You Can Have My Vote When You Pry My Oh-So-Warm Corpse From My Hot Tub!

Former Reason intern--like doing time in a Mexican prison, some experiences brand a boy so deeply he'll smell the burning flesh for the rest of his life--Ryan Sager, author of the forthcoming "whither the GOP?" tome The Elephant in the Room, throws cold water in the face of hot-tub lovin' libertarians everywhere. Turns out, sez Sager, that libs are as "politically impotent" as Bob Dole sans Viagra, Pepsi, and Britney Spears commercials:

Libertarians used to be one of three groups that made up the Republican Party, along with social conservatives and economic conservatives. But, since 1994, they've been replaced by a group of voters Pew [Research Center for the People and the Press] has called Populists, but most recently renamed Pro-Government Conservatives. In essence, it would seem, these Pro-Government Conservatives -- about 10 percent of the electorate, largely female and southern, and equally at ease with universal health care and banning controversial books from libraries -- are squeezing libertarians further and further toward the fringes of the GOP.

Is there any way to reverse the tide?...

The Cato Institute's executive vice president, David Boaz, tells two stories. In one, a man wouldn't come to a rally for 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark because he had to look at his sister-in-law's car. In another, a man skipped a rally at the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco because he had a more pressing engagement ... in a hot tub....

The challenge, then -- for those who don't want to see the Republican Party succumb once and for all to big-government conservatism and who don't want to see it become overrun with populists lacking in respect for taxpayers' money and individuals' right to be left alone -- is either to organize existing libertarians more effectively to vote and contribute time and money as a bloc or to identify new constituencies with an overriding interest in remaking the time bomb we call the New Deal (everyone under 40 comes to mind).

So, libertarians: It's time to get out of that hot tub!...And start thinking about how you're going to reclaim your rightful place in the conservative coalition.

Elsewhere in the piece, Sager notes that of libertarians the Pew crew found, 50 percent identified themselves as Republicans and 41 percent as Democrats. Whole thing, well worth reading, here.

I don't particularly care for hot tubs but I'm a longtime supporter of what Sager derides as the hot-tub mentality. In a 2000 piece called "The AWOL Electorate: What We Can Learn From Vanishing Voters," I suggested,

We participate less in politics for the same reason we stopped going to drive-in movies the way we used to, getting married as teenagers, making dinner at home, and, for men at least, wearing blue suits with white shirts and red ties: not because we can't, but because we don't want to. Our flesh is not weak when it comes to voting; it's just not willing.

The center of gravity in American life has shifted away from partisan politics and into other areas of activity in which individuals (and groups of individuals) have far greater hopes for gaining satisfaction. The big story in American life over the past few decades is not the decline in voter participation but the ever-increasing proliferation of options, of choices, and of identities in everyday life.

More here. Note that all the changes that have helped increase our choices in life have a political dimension, but most are far removed from politics per se. For instance, trade policy and other laws had an effect on the rise of the personal computer, but the PC revolution was mostly cooked up far away from (and often in defiance of and/or with blithe indifference to) government at all levels. The same goes for many, if not all, of the advances that fundamentally change our lives (notable exceptions include legally mandated and brutally enforced discrimination such as slavery and the disenfranchisement of women not from the vote so much, but from owning property, etc).

Sager is right, I think, that libertarians should take an interest in effecting specifically political change: immigration laws matter and so do drug laws and other areas where government gets to call more shots than it should. But we shouldn't forget that libertarianism is, in the end, a philosophy which seeks to shrink the political sphere to the smallest size possible precisely so we can get on with the real stuff of life.

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  • ||

    I used to have a huge (1 man, 7 woman) hot tub. Man that was the bomb.

  • Gimme Back My Dog||

    for those who don't want to see the Republican Party succumb once and for all to big-government conservatism

    Oh yeah, I sure hope that doesn't happen.

    I came into libertarianism from the Republican side, but whatever common ground might have existed between L and R is gone.

  • ||

    >

    ....how do you organize people politically -- who don't want to be politically organized ??

    ...the 'herding cats' metaphor seems apt

  • ||

    If we are talking the political make-up of the party members and not the politicians, I would say there is still a pretty large constituency of fiscally-conservative, stay-out-of-my-life Republicans that are upset with the runaway spending of this administration. However, they also tend to be bomb-'em-back-to-the-stone-age Republicans.

    I'm not so sure how strong of a constituency libertarians have ever been in the Republican party unless you include fiscal conservatives as "libertarians." I don't, as I've known too many that want to shrink the size of gov't, but have no problem with that gov't passing all sorts of socially conservative laws.

  • ||

    Nick,

    The big story in American life over the past few decades is not the decline in voter participation but the ever-increasing proliferation of options, of choices, and of identities in everyday life.

    Just to let you know, I became a subscriber after reading the n+1st article of yours with this optimistic theme. I finally thought, "You know, he's right. I should be less cranky about things I am powerless to change."

    But we shouldn't forget that libertarianism is, in the end, a philosophy which seeks to shrink the political sphere to the smallest size possible precisely so we can get on with the real stuff of life.

    And this thinking chimes in well with David Friedman's notion that the state will not wither away because people actively make the state wither away. It will wither away because, as more and more options and activities are available well outside the state's purview, people will find they don't need it any more.

  • ||

    And what about us Libertarians who come from the left? Those of us for whom an anti-war stance led us here?

    Why are Libertarians so automatically inclined to align with conservatives when, clearly, we have much in common with both the left and right, and equally as many as differences?

    I, personally, have abandoned voting altogether. As a friend of mine always says, 'it only encourages the motherfuckers.'

  • Warren||

    Every time I read something where the author assumes Republican tendencies or even sympathies for libertarianism, it makes the vein in my forehead throb. It's like an urban legend or something, and it just won't die. Several generations ago, history records that when the Republicans were the minority in both the House and Senate, they were more likely to spew libertarian rhetoric. But it was never true that they supported such notions, they just said it because they knew they wouldn't be expected to follow through with it.

    Republicans have always been about concentrating power into their own hands and "smiting evil" (i.e. throwing people they don't like in prison and dividing up the property amongst their own supporters), all the way back to Lincoln.

  • Taylor||

    Libertarians are individual profit maximizers... and like in any game where there is no real gain expected from participation, it's the rational move to freeride. Technically, hottub libertarians are more rational then those who actually get involved.

  • ||

    Nick,

    I am interested in your point, "Note that all the changes that have helped increase our choices in life have a political dimension, but most are far removed from politics per se...." Leftists will tell me that everything good has the government at its root, that the government finances all the R&D. The internet is one of their big examples. How do you respond to such claims?

  • KipEsquire||

    Sager is closing the barn door long after the cow got evicted.

    In any event, the best way to fight the two-party system is by not being part of it.

  • ||

    Leftists will tell me that everything good has the government at its root

    Mitch,

    As a resident of New York I know a lot of leftists, and not one would say anything like that. In fact, I'd say many of them see the government as jackbooted thugs and would more quickly associate the word "grassroots" with "good." (Incidentally, they hold these views to an irrational degree.)

    I think you are subscribing to a view of "leftists" that is pretty heavily colored by Republican caricatures.

  • Wild Pegasus||

    The GOP only cared about liberty so far as it could get libertarians into the polls. Fuck 'em.

    - Josh

  • Jim Lesczynski||

    And this thinking chimes in well with David Friedman's notion that the state will not wither away because people actively make the state wither away. It will wither away because, as more and more options and activities are available well outside the state's purview, people will find they don't need it any more.

    I'd like to hear some examples. Unfortunately, anything that is out of the state's purview doesn't stay out of the state's purview for long.

  • ||

    Brian24-
    As a resident of New York I know a lot of leftists, and not one would say anything like that. In fact, I'd say many of them see the government as jackbooted thugs and would more quickly associate the word "grassroots" with "good." (Incidentally, they hold these views to an irrational degree.)

    Just curious, do these leftists see any government as jackbooted thugs, or just the present administration? My impression was that the point Mitch was trying to make was that leftists think of a more active government (in the abstract) as a good, even if they dislike the current government (or any government made up of rightists).

  • ||

    Hot tub! Ha! Da!
    Ah-full of water!
    I say hot tub! Ha!
    Day! Ba! Very, very hot... Very hot! Da!
    Hot tub! Gonna get ya hot-a!
    Gonna make ya sweat! Hey! Say!
    Hot tub! Rub a dub in the hot tub!
    Rub a dub with me!

    Should I get in the hot tub?
    (Yeah!)
    Will it make me sweat?
    (Yeah!)
    Should I get in the hot tub?
    (Yeah!)
    Will it make me wet?
    (Yeah!)
    Well, well, well...

    Hot tub! Ah!
    Get in!
    Gonna get in the water!
    Gonna make me sweat! Ah!
    Here I go in the hot tub!

    HHHHIIIGGGHH!!

    Too hot in the hot tub! Ma!

    Sure, I read Reason. I've been a libertarian ever since 1988, when I was oppressed by the man for exercising my Second Amendment rights during an insurance meeting. Furthermore, while the oppressors chased me through Augusta, firing at me 23 times, I moved from small-l to big-L Libertarian.

  • ||

    RE: "Leftists will tell me that everything good has the government at its root"

    As a resident of New York I know a lot of leftists, and not one would say anything like that. In fact, I'd say many of them see the government as jackbooted thugs ...

    Brian, much as Sulla said, I would have to ask whether that's really a core part of their philosophy, or do they only feel that way when a Reagan or a Bush is president?

  • ||

    look at the tax cuts and passing of welfare reforms and passing of NAFTA and so forth since the election of Reagan? Would any of those things have happened if the GOP had never held the Presidency or either house of Congress? Those things happened over the objections of the congressional Democrats.

    NAFTA was passed in 1993, when Dems held the presidency and both houses of Congress. Your history lesson for the day.

  • Andrew Olmsted||

    NAFTA was passed in 1993, when Dems held the presidency and both houses of Congress. Your history lesson for the day.

    True, but NAFTA was actually negotiated by a Republican President and was passed only with heavy Republican support: 34 of 44 Republican Senators supported the bill, vs. 27 of 56 Democrats. 132 of 175 Republicans supported it in the House, vs. 102 of 258 Democrats. It's true enough that we got NAFTA without a Republican Congress, but it's less clear it would have come into existence without a Republican President.

  • ||

    Tanya, I believe, was talking about intellectual schools or movements, and I think, on that level, libertarians have more in common with conservatives than "the left," which, I believe, broadly speaking, is all about using state power to enforce egalatarianism and control property and the economy.

    If we were to ask the more thoughtful/intellectual elements of each faction what they think about economics, then I don't doubt that conservatives would come across as not only more libertarian in practice, they'd also come across as more philosophically libertarian.

    If we were to ask the more thoughtful/intellectual elements of each faction what they think about social issues, then we might get a wider range of responses. We'd get some good libertarian talk from both sides, and then we'd get some stuff about the importance of "community" (from the left) and "a cohesive, ordered society" (from the right).

    The net result would be that conservative intellectuals would come across as seeming more libertarian than liberal intellectuals.

    But if we go beyond the intellectuals, and look at what the actual politicians do in office, then it becomes clear that neither side has all that much to offer. The past 6 years of unified Republican government have not exactly resulted in a shrinking of the state in any meaningful sense. (The feds may be sending smaller tax bills, but they've also incurred a bunch of debt on our behalf, and when you add debt + taxes it becomes clear that they've soaked us for even more than Bill Clinton ever did.)

    Going beyond the federal level, and looking at the state level, are GOP-dominated states really that much better than Dem-dominated states? There may be some better cases among the GOP-dominated states, but both sides seem to have plenty of corrupt state governments, and none of the US states could be considered libertopia.

  • ||

    Tanya, how did an anti-war stance lead you from the left to libertarianism? The left seems dominated by anti-war, or, at least, anti-US-invasion-of-Iraq types.

    I think conservative-borne libertarians tend to see the world from an economic perspective whereas liberal-borne libertarians tend to see the world from a social perspective. The two are entirely compatible when on the same page.

    To answer your question, I came to realise that the only true way to end war is to choke gov'ts off at their source: taxes. That it means the end of universal healthcare (I'm Canadian) and other things I've come to take for granted, so be it. I have no reason not to have faith that free markets would take care of things; not because of a supply and demand law (or what have you) but because I genuinely believe that people have a vested interest in cooperation.

    And, so, here I am.

  • ||

    Tanya,

    Are you defining "war" exclusively as a state action? Bandits, pirates, rebels, and terrorists can wage wars, or things very much like wars, without having states or collecting taxes. War, or something very much like it, is inevitable, states or no, and I believe a stable and competent state is one of the things that can prevent war, through deterence.

  • ||

    Mitch:

    In my brand of utopia we'd be living in city states, and would have a form of collective security on a smaller scale. I realise that humans are still violent in nature, and so will conflict. But only states can wage the kind of war that threatens nuclear action - indeed, uses it. Heads of state can make decisions that instantly provide a death sentence for tens of thousands - and more. There is no reason on earth that we as individuals should tolerate this.

    As someone mentioned earlier in this thread, I think much of this will happen naturally, as people come to rely less and less on the state. I've found it remarkably easy to reverse some of my affairs ...

  • ||

    Tanya,

    I don't see why it is impossible for non-state actors to get their hands on nuclear weapons. In fact, I suspect that non-state actors are more likely to use a nuke they have than a state is, as non-state actors (suicidal fanatics, or a small group that is hard to find) are less likely to be deterred by the threat of retaliation.

    Another thing I like about conservative thought, as opposed by leftist thought, is the skepticism of utopianism. Utopian thought is, at best, a waste of time, and all too often an excuse for people to engage in large scale violence.

  • ||

    Mitch:

    I find it terribly implausible that a non-state actor could create a nuclear weapon, given the enormous cost. Should we find ourselves in a total anarcho-capitalist society, for example, I cannot for the life off me imagine why WalMart would find it an economically viable notion to build nukes.

    So if in the interim, while we wait for all current nukes to expire, your concerns that a non-state actor could get their hands on them is a real concern. But a century down the road, I have a hard time imagining the OBLs of the world choosing to build nukes.

    Also please understand I'm not criticising the fact that so many Libertarians/Anarcho-Capitalists begin from a conservative viewpoint, only that they are not exclusively so. The vast majority of my friends are leftist, and once they get past their immediate misunderstanding of what capitalism is and is not, I've found that persuading them to imagine life without the state is not so scary after all. Libertarians would do well to open their minds and realise there is a massive untapped market out there for recruits.

    (I have to admit that I've never met a conservative who didn't also have a vision of utopia - it generally revolves around social wants, namely a return to 'family values' and all that goes with it. They are as guilty of attempts at social engineering as any leftist. Gay marriage bans, for example, are certainly not a leftist idea.)

  • ||

    Apologies for failing to close my italics tag. I only meant for the word 'exclusively' to be italicised.

  • ||

    Tanya,

    I have to admit I have no idea how much it costs to develop a nuclear weapon.

    Leftists in America now may be sympathetic to homosexuals, but there is a left-wing tradition of thinking homosexuality is a perversion that results from capitalism or an example of bourgeois decadence. And what countries allow gay marriage? Any states run by communist parties?

  • ||

    And what countries allow gay marriage? Any states run by communist parties?

    Canada, for one. A country that - I can assure you - is decidedly leftist. We needn't run down the slippery slope to communism when discussing leftism any more than we need run to Nazism when talking about conservatism; as though every leftist is really a closet communist, and every conservative would be content to put homosexuals in concentration camps. We are talking of the politics of today, and today's leftists favour allowing gays to marry - conservatives do not.

    I am sensing a real resistence by you to accept that Libertarians could come from the left. Yes?

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