Saturday, June 07, 2008

In search of dogs to lie down with

Will Wilkinson has what I would consider a deeply misguided post about the alleged affinity between libertarianism and big government welfare statist left-liberalism. It’s sort of the bearded mirror universe double of left-libertarianism; left-libertarians like Long, Johnson, Carson, et al. want to radicalize libertarianism and unite it with the anti-statist elements of the Left, whereas Wilkinson proposes to repudiate libertarianism’s more radical strands and draw closer to the Left’s more statist mainstream elements. Long-time readers of The Superfluous Man know I fly into rages about vital center liberals every three or so posts on this blog, so you can imagine my feelings about that.

I think Wilkinson errs badly in his assumption that libertarians and welfare state liberals are closely related branches of the same “liberal” philosophy. This leads him to suggest that liberals basically want the same things as libertarians, and merely happen to be confused about means; that their contempt for commerce, scorn of individualism, loathing of the voluntary private sector and its “greed,” adoration of the state, and dismissal of the idea that people can make their own decisions will evaporate if they see enough statistics about the positive effects of free trade and other economic liberties. And if you show
Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame data showing that most homosexuals are honest, productive members of society, I’m sure he’ll join PFLAG and give the first gay man he sees a big ‘ol hug.

One thing observing politics over the years has convinced me of is this: there are no pragmatic value-free technocrats in the political foxholes. Political philosophies are not just a set of policies; they are collections of ideals, attitudes, emotions, and prejudices. Everyone who takes a serious interest in the subject, and who is not simply a mercenary acting purely out of narrow self-interest, is driven by deep-rooted feelings- things they admire, things they despise, things they love, hate, or are inspired or disgusted by- that guide them, whether they admit it or not, whether they know it or not. (Indeed, “moderates” deluded into thinking of themselves as non-ideological are probably the most tightly shackled to their existing core beliefs, since they lack the self-awareness to examine those beliefs critically.) The edge areas of a person’s beliefs can often be somewhat malleable in the face of empirical data, but the core is far, far harder to shake. It’s possible, but it’s not common and it’s not easy. Plenty of people who thought invading Iraq was a good idea at the time now think it was a mistake, but I’d be shocked if more than a tiny fraction of them have permanently changed their core beliefs on militarism or intervention in general.

When it does happen, it seems much more likely to be because a person’s core values and political ideology are out of sync. Over the course of a few years, I made the trip from law-and-order conservative to classical liberal to minarchist to anarchocapitalist- but my basic attitudes, ideals, and intuitions were always more compatible with libertarianism than conservatism, and my ideological change was primarily the result of losing certain blinders and becoming more consistent with things I already believed. Thus, I find it wildly implausible that people who hold an ideology that has disgust for virtually everything libertarianism holds dear built into its foundation- and modern American liberalism most certainly does- are going to make any significant moves towards less statism, much less move far enough to think of libertarians as allies, especially for the sake of increased economic growth.

Now that libertarians are breaking free of the long-held belief that conservatives were our friends or basically on our side, the last thing we need is to enter an equally self-destructive relationship with an equally incompatible ideology that lacks even the vestigial remnants of libertarian sentiment that conservatism could once boast. Luckily, I can’t imagine many liberals wanting to have us anyway.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Infact, we should call them the left and the other left since they agree entirely with one another in almost every way. Remember, big (gov't embedded) business has long been considered a bastion of conservatism, yet has consistantly supported wars launched by both the "left" and the "right" as well as championing competition destroying regulation. The only gov't the right wants to limit is that which hurts big business. The only liberty the left wishes to preserve is the freedom to redistribute other people's hard earned money. Bob Barr and Mike Gravel are a perfect example of the attempt to co-opt the true liberty movement.