Archive | Libertarianism

No, it’s Not the Grossly Exaggerated Monologue of a Bad Guy in an Ayn Rand Novel

But it sure sounds like it. Here is University of Maryland Maryland Institute College of Art philosophy professor Firmin DeBrabander, writing in the New York Times Opinionator blog:

But why do we presume individual agency in the first place? Why do we insist on it stubbornly, irrationally, often recklessly?

…. To be human, according to Spinoza, is to be party to a confounding existential illusion — that human individuals are independent agents — which exacts a heavy emotional and political toll on us. It is the source of anxiety, envy, anger — all the passions that torment our psyche — and the violence that ensues. If we should come to see our nature as it truly is, if we should see that no “individuals” properly speaking exist at all, Spinoza maintained, it would greatly benefit humankind.

There is no such thing as a discrete individual, Spinoza points out. This is a fiction.

For some reason, the model of humans that posits we are and therefore should act like ants in an ant hill doesn’t appeal to me, and doesn’t strike me as consistent with long-term human flourishing.

UPDATE: Beyond the language I pointed out, Prof. Debrabander’s theory shorn of its philosophical digressions about the nature of individuality, seems to be that there are two alternatives: either believe in “rugged individualism” in which, counter to reality, everyone is totally the master of his own fate, or favor big, intrusive government. The fact that humans cooperate and coordinate not just through government but also through voluntary institutions and civil society is ignored. […]

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Excellent Statement of the Modern Liberal Libertarian Vision

I say “liberal” [UPDATE: judging from the comments, it looks like I need to clarify that I mean liberal in its broad philosophical sense of favoring freedom and tolerance, not in its narrow modern American political sense] because one can be a believer in a minimal state, but still, e.g., be a racist, not care for a culture that respects women, or not be especially inclined toward reason as opposed to superstition and conspiracy theory. So here it is, from Daniel Bier at the Skeptical Libertarian blog, via Walter Olson on Facebook. I think it’s fair to say that Bier’s views reflect the libertarian humanist spirit of most of the bloggers here. I’m not going to bother nitpicking details:

I believe there is a very real prospect of a world in which goods, services, people, and ideas flow freely within and between borders, across oceans and rivers, over deserts and mountains, through the sky and (someday) the stars.

I believe in a world where individuals are treated equally under the law, regardless of ethnic or national origin, religious or philosophical belief, gender or sexual preference.

I believe in a culture that respects women and protects children, that celebrates ideas and cherishes liberty, that not only tolerates but vigorously defends free expression.

I believe in a world where 10 billion people can be fed on less land than we currently use for 7, through new advances in fertilizer, irrigation, storage, and genetics.

I believe in a world where wildlife and natural habitat can be conserved and even expanded.

I believe in a world where emerging technologies can meet the challenges of climate change without halting economic growth.

I believe in a world where water is clean, healthy, and abundant.

I believe in a world where we can reduce or exterminate […]

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On Liberty

It is always a treat to reread John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

As they say, read the whole thing. […]

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Epstein on the Gay Marriage Cases

Richard Epstein has two recent pieces discussing the Hollingsworth and Windsor cases.  One for Hoover’s Defining Ideas, the other for Ricochet.  In these pieces he notes some of his doubts about the libertarian case against DOMA and Proposition 8, but also suggests that Justice Kennedy — if he is to be consistent with his prior opinions — should not have such reservations.

I am still uncertain of how I would come down in these two cases . . . . But my equivocation on the case should not slow down Justice Anthony Kennedy. If he wants to maintain his own definition of liberty consistently, the author of the Lawrence opinion has to go the whole nine yards and come down in favor of gay marriage. . . .


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A Changing GOP Position on Immigration?

It was interesting to see that both Marco Rubio in his official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union and libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul in the Tea Party response argued for a less restrictive immigration policy. This is an important development for a party whose conservative wing has long been known for its support of restrictionism.

Rubio restated his longstanding support for expanding legal immigration and at least some regularization of the status of the illegal immigrants already here. The notable development here is not that he said it, but that it was embodied in the GOP’s official response to the President.

Paul actually went further than Rubio, advocating a much broader pro-immigrant stance:

We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future.

We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities.

We must be the party that says, “If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.”

Taken literally, this suggests a policy of open borders for anyone who “want[s] to work” and “become an American.” Most likely, Paul did not intend to go that far. But it’s still a pretty strong statement, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1989 farewell address, where he called for an America “open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” And unlike both Rubio and President Obama in the State of the Union, Paul did not couple this call for increased immigration with a call for increased border enforcement.

It is significant that this sentiment was included in a speech billed as the official Tea Party response to the State of the Union. Although the Tea Party is […]

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High School Students for Liberty

In her interesting new study of young libertarians, which I discussed in my last post, Liana Gamber Thompson notes “a significant deficit” in the libertarian movement – the lack of an organization for high school students interested in libertarian ideas:

Of the five participants [in her study] under age 18, four reported participating in the Liberty Movement in a majority online capacity, as did one of the 18-year-old participants with whom I spoke. While access was an issue for these young people, they still considered their political interests and aspirations to be a very important aspect of their lives. Even though they did not participate in local libertarian organizations, they described feeling very much a part of a tangible movement.

This finding also highlights what can be viewed as a significant deficit within the movement: a general lack of high school groups and clubs in which young libertarians can participate….

It is unclear why there is a lack of “in person” spaces for high school libertarians. Young Democrats of America (YDA) clubs are common in high schools, with over 1,500 chapters nationwide. The Young Republican National Federation (better known as Young Republicans), with limited control over its state federations, does not publish statistics on the number of local chapters; but it is the oldest political youth organization in the United States, and thus has a well-organized leadership structure and resources to hold national meetings and events for members. Libertarians have no analogous organization.

This is a significant problem. Many people who are strongly interested in politics first develop that interest in high school, or earlier. And it is easier to influence the political views of younger people than older ones. As people get older, they become more set in their views and less open to new ideas – […]

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The Politics of Young Libertarians

Liana Gamber Thompson of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism has an interesting new paper on the politics of young libertarians, focusing especially on members of Students for Liberty, the rapidly growing student libertarian organization. Here is the summary:

In the past decade, young libertarians in the U.S., or members of the Liberty Movement as it is called, have utilized new media and technology along with more traditional modes of organizing to grow their movement, capitalizing on the participatory nature of the internet in particularly savvy and creative ways. Still, the Liberty Movement is quite unlike more progressive, grassroots movements, with its organizations and participants sometimes relying on established institutions for various forms of support.

As this report highlights, the Liberty Movement represents a hybrid model, one that embraces participatory practices and interfaces with formal political organizations and other elite institutions….

In a letter to Richard Rush dated October 20, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.”1 This report suggests that participants in the Liberty Movement would concur with respect to the challenges they encounter; largely ignored by mainstream media and pushed to the margins of the electoral process, libertarians have it tougher than many groups when it comes to the task of gaining voice and visibility in the mainstream political debate. This report examines how young libertarians confront such obstacles and presents readers with a detailed account of young libertarians and their relationship to the contemporary political landscape.

Not surprisingly, the study concludes that young libertarians make extensive use of the internet, that they are very skeptical about the political process, and that most have doubts about the effectiveness of voting as a strategy for promoting political change.

Thompson notes increasing racial and gender diversity among younger libertarians, but […]

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Government Out of Bedrooms, but into Barnyards

I should say at the outset that I approach this delicate subject sheepishly, but this development bears noting. In a rare example of a Western country taking steps to restrict previously recognized sexual liberties, Germany is seeking to ban bestiality. (Its supporters call it zoophilia – are opponents zoophobes?) This will presumably put out to pasture Germany’s erotic zoos, where visitors go beyond heavy petting.

Germany legalized bestiality in 1969, together with sodomy. When Justice Scalia analogized from the decriminalization of the latter to the former in his Lawrence dissent, he was widely denounced, but apparently the liberal Germans agreed with him, at least until now.

I suspect the motives behind the ban are entirely moralistic. Yet the government cannot come out and say so. Thus effort is made to distinguish the matter from Germany’s libertarian approach to sexual matters by suggesting the animals do not consent in the way consenting humans do. Yes, but they don’t consent to being bought or sold, or butchered, either, and they are not human, so consent is a red herring. This would not pass intermediate scrutiny in the U.S.

It is an invariable aspect of sexual morality regulation that those who regard a practice as amoral, or vile, also believe it has negative practical effects. The latter allows one regard one’s own knee-jerk preferences as sound social policy rather than moralizing. In today’s post-morality world, vestigal aversions to prostitution, polygamy and incest have to be justified with strained public policy arguments.

If erotic zoos are bad, it is not because, as critics contend, it is “animal rape,” any more than prohibitions on intercourse with human remains can be justified by the “non-consent” of the corpse. Requiring two-sided consent in zoophilia situations privileges the person/person intercourse model in a way which is neither […]

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A “Center-Libertarian” Nation?

In this recent article, James Rainey of the LA Times argues that public opinion has moved in a “center-libertarian” direction:

Many debates have broken out about the meaning of last week’s election, including over whether conservatives should still push their claim that America is a “center-right nation….”

A survey of last Tuesday’s electoral landscape suggests the truth may be somewhere in the middle. The results cut heavily against the notion of a center-right dominance, at least when it comes to social issues.

After 32 straight losses for same-sex wedding laws, four states approved marriage-equality proposals last week. Two other states legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Wisconsin elected the first openly homosexual U.S. senator in history, Tammy Baldwin. An Iowa Supreme Court justice targeted for removal because he voted in 2007 to approve gay marriage, David Wiggins, defeated an effort to oust him. And, crucially, Obama won with 60% of voters telling exit pollsters they supported the president’s call for higher taxes on the rich.

But Americans appear to remain more receptive to conservative viewpoints on spending, debt and the size of government. A bare majority, 51%, of voters last Tuesday told exit pollsters that government should do less, with 43% saying it should do more….

A more precise verdict would be that the majority of the country remains slightly right of center when it comes to supporting lower spending, decreased debt and smaller government. But America appears to have shifted left of center in allowing more liberal policies on drugs and the institution of marriage. So, left on social issues and right on economics. If you eliminated the desire to tax the rich, it would sound like we had a center-libertarian nation.

Rainey’s conclusion is reinforced by the fact that a plurality of Americans remain opposed to Obamacare, the […]

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Lessons of Gary Johnson’s Presidential Campaign

Although we don’t yet have absolutely final totals, it looks like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former Republican Governor of New Mexico, got just under 1% of the popular vote. This is the best total for a libertarian candidate since 1980, when the party’s nominee got only slightly more than Johnson. I was wrong to predict that he would do only a little better than Bob Barr in 2008. In fact, Johnson more than doubled Barr’s percentage of the vote. That’s a testament to Johnson’s public appeal. That said, I still think I was right in my broader critique of Johnson’s candidacy and the Libertarian Party in general: that it isn’t an effective way to promote the libertarian cause.

Although Johnson did much better than any other LP nominee in decades, there’s no evidence that it converted any significant number of people to libertarianism or attracted substantial new public attention to libertarian ideas. I watched four or five hours of election coverage on several different networks on election night (mostly CNN, Fox, and NBC). I didn’t hear Johnson’s name or the Libertarian Party’s mentioned even once. I’m sure if you scour the transcripts of all the network coverage that day, you can probably find a few references to Johnson somewhere. But, as far as the media was concerned, his campaign barely existed. You can blame this on media bias, ideological prejudice, manipulation by the major parties, and other nefarious forces. But the hard reality is that the media pays little or no attention to third party candidates unless the nominee is a famous celebrity (Ralph Nader), or can spend gargantuan amounts of his own money (Ross Perot), or was a big-time major party politician to an even greater extent than Johnson (e.g. – George Wallace in 1968). […]

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Implications of Obama’s Victory

All of the major networks have called the election for Obama, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to win, even though the Romney campaign has not yet officially conceded. It’s an impressive political achievement for the president and his supporters, especially if (as now seems likely), he does better in the popular vote than most national polls predicted. The Democrats also scored an important success in retaining control of the Senate in a year where the GOP hoped to make significant gains.

For me and most other libertarians, this election was always a choice of evils and I shed few tears for Mitt Romney. But I do think he was the lesser of the two evils on offer this year. Obama’s reelection will likely have at least two major negative consequences from my point of view. First, Obamacare is likely to stay in place. Although it remains somewhat unpopular – as shown the by the president’s reluctance to bring it up in the campaign – he is going to hold onto it successfully. Second, Obama will get to replace any Supreme Court justices who retire or pass away during the next four years. With four justices in their mid to late seventies right now, there’s a real chance he will get at least one or two more nominations. All conservatives and libertarians can do is hope that Justices Anthony Kennedy (76 years old) and Antonin Scalia (also 76) will remain healthy and uninterested in retiring. But even if Obama gets to replace one of the liberal justices, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg (79), there’s a big difference between a justice who probably has only a few years left to serve, and a much younger one who could stay on the Court for 25-30 years or even longer.

On […]

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Gary Johnson Gets about 1% of the Vote

From the little information available out there, it looks like Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is getting about 1% of the vote, and doing so pretty consistently nationwide. This constitutes the Libertarians’ best showing since 1980, when they had a well-funded campaign (unlike this year) thanks to self-funded VP candidate David Koch, and also received 1% of the vote. Ron Paul, when he ran as the Libertarian candidate in 1988, only managed to pull in about .5% of the vote.

What this shows, I think, is that Johnson is a talented politician–something that should have already been apparent from his two terms as a Republican governor in blue-state New Mexico. Instead of ignoring him, scheming to ban him from the debates, and so on, the GOP should have embraced Johnson and used his energy and talents to their advantage once he was inevitably eliminated from the GOP primaries. Instead, they drove him to the LP. It’s too bad on both accounts. For the GOP, I could see Johnson being a Rand Paul type figure, but more popular among the secular, urban types that normally get turned off by the GOP. Meanwhile, Johnson ha doomed himself to marginality by hitching his star to the LP.

Like Ilya and Randy, I wish the LP would close up shop, and its activists devote themselves to libertarian causes in other ways. Unfortunately, Johnson’s reasonably good showing is likely to delay that day. […]

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Richard Epstein and Glen Whitman on Libertarians and the Presidential Election

Well-known libertarian scholars Richard Epstein and Glen Whitman have recently weighed in on a question that has been much-debated in the blogosphere: Who, if anyone, should libertarians support in the presidential election. Epstein argues that we should support Romney as the lesser of the two available evils:

In the final countdown to what promises to be a close election, the libertarian finds himself without a comfortable home in either political party. Political parties and their presidential candidates offer market baskets of policy prescriptions on a large array of different issues. We do not have the option of picking out from each basket the policies that we like and rejecting the rest. Politics do not come served a la carte in our two-party system….

Though no libertarian can take comfort in the blurry Romney campaign, the scorecard does tip in his balance. The state of play nationwide on social issues is decidedly mixed, with too much intolerance on both sides. But on economic issues, the one confident point is that in an age of bloated government, the correct vote goes to the party, when the campaigning is mercifully done, that is more likely to limit the rate of government growth, if not shrink the size of government altogether. This election cycle, that party is the GOP. It is time for a change from Blue to Red, from Obama to Romney.

Epstein’s analysis of the Romney vs. Obama tradeoff is in many respects similar to mine, though I am less convinced about Romney’s superiority than he is. Epstein also makes an important point about social issues. While conservative Republicans are very bad in this area from a libertarian point of view, liberal Democrats also favor many types of social regulation, some of which are just as intrusive as those favored by […]

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