Non-Liberals Live Amongst Liberals, Deceptively Wearing Their Guises: Noted with Alarm


Eugenia Williamson in the Boston Phoenix in her confused mess of a feature called "Attack of the Hipster Conservatives" is alarmed that not all young people she marks as "hip" are standard modern American liberals.

She is confused about political terminology–she starts off saying "laissez-faire liberal" (which would have to mean libertarian) when she means modern statist liberal, saying that one of her French characters confuses people who expect him to be the former when he reveals he's actually a "conservative libertarian." It's also unclear exactly what that means, except that the author is going to continue to conflate those two (overlapping in some respects, but distinct) categories of conservative and libertarian.

She then gets shocked by "two floppy-haired fellows in skinny jeans and tight plaid shirts [who] were talking about how wrong it was to build a mosque near Ground Zero," a conservative stance (for some) with no libertarianism in it.

The whip-sawing category errors don't stop. Willamson compains that Urban Outfitters is selling (mostly ironic) Mitt Romney t-shirts (the kind-of conservative GOP presidential candidate) and then talks about Vice magazine "characterizing libertarianism as the natural result of disillusionment with the two-party system," then in an article with the word "conservative" in the headline says "in every urban enclave in every blue state contains a small, barely visible contingent of libertarians who move, undetected, in liberal social circles. Undetected, that is, until the veneer of consensus slips away."

The article goes on to interview various people of libertarianish or conservative or pro-Romney beliefs explaining that, in a plaint I'm sure will ring true to any person of free market sympathies in a modern liberal world, they really just prefer not talking about politics with people who they like who like them but who disagree profoundly on political matters. (There could be an actually insightful and perhaps even touching piece of journalism to be written on this topic, but it would require more effort and understanding than Williamson brings to bear.) One of her subjects, Zachery Caceres, identifies as a "progressive libertarian," far from "conservative" of course. (Not to be obtuse, what Williamson clearly is trying to get at is "people who value free markets strongly and probably don't believe in a lot of government wealth redistribution can look or act 'cool' too." But her terminological confusion isn't helping reader comprehension or making any better a case for the idea that this trend story with its usual small handful of examples exemplifies anything coherent or meaningful.) 

And the key statement about all this "politics vs. cultural signifier" theme, from David Benedetti, the tattooed and ear-plugged atheist Ron Paul fan who doesn't want to go to Tea Party gatherings, is: "I'm more comfortable with my friends, period. That definitely trumps any politics."

Williamson then wraps up with a beat that shows she does, or should, understand she's conflating some very different things in her story, when she quotes a liberal pal of Benedetti's saying that if Benedetti

was a social conservative, "that would be a deal-breaker. The fact that he identifies with those people is unattractive enough, but I could not be friends with someone that thinks same-sex couples shouldn't have the right to marry."

My Reason colleague J.D. Tuccille, who once lived in Boston Phoenix territory, remembers that "the Boston-Cambridge yuppie axis more libertarian-friendly than you might expect when I lived there in the early to mid '90s. Libertarian-ish Bill Weld was governor… Harvey Silverglate, the former Mass. ACLU head and still-prominent civil libertarian gave a speech at BU Lawcalling on physicians to refuse medical services to politicians who overregulate medicine. And I distinctly remember a marketing person at ZDNet, who was trying to organize a debate over Internet regulation, screaming in frustration across the office, "Goddamnit. Is anybody here NOT a libertarian?"

What the Phoenix is noting with alarm, confusion, and incomprehension is a real phenomenon, especially in an age when the only national political figure with bona fides about civil liberties, peace, and not locking people up for their consumption choices is an old Republican congressman and presidential candidate of libertarian philosophy, Ron Paul, subject of my new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

The existence of Paul and his fans vexes those tied to old liberal/Democratic Party loyalties while the old Republican is better on a wide range of issues of supposed importance to modern liberals than is President Obama.

While issues of the propriety of largely unregulated markets and income redistribution programs will continue to keep many (likely most) progressives from shifting libertarian, Paul's campaign has proven that old prejudices about the supposed social and even intellectual barriers between left and libertarian are shifting in many cases, as much as it pisses off the Suicide Girls.

Those like Williamson and her readers confused by the libertarian/conservative distinction should read, from Reason's July issue, "Fusionism Revisited" in which our own Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie on the libertarian side debate conservative Jonah Goldberg and Ann Coulter.