As Ferguson Illustrates, Libertarianism Is More Than Just an Electoral Question or Intra-Party Debate


Right man. |||

Conservative commentator and former Bush speechwriter David Frum is a pot-prohibitionist and anti-gun crusader who believes that "the bank bailouts probably saved the world economy from a great depression" and that on foreign policy, "there is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust." In other words, he treats libertarianism like an infection to be quarantined. And no, I'm not being metaphorically hyperbolic–this is how Frum reacted when the future junior senator from Kentucky won his first Republican primary back in 2010:

How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?

So Frum's distaste for any talk of a "libertarian moment," which Nick Gillespie noted earlier this week, is as surprising as a day ending in "d-a-y." But in his rush to isolate the sickness within a discrete subsection of professional Republican politics, Frum misses an important point that his Atlantic colleague Conor Friedersdorf crystallizes nicely in this post. Namely, that libertarianism's promise and relevance to modern life goes well beyond the question of ballot-box considerations and GOP infighting. Sample:

Washington, D.C., insiders who've dedicated themselves to improving America through the mediating institution of one political party are often blind to different approaches. A substantive policy victory that does nothing to boost movement libertarianism, or the Libertarian Party, or a particular libertarian politician, or libertarianism's place within the Republican Party, may not seem like a "libertarian moment" or "libertarian victory" to an institutionalist like Frum. He may find libertarianism important only insofar as it affects the Republican Party.

Substitute "win" with "_____________." |||

Yet many who think of themselves as libertarians (or who are friendly to many but not all libertarian goals, like me) don't particularly care who is ascendant in Washington, or what party affiliation appears beside the name of a legislator. If fewer people are caged for inhaling the smoke of a plant, that's a libertarian victory. If fewer people's doors are kicked in late at night by police officers dressed in combat fatigues, that's a libertarian victory. If more cancer patients can legally obtain a substance that alleviates their suffering, that's a libertarian victory. If fewer assets are seized by police without proof of guilt, that's a libertarian victory. […]

On issues where libertarians have a somewhat realistic chance of winning over their fellow citizens—reining in the NSA, eliminating the most inane professional licensing laws, insisting on due process in the War on Terrorism, avoiding foolish wars of choice, ending the war on drugs, reducing the prison population and the militarization of the police—a "libertarian moment" would have a salutary effect on American life. Commentators like Frum, [Jonathan] Chait, and [Paul] Krugman don't see this in large part because, if their output is indicative of their beliefs and priorities, they aren't particularly troubled by NSA spying, or inane professional licensing laws, or civil asset forfeiture, or foolish wars of choice, or the war on drugs. For them, the path to a better America is further empowering an enlightened faction of technocrats within the political party to which they're loyal. On particular issues, their respective prescriptions are sometimes worth trying. But I notice egregious incompetence and abuses—and lots of innocents dying needlessly—on the watches of the leaders they've overzealously supported. Libertarians have concrete policy proposals to protect against such ills. One needn't embrace their entire philosophy to see the wisdom in them.

There are things I disagree with in Friedersdorf's post—including short shrift for truly fiscal conservative budgeting, which has broad public support that (IMO) was squandered by the dumb Obamacare government shutdown—but it's certainly worth reading in full.

As is this BBC piece by Anthony Zurcher titled "Is Ferguson the start of a 'libertarian moment.'"

Zurcher collects a bunch of libertarian-world responses to the outrages in Missouri, and posits that post-Ferguson comments from the likes of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) "mark a sharp break from the previous conservative embrace of government authority when it comes to public safety issues." He's right about that.

There are plenty infinitely more important considerations in Ferguson aside from how it might reflect on a New York Times Magazine article. But it's also true that 2014 has the potential of being the year when the excesses of the four-decade War on Crime start getting rolled back. And part of that movement, as I discovered at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, is attributable to increasing openness to libertarian arguments within the GOP.

Rand Paul has proposed a half-dozen real reforms to the criminal justice system over the past 12 months. Should even some of those improvements become law, that would mark a more significant advancement of human freedom than the entire life's work of many anti-libertarians out there. Ultimately that's the stuff that matters more than which team wins the next Most Important Election Ever.

NEXT: Is Deadly Force by Police on the Rise? We Won't Know Until They Give Us the Stats

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  1. Ultimately that’s the stuff that matters more than which team wins the next Most Important Election Ever.

    Which of course, will always be, the last one.

  2. Something I’ve been regularly running into reading pieces about the Ferguson situation (particularly in comments sections) that makes me want to bang my head into my keyboard in frustration is rationalizations for the militarization of the police because: Crips, Bloods, MS-13, scary drug gang of your choice.

    This has been most common on righty blogs where if one were to expound on how government meddling in the healthcare market has caused problems that Obamacare is just making even worse they would sprain their fingers upvoting your comment but they are so beholden to drug war propaganda that they absolutely cannot see the connection here.

    Thankfully for my sanity there seems to be far more acknowledgement of the fact that this is part of the problem than in years passed. I hope it persists longer than it takes for the red team to reclaim the levers of power.

    1. To them drug use is a moral issue. Using drugs is an indicator of a moral flaw on the same level as a rapist or a murderer. Someone with that much disrespect for laws against drugs must also have no respect for laws against rape and murder.

      What they fail to realize is that drug laws and other laws that criminalize victimless behavior are not worth respecting.

      Even worse, drug warriors fail to understand that when some laws are not worthy of respect, that people start to lose respect for all laws. Even those with victims.

      The great irony is that by supporting laws that are not worth respect, they create people with no respect for respectable laws.

        1. Part of it maybe, but I think soccer mom special snowflake-ism, culture/class warfare, and lingering racism play a bigger part these days.

        2. Wait. What part of the whole Jesus going to a wedding and turning all the water into wine for the guests does Jack Chick not understand?

          1. John Scalzi can be a dick but he did make a quip once that I dearly love: “I think Christianity is a fine religion. I wish more Christians practiced it.”

          2. Jesus was way cool.

          3. Jesus (peace be upon him) never did that! The Koran is quite clear that wine is haram, and so it’s obvious blasphemy to suggest a prophet would make wine!

        3. I disagree. That’s more the fundamentalist Christian mindset than the average drug warrior mindset. I doubt the average drug warrior gives a shit about whether or not you’ve accepted Hey-Soos into your heart as your Lord and Savior.

          1. I picked it because it presents a bunch of lurid tales and the generalizes that into an insane conclusion. You could make the same tract about car accidents or just about anything else.

            I see the Drug War as a form of neo-Puritanism. And one thing its loudest proponents have in common is Christianity: Pat Robertson, Bill Bennett, Bill O’Reilly, etc.

            Even the most jack-booted progs pay lip service to decriminalization. And I’ve never heard a prog call for banning booze.

      1. As I’ve asked on other (non-libertarian) boards, why should we put people in jail because they wish to alter their brain chemistry in a way you disapprove of?

        People treat me as though I’m some sort of freak. (Although I’ll admit that part of it is attacking the messenger. There are posters who attack anything I write.)

    2. Republicans and Democrats are authoritarians. Which is why they must inoculate against liberty.

      The TEAM mentality seen on the innernets is head bashingly frustrating.

      I hope Friedersdorf is the turd in Frum’s Atlantic corn flakes.

      … I do like Friedersdorf, lol….

      1. I have little patience for Friedersdorf. He’s a liberal who concern-trolled about being a conservative when it was obvious he’s no such thing. I guarantee he’ll turn on libertarianism when it becomes inconvenient.

        That said, he does say some decent things from time to time.

        1. The article linked wasn’t bad if you don’t mind stepping over the occasional pile of smug.

          1. That’s every article of his, unless he’s indulging is weird obsession with Rush Limbaugh

        2. Shouldn’t you be out there on your high horse admonishing people for responding to me? Or were you too high up to notice?

          1. You should seriously consider getting a life.

    3. …”rationalizations for the militarization of the police because: Crips, Bloods, MS-13, scary drug gang of your choice.”…

      And the last prohibition had nothing to do with gangs like Capone’s.
      Of course, they were brown gangs, so they weren’t nearly as scary, right?

      1. Of course, they *weren’t* brown gangs…

      2. They were wop gangs. Well, some of them were mick gangs.

        1. Yeah, sorta ‘white’. So not as icky as those brown kids.

    4. +1 billion to Dances.

      I’ve suddenly been deleted by moderators at NRO the past few weeks after having never once used profanity or “talking points” that would amount to “trolling,” per their guidelines.

      I have a soft spot in my heart for National Review and give them money quarterly. But evidently due to my recent admonitions toward the commentariat re: immigration and foreign policy, I’ve either been roundly flagged or else summarily deemed hostile by the mods.


      The Ferguson reaction at Hot Air and NRO has made me more than a little discomfited. But still, baby steps. Thankful most conservative intellectuals seem to get it. But really, this Nixonian (literally applies!) legacy of “law and order” conservatives is dying, just not fast as we’d like.

  3. David Frum is the fucking worst.

    1. Major dick for sure.

    2. Abjectly pathetic.

  4. David Frum: worthless piece of shit, or most worthless piece of shit ever?

    1. I don’t know. Maybe we should start a list. We can start with whoever invented deep dish pizza and go from there.

      1. whoever invented deep dish pizza

        I bet that jerk believes in the big bang.

        1. “big bang”

          Is that what they call Courtney Loves Birthday?

          1. Not that there is anything wrong with it but i never saw Love as being a slut.

            Star Fucker – Check

            Horrible person to be married to – Check

            Horrible mother – Check

            Generally vacuous and vane – Check

            unfaithful – needs more evidence.

            She was pretty good in that Hustler movie…but it maybe that she just played herself so it was not all that great of a feat.

            1. I probably wouldn’t have thought of her if I hadn’t just seen her on tv earlier tonight. Your prolly right but didn’t seem like much of a stretch.

            2. Oh please. She’ll copulate with anyone who has an eight-ball on them. How do you explain both her couplings with Cobain, Trent Reznor AND/or Steve Coogan? It’s not like any of those guys are/were the aesthetic equivalent of Brad Pitt.

    2. That’s a toss up between him and Thomas Freidman.

      1. I don’t know. I’m not really sure if Friedman is evil or just really really stupid? I suppose it could be both.

  5. OT, but, hey!
    Koz Kids applaud newest try by CA to regulate political speech:

    “Good news re California Disclose Act”
    “By clearly identifying who pays for political ads, whether the ads are paid for by corporations, unions, or billionaires, the Disclose Act will ensure that the names shown on ads are the original source of contributions even though they may be funneled through other groups with misleading committee and non-profit names.
    (Votes are needed from three Republicans and all Democrats in the Assembly.){to pass}”…..close-Act#

    You want anonymity? Well congress can pass this one (until, we hope, the courts tell ’em to stuff it again)

    1. How else will we know who to take vengeance against when votes don’t go our way? If you have ideas, I’m open.

    2. This sounds very be careful what you wish for-ish to me. Well, maybe not in a one party state like CA.. There it sounds more like a call for scarlet letters.

    3. The non-progs should hit them with NAACP v. Alabama.

      That would be awesome. The sputtering would be hilarious.

  6. For them, the path to a better America is further empowering an enlightened faction of technocrats within the political party to which they’re loyal.

    Tony to the “T”

  7. At the very least, this is the “libertarian moment” moment.

  8. As Ferguson illustrates, whenever there’s a real world example, Libertarians are silent and cower in fear as their imaginary fantasy policies look more and more laughable.

    1. …what?

      1. Try NN over on the military cop thread; it’s the fault of the unarmed kid and the reporters asking questions(!)

      2. Here, Cyto:

        New Normal|8.14.14 @ 10:42PM|#
        It’s pretty simple. Don’t riot and loot and burn down buildings. Maybe the 18 year old shouldn’t have attacked the police officer. Maybe the rioters should have dispersed when asked. Maybe those ‘journalists’ should have actually complied with police orders rather than shove a camera in a police officer’s face and act like a petulant child.…..wa#comment

  9. truly fiscal conservative budgeting, which has broad public support that (IMO) was squandered by the dumb Obamacare government shutdown

    We get it Welch: you’re stupid. Really stupid. No need to remind us. Seriously I have to take everything you write with a spoon of salt because of that.

    1. Yeah it is not as if Boehner had not already squandered was in process of squadding and will squander again every opportunity for fiscal conservative budgeting.

      Cruz mistake (and was probably unavoidable) was that he a month too early. Seriously right after the whole Obamacare shutdown Obamacare blew up into a hot mess.

      An opportunity by the way that Boehner also squandered.

    2. Yeah, thinking that there really is a broad fiscal conservative coalition is insane.

      Its an idea everybody likes in the airy world of make believe and self identity, but everybody hates real policy.

  10. Frum?

    Sorry, Matt, but Strauss is not my cup of koolaid.

  11. I read a while ago that Socialists were the most successful party of the 20th century. Not because they won much of anything at the polls, but because most of their agenda was enacted during that time. Maybe something can happen for libertarians in the 21st.

    1. Sure. There’s an equal chance of this happening as the Earth’s polarity shifting.

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