The Kinsley Retort

Michael Kinsley is a self-proclaimed "moderate-liberal with a libertarian streak" who once praised Henry George for "the way he combines radical egalitarianism with an equally radical belief in free-market capitalism." That side of Kinsley's persona is on display in his latest Time column, which uses the Ron Paul campaign as an excuse to express some mostly-friendly sentiments about libertarianism:

Republicans are far more likely to identify themselves as libertarians and to vilify the government in the abstract. And yet Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us. Now that the Republican Party is in trouble, critics are advising it to free itself of the religious right on issues like abortion and gay rights. That is, the party should become less communitarian and more libertarian. With Democrats, it's the other way around.

Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world. And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society. That is, they should become less libertarian and more communitarian. Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.

Libertarians and communitarians (to continue this unjustified generalizing) are different character types. Communitarians tend to be bossy, boring and self-important, if they're not being oversweetened and touchy-feely. Libertarians, by contrast, are not the selfish monsters you might expect. They are earnest and impractical--eager to corner you with their plan for using old refrigerators to reverse global warming or solving the traffic mess by privatizing stoplights. And if you disagree, they're fine with that. It's a free country.

There's a lot of truth to this, but his narrative has its limits: The modal Democrat's tolerance toward her lesbian neighbors might dry up if they take to smoking after sex. I'd say more, but I need to get back to modding my fridge.

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  • ||

    I'm amazed that Kinsley has adopted a four-quadrant political chart: Democrat/Republican/Libertarian/Communitarian.

  • x,y||

    We don't need a chart to analyze where people stand politically. We need a line. One end is completely statist. The other is completely anarchist.

  • Episiarch||

    The modal Democrat's tolerance toward her lesbian neighbors might dry up if they take to smoking after sex.

    Or if they joined the Pink Pistols. Half the stuff Democrats are supposedly tolerant of seems to just be something that Republicans are intolerant of, and vice versa.

    Kinsley is dreaming if he thinks that Democrats are any closer to libertarians than Republicans. They're both fucking statists who want to control a tremendous amount of your life; they just differ on the fine details of what to control.

  • ||

    Time and ABC News both doing in depth profiles of Ron Paul and libertarianism. MSM at last.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/story?id=3745767&page=1

  • thoreau||

    Modding your fridge, Jesse? Shouldn't you be buying a new fridge to support commerce?

  • ||

    solving the traffic mess by privatizing stoplights

    BTW, I've just bought the stoplights at Fifth and Madison. Cash only, please. Please pay your toll in bills as coins will jam the automated barrier.

    ;)

  • ||

    "The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights."

    Communitarianism is LESS organised than Libertarianism? Given the given definition for communitarianism (fascism - haha) is an almost perfect match for the platform of the Democrat party, I'd have to disagree with that.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Modding your fridge, Jesse? Shouldn't you be buying a new fridge to support commerce?

    I'm going to buy up as many as I can, so we can lick this dang global warming for once and for all.

  • ||


    x,y | October 19, 2007, 12:04pm | #

    We don't need a chart to analyze where people stand politically. We need a line. One end is completely statist. The other is completely anarchist.



    Get off my line!

    ;)

  • thoreau||

    Republicans are far more likely to identify themselves as libertarians and to vilify the government in the abstract. And yet Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us.

    There's some truth to this. Republicans seem to have more confidence about whatever it is that they're running on or campaigning for. It might change over time, it might vary from one Republican to the next, but they seem more confident about whatever it is. Democrats, OTOH, seem to be more ambivalent about what they're running on. Democrats are ashamed of their base (or at least they act like it in public) and Republicans embrace their base (or at least they pretend to do so in public).

    I'm becoming more and more convinced that there isn't much difference between the parties in practice, but it's hardly a coincidence that the less confident party has been cast for the role of "token ineffective opposition that can't even filibuster warrantless wiretaps" while the more confident party has been cast for the role of "tireless supporters of the Dear Leader."

  • ||

    Back in the 1980s, when I was producing the nationally syndicated daily radio program "Byline" for the Cato Institute, Kinsley was one of our regular commentators. We had a mix of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians on the show. But, since the program was underwritten by a libertarian organization that didn't want to spend its money broadcasting views it disagreed with, I was instructed to choose my liberal and conservative commentators from among the ranks of those who, because of the issues they tended to talk about, pretty much always expressed views that were compatible with libertarianism.

    Kinsley fit this model to a "T." I worked with him for several years on the show, and he never once recorded a commentary that would have troubled any libertarian.

    JR

  • ||

    IMO, thoreau wins the thread with his 12:12pm post!

  • ||

    Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.

    Funny how that works out, isn't it.

  • ||

    e don't need a chart to analyze where people stand politically. We need a line. One end is completely statist. The other is completely anarchist.

    So, were the differences between the political programs of Stalin and Hitler the consequence of Stalin being further towards the "statist" end, or Stalin?

    Ho Chi Minh vs. Bennito Mussilini?

    Hugo Chavez vs. Carlos Menem?

    I think we need more than one continuum.

  • ||

    Republicans seem to have more confidence about whatever it is that they're running on or campaigning for. It might change over time, it might vary from one Republican to the next, but they seem more confident about whatever it is. Democrats, OTOH, seem to be more ambivalent about what they're running on. Democrats are ashamed of their base (or at least they act like it in public) and Republicans embrace their base (or at least they pretend to do so in public).

    thoreau, I agree and see it as being due to the Republicans as being fairly homogenious while the Democrats are more of a collection of people who aren't Republican.

    The Democrats don't embrace their base like the GOP does because they don't have a single base. They have a lot of small bases, and those small bases don't necessarily have much in common with each other aside from being against Republicans. Unions are not often full of environmentalists and the black community doesn't really support gay marriage. So Democratic candidates can't support one base too much or they risk pissing off the others.

  • Ryo||

    It's almost as if we need a system that has more than two choices...

  • ||

    Dan T.
    There was a brilliant segment on the Daily Show that Steven Colbert hosted back before the 2004 elections where he acted as a moderator for a mock Democratic focus group after a debate.
    Your post above just reminded me of it, but it was both horribly true and hilarious.

  • ||

    Internationally, they are isolationists. Like George Washington, they loathe "foreign entanglements," and they think the rest of the world can go to hell without America's help.

    That's just incorrect. A major part of isolationism is protectionism which libertarians are obviously against. Libertarians have no problems with private donations to foreign aid charities. Also, since they don't support protectionism, free trade with other countries is absolutely a valid way to help.

    The computer revolution has bred a generation of smart loners, many of them rich and some of them complacently Darwinian, convinced that they don't need society--nor should anyone else.

    Again, what? It's sort of impossible to support the free market and think you don't need society. Isn't that part of the idea? That the best way to create a healthy and free society is through the protection of individual rights? This is an awfully odd way to end the article.

    But I suppose it's nice to see something in the MSM that actually acknowledges libertarianism as something more than a fringe movement of kooks.

  • PeeDub||

    I don't know about most Democrats, but *this* Libertarian is a registered Democrat because of the preponderance of religious right in my area (and the fact that I have to register as "Giant Douche" or "Turd Sandwich" to participate in any primary).

  • ||

    We don't need a chart to analyze where people stand politically. We need a line. One end is completely statist. The other is completely anarchist.

    Maybe you should change your name to just x,.

  • ||

    I think we need more than one continuum.

    Agreed. A graph at a minimum.

  • TLB||

    The modal Democrat's tolerance toward her lesbian neighbors might dry up if they take to smoking after sex.

    Or if they turned out to be... closet Republicans. "Liberal" tolerance is in fact tolerance for those who think like them, or for those who oppose The Oppressor.

  • ||

    The Democrats don't embrace their base like the GOP does because they don't have a single base. They have a lot of small bases, and those small bases don't necessarily have much in common with each other aside from being against Republicans.

    I think that's largely true of both major parties. They are both large, fractious coalitions. The GOP has had the appearance of unity for a long time, but I believe that is largely because of the degree of success they've had since 1980. Now that things are getting more difficult for the GOP, you're starting to see the party divide between its various constituencies.

    I've long believed that the folks advocating a parliamentary system overstate the difference with our existing system. In a parliamentary system, the governing coalition is assembled after the election; in ours it's assembled before the election in the form of one of the two parties. If anything, our system of divided government gives more power to all sides than do most parliamentary systems, where losing parties/coalitions are completely shut out of decisionmaking.

  • ed||

    In other words, most people (not just politicians, and including many libertarians) have widely inconsistent, divergent, contradictory values based not on their philosophy but on the absence of a coherent, consistent philosophy.

  • The Democratic Republican||

    TLB -- I agree, but I think that is also true of many so-called libertarians. I don't know how many intolerant libertarians I have met who have called me socialist/statist/etc. for not taking my "principles" as far as their "principles."

  • ||

    As to Michael Kinsley, I don't follow his work, but offhand he seems to have become less tied to the liberal line in recent years. I recall him being much more in tune with the Democratic party line in the '80s and early '90s.

  • ||

    In other words, most people (not just politicians, and including many libertarians) have widely inconsistent, divergent, contradictory values based not on their philosophy but on the absence of a coherent, consistent philosophy.

    Sure. That's just human nature. Perhaps more to the point, people are quite willing to adopt a coherent, consistent philosophy so long as it benefits them personally.

  • ||

    Given the given definition for communitarianism (fascism - haha) is an almost perfect match for the platform of the republicrat party,...

    Fixed it for you.

    Why, oh why, do people who claim to have a handle on the political situation still argue about supposed differences between the political parties? Rename them both the Boot On Your Neck party and be done with it. Left wing, right wing...bah! Same carrion bird in between.

  • ||

    As to Michael Kinsley, I don't follow his work, but offhand he seems to have become less tied to the liberal line in recent years. I recall him being much more in tune with the Democratic party line in the '80s and early '90s.

    I was thinking the same thing. He seemed much more the liberal back in his Crossfire days.

  • ||

    I'm pulling this number out of my ass, but I think about 40% or so of self-identifying Democrats and Republicans claim membership in that party because they can't fucking stand the other one.

  • ||

    Joe,

    "So, were the differences between the political programs of Stalin and Hitler the consequence of Stalin being further towards the "statist" end, or Stalin?"

    It's possible that the line wouldn't be used as a tool to measure that. It would measure a continuum from anarchy to statism. Stalin and Hitler could feasibly occupy the same postion on that line yet express statism differently.

  • ||

    As to Michael Kinsley, I don't follow his work, but offhand he seems to have become less tied to the liberal line in recent years. I recall him being much more in tune with the Democratic party line in the '80s and early '90s.

    He was always staunchly pro-trade, though. I remember watching a particularly surreal "Crossfire" back in the late '80s on trade, where Kinsley and Buchanan were in complete agreement that free trade was ideal, and they ganged up on a protectionist guest (yes, this was back when Buchanan was a free-trader).

  • thoreau||

    In other words, two people could have the same "statist" coordinates but different coordinates along some other axis.

    If all you want to know is whether somebody is a statist, that single axis will serve just fine. But if you want to understand events in which people or countries or coalitions or whatever clash, then you need to look at the other axes, to figure out what they are clashing over.

    In the dictator case what they were clashing over, at the end of the day, was probably just "I want this!" "No, I want it! You can't have it!" "No, I want it!" "No, I want it!" But in politics and political coalitions, I think there's a bit more to it. Yes, there's still a lot of "I want it!" "No you can't!" going on, but that just means we need 3 axes instead of 2.

  • x,y||

    Stretch | October 19, 2007, 12:39pm | #

    We don't need a chart to analyze where people stand politically. We need a line. One end is completely statist. The other is completely anarchist.

    Maybe you should change your name to just x,.

    ---

    Good one S :)

  • x,y||

    joe has a point, and it's simplistic to have just a line. But the line is useful to show the extent to which people think government should be involved in our lives.

  • ||

    He was always staunchly pro-trade, though. I remember watching a particularly surreal "Crossfire" back in the late '80s on trade, where Kinsley and Buchanan were in complete agreement that free trade was ideal, and they ganged up on a protectionist guest (yes, this was back when Buchanan was a free-trader).

    Wow, that is surreal. Buchanan is the eccentric uncle of American political thought/commentary. What's interesting is how far that both Buchanan and Kinsley have fallen from being 'standard bearers' for their respective sides. Maybe they both had too much independent thinking going on for the powers that be.

  • ||

    Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us.

    He says that with a sense of irony, right? I would think that crap like Social Security, Medicare, SCHIPP and government schools are the essence of imposing a vision on the rest of us and while a majority of Republicans may be for these impositions, they are the bread and butter of what passes for vision on the left.

  • ||

    x,y,

    I figured that's what you were after. Anyway, I'm not sure how much better a graph would be. In all reality, dictators are a fairly idiosyncratic lot. I'm guessing your graph would have to be multi-dimensional.

  • ||

    We need a line. One end is completely statist. The other is completely anarchist.



    But only the endpoints fit that model. In between you still have left of the line and right of the line.

    p.s. The Nolan Chart sucks by the way. The difference between the left and the right is not personal versus economic freedoms. The left wants things to be fair and equitable, while the right praises meritocracy and wealth accumulation. Thus, the two axis seem to be libertarianism and egalitarianism.

  • carrick||

    There was a post a couple of weeks ago that used two perpendicular axes: hierarchical (meritocracy) vs egalitarianism on one axis and communitarian verus individualist on the other. I thought that was an interesting and potentially more useful description that the standard Nolan Chart.

  • ||

    Joel right on! I like that, both are the Boot on Your Neck party. The State is a tool of repression and theft it can't be anything else it is the nature of the beast. It doesn't matter if you call it socialism, communism, monarchy, democracy, autocracy, etc all steal freedom from the many for the benefit of the few.

  • ||

    Brandybuck, you are using the left's loaded definition/use of "fair and equitable". To me meritocracy is "just, equitable, and sustainable" as they like to say on NPR. I find it hard to understand how redistribution of the earned income of others can be called "equitable" by progressives. Now if the statement were, "the left wants outcomes to be fair (average)and equal", then I could agree completely.

  • ||

    I'm pulling this number out of my ass, but I think about 40% or so of self-identifying Democrats and Republicans claim membership in that party because they can't fucking stand the other one.

    And then, like me, they become libertarians when they realize they can't effing stand either one.

  • ||

    joe has a point, and it's simplistic to have just a line. But the line is useful to show the extent to which people think government should be involved in our lives.

    It's called the

    Nolan chart,

    x,y. It helps identify what type of statist you lean towards(welfare / warfare). As you approach the anarcho-capitalist point, the difference between leftist and rightist views becomes increasingly irrelevant, since if you want to take away virtually all government power, it doesn't much matter whether you have residual sympathy for the left or right priorities for government spending.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world. And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society."

    What a crock.

    Democrats are socialists and inherently authoritarian. I don't see how it would be possible for them to put any less emphasis on the rights of individuals and more on the "responsibilty to society". The massive government redistribution of wealth mechansisms they've engineered are all predicated on their (bogus) claims of "responsibility to society".

  • x,y||

    Perhaps my line could look more like the letter "Y." On the bottom of the "Y" are anarchists, but as you move up the line, it differentiates you between conservative and liberal statism (as those words are defined now). I'm sure there are more possibilities, but that would require ditching the "Y."

  • ||

    Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us.

    Seriously, I lol'ed at that one.

    live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world.

    A very interesting moral equivalency is being drawn here, no?

    I think about 40% or so of self-identifying Democrats and Republicans claim membership in that party because they can't fucking stand the other one.

    I personally am more of an anti-Democrat than anything else. Your typical Dem "leader"/activist just really gets up my nose.

  • ed||

    Huh. Charts replace thinking. The shortcuts to knowledge get smaller and smaller.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Left or right, what's up with non-libertarians' view that we are all dorks living in our parents' basements?

    Yeah, I know my way around on a computer, but I live in my own dad-gum house and hang out in my own freakin' basement, thank you!

    We libertarians commune with others voluntary, not by political force.

    The fact that we'd probably rather hang out with people more like ourselves does not mean that we are anti-social. That's what Meetup.com is all about!

    BTR

  • kaganspawn||

    Surely the point of Mr. Kinsley's column is that libertarians should vote for the D rather than the R? It begins with Ron Paul, whose strong showing has gotten the attention of both parties. Picture the D party bosses, in tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, saying "Who are these people and how can we get them to vote for us?" The column opens with a nod to Goldwater Republicanism, but then proceeds to hit all the points where libertarians tend to agree more with Democrats: free speech, privacy, torture, the war, defendants' rights, church and state. As the H&R commentators have pointed out, when he tries to generalize about libertarians he flubs it, but that's not the point of the article. The message is, to Democrats, reach out to libertarians, and to libertarians, consider voting for the D.

  • ||

    Picture the D party bosses, in tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, saying "Who are these people and how can we get them to vote for us?"

    By reversing around 90% of your policy positions since FDR, that's how.

  • Jesse Walker||

    A very interesting moral equivalency is being drawn here, no?

    No.

  • Robert||

    Back in the 1980s, when I was producing the nationally syndicated daily radio program "Byline" for the Cato Institute, Kinsley was one of our regular commentators. We had a mix of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians on the show. But, since the program was underwritten by a libertarian organization that didn't want to spend its money broadcasting views it disagreed with, I was instructed to choose my liberal and conservative commentators from among the ranks of those who, because of the issues they tended to talk about, pretty much always expressed views that were compatible with libertarianism.


    Julian Bond was the outlier.

    The thing I remember most from that show was the scary way the announcer would open practically shouting, "BYLINE!", like it was some kind of either emergency or condemnation. But it was also how John Fund first came to my att'n, before I met him at a SLS event.

  • ||

    Great response by Kinsella:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/016250.html

  • Mark Bahner||

    Kinsley fit this model to a "T." I worked with him for several years on the show, and he never once recorded a commentary that would have troubled any libertarian.



    I find this idea of modifying refrigerators to solve global warming more than a little troubling.

    ;-)

  • ||

    "[On 'Byline']. Julian Bond was the outlier."

    Actually, I worked with Julian for the entire ten years "Byline" was on the air, and never had to deal with an unlibertarian commentary from him. He tended to focus his main attention on government-imposed limitations on black Americans, an issue libertarians and liberal civil rights activists of the day could easily agree about.

    It was working with Julian Bond, Nat Hentoff, Nicholas Von Hoffman, Michael Kinsley, and Barbara Koppell on "Byline" that taught me the stupidity of the notion that all Democrats are socialists and authoritarians.

    JR

  • ||

    There is a plethora of EMPIRICAL studies supporting the taxation of land values. Anyone who wants to lower taxes on production and lower most people's taxes, should email me for the plethora (stevencord2000@yahoo.com).

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