Libertarian History/Philosophy Where Do Libertarians Belong? A Reason Event featuring Brink Lindsey, Jonah Goldberg and Matt Kibbe


Should libertarians forge alliances and risk being compromised, or preserve their purity and risk irrelevance? Which political groups are worth rooting for, collaborating with, or just sprinting away from?

On July 12, 2010, Reason hosted a debate on "Where Libertarians Belong" with Cato Institute Vice President Brink Lindsey, FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe, and Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online and the American Enterprise Institute.

The event was based on Reason's August/September cover forum (click here to subscribe), in which Lindsey argued for the abolition of the historical right-libertarian alliance in "Right Is Wrong," Goldberg warned against the lure of "The Non-Existent Center," and Kibbe defended the Tea Parties in "Drink Your Tea."

Approximately 50 minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes, Jim Epstein, and Josh Swain. Edited by Jim Epstein.

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  1. What about the diamond chart? Where is the diamond chart? Who played Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman?

    1. Because he was a Republican, Milton Friedman was not a True Libertarian?

      1. Said with some bitterness. And yet, even Friedman admitted that his wonderful ideas about the fed policing itself didn’t work out. The state grew despite Friedman’s optimism.

        1. I think that Friedman would have admitted that it grew because of some of his (non-libertarian) policies.

          But fear not, Friedman v1.1 was semi-libertarian. 2.1 (his son) is an anarchist. 3.1 (his grandson) is a Seasteader.

      2. I didn’t know that about Friedman. That sounds like a complete contradiction.

        1. It isn’t. Most things government has done in past couple of generations that were positive for freedom (cutting taxes, winning the Cold War, ending the draft, Scalia and Thomas) were done by Republicans.

          Most politicians that have been libertarian leaning (Taft, Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, De Mint, Paul) have been Republicans. There are no comparable figures among the Democrats.

          1. Scalia is positive for freedom?

            To be honest i think because of his libertarian rhetoric and his authoritarian court decisions he gives the left a poster boy to throw eggs at

            “See see look the liberty guy is authoritarian!!”

          2. You are mostly correct, but I consider “libertarian-leaning” strictly libertarian. Reagan, for instance, was a a fiscal and social conservative. Therefore I do not consider him libertarian at all.

      3. But who is playing him under the whip and boots of Ayn Rand?

  2. A very fun night.

  3. “Should libertarians forge alliances and risk being compromised, or preserve their purity and risk irrelevance?”

    For being irrelevant, we sure are popular! A few days back I went to HuffPost and searched for “libertarian”. I came up with 6 articles from JUST THAT DAY that mentioned us.

    Not bad for folks with no office, no power, and less political clout than the Green Party.

    One question, though: Why are liberals so terrified of us?

    1. One question, though: Why are liberals so terrified of us?

      The foreign interventionism outlook of conservatives doesn’t bother the liberals, because they are foreign interventionists themselves. Social conservatism doesn’t bother them much either, because liberals also love telling others how to behave. Neither do they mind compassionate big-governmentism, anti-wrong-kind-of-immigrantism, micro-managing-muckupism.

      But one thing they can’t stand is the free market. Liberals dislike conservatives because of their free market rhetoric. But libertarians actually believe in the free market! OMG! It’s enough to make a liberal explode in rage!

      1. I would avoid making such large blanket statements, because there are several types of conservatives and liberals. I would, however, argue that liberals hate libertarians because they don’t appreciate logic or reason. Insulting enough, Tony?

    2. Why are liberals so terrified of us?

      Because we actually have ideas. It’s easy for liberals to just laugh at people who don’t believe in evolution or think gays are “icky”. Those ideas are easy to refute, but they can’t refute libertarian ideas. Liberals feel that they are wrong, but they can’t prove it.

      Because, we’re not wrong.

      1. I have found that liberals begin to fear libertarian dialogue because they feel threatened by competition.

        The sudden realization, when they are listening to an argument, that they may lose something……….

        Competition is demanding, and thus threatening to that type of person.

        Therefore, the need for Nanny.

        1. To be fair it’s not that hard to win arguments against the average liberal or conservative, simply because the average liberal or conservative aren’t political junkies and don’t follow what’s going and don’t have a large collection of facts in their memory bank to draw from. I suspect 3rd parties are more politically savvy than the average members of either of the 2 main parties.

    3. It’s actually simpler than that.

      Liberals dislike libertarians because they’ve chosen to align themselves with conservatives.

      If you all align yourselves with liberals, conservatives would dislike libertarians.

      No one fears libertarians by themselves. Libertarians will occupy the minds of liberals if they team up with conservatives because they fear conservatives, and not because they fear libertarians.

      1. Liberals dislike libertarians because they’ve chosen to align themselves with conservatives

        Chosen? Libertarians align with conservatives because, by and large, conservatives are a leftward version of libertarians. As such, it is possible to insert genuine libertarian ideas into the mix.

  4. A fundraiser to cure libertarian-pattern baldness broke out.

  5. Lindsy’s mistake is that he thought Democrats actually care about wars and civil liberties. The two wars that Lindsy objects to are both Wilsonian to their cores. And thus it is entirely unsurprising that liberals really didn’t mean any of their objections to them.

    It is also entirely unsurprising that Liberals don’t see a problem with the Patriot Act and other government police powers now that they are in charge. Or given their dependence on public employee union support and money continue the drug war unabated. And they also depend heavily upon the Hispanic and the Black vote for power. Since Hispanics and Blacks both as groups are at best ambivalent about gay marriage or other social libertarian issues, it is again no surprise that liberals tell people like Lindsy they care about them but just can’t commit yet.

    The whole idea that there are “civil rights” issues that libertarians can work with liberals on is just fucking laughable. It is like saying there are a whole host of drug war issues that Libertarians can work with conservatives on. Anyone who claimed that would be laughed out of the room.

    Lindsy ought to be laughed out of any room he speaks in.

    1. What about the separation of church and state?

  6. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are all, at their core, authoritarians and statists.

    Both believe the government is a big ol’ hammer, and the world is just chock full of nails that need hammering down.

    Both have intellectually incoherent (rhetorical) positions on a small handful of things that the government shouldn’t hammer on, and they love to fight about those.

    But, at the end of the day, both have no problem with unlimited government power, just as long as they are in charge.

    Libertarians can’t make much common cause with such an alien and antithetical worldview. Sure, there may be a few fleeting strategic alliances to be made here and there, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that these are anything but realpolitik that may deliver a few marginal wins.

    Libertarians have to figure out how to harness the human desire for freedom the way our enemies have harnessed the human desire for security. Until that happens, the long march toward limited government and a free society cannot really begin.

    1. That assumes that everything short of libertopia is “authoritarian”. I think liberals are assholes and mistaken about a lot of things. But I wouldn’t call all of them “authoritarian”. Some of them are. But not all of them.

      It is the same with conservatives. Conservatives have a few issues that they have a stick up their ass about (mostly porn and public decency stuff) but I wouldn’t call them authoritarian. A hundred years ago you could go to jail for being an active homosexual and pornography was generally illegal. Would you call America of the 1910, sans the Jim Crow South, authoritarian? I wouldn’t. In many ways people were much more free and certainly had much more privacy than they do today. You could in those times do things like walk into a bank and deposit as much cash as you liked and have no worries about playing mother may I with the government. You could start a business and never even bother to tell anyone in the government. You could rent your house out to anyone you wanted. Hire anyone you want to work in your business. Economically we were a hundred times more free than today.

      1. What (nonlibertarian) liberal policies are not authoritarian John?

        1. If every “non libertarian” policy is authoritarian and every person who supports said policies is then by definition and “authoritarian”, the the term “authoritarian” is pretty fucking meaningless. At that point it is just a name we give to any law we don’t like.

          1. NO. Every policy that is authoritarian (i.e., uses force against someone’s life/liberty/property) is authoritarian, regardless of whether it is liberal or conservative.

            How in hell is that meaningless?

      2. And our currency was gold and silver coin, legal tender in payment of debt. Not FRNs that are legal tender for all debt, whatever that means. Mothers were able to stay home and raise as many kids as they wanted. No daycare industry back then. Ron Paul is right, we need our lawful currency.

      3. That assumes that everything short of libertopia is “authoritarian”.

        By authoritarian, I mean a mindset that defaults to the state as the solution for whatever anyone thinks needs fixing.

        And liberals/conservatives are both guilty of that.

        In 1910, I don’t think that was the mindset at all. Even to the extent people did want the state to fix something, there was still a strong sense that a government of limited powers might not be available to fix it.

        Sure, there were (state) laws against things back in the day that there shouldn’t have been, but the current statist/authoritarian mindset defaults, not just to any old state, but to the national government. The Total State.

        So I’m sticking with authoritarian. “Statist” is probably a more accurate term, but its kind of wonky, nobody knows what it means, and it doesn’t have the same stink. So it doesn’t work as well for me.

        1. “By authoritarian, I mean a mindset that defaults to the state as the solution for whatever anyone thinks needs fixing.

          And liberals/conservatives are both guilty of that.”

          Other than wanting to ban shit you don’t like (which has been done throughout American history) how are conservatives guilty of that? And don’t tell me wars either because this country has been fighting foreign wars forever.

          1. Immigration, subsidies for atomic energy, protectionism.

            1. As much as I hate conservatives, the protectionism streak isnt in them. Its pretty limited to people like Buchanan who is only still relevant because of illegal immigration

              1. True, but I’m thinking steel industry. Also, I left out the War on Drugs.

          2. The most immediate example is the GOP government in the early years of this century doing nothing whatsoever to reduce the size of government.

  7. With the Mosque in NYC issue still lingering, Libertarians need to stand firm with religious freedom and property rights. The right at this time seems to be forgetting about that in the name of emotion.

    1. Of course, we could just say that the city of New York should have no say in such an issue. It should be privatized and decided by the market.

      1. True and three out of the seven Gubernatorial candidates have come out on the issue


  8. Brink comes off as a left wing elitist who feels just guilty enough about the left’s brand of authoritarian collectivism to call himself a Libertarian.

    1. At least he comes off as who he is. I can’t believe CATO would hire him much less make him VP.

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  11. Other than wanting to ban shit you don’t like (which has been done throughout American history) how are conservatives guilty of that?

    Well, banning shit you don’t like is pretty fucking authoritarian. Lets throw into the mix:

    (1) Transfer programs: Repubs presided over a huge expansion of Medicare, and have sworn off any reductions of Medicare in their reaction to Obamacare.

    (2) Free speech. Repubs voted for McCain-Feingold, and left in place when they had the majority. Not to mention their enthusiastic participation in the War on Porn.

    (3) Regulatory State: The size and scope of regulatory agencies and actions ballooned under a Republican Congress and President.

    If Democrats register a 9 on the Authoritay-meter, Republicans register around an 8.5.

    1. You make the category error Goldberg warned about, that Republican is equivalent to conservative and vice versa.

  12. They didn’t talk about foreign policy.

  13. The biggest problem I see with Lindsay is his tone. Conservatives probably agree with Lindsay 70% percent of the issues, but the 30% disagreement is on social issues (and probabbly not as much disagreement as he thinks there is) and he hates the conservatives for it. Similarly, liberals probably agree with Lindsay on about 30% of all issues, but the 70% he disagrees with them on are economic issues which he does not have much emotionally invested in, so he does hold liberals in contempt for it.

    1. “…does not hold liberals in contempt for it”

    2. I would have liked to have seen Lindsay answer the question posed by Tim Carney instead of dodging and the subsequent points brought up by Goldberg on the culture wars. In that a lot of the cultural fights are inherently picked by social liberals who then bemoan anyone opposing them.

      For instance the fights over Darwinism versus Creationism only occur because of the inherent tension that arises between having the government run the schools and freedom of religion. Anything in the government school curriculum that pushes into the theology of a large minority or even majority is going to cause conflict, and that group has legitimate argument that its rights are being trampled on.

      1. While I find the theory of evolution wholly adequate to describe the advent of this planet’s species, I have never understood the harsh totality of hatred for an exploration of creationism.

        I do have issues with creationism–the biggest being that it never seems to talk–at all–above versions of the Creation story that don’t occur in the bible. But a section in class, before or after the science section that deals with evolution, could be used to explore the various creation stories that are out there. It could talk about how some of those stories, and the practices of those who believe them, see themselves as being in conflict with the fossil record and the theory of evolution.

        Just a thought…

      2. The only rights being trampled on by teaching evolution is the right of the *parent* to not have their children learn biology.

        If the child has a right to not take biology, then everyone else has a right to not take art, or a foreign language, or a music class, or history, or math. But all the students take them anyways, because part of school is taking classes you dislike.

    3. Agreed. Libertarian hostility toward cultural conservatives dooms it to permanent minority status. Ron Paul – a pro-life libertarian – is the archtype for ascendant libertarianism.

  14. “…does not hold liberals in contempt for it”

  15. I think the main reason libertarians find themselves among conservatives is because for the large part the classical liberals won or are winning the culture wars but they have not won and in many cases losing the economic wars.

  16. I think i would have rather heard what Matt Kibey (feedomworks guy) had to say then to listen to the endless back and forth of Lindsy and Goldberg.

  17. I think Goldberg made the best argument in saying many libertarians want to live conservative lives. A return to federalism and limited government would mean allowing like minded people to coalesce at the local level, where any cultural imposition can be opposed by getting neighbors together to protest city hall or state capitals. Conversely, it means allowing libertines to let their ‘freak flag fly’ where they coalesce.

    He also made a great point that the right didn’t start the culture war.

  18. Both liberals and libertarians assume that people can live without any culture or any religious underpinnings to their society, that they can live purely as citizens or economic man (or woman). Libertarians assume that people can live according to self interest alone and that will lead to the results that libertarians and conservatives want to see more of, freedom and prosperity, the latter based on capitalism, free enterprise, and people dealing freely with each other, according to their own will, without coercion and with very limited government oversight.

    Libertarians need to ask how does such a system come about. Self interest is not enough. If it was, everyone would be prosperous. Everyone wants to be prosperous. No one looks at his child and says I don’t want a better living standard for my child.

    The success of the west is due to the underlying philosophy/values/culture or whatever word one chooses to use. Economic conduct is not just economic. The conduct that leads to prosperity is underpinned by certain values, having to do with honesty to being someplace on time to hard work and many other values, many of which most of us can’t even articulate.

    Just to give a few examples. One thing that arouses the contempt of liberals is that Americans will work hard for a boss they don’t like. Many nations won’t do that. That is one reason that things so often seem badly run in third world countries, where nothing is ever done right or on time or thoroughly. People will not work effectively if it will benefit someone they don’t like, even if it will help the worker. So what makes an American do that? Money is not enough. Again, if it was money, everyone would do it. Such conduct cannot be coerced. Stalin tried it with factory managers. He actually shot the government managers whose factories were not productive enough. The managers put pressure on their underlings. But it did not work. The effort was abandoned and the Russians settled for low productivity and relative poverty.

    Another aspect of american life that liberals don’t understand is the relative lack of envy. Nations where if one person succeeds the others want to destroy him are poor. Well, America is rich is the liberal explanation. But the value of not being envious preceded the wealth and led to the wealth. That value has its origin, not in the desire to make money, but in religion.

    Before we had the telephone, a victorian merchant would write to another saying send me 100 buggy whips and I will pay you. The whips would travel to the buyer and the buyer would send money to the seller. This seems simple, but it is not. What stops either party from cheating the other? Enough cheating, and all transactions of this sort become impossible. But people did not cheat and the economy grew. Again, the desire to make money is not enough to result in such conduct. There is an underlying value preaching honesty. In many cultures, it is taken for granted that one will cheat strangers, and that strangers are out to cheat you.

    Then there is drugs. A culture that requires work of the kind that this does (not just hard work, because a Kenyan farmer works hard and remains horribly poor) and the high level of self control cannot afford to have many on drugs. Some can take drugs and continue to function normally. Many cannot, so it is wrong to tell people that drug taking is acceptable. It is one thing to argue the government should not police it. It is another to argue that the culture at large, priests, and parents, and teachers, should not police it and tell people it is wrong and discourage it. Libertarians are more and more falling into the liberal camp, taking up liberal negativity towards such things as sexual restriction or religion or other matters of personal conduct. They are failing to distinguish between what the government should prevent or control and what individual groups have the right to prevent or control among their own members.

    On immigration, libertarians assume that people are fungible and that everyone will act the way they think is a good way to act. They also think that it does not matter if people have a nation or national or cultural identity. But people cannot live without these things. All libertarian arguments are based on the thinking that we will always have a western value nation.

    One thing libertarians do is ignore the consequences of the policies they advocate. For instance, most of us don’t believe that anti discrimination laws should be taken down. We fear the consequences. When a libertarian asks for that, as some do, is he or she really thinking about what it means?

    Conservatives and republicans and tea party types can live with libertarianism. If libertarians got their way and the government was all but eliminated and taxes were drastically lowered, we would be fine. We would have no problem providing ourselves with everything we need ranging from jobs to safe neighborhoods to self defense to care for the elderly and disabled and others truly unable to provide for themselves. But what about everyone else? Libertarian policy would lead to an atomization, maybe the end, of the country. Groups (defined however) would have their own place with their own rules. Some would have a nice place and some would not.

  19. I’ve become a huge fan of Brink Lindsey. He’s right on in my opinion where he doubts whether the teapartiers will protect classical liberal rights over the long haul. And he’s right about questioning teapartiers commitment to libertarian policies when over half of them are favorable to W. I do take exception to Brink’s labeling the teapartiers as angry white males. Let me guess that there were no minorities and only a few white women at the Reason event – though not angry.

  20. They tip toed around it but the bottom line is that libertarians and conservatives would get along fine if the social conservatives would just shut up and sit down. Yes we cons and you libertarians would still disagree on things but take out the bible thumpers and libertarians would have a major influence on issues like gay marriage, foreign policy, the drug war and immigration. Areas where conservatives are pretty divided. If I was in the room, I’d have asked Jonah(who doesn’t like but argues often we need the social cons) if he felt that this is a time where libertarians and conservatives could come together and distance ourselves from the religious right while attracting the independents. Hey, since Falwell, they had their chance and blew it big time. In an ideal world Huckabee would shore up every religiocon’s vote while some libertarian leaning conservative went on to win the primary and then the general elections.

  21. I am disheartened that no mention was made of the “defence” spending of the Federal government, nor the associated building/maintence of Empire by the US.

    Also, why no discussion of the role of central banking, it being argueably the root cause of the ability of the central government to aggrandize itself.

  22. I thought this was a brilliant debate. Lindsey’s concept of a “radical center” of Libertarians who were economically conservative and socially liberal pretty much sums up my own political views.

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