Great Weekend Reading: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right
That is the title of this latest entry at The Art of the Possible, a libertarian/liberal fusionist website for deep discussion on the sometimes colliding, sometimes overlapping world views.
In this latest entry, Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings fame, submits a good piece about his political journey, his views, his views of libertarianism as it relates to liberalism as well as to politics in general. Overall, I'd say he's spot on and very realistic.
The journey starts in the aftermath of 9/11:
Back then I thought of myself as a man of “the Right,” though not a “conservative,” and pitched my arguments against promiscuous war, untrammelled security prerogatives and nationalism in “right-wing” terms, trying to explain how militarism, hegemony and torture contravene libertarian and conservative principles of limited government, humility and prudence.
That didn’t go so well.
Over time I came to think of myself as a man of “the Left” broadly considered. You could say this was due to events, not just Iraq and Gitmo but Terri Schiavo and gay marriage and all the right-wing “nanny-statism” of Bush-era Republicanism making clear that libertarianism and “small-government conservatism” have even less purchase on the “Right” than I thought they did years ago, when I never thought they had much to start.
He continues by stating the obvious:
Liberals and libertarians are not equal in any measure.
In terms of numbers, institutional infrastructure, organizational capacity and political energy, “libertarianism” hardly rises to the level of junior partner in any fusionism.
Very true...sadly enough. I personally would never pretend otherwise. And, as Henley points out, this is true regardless of how you define libertarianism....whether narrowly as strict anarcho-capitalist types like the Lew Rockwell Rothbardian group, or broadly (like me) as the more big tent and more loosely joined Cato/Reason types (glossed over for expediency as "economically conservative and socially liberal". The former is useless to liberalism while provoking even more useless fighting and the latter being unified, still too small at about 10% of the electorate and ultimately mutually inconvenient to either side due to the practicality, as Matthew Yglesias has pointed out, for the Dem leadership of catering to a small group that is at odds with about half of their agenda and risks angering and alienating its own base to win them over...something they obviously cannot do. Same on the GOP side.
the Democratic Party is becoming more populist economically, not less. Meanwhile the Republican Party is becoming more militarist and moralistic.
IOW, a double dead end for the Status Quo factions with little to gain and a lot to lose by searching out this small swing vote.
And as seen from the libertarian side, it's even less pleasant:
A “libertarian” who works on behalf of the Republican Party, formally or informally, will be helping to involve the country in longer and newer wars, and will be enabling retrograde policies toward pregnant women, gay people, recreational-drug consumers and people implicated, rightly or wrongly, in “terrorism” broadly defined. The “libertarian” who takes up the cause of upper-case Democrats will be working toward higher marginal tax rates, nationalized health care and broader regulation of finance and industry. There is no use pretending otherwise.
Tell me about it, Jimmy. *Sigh*
So, Henley draws his grand conclusion and I can't say I disagree. So what use are libertarians, politically, to liberals?...or conservatives for that matter? After all, we libertarians are simply not going to get exactly what we want any time soon and we aren't going to become liberals or conservatives any time sooner.
Says Henley rather insightfully: (emphasis mine)
I think libertarians are, rather, the court jesters of politics. I mean that in a good way. We whisper to Caesar that that he is mortal. We caper about, turning ourselves blue if necessary, reminding everyone that government power is inescapably violent and inescapably self-interested. You’re probably not going to care, but we’re going to make you actively decide not to care. And sometimes, maybe you’ll care after all. As a class, we can be stupendously silly people, believing and saying the most absurd things. But our rulers are silly people too, in different and more malignant ways. And as fools, we have the freedom to say so.
IOW, I guess the use will remain what it has always been: a small group of disloyal and non-partisan people whose words and views put subtle tugs and shoves on the mainstream consciousness and whose small successes materialize through the two party system when one side is bad enough to inspire the other to fight a libertarian-backed battle or two every once and a while. We saw in the 60s counter-culture and antiwar protests, in the late 70s and early 80s with some of Reagan's ideas, again in the mid 90s with the battle over Hillary-care and the '94 revolution and we see it again now against the Bush era. Where it will sway next is up to the stupidity of our two parties when one chooses to push the limits of stupidity just a bit too far and the libertarians will be there to help push back...at least for the moment.