Saturday, December 01, 2007

Libertarians on Ron Paul

Is Ron Paul good for the broader libertarian movement?

He's making waves. His campaign is flush with money. There's talk of a blimp. And a Boston Tea Party might set another record for one-day donations.

But he's not only brought a wide range of diverse people together, he is also the focal point of a widening rift: that between "liberaltarians" and "conservotarians."

The rift is partly a debate about branding and marketing. Just how should libertarian political ideas be bundled, packaged, and advertised? And what is the long-term impact of associating the broader libertarian movement with the nascent Ron Paul Presidential campaign?

To be sure, the word "libertarian" has not appeared nearly as often as it is being bandied about nowadays. This is wholly due to Ron Paul's campaign, since he is often called a libertarian in the media. Some think this is bad for the broader libertarian movement. One reason why this might be is because Paul's views on some issues (like abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and so on) will be associated with libertarianism. His stance on immigration and "national sovereignty" are anathema to the open border libertarians (like me), while his stances on abortion and gay marriage (leave it to the states to decide) are not the positions this libertarian would take (I would say get the state out of marriage, and I'm pro-choice).

(For an interesting post on why Paul's stances might be inconsistent with his avowed "Constitutionalism," and why his stance on the 14th amendment is a position no libertarian should agree with, read my friend Terrence's posts here and here. Please ignore his ridiculously titled blog. He promises me he will change it.)

Broadly speaking, it's the association between culturally conservative positions, rather than culturally liberal ones, that worry some libertarians.

An illustration: The latest spat has broken out over Steve Horwitz' explanation for why he, a "very staunch libertarian... for over 25 years," is not on board with the r3VO7ution.

Why not?

1. Paul's opposition to abortion ("Granted, Paul's argument to give it back to the states is better than a constitutional amendment banning it, but I think that forcing pregnant women to carry to term is akin to slavery, and in the same way I would not tolerate a state that permitted slavery, I am unwilling to tolerate the banning of abortion at the state level.")

2. Paul's opposition to illegal immigration ("Why should employers be prevented from engaging in labor contracts with adults from anywhere in the world? Why are some to be excluded? Don't people from other countries have the "natural right" to emigrate? Do we believe that people should be free to move or not? And why are libertarians, of all people, so concerned about the fictional lines drawn by politicians?")

3. Paul's stance on free trade ("My problem with Paul's position is that it's too focused on the impact of these agreements on the US, ignoring the fact that they do much good for the rest of the world, whatever the effects at home. I think the effects are positive for us too, and I don't fear any "loss of sovereignty" from them. The inward looking aspect of his stance on free trade (and immigration) is a real problem for me.")

In general, it's Paul's failure to be more cosmopolitan and more progressive in spirit, writes Horwitz, that is discomfiting. "Paul's cultural conservatism and several of his positions push in the opposite direction and, in my view, might do long-term damage to libertarianism even if it reaps some short-term benefits in this campaign."

Horwitz is, clearly, a liberaltarian. That word, by the way, is a neologism invented by Cato's Brink Lindsey in a hugely popular article by the same name, are culturally liberal, and politically libertarian. Politically, they support both economic and civil/political liberty. Culturally, they don't merely tolerate, but approve of and sometimes celebrate gay relationships & gay culture, pot smoking & "cannabis culture," and open immigration and emigration policies.

Their constellation of views also tend to include a general tendency to pacifism (including opposition to the War in Iraq), suspiciousness of organized religion, and pro-choice views on abortion.

You might, with Steve Horwitz, call it "cosmopolitanism" if you want, or "progressivism," but I prefer the less loaded "liberaltarian" label. In this camp, along with Horwitz, are the writers of Reason magazine, the policy wonks at the Cato Institute, Penn & Teller, and Drew Carey. (And me. But this isn't about me.)

Horwitz' posting has resulted in a bitter rebuke from the equally staunchly libertarian--but also staunchly pro-Ron Paul--folks at They're eager to sleep in separate tents. And they don't go in for niceties.

"It is that hipper-than-thou sanctimoniousness, I submit," writes "a reader" in a post submitted by Lew Rockwell, "that is the real danger to the libertarian movement, rather than the fact that many of its adherents embrace unreconstructed anti-statis[m] while also remaining stubbornly - and contentedly - bourgeois."

Thomas DiLorenzo doesn't hesitate to get into it either:

"It sickens me that people like Horwitz LIBEL Ron Paul with SLANDEROUS remarks like "states rights is a 'signal' to neo-Confederates." A signal to do what? Bring back slavery? Lynchings? And just who are these "neo-Confederates" who the "cosmopolitan" Horwitz (as he describes himself) doesn't want to associate with? Furthermore, how does he know that when Ron Paul uses states' rights language he is not merely associating himself with such heroic libertarians as Lord Acton and Jefferson himself -- as opposed to diabolically sending "signals" to the KKK?

As Lew says, thank goodness there are only a few crackpot "cosmopolitan libertarians" like this."

I like to call the view espoused by Paul, and mentioned approvingly on, "conservotarianism." Conservotarians, a word I just made up for the sake of symmetry, are politically libertarian, but culturally conservative. In general, they frown on gay marriage, disapprove of abortion, tend to shrink from open borders, and believe that religion should be encouraged, fostered, and promoted.

Good examples include the scholars at the Acton Institute, the bloggers and writers at, and possibly the majority of libertarians on this blog.

I'm of the opinion that all these people just need to get along when it comes to politics. It's amazing to me that while liberals and conservatives can get together in spite of some very serious disagreements, libertarians will part ways over minor philosophical issues. Like herding cats, people often say.

This was only especially true when it came to Objectivist libertarians (and they *are* political libertarians, I don't care what they say) and non-Objectivist libertarians, but a new divide is beginning to show.

I brought up the topic (poorly and clumsily) on Free Talk Live yesterday. Here's that clip:


Blogger Terrence C. Watson said...


You can't talk about conservative libertarians without mentioning fusionism.

I would consider myself a fusionist, of sorts. My blog contains a post I wrote on fusionism after I attended a seminar on it while I was in Washington. The fusionist's credo is "Libertarian means to traditional ends."

Why traditional ends? Well, I take a shot at answering that question in my post. Basically, I contrast someone who accepts traditions as a kind of latent source of data with what some have called the social constructivist standpoint. Here is a quotation:

"The constructivist's repudiation of tradition leads to a distortion of conception. Policy-wise, the measures constructivists adopt to achieve their ends will suffer a similar theoretical bias. Imaginging themselves to be formulating their goals for the first time, they will ignore what has worked relatively well in the past in favor of social engineering more suited to the abstract, detached nature of their supremely rationalist ends."

In other words, traditional ends -- qua tradition -- contain within them at least some guarantee that those ends can actually be accomplished, and that the side effects of accomplishing them will be minimal, and, more importantly, predictable.

That's the thought, anyway. Accepting tradition as a source of at least tacit knowledge seems to be a sound idea, at least from a Hayekean point of view.

12:37 a.m.  
Blogger P. M. Jaworski said...

Fusionism. I like it.

I'm deeply sympathetic to this point of view, as you probably well know. It is, as you point out, the view of people like Hayek, who is easily one of my favourites. And, interestingly, Russell Hardin gives it at least a bit of a "thumbs up" as well.

It also punctures the hubris of many who think they can just start from scratch, or alter whatever in accordance with some "higher" or "better" ideal.

I'm at least partially a fusionist. But I am a big fan of gay marriage, which would hardly count as traditional, of open borders, and of at least some drug use. That last one might be justified under the fusionist label on the grounds that people have been busy altering their mental states since time immemorial.

I'll be checking out your blog regularly.

5:48 p.m.  

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