. What kind of liberal, or liberaltarian, could see another Chavez being born and defend his ouster when his country’s legislature and Supreme Court united in blocking his attempt to extend his reign?

    This litany of grievances may seem eclectic and even disconnected, but these are the things that make it difficult for libertarians to break bread with the Left. I would actually find it easier to get along with a conservative who objects, for example, to the government redefining “marriage” to allow me to marry my domestic partner because I don’t think government should be in that business either. In other words, many of the social issues the Right pushes are policy issues only because the policy issue has been socialized. If government said nothing at all about marriage and did nothing more than grant equal treatment to gay and straight couples for, say, taxes, we wouldn’t need to fight over “gay marriage” any more than we would need to fit over “Mormon marriages” or “Baptist marriages.” To each, his own in his own church/context! If parents could send their children to schools of their choosing (which the illiberal Left opposes), we wouldn’t need to fight over, say, “intelligent design.” In other words, libertarians and conservatives can potentially agree to disagree in what Robert Nozick called a <"utopia of utopias," where each utopianism is free to pursue its own conceptions of justice and the good life. I fear this is far less true of the Left, whose utopianisms are what Nozick called “imperialistic” (those that “countenance[] the forcing of everyone into one pattern of community”), where as the utopianisms of the Right tend to be more “missionary” (those “which hope[] to persuade or convince everyone to live in one particular kind of community”). There are plenty of imperialistic “conservative” utopianisms, of course (think abortion) but I think the Left is generally far more imperialistic. Libertarians, of course, want nothing more than for a framework to exist in which missionary utopianisms can flourish alongside, and compete with, existential utopianisms (“which hope[] that a particular pattern of community will exist (will be viable), though not necessarily universally, so that those who wish to do so may live in accordance with it”).

  14. walt says:

    As a “liberal”, let me mention this perplexing infatuation libertarians have with the so-called rising tide of tyranny in western democracies. Like the banning of “trans fats”. C’mon, people. What’s next? Demanding the freedom to sell crack? Leaded paint? Abestos?

    It’s this intense disdain for science, public health, and common sense that make libertarians gravitate to conservatives rather than liberals. We live (at least some of us) in the real world where worrying about particular chemicals is better left to experts than a bunch of Homer Simpsons staking their principles of political liberty on nonsense issues.

    Whether this world even survives climate catastrophe ought to concentrate our minds a bit more fiercely where the need is. We’re not going to address what really matters unless we free up the discourse from conversation enders like trans fats.

  15. Brian Moore says:

    Good job, Walt, you’ve made a perfect stereotype of the kind of liberal that makes this difficult.

    Are you really certain you want to support the idea that if something someone chooses to do is unhealthy to themselves only, the government should be able to ban it? Is that really a liberal viewpoint? Do you really not see any possible way that this might be used extensively against certain pillars of liberalism?

    You’re explicitly focusing on the features of libertarianism that you find silly, instead of focusing on the far greater number of areas in which you agree. Does your statement about the “perplexing infatuation libertarians have with the so-called rising tide of tyranny” mean that you don’t consider knocking down people’s doors at 3am with blackclad, automatic weapons wielding government agents in order to confiscate ounces of pot doesn’t constitute a form of tyranny we should oppose? I am not going to assume that you do, because I assume that you agree with me that we should.

    To take your main point; that climate change should trump all other issues — then take Tim’s advice and look up what Ron Bailey has to say.

  16. CW says:

    I don’t see much traction for liberaltarians either. It appears that a similar party, the Modern Whigs (http://www.modernwhig.org/) is better organized and has a head-start (although, I’m skeptical that anyone will find the “whig” name to be credible).

  17. Brian, your reply to Walt is exactly the role (however frustrating it may be) that libertarians should be playing in a liberaltarian alliance. We (libertarians) should act as the conscience of liberalism, i.e. as unwavering advocates of personal freedom and respect for the soveriegnty of individuals. Pro-choice, writ large!

  18. Mark A.R. Kleiman says:

    Radley, if you don’t know the difference between having your ideas disagreed with and being attacked, you need to grow a thicker skin. Sorry if my attempt to introduce facts into the discussion interfered with your fantasies. Of course I never claimed that Prohibition engendered no violence; what I said, and what is demonstrably true, is that the reduction in heavy drinking due to Prohibition also decreased violence, both drunken brawling and domestic assault. On balance, the most recent statistical analysis shows zero effect of Prohibition on homicide rates.

    I’m certainly a strong liberal, but our colleague on the panel, Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon – whose name you’d remember if you bothered to read any of the actual research on drug policy, as he’s one of the country’s handful of leading experts – is an equally strong conservative. Jon and I can collaborate despite our profound disagreements because we’re both willing to defer to facts and analysis even when they lead us to conclusions we that don’t match our prejudices.

  19. Brian Moore says:


    “On balance, the most recent statistical analysis shows zero effect of Prohibition on homicide rates.”

    Hmm, I’d like to see that — can you link that study? I’d always seen a big spike in homicide rates from 1920-33, similar to: http://www.druglibrary.org/special/friedman/mf1-03a1.gif

    I just randomly searched the above graph (it could be wrong), and obviously correlation doesn’t mean causation, but I’m interested to see your #’s.

    Out of curiosity, what is your opinion on drug legalization and the drug war? Radley’s post above says you’re (correct me if wrong) pro-pot legalization, anti-other drug legalization and anti-militaristic drug war. Since I’ll assume you also think we should keep tobacco and alcohol legal (again, correct me if wrong) how do you feel about legalizing the drugs to the left/below of pot/alch/tobac on the following graph: http://tinyurl.com/25jpcjx

    If you don’t want to, what features of them do you feel makes them unsuitable for legalization? (or if you disagree with the chart)

  20. The problem is that liberals have become increasingly less liberal, and conservatives largely due to the Bush experience have enthusiastically been rediscovering what Reagan called the “heart and soul of conservatism”–libertarianism (or liberalism, I really don’t think modern liberals should to continue to use the term “liberal”–they are basically social democrats in the European sense).

    The reason libertarians are better able to work with social conservatives, is that historically and traditionally they do share a commitment to individual liberty. The areas in which social conservatives inconsistently advocate a neo-theocracy are, though troubling, fairly limited and relatively new. But Liberty is a motivating core belief for both. I recall how the liberal press was stunned that the Alliance Defense Fund was actively supporting the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” kid in the Supreme Court. The reason was they feared if high school administrators could silence smart ass stoners then they would start doing the same to Christian kids.

    But, Progressives/liberals are not generally motivated by such overriding commitments to liberty in general. Indeed, it is astounding how progressives spent years railing against George Bush’s general constitutional vandalism and the Patriot Act in particular. But, once the progressives were in power it turned out they only wanted to do a little tinkering with the Patriot Act–it did not deeply disturb liberals to the core–as it did libertarians.

    Frankly, libertarians, to their distress, find Barack Obama to be less sensitive to liberty issues than George Bush. Liberals can not even believe that an intelligent person could sincerly feel that way–it simply doesn’t register with them. So, like the president, they assume the opposition is just engaged inmore of the “old partisan politics” (and been bought off or bamboozled by the “special interests”).

    So in the end I have to agree with your friend–the netroots and modern liberals do not really care about individual liberty. Libertarians can have political coalitions with the left to a limited extent on certain things– e.g. immigration, gay rights. But they can never really be political allies–because they are motivated by two antagonistic ideas–libertarians above all else value the freedom of the individual. Modern liberals are motivated by a sincere desire to uplift humanity generally and believe this can best be done through a strong central government with an enlightened technocracy–a collectivist idea that libertarians not only reject as false–but makes them sick.

  21. Matthew J says:

    Berin Skoza:

    Nicely put. As a liberal who leans libertarian, and who has of late been frustrated with the so-called liberal movement, I have a slightly different diagnosis (or perhaps a diagnosis that builds upon your observations.)

    Politics in the US has become a kind of trench warfare, where each side has forgotten what they originally stood for in the tussle over the presidency and congress. This is true for conservatives and for liberals. In order to appeal to the increasingly niche markets of the electorate (where one person feels most strongly about abortion, another about gun rights, a third about the environment), both sides have cobbled together a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of beliefs. So what passes for liberalism or conservatism in the US is nothing more than what is most palatable to that percentage of people who are most likely to vote one into office as a Democrat, or Republican. I realize this is a pretty obvious observation, but it has disfigured both left and right in our country.

    Libertarianism as a movement is attempting to go back to first principles and ask how the notion of liberty can be re-applied to a contemporary situation. I think you’d find that most “liberals” agree with this ideal, if it were put to them in the right way. Many of us are frustrated (and frankly, sick) that there isn’t a strong statement of belief, based on ideas of liberty but also equality, that we can gather around.

    That said, for most liberals the notion that one person would use their own freedom to abridge the freedom of another person is abhorrent. Because in that situation, someone’s liberty is always being infringed. (This is what racism boils down to: abridging one person’s liberty in favor of another’s.)

    Becky above describes this as a “sincere desire to uplift humanity generally.” I’d argue that it’s a sincere desire to preserve the integrity of the individual against more powerful individuals (or corporations.) Libertarianism, for many liberals, implies powerful individuals/corporations having the freedom to exploit weaker people, who would have no recourse.

    But this is a luxury, because for most libertarians governance and re-election are not issues that disfigure idealism. I think you would find that many “liberals” have an interest in doing exactly that, too. But they’ve been on the ropes for so long that they’re just thinking about the next punch, not the underlying belief system.

  22. Tim Lee says:

    Blah blah blah

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