Tim Lee’s Rejoinder to My Most Recent Post on Liberaltarianism

Tim Lee has written an interesting response to to my most recent post on liberaltarianism. He addresses my argument that liberaltarianism is problematic because most liberals don’t in fact agree with libertarians on “social issues” as much as he assumes:

As Somin acknowledges, there are lots of right-wingers, “compassionate conservatives” included, that aren’t interested in any part of the libertarian policy agenda. I can’t remember the last time the Family Research Council published something I agreed with, even on “economic issues.” I think Pat Buchanan’s views on “economic issues” are appalling.

Fusionist organizations deal with these elements of the conservative movement by mostly ignoring them. They don’t write about their work. They don’t hire their employees or publish their scholars’ work. And instead, they work with people in the more free-market-friendly corners of the conservative world….

The distribution of opinions on the liberal side is similar. Common Cause doesn’t see eye-to-eye with libertarians on First Amendment issues. The ACLU largely does. And so a liberaltarian organization would hire ACLU-style liberals rather than Common-Cause-style liberals to work on First Amendment issues. And on the margin, this would raise the prominence of ACLU-style First Amendment advocacy relative to Common-Cause-style First Amendment advocacy within the liberal movement. You can tell a similar story on gay rights, the drug war, immigration, and other issues.

There are two problems with this parallel. Libertarian-leaning liberals are a small minority on the left on most issues. As you can see from the liberal reaction to the Citizens United decision, the Common Cause view of the First Amendment has many more liberal adherents than the ACLU version. And even the ACLU has retreated from strong advocacy of free speech when it seems to clash with antidiscrimination law, as co-blogger David Bernstein documented in his book You Can’t Say That. By contrast, the FRC’s and Pat Buchanan’s views on economic issues are relatively marginal among conservatives; they are in fact a big part of the reason why most mainstream conservatives have broken with Buchanan and his followers. Support for free markets remains the dominant economic view among conservative intellectuals and activists, though some conservative politicians (notably George W. Bush) choose the big government approach when in power.

The other problem is perhaps more serious. Even those liberals who do take the libertarian view on one or two social issues rarely do so across the board. The ACLU is fairly libertarian when it comes to free speech, but not on a wide range of other social issues. Thus, it would be hard to find many liberals who are willing to ally with libertarians across a broad range of social policies, as opposed to single issues. That’s no problem if limited single-issue cooperation is all you seek. But it is a big obstacle if you want to establish a broader “liberaltarian movement,” as Lee does.

Despite this disagreement, I still think Lee’s idea of a “Liberaltarian Institute” (my name for it, not Lee’s) is worth trying, and endorse Lee as a possible president for this organization.

UPDATE: In theory, it might be possible for a liberaltarian organization to hire liberals to work on just the one or two issues where those individuals largely agree with libertarians, even though they have substantial disagreements on almost everything else. In practice, however, I doubt very many liberals would want to work for a group with an agenda that they oppose on most issues.