Libertarianism

Cathy Young: "libertarian ideas are an essential corrective to the authoritarian tendencies of both right and left"

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Writing in the Boston Globe, Reason Contributing Editor Cathy Young chews on whether we're living on the cusp of a "libertarian moment." Excerpt:

At a time when Americans are increasingly fed up with politics as usual, does libertarianism — which champions freedom from government control in both economic and social spheres — present an appealing alternative to conservatism and liberalism? […]

Does all this add up to a coming libertarian triumph? Maybe not quite. […]

The Tea Party, for all its libertarian rhetoric, is driven more by populist anger at cultural elites than by the quest for individual freedom. In polls, Tea Party supporters tend to be strongly conservative on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, and to support security measures that expand government powers of spying on terror suspects. The truth is, many Americans' views on freedom and government are complex and sometimes confused. In the Reason poll, 54 percent felt that "regulation of businesses does more harm than good" while only 38 percent supported more government regulation; yet 48 percent favored a strong government capable of handling complex economic problems while 46 percent preferred a free market with less government involvement.

Libertarianism articulates important truths. Power corrupts. Government bureaucracies have a tendency to become self-serving and self-perpetuating, and to stifle productivity and creativity. State efforts to promote "values" have a tendency to infantilize adults and impose one group's beliefs on others.

And yet reality is never so simple. Overreach notwithstanding, government has made indispensable contributions to American life, from building the infrastructure to reducing racial discrimination to promoting scientific research with no short-term payoff. Such challenges as protecting the environment or ensuring health care for everyone may not have a free-market solution. Likewise, social tolerance is not always the answer to pressing questions.

Pure libertarianism has a whiff of utopia, like all ideologies that disregard the messy paradoxes of life. But libertarian ideas are an essential corrective to the authoritarian tendencies of both right and left. Libertarianism starts with the presumption that freedom of choice is a vitally important good. There may be sound reasons to abridge that freedom more often than most libertarians would allow; but the burden of proof should be on those who would abridge it. Without the libertarian voice, no exchange of ideas in American politics is complete.

Whole thing here. The aforementioned Reason-Rupe polling operation can be accessed here, and here is your link to the also-referenced Nick Gillespie/Matt Welch joint The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.

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39 responses to “Cathy Young: "libertarian ideas are an essential corrective to the authoritarian tendencies of both right and left"

  1. Wait…Gillespie and Welch wrote a book?

  2. Ociff? ocfffffiicer.. amm i freE to gambol about plainn and forrst?

  3. Libertarianism starts with the presumption that freedom of choice is a vitally important good.

    But freedom of choice means you might screw up and have to be responsible for the consequences.

    Wouldn’t it be better if every little choice was codified into laws and regulations, so you wouldn’t have to make any decisions or be responsible?

    All you have to do is obey and you’re fine.

    This frees the mind to pursue the pinnacle of the hierarchy of needs, which is where true freedom lies.

    freedom = slavery

  4. “The Tea Party, for all its libertarian rhetoric, is driven more by populist anger at cultural elites”

    Not that anger isn’t justified, I think the Tea Party is less socially conservative than this article implies. But at least they are economic conservatives, which is half the battle.

    1. The trick to recruiting “socially conservative” folks to a libertarian mindset is to separate “socially” from “politically”. I consider myself a social conservative but a political libertarian on most issues.

      I don’t smoke pot and I think it’s a stupid thing to do but I don’t think it’s the government’s job to enforce my viewpoint.

      I don’t smoke cigarettes and I love smoke-free dining, but I think restaurant owners should be allowed to decide what market they want to serve.

      I don’t drink much at all and I agree that we need some level of drunk driving laws but 0.08%? You could almost hit that level from smelling a glass of wine.

      However, convincing social conservatives to move this direction is difficult because they know that social liberals won’t hesitate to use legislation and courts to enforce their views (affirmative action, income redistribution, hate speech regulations, etc.).

      Of course this goes both ways. If the far left suddenly embraced libertarianism and essentially laid down their legislative weapons, then the conservatives would take over.

      1. It’s the difference between morality and law. Most people think that things they think are wrong should be illegal. That you can’t be against something and for its legality at the same time. I have no interest in doing a vast multitude of things that I think should be legal, but unfortunately most people aren’t like that.

        1. Exactly. I’m a teacher and I often to a specific lecture on “legal vs moral” just to make my students think about this. Examples that come up:
          * Most of us think that it’s immoral to cheat on your spouse but it’s not illegal.
          * Most of us don’t think that it’s immoral for a 20 year old to have a beer but it’s very illegal.

          Once they understand that moral and legal are not the same thing, then we can get into an interesting discussion on when and how law should be used.

          1. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.
            Bastiat

            I long ago lost respect for the law. I respect, or fear rather, those nice men with clubs and guns who enforce the law. But respecting the law for it’s own sake? Nope.

        2. I have no interest in doing a vast multitude of things that I think should be legal, but unfortunately most people aren’t like that.

          My back of-the-envelope calculations put it at about 80% of the population. And ten percent of the remaining don’t care enough to raise a stink about it. I honestly think that the maximum theoritical limit to a libertarian movement is 10% of the population.

      2. What if you found out that cannabis kills cancer cells and significantly lowers users’ chances of developing cancer and other diseases. Would you still find it stupid? (Which is what the government told you.)

  5. Thanks to Cathy Young for throwing the usual Globe shots at the Tea Party complete with insults and mischaracterizations.

    1. See, libertarians are quite as icky and insane as many believe. I’d venture to guess, even, that some of Cathy’s best friends are libertarians.

        1. Worked better the first time. More snarkasm.

  6. Oh yeah – we’re right on the verge of sweeping elections nationwide.

    1. The Libertarian ascendancy is apparently operating on geologic time.

  7. Overreach notwithstanding, government has made indispensable contributions to American life…

    If only there were some firewall to block government moving from indispensable contributor to overreaching oppressor.

    And libertarianism is fine, until you start to suspect that other people are doing things you don’t like, and there’s nothing you can have agents of the state do about it.

    1. And libertarianism is fine, until you start to suspect that other people are doing things you don’t like, and there’s nothing you can have agents of the state do about it.

      To a certain extent, that’s why libertarians are more socially tolerant, because if they weren’t, they just be republicans, who don’t like being told what not to do, but have no such qualms telling other people what they should or should not do.

  8. I’m a big-tent libertarian kind of guy. But Jesus. With friends like Cathy Young…
    (Or maybe I’m just channeling my inner Rockwellian. Oh Great Kochtopus, grant me peace…)

    1. Is that a big tent, or are you just happy to see me?

  9. Nice photo! But maybe not the best promotional material available.
    Couldn’t you find a sexy pic of Lysander Spooner?

    1. I find Lysander Spooner oddly attractive.

  10. Cathy Young strikes me as another person who says: I support freedom except when it comes to health care, foreign wars, education, banking, money, speech, religion, race, housing, smoking, drinking, drugs etc. etc. etc. But hey I am still a libertarian ! because I don’t believe the government has the right to tell me whether I should buy coke or pepsi.

    1. But where does she stand on the broccoli mandate?

      1. They can make you buy it, but they just can’t make you eat it. That makes Cathy a radical libertarian in Cambridge circles.

        1. When we finally go to single payer, you can be damned sure that they will be able to make you eat it.

  11. Overreach notwithstanding, government has made indispensable contributions to American life, from building the infrastructure

    ROADZ!!!!1!1!!11!!!Eleventy-one!1!!111111!!!

    to reducing racial discrimination

    Kindly ignore any reference to the fugitive slave law, Jim Crow, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests, separate but equal, urban renewal, eminent domain abuse, sentencing disparities, anti-Chinese laws, social engineering programs, and support for eugenics.

    The right people are in charge.

    to promoting scientific research with no short-term payoff.

    Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you…Shrimp on a Treadmill. And it only cost half a million in taxpayer money.

    Such challenges as protecting the environment or ensuring health care for everyone may not have a free-market solution.

    Because the government’s solutions has worked so well up to this point. If only those evil insurance companies would stop resisting and just hand over their records and assets to well-meaning federal regulators, the right people would make all of the important medical decisions for us. Am I doing right, progressives?

    Likewise, social tolerance is not always the answer to pressing questions.

    What’s a little thought-control between friends, right? Especially if it’s for your own good?

    1. Well they government does spend several trillion with a “T” dollars a year. I would hope they managed to do some good somewhere.

    2. While the water skiing squirrel was entirely the result of a free-market capitalism. Take that you stupid commie shrimp!

  12. to reducing racial discrimination

    Kindly ignore any reference to the fugitive slave law, Jim Crow, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests, separate but equal, urban renewal, eminent domain abuse, sentencing disparities, anti-Chinese laws, social engineering programs, and support for eugenics.

    It’s a tried-and-true technique of cult leaders (and otehrs wishing to control behavior) to introduce a negative stimulus, then remove it as a “reward”. It makes the victim of the negative stimulus think the person/entity that removed it is a hero, when in fact that person/entity was the one who introduced the negative stimulus in the first place. It’s very effective and apparently Cathy Young is susceptible to it.

    1. + the internets.

    2. Nice, Kristen.

    3. The list doesn’t include the racist WoD, especially crack v. powder sentencing, but I guess if you listed ALL the racist shit government has done you’d be putting up one of those “wall of text” posts.

  13. Pure libertarianism has a whiff of utopia, like all ideologies that disregard the messy paradoxes of life.

    This isn’t really true.

    A utopia is generally thought of as a place where everyone is happy and nothing goes wrong.

    All the libertarians I know think that in libertopia plenty would go wrong and not everyone would be happy. They just don’t care.

  14. “Pure libertarianism has a whiff of utopia…”

    This statement is patently false and misleading. Conservatives and Liberals use legislation to shape society in their own image. The end result of this would be either a Conservative or a Liberal Utopia. The conflict arises when these two philosophies try to convince the other that their Utopia is better than the other’s.

    Pure libertarianism is just a means to an end. Libertarians don’t believe the State should decide how you live your life as long as you do not interfere with another’s right to live theirs. With libertarianism in play, the end game is that each of us is free to choose our own version of Utopia not have someone else’s forced upon us.

    1. The conflict arises when these two philosophies try to convince the other that their Utopia is better than the other’s encounter reality.

    2. This statement is patently false and misleading. Conservatives and Liberals use legislation to shape society in their own image.

      And libertarians try to shape society by denying others the power to enact such legislation. Passive-aggressive tyranny is still tyranny.

      1. Preventing others from passing coercive legislation which will result in tyranny is passive-aggressive tyranny? That’s seems a bit of a stretch.

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