libertarians

Rand Paul has already won: Republicans are rethinking foreign policy

Conservatism seems to be appealing again, thanks in no small part to the “get off my lawn establishment politician!” flavor of the increasingly-difficult-to-ignore libertarian wing of the big tent. And it’s not difficult to understand why. When a policy push advocates, generally, for a less intrusive government regarding taxation and electronic spying and nanny state moralizing, free people tend to sit up and take notice.

But there’s one area critics of libertarianism have at least a marginally sturdy leg to stand on: foreign policy/national defense. And it’s not because libertarians don’t care about these issues; rather, it’s that there hasn’t been a unified voice concerning these issues from a group that is fairly consistent on most other major policy ideas, making criticism an easy task.

In short, libertarians, as vocal a group on politics as any you’re likely to meet, shy away en masse from making definitive statements about foreign policy. But there may be some very good — and surmountable — reasons for that. One of them is an exhaustion with the interventionist philosophy of neocons, one many libertarians feel has kept the US in expensive and bloody wars and conflicts in different parts of the world for far too long. And it’s a philosophy that, oddly, continues still.

No one is suggesting it’s not an utter tragedy what happened to those Nigerian schoolgirls. But is it a conflict we should be involving ourselves in? And why? Those questions have yet to be answered or — frankly — even posed.

Martin Luther King, Radical

Jason M. Farrell is a writer and activist based in Washington D.C. A former research fellow with the Center For Competitive Politics, he has been published in The Daily Caller, Policy Mic, LewRockwell.com and The Federalist, among other blogs and news sites.

Click around the internet today, and you’ll find no shortage of libertarians debating Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideology, as many try to claim King as their own. Absent from much of today’s discussion over beliefs will be a discussion of strategy or purpose. That burning question—how can we make change happen?—is usually answered with exhortations to call your congressman and sign petitions.

King realized over fifty years ago that begging the government for action contrary to its own interests was a futile endeavor—only radical action can inspire radical change. Libertarians should consider this may be a far more important takeaway from his legacy than the “libertarianness” of his dream.

King did not want to wait for politicians to care about change, or courts to come around and see the virtues of abandoning long-standing legal precedents. Gradual or incremental change, in point of fact, is usually no change at all. “I think the word ‘gradualism’… is so often an excuse for escapism and do-nothingism which ends up in stand-stillism,” King said in a 1957 television interview. “I think we must move on toward this great goal… we must re-examine this whole emphasis that the approach to desegregation must be gradual rather than forthwith or immediate”. No generation wants to be the one to endure a painful shake-up in the status quo, a fact Dr. King and his generation knew too well.

What Exactly Do Libertarians Think About Foreign Policy?

Robert Gates

Most people who care about such things have heard by now that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has written an insider’s account of working with both administrations. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War will be released to the general public next Tuesday and, if the excerpts are any indication, it looks to be quite the compelling read.

While the comprehensive work will surely have much to offer, a small conceit included in what’s been released stands out, especially since the opinions — or lack thereof — regarding national security interests on the part of self-described libertarians are sure to be a major part of candidates’ platforms in the coming election. If conservatives seeking office are smart, that is. Here’s the gem:

Everyone’s ideas are racist except mine

There are a few ways that a policy gets to be called racist: it is intended to negatively affect one race over another, it results in a negative affect on one race over another regardless of intent, or it has historically been used to negatively affect one race over another regardless of present intent or eventual result.

The first two are justifiably used to disqualify certain policies; of course we shouldn’t enact things that are intended to or serve to foster racial discrimination. But the latter is used as a fallacious smear tactic almost exclusively against conservative and libertarian policies. If that’s how we’re going to debate, it’s long past time the historically racist origins of certain liberal policies got considered too.

Federalism gets a bad rap obviously because of slavery and Jim Crow laws. The mantle of states’ rights was used for a long time as a means to get away with any number of heinous injustices and atrocities. That is almost never the case today, yet one risks being labeled racist for suggesting it, whether the issue to which federalism is to be applied has anything to do with race or not.

Well, if the putative federalist in question is a Republican, that is. Democrats are free to cling to states’ rights when it is convenient without having to worry about similar ad hominem attacks. Even after President Obama’s hailed conversion on the issue of gay marriage, he maintains that states should be free to decide the issue themselves.

This is effectively the same position as most elected Republicans, yet he doesn’t get called names because of it. Even the President’s signature health insurance reform grants states tremendous discretion in how much of the law’s new bureaucracy to implement themselves. Has anyone called Obamacare racist?

Libertarianism is like the new communism, dude

Michael Hamilton is a libertarian writer living in Washington, D.C. His main interests are economics, drug legalization, immigration, and land-use policy.

Libertarianism is the new communism, at least if you ask Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu:

Most people would consider radical libertarianism and communism polar opposites: The first glorifies personal freedom. The second would obliterate it. Yet the ideologies are simply mirror images. Both attempt to answer the same questions, and fail to do so in similar ways.

This colorful lede suggested they might offer a new critique of libertarianism, but my hopes were quickly dashed. The authors end up retreading old arguments—seemingly unaware that others had done so many times before. Their failure to offer a substantive appraisal of libertarian ideas may stem from low familiarity with libertarianism itself.

Hanauer and Liu start with a decent definition of libertarianism, namely that it is “the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values.” This is fairly accurate characterization of the moral beliefs held by many libertarians. Unfortunately, the authors struggle to trace these moral foundations to basic philosophical  or policy positions held by actual libertarians.

The New Republican Party: Libertarian Fusionism in Virginia

The rise of the so-called “liberty movement,” which sprang out of the early days of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, and of the tea party movement, which was a reaction to the one-party Democrat rule in Washington after the 2008 elections (with Obama’s victory being the likely spark) has forced the Republican Party to wrestle with warring factions in an attempt to establish a winning coalition.

Those in the media love to paint the GOP’s internal struggle as evidence of a party in the throes of extinction; as a party out-of-touch with mainstream America. But I think the “growing pains” the GOP are experiencing could potentially strengthen the Republican Party.

I am of the opinion that we have two political parties in our first-past-the-post electoral system. Few candidates have won major office in recent history under the banner of any party other than the Republican or Democrat parties. There are exceptions, but they’re rare, and those candidates usually win because of their personality, rather than a set of ideals on which a party platform could be constructed. Think Maine’s Angus King or Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman.

It is with that understanding that many within the “liberty movement” in Virginia have begun working within the Republican Party to move it in a more (small-L) libertarian direction. Our reasoning is that political parties do not hold a certain philosophy; they are vessels through which their members advance a set of ideas and beliefs. As the GOP looks for a path forward, it should look to the way the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) has embraced liberty activists.

Dysfunctional Bedfellows: Free Speech, Capitalism and Social Media

Enjoy Capitalism

Libertarians and conservatives alike either are intimately aware of problems with speaking out on social media, or they are residing under virtual rocks. In spite of the proliferation of liberty-minded individuals on networks like Twitter and Facebook, those platforms are anything but welcoming to freedom-oriented content.

On Twitter, there is the hated “gulag” that silences conservatives by exploiting an auto-account suspension rubric, or at least that is the explanation offered by the company. As for Facebook, it’s often turned into page suspensions and deletions for gun dealers, and conservative or libertarian commentators.

Now, Facebook has ended up in the headlines over problems with questionable content. They are now going to take a much more proactive stance when it comes to hate speech on their network. Of course this was at the behest of at least one feminist organization. That is not to say that this wasn’t necessary. Of course, there should be serious action taken to prevent content that promotes violence against anyone. However, this is definitely political pandering, and arguably for the benefit of the least profitable portion of Facebook’s “clientele.”

How Can Limited Government Ideas Win Elections?

I was intrigued by the question posed by Jim Geraghty at National Review Online yesterday, “Do We on the Right Still Trust the People?” My first instinct was to respond “yes, of course we do,” because after all the idea that we as individuals can take care of ourselves better than the government can is one of the reasons we believe in limited government.  The problem is, the American people have not been voting as though they really believe that themselves.  So really, this question is two questions:

  1. Do we trust the American people to take care of themselves?; and
  2. Do we trust the American people to vote in ways that allow them to take care of themselves?

The answer to the first is obvious, as I’ve already mentioned.  We do believe that the people are better at taking care of themselves than the government is.  When left alone by government, individuals will be more empowered to make a living for themselves and pursue happiness as they wish.  Society as a whole would be happier and more prosperous under a limited government than it currently is under big government.

The second question is much more difficult, because the American people have not voted for liberty.  Instead, they have voted for the much easier relative security of the cradle-to-grave welfare/entitlement state and the nurturing of big government statism.  Clearly the American electorate has not given us reason to have faith in them to vote against the largesse, as the welfare state has continued to grow.  The question is:  Why?  And as a secondary question, how do we reach out to voters to get them to understand that they will be better off under smaller government than they are under big government?

Glenn Beck’s new “libertarian” network is a good thing

Glenn Beck

When I first heard that Glenn Beck was going to relaunch his “The Blaze” as a libertarian-focused network, I was skeptical as I’m sure a lot of libertarians were.  While Beck has called himself a libertarian for some time, he has spent the last few years peddling in conspiracy theories and general looniness that has served to be quite an embarassment.  I used to listen to his radio show and watched his Fox News program for about a year before I became tired of his antics.  So when his show was canceled and he moved to a pay-per-view format, I was glad to see him go.

But Beck has proven he knows what he is doing.  He has been able to create a successful business outside the cable world.  He is reaching a sizable audience, largely of the young folks that need to be won to the libertarian cause.  These folks might already be leaning that way and would benefit greatly from hearing more libertarian viewpoints and analysis.  And there are many more who simply never hear this perspective who might be getting it for the first time, or the first time by actual libertarians instead of cartoonish versions given by the regular media.

Land-use policy needs to rely on markets

Michael Hamilton is a libertarian writer living in Washington, D.C. His main interests are economics, drug legalization, immigration, and land-use policy.

“The plans differ; the planners are all alike.” — Frédéric Bastiat

It’s common to hear libertarians pejoratively referred to as “Republicans who smoke pot,” the idea being that libertarians don’t really favor freedom in areas where it would lead to outcomes they do not like. For the most part this is false. There is one policy area, however, where this is an accurate criticism: land-use policy. On this issue, the dominant libertarian narrative does not live up to its name.

The narrative, to put it briefly, is that most Americans prefer detached, single-family homes, and zoning laws reflect this for the most part. Save for eliminating certain regulations aimed at curbing sprawl that make homes expensive such as open space rules or growth boundaries, it says  policymakers should avoid making major changes to traditional zoning laws lest we fall into the hands of the “planners” and have to live under “smart growth” policies. The narrative associates suburbs, homeownership, and cars with mobility and better living. Libertarians main goals, so it goes, should be relatively inexpensive (or at least not “artificially expensive”) single-family homes and decent traffic. Note that libertarians who support traditional zoning do not consider themselves planners

This narrative is not only wrong, but distinctly unlibertarian. Before I attack it, two small concessions:

First, smart growth is something that libertarians should oppose for both philosophical and utilitarian reasons.


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