The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

"Sometimes Contrarian. Often Libertarian. Always Independent."

Some of us are libertarian, some conservative, some moderate, many a mix -- but all are independent of Reason's editorial line (such as it is) or of any dictates from me or from each other. Expect many departures from libertarian orthodoxies.


People sometimes berate us for departures from self-professed libertarianism -- not just that we're not being libertarian, but more, "How can you call yourselves libertarian if you say [X]?" That happened when we were at the Washington Post, and I'm seeing it in the comments here as well.

I thought it might be helpful to repeat in a separate post what our blog subtitle (and the title of this post) says: Don't expect solid or even near-solid libertarianism from us. Some of us are pretty hardcore libertarians. Some are more conservatives. Some are moderates. Most of us are a mix. Our blog subtitle says "Often libertarian," and that's true. But "often" was deliberately chosen to also flag "not always" (and not even almost always).

If you call me anything, you might call me a libertarianish conservative, but even that isn't really that helpful. I think human affairs are complicated things -- as my father likes to quote, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." We all come at this with some general principles, but, to offer another quote, "General propositions do not decide concrete cases," in part because there are so many things we want at once and so many opportunities for good general principles to conflict.

For instance, I want liberty (often including privacy) and security; indeed, security is often another term from liberty from private misconduct (or liberty from foreign governments). These aren't always consistent, but I can't tell you that one should always trump the others. (That's why the Fourth Amendment, for instance, bans unreasonable searches and seizures rather than banning all searches and seizures; that's why the Constitution tries to create a limited government, but does create a government.) My guess is that many of my cobloggers take the same view.

Now maybe I'm not libertarian enough, or maybe I'm too libertarian, or maybe I'm one of these in some situations and another in others. Perfectly possible, indeed very likely. But measure me, and the blog, against what you think is right, not against our supposed (but never actually offered) assurances of libertarianism.

NEXT: How Does He Know If You've Been Bad or Good?

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  1. "even that isn't really that helpful."

    Yet the "often libertarian" claim remains.

    This would be helpful:

    Which part of a Ted Cruz endorsement is libertarian, or "libertarianish," or "often libertarian," or anything other than movement conservatism in all of its prudish, backward authoritarianism?


      "But "often" was deliberately chosen to also flag "not always" (and not even almost always)."

      Seem so like there's certainly room for a Ted Cruise endorsement in "not always", certainly room in "not even almost always"

      Moreover, you'll see that most of the conspirators tend to limit their policy opinions to areas where they have some expertise or qualification to speak, something that the rest of the political comentariate would do well to learn from. So you'll find Eugene to typically be outstandingly libertarian-ish and vocal principally when it comes to issues of 1st or 2nd amendment, etc.

    2. And once again you demonstrate that nothing you have ever said in any VC comment thread has demonstrated your self-proclaimed love of reason/rationality.

    3. Well my litmus test in the primaries was any candidate from either party that stood up against ethanol subsidies for corn farmers in Iowa. Ted Cruz passed that test.

      And he ended up winning Iowa. That was a big win for libertarians because it showed that the candidate that promises the biggest payout, either via government spending, mandates on the private sector or private individuals, or even tax cuts, isn't necessarily going to get the most votes.

      1. That settles it! Ted Cruz is a libertarian. Just like Prof. Volokh and his Conspiracy.

        Stick around, and the Conspiracy will treat you to explanations of how government gay-bashing, government micromanagement of abortion facilities, pre-emptive invasions (of the wrong country), expanded government surveillance and secrecy, government-conducted torture, incessant whittling of the Fourth Amendment, endless detention without trial, the drug war, school prayer, and massive military spending are -- if only we were to view them properly, with the benefit of originalism and free of the warping influences of our strong mainstream universities and public schools -- actually libertarian positions, or are at least congruent with libertarianism.

  2. "Don't expect solid or even near-solid libertarianism'

    Can anyone even define what "solid libertarianism" is? Does it mean I need to adopt kooky and debunked ideas like Ron Paul? Maybe I need to adopt heterodox economics like Austrian school internet trolls? Or maybe "solid libertarianism" just means classical liberalism.

    I am not sure. I am pretty sure some people think "libertarian" boils down to one issue: pro-pot legalization, like Gary Johnson. Or maybe it is defined by what it isn't: not-Clinton-not-Trump, like Bill Weld

    Over time I have decided "libertarianism" is like pornography, it means something peculiar to each person. Everyone likes it, but each person sees something different.

    1. Well, there really is a huge range. It goes from Sasha Volokh, who thinks it would be wrong to impose a tax to prevent the world from being imminently destroyed by a meteor to David Post who is a standard issue Democrat to Stewart Baker who is a government power worshiping conservative.

      1. Is it tribal to deny libertarianism tribalism?
        When our tiny 7-8% of the population has more "strains" than the major tribes?
        What's the difference between a movement and a cult?
        And can they be mutually exclusive?

        Why is libertarianISM (the ideology) rejected by 91% of libertarians (the values), per Cato?
        Is it possible to be authoritarian WITHOUT advocating force? Say, intolerant?

        1. Ideologues generally do not get elected. Sometimes they do, but usually they do not.

          Libertarians who want to get elected generally have to follow the Buckley rule: the most Libertarian candidate who can actually get elected.

          My view is most of the country is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Reasonable people can disagree on the edges, for example whether we need regulations over pollution, or regulations to maintain sustainability of Fisheries.

          Two of my favorite "Libertarians" are Ted Cruz and Alan Dershowitz. The point being, libertarianism is really a spectrum, unless you're an ideologue. But ideology is religion by another name.

          People need to remember that in the USA we take our rights seriously and we can do things and post things on the internet do you can't do in Europe or the UK.

    2. 'Can anyone even define what "solid libertarianism" is? '

      Solid isn't so clear, but ideologically pure is more what I think is intended here.

      There is a calculator which will report the ideologically pure Libertarian answer.

      Some enter the question, report the answer, done. No need to think, no need to see if the answer makes any sense. For some, no need to even check if the premises are accurate. Calculator say no government involvement, then no government involvement is the answer.

      The calculator occasionally emits utter nonsense, and those who don't recognize that are doomed to look as tied to ideology as any Marxist out there.

  3. Thanks for the reminder, though I'm guessing that those who previously questioned your unoffered libertarian bona fides will continue to question them.

    A different question: Why do so many doctrinaire progressives/statists insist on identifying as libertarian and then go around questioning the libertarian bona fides of others though always from a progressive/statist perspective? And usually do so in such an acerbic, ad hominem fashion as to poison forums such as this?

  4. I want liberty (often including privacy) and security; indeed, security is often another term from liberty from private misconduct (or liberty from foreign governments).

    I don't think you need to be at all abashed about this security angle. Liberty and anarchy are not the same thing.
    Liberty entails enforceable rights. Or strictly it entails enforceable duties on everyone else not to interfere with you (unless you consent.) The enforcement of your liberty against transgressors is fundamental to the whole idea of liberty.

    Obviously that creates all sorts of practical and definitional questions - where your nose begins, where my fist ends, when enforcement should be left to the individual (and friends) and when not. And so on. And on. But liberty without its enforcement is anarchy. So some security is not merely compatible with liberty but necessary to it. Though security taken beyond what is necessary to protect liberty ceases to be liberty and becomes tyranny. The devil is in the details.

  5. Volokh increases the viewpoint diversity among Reason authors by about 300%.

    Of course if you include commenters in the ranks of authors the increase is a bit less.

  6. I fully support viewpoint diversity.

    Some things I'm more libertarian about (e.g. free trade, opener borders), other things I'm conservative on (e.g. every citizen should be fingerprinted into a fully integrated database, just like India), and other things I'm liberal (e.g. progressive taxes... how about a wealth tax on the stock market casino?)

    The underlying objective of these viewpoints is to minimize suffering.

  7. Good job. Nothing is less valuable then arguing from a point of purity rather than arguing from a point of right or wrong.

    One's agreement with some group should be treated as some mere statistical coincidence. It says nothing about any given argument.

  8. Welcome to Reason!

    How can you be libertarian and believe X is a valid question/argument.

    It does not preclude answers such as "I am not libertarian with respect to X because ..."
    Or "I beleive X is consistent with Libertarianism because ....."

    A common attribute of libertarians is the relentless demand for intellectual and logical consistency.

    It is difficult for us to understand how others can tolerate inconsistency.

    Regardless, no matter how you answer the question we are more enlightened.

    1. A common attribute of libertarians is the relentless demand for intellectual and logical consistency.

      Then we agree that Ron Paul is the polar opposite of a libertarian -- and a phonty conservative regarding the Constitution and/or individual liberty.

  9. Thanks for the post @EugeneVolokh. As public intellectuals (as opposed to partisans) the point is to bring our best game with intellectual honesty and integrity. If we're honest, and have integrity, political labels are not important. I value that about your writing.

  10. So, is this Hihn dude a regular here at Reason? I notice that he's single handedly responsible for at least half the comments on this thread, and 90% of the capital letters.

    1. You have to give Hihn credit for his boldness.

  11. Yeah. That's the kind of libertarian I can relate to.

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