Dear GOP: Please Choose Liberty

How Republicans can resolve their existential crisis

If Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic side of the aisle affected only the fortunes of the Republican Party, it would be no cause for concern for non-Republicans like me. But America's democratic scheme depends on a robust opposition to check the government's tendency to grow—especially now that the White House is occupied by Barack Lyndon Roosevelt. Yet Republicans are as far from serving that role as the Detroit Lions are from winning the Super Bowl.

So what should the Grand Old Party do to resurrect itself enough to mount some semblance of resistance to the advancing Democratic juggernaut? The answer is that it needs intellectual coherence around a powerful idea, and that idea should be liberty. This is a principle that is both strong enough to intellectually moor the party in the way that those who want a "purer" GOP desire—and grand enough to appeal to a broad swath of the population, as those who advocate a more Big Tent approach recommend.

This would be the exact opposite of what Bush did. He, remarkably enough, managed to combine every anti-individual liberty idea from the right with every pro-big government policy from the left. From the right, Bush acquired: a super-hawkish foreign policy; contempt for civil liberties; and religiously informed positions on gay marriage, abortion and end-of-life issues. And from the left he got: high-spending ways, including the massive drug entitlement for seniors; expansive ideas about the federal government's role in education policy; and the chutzpah, just before leaving, to engineer a massive government bailout of banks and auto companies.

Since the utter rout of the Bush agenda last November, the only Republican who has made the case for liberty is Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he argued that the GOP should concentrate on returning the federal government to its core functions, not imposing its moral views on everyone. But this is hard to take seriously from a man who voted not once but twice for a constitutional amendment overriding the power of states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, demonstrating that for all his brave talk about freedom and federalism, he is not completely serious about either.

But what should Republicans do to reclaim the mantle of freedom?

They could begin, first and foremost, by showing some embarrassment with the label "conservative." Democrats have been embarrassed with the term "liberal" ever since it became synonymous with tax-and-spend in the public mind. Interestingly, even Obama, who is nothing if not a tax-and-spend liberal and then some, has shunned the label.

In fact, F. A. Hayek, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who did more than anyone in the 20th Century to fight socialism and revive the cause of liberty, urged conservatives nearly half a century ago in his essay, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," to find another name—one that emphasizes liberty—to describe themselves. There is an inherent tension between conservatism and liberty, he pointed out, which in a "conservative" party can't reliably be resolved in favor of liberty.

Conservatives of course dismiss this tension. America's institutions are built on principles of liberty, they claim, therefore defending them means defending liberty. But labels shape self-understanding—and the term conservatism shifts the emphasis from defending America because it is the land of liberty to defending liberty because it is American.

This has profound consequences for the conservative psyche, putting it fundamentally at odds with liberty whenever it threatens the conservative conception of America. It is not a coincidence that nativists who hyperventilate about immigration's effect on American language and attitudes, isolationists who fear that trade agreements will dissolve American sovereignty, culture warriors who regard gay marriage and evolution as a mortal threat to American values, and technological Luddites who rail against advances in bioengineering because they tamper with their idea of nature have all found a comfortable home within the conservative party. It is hard to imagine, say, the Freedom Party becoming a ready forum for such ideas.

But to truly become the party of liberty, conservatives have to accept liberty not just in name but also in attitude. They can't be the party of liberty if they reject the consequences of liberty. This means they have to internalize the notion that leaving individuals free to incrementally revise existing institutions in response to shifting human needs adds to—not subtracts from—the overall social well-being. To put it in economics terms, liberty produces positive—not negative—externalities. It doesn't destroy existing culture, community, and country, but rather produces what Hayek called "spontaneous order," which, without bloodshed, allows the old and decrepit ways to be replaced by new and better ones. In short, they have to unabashedly welcome progress and finally purge the ghost of William F. Buckley, who keeps telling them to "stand athwart history and cry stop."

Admittedly, adopting a posture of liberty won't resolve every internal disagreement within the GOP. But it will cause it to rethink its policy agenda—abandoning many existing issues and adopting new ones. It will certainly mean that Republicans will have to stiffen their resolve to fight the frightening advance of the nanny and regulatory state under one-party rule in Washington.

But the recognition that a free people can't be constrained in whom they hire, marry or engage in commerce with (barring of course some security or public health issue) will also give them ammunition to become passionate defenders of open trade and immigration, and thereby distinguish themselves from Democrats. A commitment to liberty won't settle the abortion debate because even people who are pro-choice (like me) have to acknowledge that there is no easy answer as to when individuals become entitled to rights. But it will settle many end-of-life and other social issues where only an individual's own life is at stake. Nor will committing to liberty yield clear principles to gauge the best course of action on the various foreign policy challenges of our times—but it will make the loss of civil liberties that inevitably follows overseas adventurism a central part of the discussion.

The 19th century French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that there are essentially two grand themes around which political life can be organized in America: equality and liberty. Democrats already have a lock on the first and so, unless Republicans want to once again become tax collectors for the welfare state, as they were from 1933 to 1980, they will have to offer something radically different.

Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason Foundation. She writes a bi-weekly column for Forbes.com, where this article first appeared.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    I wish the GOP would just weaken to the point that it has basically third party status. Then I want the Dems to become so discredited that it also is relegated to lower status.

    Then what will fill the "void"? Nothing hopefully.

  • Mister DNA||

    Flush out your headgear, new guy; if I'm gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poontang.

    The GOP doesn't need to embrace an ideal. You know who embraces ideals? French people, that's who.

    All the GOP needs to do is let the Democrats fuck things up, and then run on the "I'm Not Obama" platform.

  • </a||

    Let me guess how she defines liberty: amnesty, abortion and acid.
    Yep! That sure worked for the Democrats! Just ask George McGovern!

  • Elemenope||

    Shikha Dalmia on Why the GOP Should Embrace Liberty

    So, who draws the short straw on writing the necessarily depressing follow-up: "Why the GOP Won't Embrace Liberty"

  • ||

    Elemenope | May 25, 2009, 3:17pm | #


    "So, who draws the short straw on writing the necessarily depressing follow-up: "Why the GOP Won't Embrace Liberty"

    Win. Thread over.

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    The photo is blurry. Is it of Rush Limbaugh surrounded by hot chicks? If so, it looks like a good way to draw male voters to the GOP.

  • A.||

    Anyone who is surprised about the recent state of the Republican Party shouldn't be. Historically, the G.O.P. has never been the party of limited government and under Bush, Jr., it returned to its Big Government roots, albeit without any of the progressive reformism of Teddy Roosevelt.

  • Joel||

    Sheeeit.

    When are you guys (and by guys, I mean Reason writers of all genders) going to accept that the GOP doesn't care - never has cared - about individual liberty? Any more than the Dems have; for that matter any more than the average Stalinist apparachik did?

    Left wing - right wing: Same smelly carrion bird in between. Party politics will never further freedom, any more than a toilet can further the cause of free beer; that's not its function.

  • Garth Strait||

    Even if the GOP embraced Liberty as a campaign strategy, once back in power they'd revert to the same old pay-off-your-donors policies they enacted when in power the last time.

  • wayne||

    So, Ms Dalmia suggests that the GOP needs to become Libertarian. Wow, what a concept.

  • ||

    The GOP is about as likely to embrace liberty as the Dems are.

    The most likely 2012 nominees - Bobby Jindal or Mike Huckabee - are both pro-big government and Christian Conservatives.

    And the only way they will win is if The Great Lord Obama screws up the economy so badly that there is nothing left to fight over.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    The Dems should embrace liberty, too, but it's not going to happen. Nor will it happen with the GOP.

    Personally, the only beacon of hope that I have left is that twenty billion years from now it won't matter how badly the Bipartisan Party screws up this country, because all that will be left will be black holes and photons no matter what. OK, that's not really hope, it's despair, but at this point there's a fine line between the two.

  • DJP||

    Do Reason and/or the Libertarian party serious push to change the 2 party system? That is the only way I can see of attacking the hold of the 2 Big Government parties.

    People who pretty much believe in all Libertarian policies make up at least 10% of the population, yet they get close to 0% representation in our government. How can we fix this?

  • Mister DNA||

    Don't worry, the GOP will embrace Liberty. Unfortunately, it will be that Borkian "Isn't it great to live in a country where we're free to not be exposed to young people wearing baggy pants?" type of Liberty.

    Just like the Democrats keep us free from Trans Fats...

    Face it: the average American is becoming increasingly hostile to the concept of Liberty.

  • Elemenope||

    People who pretty much believe in all Libertarian policies make up at least 10% of the population, yet they get close to 0% representation in our government. How can we fix this?

    Stop wasting resources on national contests.

  • VM||

    exactly what Joel and RSN said.

    and what Mister Deoxyribonucleic Acid said, too.

    it seems as much of the citizenry doesn't want liberty (or want the types RNA-uracil+cytosine mentioned)

  • nj||

    Trying to convince the republican party ( the same applies movement conservatives) to embrace liberty is pretty much hopeless.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Thanks, Tineye, for helping me find that image.

  • ||

    Can any proportional representation electoral systems be introduced to American politics?

  • ||

    Ughh, intended to quote the following prior to my question:

    People who pretty much believe in all Libertarian policies make up at least 10% of the population, yet they get close to 0% representation in our government. How can we fix this?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I think a good start in fixing is that we need to increase the size of the House of Representatives. Which, as it turns out, would only require a simple majority of Congress. (because apparently the limit was set by a public law).

    As it is, each representative represents, what, like, 700K people? That's way too many. 1 per 300,000 would make a 1,000 member House. That's one way to make sure that local interests are represented on a federal level. Yes, it will cost more in junkets and salaries and the like, but it's definitely worth it to diffuse the power that those 435 have.

  • ||

    TAO @ 5:55 PM.

    BZZZZZTT1

    Wrong!

    You'd just have 600 more congresscritters dreaming up stupid laws to get publicity, 600 more congresscritters doling out pork, 600 more congresscritters inserting amendments into legislation to benefit special interests, etc.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Aresen - extend that logic out. Do you want to reduce the size of the House to 1 person, in the interests of reducing the amount of pork, amendments, stupid laws etc.?

    Of course you wouldn't.

    If NH had more than its paltry two districts, the FSP might have a chance in actually running a libertarian candidate in one of those districts. The small number of congressional districts makes it very easy for the two parties to effectively capture all of them. If you diffuse the power and increase the number of representatives, I maintain that it will be almost impossible for the Two Big Parties to maintain their grasps on all of them.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    apparently the number of constituents in each district is supposedly 630,700 (or so). Assuming the 2010 census puts us at 300,000,000, this means that each rep will then be representing 680,000 people (or so). I'm sorry, but that is too many. No one person can effectively represent the interests of 700,000 people.

  • Brett Stevens||

    The idea is always liberty.

    On the left, on the right.

    The word just means different things, and over time, its meaning changes.

    It's not an ideal. Instead, it's the absence of ideals.

    And that's why people like it: it's an easy symbol to use to manipulate others.

  • J. P. Carlo||

    TAO:

    It's not the number of representatives that's the problem. It's the way each individual one is elected.

    In order to get a seat in Congress you have to win over 51% of some localized population (often gerrymandered by the Demorepublicrats; if liberty candidates ever become a threat to their way of life, you can safely bet they'll work together to split up "liberty voters" between many different districts where they'll be outvoted by Demorepublicrat lackeys).

    The only way to change this would be some sort of proportional representation, which brings its own set of problems - no more local accountability, and party structures and affiliations become even more significant than before.

    IRV would help somewhat, if #1 votes are spread between many candidates to forestall an immediate victory, and a liberty candidate could get enough #1 votes to forestall being eliminated and enough #2 and #3 votes to squeak past the frontrunners. But that's much less likely.

  • ||

    True believers in liberty want to hold pep rallies for Republicans why?

  • ||

    Don't blame just the GOP. You can include the Reason crew as well. Whenever the choice is liberty at home versus doing shit abroad, doing shit abroad wins out.

  • the innominate one||

    I recall a Geo. Will column advocating doubling the size of congress, on the premise that it would dilute the power of any individual member and dilute the power of lobbyists.

    It makes a certain amount of sense, but I suspect it would ultimately just result in more lobbyists. Maybe if we quintupled the size of congress it would work.

  • Phil Hendrie||

    "From the right...contempt for civil liberties." Man, you were doing fine until then, What a way to wreck any chance I'd read this crap. You managed to give-away the fact your essay is unoriginal because with empty garbage like that you couldn't have come up with this on your own.

  • BruceM||

    But the very core essence of what is now the Republican-Christian party (really more of a cult) is basing its platform on Biblical principles (as interpreted by evangelical Christians) and forcing those beliefs on all Americans by whatever means necessary.

    Theocracy and liberty are mutually exclusive.

    When the Republican-Christian party talks about freedom and liberty, they don't mean it... it's just a nice-sounding buzzword. Every now and then one will admit that they mean the freedom/liberty to force their religious beliefs on everyone without hinderance. Or the freedom/liberty to let the police do whatever they want without the Bill of Rights getting in the way.

    Being a real advocate for freedom and liberty means supporting the rights of other people to do things which you do not like, which you find dangerous or immoral, and which you would not want your children to be doing. The best possible example is the drug war. When the Republican-Christian party supports ending all drug prohibition, completely legalizing drugs and taxing them, then and only then can they honestly say they support freedom and liberty. I'd start voting for them again if they were to do so.

    As long as something doesn't directly harm other people or their property, it should be legal and people should have the right to do it if they so choose. At the end of the day, neither the Dems nor the Repugs support freedom. These days the Democrats are a little bit more amenable to freedom, but not much.

  • ||

    Bravo to the author! I agree 100%. Government should be responsible to the people, not for the people. It should be small and unobtrusive in order to minimize impingement on individual rights. Politicians are not a fount of purity and idealism from which we need to be pandered to - either about environmentalism and left-issues, or religion and traditionalist issues.

    As long as republicans say they favor liberty - except when it comes to gay marriage, religious values, and any other issue where they would like to control how you live and what you think - they will have a mixed message that will never be consistent or resonate with the power of a principle applied consistently and sincerely. When it comes to social interference - to paraphrase Ronald Reagan- goverment is not the solution - it is the problem.

  • perilisk||

    Given that the GOPers most likely to have given up on the party during the Bush years are those most favorable to liberty, how are the remaining authoritarians, nationalists, and fundamentalists supposed to morph into a party that gives freedom more than lip service?

    I'd give more credibility to the idea that a new party would scoop up moderate or libertarian-leaning ex-Republicans, and perhaps draw in less radical Libertarians who would rather win elections than be completely true to ideals that many people are more pragmatic than fundamentalist about. Which is the first step down the road to where the GOP is right now, but sometimes slopes have traction.

  • </a||

    Face it: the average American is becoming increasingly hostile to the concept of Liberty.

    Not at all. It's just that most of us aren't stupid enough promote policies that are destructive to the only societies that have ever managed to secure any liberty at all in pursuit of an idealized conception of liberty that has never existed, never will exist, and can produce no evidence to demonstrate it's even viable. We're not libertarians because we're shrewd enough to recognize libertarians - at least the cosmotarian variety - are liberty's worst enemies.

  • ||

    Those chicks aren't that hot. I suspect some of them are dudes.

  • The Angry Optimist||


    In order to get a seat in Congress you have to win over 51% of some localized population (often gerrymandered by the Demorepublicrats; if liberty candidates ever become a threat to their way of life, you can safely bet they'll work together to split up "liberty voters" between many different districts where they'll be outvoted by Demorepublicrat lackeys).



    The point is to make enough districts that any one (or even two!) parties cannot assert this kind of control over a state or particular section of the nation.

    The fact remains that for libertarians to be taken seriously, all you have to do is have one or two congressmen who can provide the intellectual firepower to the Big Parties when they are opposing Economic Restriction X or Social Policy Y.

    Trust the Founders: they were smart enough to realize that power should not concentrated in the hands of the few. 545 people (535 Congressmen + 1 President + 9 on the SCOTUS) are not a large enough body to represent 300 million people. you need more. The House was designed to increase with population. Let's let the Constitution do its job.

    It will work.

  • Mad Max||

    From the article:

    'Bush acquired: a super-hawkish foreign policy; contempt for civil liberties; and religiously informed positions on gay marriage, abortion and end-of-life issues.'

    Do you remember the old Sesame Street jingle, 'one of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong?'

    I wish Bush had been *more* insistent on his positions regarding abortion, gay marriage and end-of-life issues. I wish he had actually given a higher priority to protecting the unborn than to supporting federal supremacy. If such had been his priorities, Bush could have endorsed Ron Paul's bill to transfer jurisdiction in abortion cases from the federal courts to the state courts (misleadingly known as 'court-stripping,' although throughout history Congress has used its powers to reserve certain kinds of cases for the state courts even if those cases *could* have been sent to federal courts (eg, certain interstate disputes below a particular dollar threshold).

    But Bush and the Republican Congressional majority which followed his lead simply refused to consider a proposal to deprive federal courts of the abortion jurisdiction which they had so flagrantly abused. Instead, the focus became putting the right people on the federal courts. The 'right people doctrine' is something we hear from both Republicans and Democrats to explain why they hate each other despite being so close on policy.

    Thanks to the Busheviks, the federal courts retain their full jurisdiction in abortion cases, including the power to slap down any courageous state that tries to provide of protection for innocent children in the womb.

    'Since the utter rout of the Bush agenda last November, the only Republican who has made the case for liberty is Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he argued that the GOP should concentrate on returning the federal government to its core functions, not imposing its moral views on everyone. But this is hard to take seriously from a man who voted not once but twice for a constitutional amendment overriding the power of states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, demonstrating that for all his brave talk about freedom and federalism, he is not completely serious about either.'

    Ah, yes, anyone who believes that the states are abusing the power, and who proposes an amendment to the federal constitution to address the abuse, is clearly a hypocrite. Because anyone who is truly *serious* about curbing abuses of federal power in certain areas cannot consistently believe that the states are abusing their power in other areas, or that Congress plus three-fourths of the states ought to agree to impose even the most minimal restriction on state autonomy. If he were a *true* federalist, DeMint would not want the states to be under *any* restrictions pursuant to the federal constitution.

    If DeMint wants to prove he's *really* sincere, he should propose a federal constitutional amendment to allow states to pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts, to make keep troops and ships of war in time of peace, to deprive their citizens of life, liberty or property without due process of law, to grant titles of nobility, to require a poll tax as a precondition for voting in federal elections, and to raise the voting age to 21 or even higher. The current federal constitution prevents the states from doing any of these things, and if DeMint were truly a sincere person, as opposed to a religious fascist Taliban fanatic, he would immediately get to work overturning these intolerable restrictions on the autonomy of the states.

    'F. A. Hayek, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who did more than anyone in the 20th Century to fight socialism and revive the cause of liberty, urged conservatives nearly half a century ago in his essay, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," to find another name-one that emphasizes liberty-to describe themselves. . . .

    'It is hard to imagine, say, the Freedom Party becoming a ready forum for such ideas' as the authoritarian agenda of the American conservative movement [citing dubious examples of said authoritarianism].

    Check out Austria's Freedom Party. Supposedly, the party's name should have made the Party's supporters pro-freedom, but 'its adherents included anti-clerical liberals, business representatives striving for more economic liberalism and pan-German nationalists, some of whom were sympathetic to certain Nazi policies. Even today, the lower ranks of the party organisation are largely made up of members of German-nationalist Studentenverbindungen.'

  • ||

    Liberty--another slogan for the GOP to adopt. Their problem isn't that they need more slogans. They need more ideas. If liberty means what Reason thinks it means, people are never gonna buy it.

  • Mad Max||

    Oops, I gave the wrong link for the Austrian Freedom Party. Here is the correct link.

  • Kolohe||

    The lower house of the NH state legislature has 400 members, one for every 3000 people.

    There is one independent.

  • Kolohe||

    The electoral college system, more than anything else, sustains the two party duopoly.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I disagree. There are states who allocate their electoral votes proportionately.

    The lower house of the NH state legislature has 400 members, one for every 3000 people.

    There is one independent.



    But I *highly* doubt that they are politically lockstep. The more representatives, the more diverse the viewpoints. Even if you have libertarians running as Republicans in the theoretically expanded system...you still have more libertarians.

    Regardless of whether you get more libertarians, though, power diffusion is a good in and of itself.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    The fact remains that for libertarians to be taken seriously, all you have to do is have one or two congressmen who can provide the intellectual firepower to the Big Parties when they are opposing Economic Restriction X or Social Policy Y.

    Like Ron Paul and Jeff Flake? I know neither of them is TEH PERFECT LIBERTARIAN but they're pretty close, and they routinely get ignored by the rest of the House and the MSM when they speak out about the welfare-warfare state. Indeed, increasing the size of the House will make it even more difficult for individual members to bring about change.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    There are states *that* (or which).

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Indeed, increasing the size of the House will make it even more difficult for individual members to bring about change.



    I'm sorry, but, again, as I said upthread, why not advocate for a House of One then?

    For obvious reasons, we don't want power concentrated.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    Three proposals from the Thrice-Sayer to fix the electoral system, ordered in easiest to accomplish to hardest:

    1. Anti-Gerrymandering Amendment: A constitutional amendment specifying some simple restrictions on how a congressional district may be shaped. A very simple one would be to require that all the districts in a state, except one, must be the intersection of a rectangle and the state. (ie, districts completely within the state must be rectangular, and one that touches the state line must have all the rest of its boundaries rectangular.) This would make gerrymandering nearly impossible.

    The politicians will hate this, but this should be an easy sell to the population. It's hard to imagine how the politicians would be able to spin opposition to this in any way other than wanting to be safe from electoral challenge.

    2. Sunset Amendment This has been proposed by a lot of people. A constitutional amendment making any act of Congress or regulatory ruling by the executive branch null and void five years after it was voted or ruled on. This is going to get the special interests going berzerk, but perhaps we can sell it to politicians as a way that they can vote to ban child pornography and heroin every five years and brag about it to their constituents.

    3. Instant Runoff Voting Look it up on Wikipedia. It's not going to happen though.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    I'm sorry, but, again, as I said upthread, why not advocate for a House of One then?

    Why not advocate for a House of 300,000,000 then?

    Congratulations, you've discovered that when you take a pragmatic idea to its extreme it becomes absurd.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    And my main point was, we already have a smattering of representatives who have libertarian views and give voice to these views, but it doesn't matter because they're smothered in the tsunami of statist representatives.

  • </||

    we already have a smattering of representatives who have libertarian views and give voice to these views

    Now if they were all in the same Party we'd be on to something......

    Oh wait,they are!

  • The Angry Optimist||

    TLTS - I'm sorry, but your argument was that the larger the size of the house, the harder it is to influence. Ergo, you were arguing for a house that was easier to influence, which would be a House of One.

    I was arguing that increasing the size of the House will open the House up to more diverse viewpoints than exist now and will come in line with the purpose of actually "representing" "The People" (the power-holders in a Republic), at least better than the current number does.

    Anyway, it is much easier to influence a district of 250K or so than it is one of 600K. The smaller the government, the better. While it may appear that increasing the size of the House = increasing the size of the government, but that's actually a superficial analysis.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Now if they were all in the same Party we'd be on to something......

    Oh wait,they are!



    I'm sure that any day now, we're going to hear something out of "#" rather than apologism for the Republican Party and hate for Mexicans and gays.

    Any day now...I'm sure...

  • mark||

    As recently as the 90's Republicans were pushing for a Balanced Budget Amendment. With that in place in 2008 there would have been no bailouts, no stimulus, nothing. Why not just work for that?

    I really like TLTS's rectangular-district idea. It's downright tantalizing.

  • ||

    You don't really have to get rid of Gerrymandering, just vastly increase the size of the House. We have the technology! They don't all have to be in the same room anymore! The constitution sets an upper limit at 1 representative per 30,000 persons. Representation is currently at 1 representative for every 700,000 persons. We could constitutionally have 10,000 representatives.

  • the innominate one||

    Mr. V. Moose:

    Love your euphemism for Mr. DNA, but I suggest the following improvement/ correction: RNA-oxygen-uracil+cytosine thymine.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    music note - I believe that the 30,000 number is the lower limit, not the upper one, else the Public Law that set the limit would have been declared unconstitutional a long time ago.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    also, we should push for a nonmember of the House to become Speaker of the House. If for nothing else but the lulz.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    I'm sorry, but your argument was that the larger the size of the house, the harder it is to influence. Ergo, you were arguing for a house that was easier to influence, which would be a House of One.

    You are correct up to the Ergo. You were arguing that if we have 900 representatives, we might be able to sneak in a couple of libertarians who could then influence the House. This won't work because we already have a couple of libertarianish representatives who are utterly powerless to stem the tide of statism because they're 2 out of 435...a situation that would only be exacerbated by your proposal.

    As long as the current ballot access laws are in place, there's no way we get more than a couple of reps in Congress no matter how big it gets. Those are the biggest problem we face.

  • ||

    I'm sure that any day now, we're going to hear something out of "#" rather than apologism for the Republican Party and hate for Mexicans and gays.

    Hell, I'd be interested in "#" ever defending or explaining his/her/its ideas.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Like I said, increasing the size of the House gives a much better potential for introducing differing viewpoints. I suppose I should have said that I could imagine one or two actual libertarians being elected to Congress if we had 1000 representatives, not that it would be necessarily be so.

    Again, if nothing else, if they are 2 out of 435, then they will be 4 out of 970...what's the harm? Frankly, I don't see what's controversial about shrinking the size of an individual representative's district and forcing him/her to share power. Whinging that "it won't work" by pointing to current numbers is not a counterargument, because I am arguing that by increasing the number of representatives, we both increase the potential for libertarian and libertarian-minded representatives AND we decrease the influence the parties can exert.

    Imagine, if you will, 1,000 House districts. The Two Big Parties could not maintain control of them all.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    To clarify, stating "it won't work" by assuming that the status quo will maintain itself is assuming that HoR elections would track the way they do now, and I am saying the reason they track as they do is because of the small number of representatives.

  • ||

    The Angry Optimist | May 25, 2009, 10:58pm | #
    music note - I believe that the 30,000 number is the lower limit, not the upper one,



    It is the upper limit on the size of the house. :Þ

  • the innominate one||

    TAO-

    I've been considering for a while now, what would happen if we did away with states and elevated certain functions to the feds but devolved other functions to the county level, including representatives congress. two senators from every county instead of every state, e.g.

  • Andy||

    Has anyone ever considered the idea of just joining the Republican Party? You all talk like "they" will never embrace liberty. The individuals currently running the GOP won't, but new people might. Maybe libertarians, independents etc should just join the party and change it?

    But no, it's much easier to just not try.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    Again, if nothing else, if they are 2 out of 435, then they will be 4 out of 970...what's the harm? Frankly, I don't see what's controversial about shrinking the size of an individual representative's district and forcing him/her to share power.

    The harm is you pay a lot more salaries, a lot more pensions, and you increase the number of politicians looking to sponsor idiotic bills so they can brag to their constituents. You haven't demonstrated that this will actually help the cause of liberty at all, so it's not worth it.

    Imagine, if you will, 1,000 House districts. The Two Big Parties could not maintain control of them all.

    What makes you think so? There are several thousand seats in state legislatures and 99.9% of them are held by Ds and Rs.

    I am saying the reason they track as they do is because of the small number of representatives.

    Do you have evidence for this?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    TLTS - *shrug* - no, I don't have any "studies". Likewise, I haven't seen a compelling reason from you to keep the size of the House the same, other than (and you should admit this) the lame point about salaries.

    Sure, there are hazards to introducing more people into the legislative process, but, again, if the reason for keeping the number low is because we don't want "more people introducing more idiotic legislation", then logically speaking, you should be arguing for a House of One. We've been over that for a some of this thread, but I haven't seen an effective counterargument.

    Look, here's the logical conclusion of your position: a house of one. The logical conclusion of mine is a House of 300 Million. Both don't work for practical reasons, but which end of the spectrum is better? The smaller the district, the more personalized and individual the representation.

  • ||

    I always liked L. Neil Smith's idea of a legislature whose members held proxies for the votes of their constituents, which proxies could be revoked or transferred at any time. We've got the technology to implement that, now.

    -jcr

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Assume that each representative costs us 500K a year (174000 salary + lots of expenses). That's an increased cost of 218 million. Is that a small cost to be shrugged off? No, of course not. Of course, one thing that *might* happen would be the imposition of salary caps if the cost gets too high. But I won't hold my breath.

    But even assuming that high number of 218 million dollars, the budget for 2009 is 2.7 trillion. Please spare me the handwringing about numbers at this point. What we're doing isn't working anyway, and I am baffled by the resistance to the diffusion of power.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    We're going around in circles. good night, let the readers decide for themselves, not that it matters since we're all going to get old and sick and feeble and die anyway.

    Well maybe we won't get old.

  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    I am baffled by the resistance to the diffusion of power.

    I said I wouldn't have a cow over doubling the size of the House or whatever. But I don't see how your plan can possibly deliver the benefits you claim it will.

  • the innominate one||

    TLTS - one reason increasing the size of the congress might increase the proportion of third party representation is that by subdividing the constituency into smaller, more localized samples of the population, you get at more of the political heterogeneity of the population, which is averaged out by large samples.

    In other words, large statistical samples are representative of the statistical population, whereas small statistical samples are not.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    TLTS - fair enough. I suppose there's a reason I call myself an optimist. I just think that districts of 200K or 300K would be a lot easier to influence than those of 690K, which gives third parties greater access to those districts than they previously had.

    Panacea? Of course not. Better? I think so.

  • ||

    If NH had more than its paltry two districts, the FSP might have a chance in actually running a libertarian candidate in one of those districts. The small number of congressional districts makes it very easy for the two parties to effectively capture all of them. If you diffuse the power and increase the number of representatives, I maintain that it will be almost impossible for the Two Big Parties to maintain their grasps on all of them.

    I'll bite -- how many members of state legislatures have third party members? Out of the thousands of such offices?

    In Hawaii, 90% Democrats in the legislature, 10% Republicans, and NO third party candidates elected, EVER, despite districts than can be won with as few as a couple of thousand votes.

  • Mike||

    I agree that the GOP should focus more on liberty, but disagree that they should stop being "conservative" Quick: What is the libertarian position on the death penalty? nuclear power? abortion? the war in Afganistan?

    The fact is that there are some issues that libertarianism doesn't address. As Dalmia points out, two people could have opposite views on abortion, and still both legitimately call themselves libertarian. These issues are what separate "right libertarians" from "left libertarians" and are important subjects of debate.

    For those like me who believe that the best way to deal with crime is stiff penalties, that military disengagement from the world will not end foreign threats to the country, that unlimited immigration would be a death wish for American culture (and that there is such a thing as American culture), and that the constitution should be interpreted by its orignal meaning are proud to call ourselves conservatives as well as libertarians.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Admittedly few, prolefeed. Regardless, as I said, I think you're more likely to find intellectual and political diversity even among legislatures that are, on their face, homogeneous in terms of political affiliation.

    The "party" affiliation isn't that important, is it? After all, you do have Ron Paul on one end and Jim Leach on the other (best liberal Republican I could come up with in a pinch)

  • ||

    TAO -- I'd be all for 4 times as many members in the house -- with each having 1/4 of the current salary and staff.

    It would make running for Congress somewhat less dependent on raising exorbitant amounts of money.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Mike - uh, sure, there are issues that conservatism "addresses" - just not logically. There's no logic behind the restrictions on immigration (for example) unless you start applying the principles of collectivism upon people because of their country of origin or race.

    There's no logic behind the continued occupation of Afghanistan (especially with respect to so-called conservatism) unless you believe in nation-building.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    prole - I think that, again, from an idealist POV, cutting Congressional staff and salary follows from making a job in Congress more "common" - after all, if there's 2000 of those folks running around, it makes it pretty hard to justify having a large staff and salary, doesn't it?

  • ||

    TAO -- hell, I'd enthusiastically support having TEN times as many members of Congress, each with 1/10 the current salary and staff.

    At $15K per year salary, you'd then have people who had to actually work for a living rather than be full-time money raising politicians. Make for much shorter sessions, as they'd have to get out of Dodge and go earn a living (the ones that aren't retirees and indepedently wealthy, that ).

    Make for more representative Representatives.

  • Mike||

    TAO: I can see why a true anarchist would be in favor of unlimited immigration. If you don't believe in the concept of a border, who cares if someone crosses one?

    However, if you are a libertarian who isn't an anarchist (a minarchist, some would call it), then you do accept that idea of nation-states with well-defined borders. Just as I don't have to let just anyone in my house, the US doesn't have to let just anyone across the border. If you are saying "Wait! That's different. My house is private property; a nation isn't.", I would say that it is a distinction without a difference. Once you accept the idea that a group of people have the right to define a border and an authority within the border (and anyone who isn't an anarchist does accept this), then that group, by freedom of association, doesn't have to let anyone in. This is especially true if the newcomers have the right to vote and alter the policies of the nation.

    If you are an anarchist, then I admire your consistency of thought, but point out that there has never been a long-term successful anarchist society. Criminals or outside states always bring one down.

  • Paul||

    But I thought the GOP wouldn't have any of those new fangled libertarian ideals building their party. Liberty? No way, this is the GOPizzle, my dizzle.

  • ||

    If you are an anarchist, then I admire your consistency of thought, but point out that there has never been a long-term successful anarchist society. Criminals or outside states always bring one down.

    Try "there has never been a long-term successful society". Eventually every society implodes or explodes and gets replaced with something else. You might, for example, try to argue that Britain has had such a long-term society, but since 1066 when the Normans invaded, it has undergone several transitions, most recently into social democracy (aka "kleptocratic authoritarian mob rule".)

    A lot of old buildings, but the form of governance keeps changing.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Mike - I'm not quibbling with the "unlimited immigration" portion, I'm just quibbling with the idea that liberal immigration plans would somehow undermine American culture. When you say that unlimited immigration is the "death of American culture", what you really mean is "THOSE people come from socialist countries" and you mean to imply that those socialist ideals will follow them. Did you ever stop to think that they are fleeing a socialist country in the first place? and that a free nation can assimilate immigrants much better than one where we're constantly quibbling over and coveting our neighbor's food stamps?

  • ||

    # Kolohe | May 25, 2009, 9:42pm | #
    ## The lower house of the NH state legislature
    ## has 400 members, one for every 3000 people.

    # There is one independent.

    But not too long ago, there were several Libertarians in the NH House. And, given that the districts are relatively small, there could be again. The key idea being debated here is to have more representatives, representing smaller districts. Not only will the power be diffused within the larger House, it will be easier and more likely that independents and third-party candidates can mount winning campaigns in at least SOME of them. That not only makes sense, it is consistent with empirical evidence of the relatively greater success of Libertarians at lower levels of government (city councils, county boards of supervisors, etc.), where district populations are smaller.

  • </a||

    Did you ever stop to think that they are fleeing a socialist country in the first place?

    Um, yeah. Like Muslims are fleeing Sharia law. Tell it to Britain.

    Tell us - what kind of politicians and policies do those people who are fleeing socialist countries typically support when they come here?

    As you said up thread - trust the Founders...

    But are there no inconveniences to be thrown into the scale against the advantage expected from a multiplication of numbers by the importation of foreigners? It is for the happiness of those united in society to harmonize as much as possible in matters which they must of necessity transact together.
    Civil government being the sole object of forming societies, its administration must be conducted by common consent. Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours perhaps are more peculiar than those of any other in the universe. It is a composition of the freest principles of the English constitution, with others derived from natural right and natural reason. To these nothing can be more opposed than the maxims of absolute monarchies.

    Yet, from such, we are to expect the greatest number of emigrants. They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their numbers, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass. I may appeal to experience, during the present contest, for a verification of these conjectures.


    --Thomas Jefferson

  • ||

    I'm tired of hearing, for the umpteenth time in as many years, that the GOP should "embrace" liberty or libertarianism.

    "But Bullwinkle, that trick NEVER works!"

    "This time for sure! Presto!"

    RRRARRGH!

    "I think I better get another hat!"

    "Now here's something you'll REALLY like!"

    And that something is, giving up on the GOP. People who are truly dedicated to liberty -- whether coming from GOP, Democrats, any of the other third parties, the great Decline to State party, or having been Libertarians at some time in the past but burned out by their own disappointment with party performance, should "take over" the LP and concentrate, for the next several years, on two things:

    1. Getting as many Libertarians as possible elected -- and RE-ELECTED -- to local and regional office.

    2. Boosting some of those elected Libertarians to higher Statewide or nationwide office. Getting Libertarians into State Houses and State Senates is an excellent interim goal.

    We must increase the number of people who:

    1. Have seen Libertarian candidates on their ballots.
    2. Have voted for Libertarian candidates out of genuine support and not protest.
    3. Have voted for a Libertarian candidate WHO WON.
    4. Can say, "Yeah, we elected a Libertarian in our town/county/legislative district. Turned out OK!"

  • The Angry Optimist||

    # - I guess I'll expect you to throw up Jefferson's support for public education next. I mean, argumentum ad Jefferson does nothing for me, but it seems to do something for you.

    Tell us - what kind of politicians and policies do those people who are fleeing socialist countries typically support when they come here?



    Those who seek to restrict liberty in terms of freedom of movement are the ones with the burden of proof in these endeavors.

    Tell us, #, how your floating abstraction of "limit those who come from socialist countries" would work in terms of concretes. Do you want to administer a political litmus test at the border? Or just reflexively close the borders to those coming from nations less free than the United States? (which would be just about everybody).

  • ||

    Like Muslims are fleeing Sharia law. Tell it to Britain.

    As it happens, most British Muslims want nothing to do with sharia law, and they're rather distressed at the way their government coddles the head-choppers.

    -jcr

  • Ron||

    Why would we want the republicans talking about liberty? Do you really want a great idea like liberty associated with.. republicans?

    This "alliance" between libertarians and republicans was ill-conceived from the beginning. The GOP have always been enemies of freedom. And our enemy is on the ropes. Why should Reason magazine help them get back up?

    What Reason should be arguing, vigorously, is that the Republicans have nothing to do with liberty and only use its rhetoric to win elections. Hopefully, the republicans will die, and libertarians can take their place.

  • ||

    . The GOP have always been enemies of freedom.

    That's not true. They started out as an anti-slavery party before they got taken over by the Whigs.

    -jcr

  • ||

    compassionate conservative (n): a liberal who opposes abortion.

  • ||

    "In order to get a seat in Congress you have to win over 51% of some localized population"

    Not true. You only need to win a PLURALITY in most districts (meaning you win if you get the most votes of all the candidates running, even if you don't win a majority of the votes).

    Libertarian candidates might have more of a chance if we required a majority to win a Congressional election.

  • ||

    Here's a link:

    http://www.fairvote.org/?page=746

  • VM||

    TIO: thanks!!! was trying to dredge it up... most appreciated!

  • ||

    James Anderson Merritt:

    "1. Getting as many Libertarians as possible elected -- and RE-ELECTED -- to local and regional office.

    2. Boosting some of those elected Libertarians to higher Statewide or nationwide office. Getting Libertarians into State Houses and State Senates is an excellent interim goal."

    Besides the minor detail that I don't think we need the LP label to achieve these reasonable goals, I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • ||

    Abortion is an interesting topic from a Libertarian POV.

    Before I continue, I am a Christian and am pro-Life. I am also a Libertarian, who believes gays and polys (assuming all parties are in consent) should marry w/o govt interference. Moreover, govt should leave churches, that don't recognizes these marriages, be.

    My problem with RvW is that it gave the federal government the authority to dictate when life begins. Moreover, pro-Choicers will push for tax money for abortion clinics since the free market will unlikely support such an enterprise. This happens now and it's nationwide. Therefore, Abortion = bigger government. Overturning RvW will simply shift these problems to the states.

    Another issue is that federal government supported abortion gives women who made a mistake an easy way out. If liberty is going to thrive, people must be responsible for the consequences of their bad choices in life, w/o the government bailing them out.

    Pro-choice and Libertarianism. Not as easy a combo as you think.

  • mark||

    Argumentum ad Jefferson works nearly all the time for me :)

    Still, the reason.tv video of WSJ's Jason Riley arguing for immigration seems much more persuasive, with its ample historical evidence.

  • ||

    Democrats tend to be collectivists and anti-wealth, Republicans tend to be propertarians and individualists. The Democrats will never get past their need for big government as a vehicle for their vision, while Republicans are at least open to the idea of small limited government.

    The two big hurdles in turning the GOP rank and file around are: 1) their love of foreign interventionism, and 2) cultural traditionalism. The first is definitely doable, because the GOP has a history of non-interventionism. The second is a tougher nut to crack, and I don't see a way around it short of a huge shift in the political axis. But as a whole I still think the Republicans are still a good candidate for libertarian incursions.

  • ||

    Wow so many whiny and impotent libertarians. You know who is responsible for this mess? We libertarians. We're the ones that know better and could teach others but we're too busy whining that people don't see the obvious. Go teach or FFS stop whinging. The GOP is weak and there's a popular movement for liberty that the GOP will co-opt given the chance. Join a tea party group. TEACH LIBERTY. People are sponges right now. They don't know why this happened. They know both parties have been lying to them but they don't know where to turn. Get over yourself and stop feeling too disdainfully superior to talk to someone because seem like the NASCAR church crowd.

    Or just whine more and let the pendulum make a big swing back to the Bushy right, you'll have lots more to whine about then.

  • another whiner||

    Hmmmmmm. So, the GOP should embrace 'freedom' when the majority of their base are authoritarians....

    ha..

    haha....

    AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

    good one.

  • ||

    So, the GOP should embrace 'freedom' when the majority of their base are authoritarians

    Actually they aren't, nor are most Dems. Which you would know if you ever actually had a conversation with them instead of just yelling at them. They just have different opinions. But the only options they are given is vote their opinion on the other guy or have it voted on them. It's time for another option.

  • Anaxagoras Adams||

    "Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he argued that the GOP should concentrate on returning the federal government to its core functions, not imposing its moral views on everyone. But this is hard to take seriously from a man who voted not once but twice for a constitutional amendment overriding the power of states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, demonstrating that for all his brave talk about freedom and federalism, he is not completely serious about either."

    Actually, Sen. DeMint was concentrating on a core function of the federal government when he voted for a constitutional amendment. According to his view of things (and any parliamentarian could tell you this), a change in the by-laws versus, say, going the route of an activist judiciary is the appropriate way for an organization to function.

  • Jake||

    "Since the utter rout of the Bush agenda last November, the only Republican who has made the case for liberty is Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina."

    Ms. Dalmia, you forgot:

    Ron Paul, Jeff Flake, and Mark Sanford.

    But there are so few, I'd be willing to "spot you" their oversight.

  • ||

    Embracing gay marriage won't revitalize the GOP that much. The few moderate votes you gain will be offset by the evangelical voting base leaving the party. What's more, many blacks and Latinos voted for Obama AND prop 8 in CA. 51 % of the country identify themselves as "pro life". Turning slightly left on issues like Global warming or gay marriage will ultimately get you nowhere. Just ask Mccain.

    Sadly, minorities (perhaps more for the older generation) tend to be reverse libertarians. Many of them are religious and very much conservative on a few social issues, but they'll look for the government to bolster social programs and conduct "affirmative action" type minority empowerment programs.

  • libertymad||

    Nowadays anyone expressing views like Dalmia's is likely to be branded a sellout or a neoprogressive by conservatives, and even some fellow libertarians who for some reason fell into the scholastic trap: freedom is fine as long as you choose to do the right thing. But who is to tell right from wrong? If not Government, a religious sect. Unfortunately, the notion of spontaneous order is completely lost on most right-wingers.
    The left went crazy some decades ago. The right followed suit and all he have left is social democracy and theoconservatism.

  • Scarpe Nike Italia||

    is good

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement