To the extent libertarianism is a political philosophy that is primarily concerned with anti-Marxism and “hippy-punching,” rather than being primarily concerned with limited government, I can’t dispute that Erik is absolutely right. Indeed, if that is libertarianism’s primary concern, then it could never cooperate with labor on any issue, almost by definition. But if that is libertarianism’s primary concern, then it is a philosophy with which I want nothing to do: anti-Marxism and limited government are two very different things.
But if libertarianism is actually about limited government and the maximization of individual liberty, then there is little reason that unions should be viewed as inherently so anathema to libertarianism that their mere presence in a coalition is an automatic dealbreaker.
Now listen – I have no interest in punching hippies. I’ve written about ‘bohemian conservatism’ before. I’m very sympathetic to the counter-culture. I think counter-cultures are necessary components in any healthy society. Someday I suspect Christianity will be a vital and important counter-cultural movement. If Rod Dreher is right, that may be the destiny for America conservatives as well. Hippies are a great counter-cultural movement now. They create interesting art, great music, and a demand for funky coffee shops in a world inundated with boring Starbucks knockoffs. These are all things I enjoy a great deal. And hippies are essentially anti-big-government, anti-establishment and spiritually curious – all qualities I admire. Ditto that for the Beatniks. They keep America weird.
So no hippie-punching, please.
I have a similar disinterest in attacking private-sector unions. The labor movement has achieved a great deal for workers’ rights over the years (though Henry Ford and the corporate world he represents should also be credited with huge strides in improving working conditions for the American worker).
Trumwill made a good point in Mark’s post. It’s not really a philosophical divide that makes any practical coalition between libertarianism and liberalism so difficult. It’s the electoral hurdles that prevent libertarian-leaning lefties from gaining ground at the polls. Without union support, it becomes very difficult to win a Democratic election in many parts of the country. Hell, without union support it becomes very difficult to pass a decent healthcare reform bill like Wyden-Bennett.
All that being said, I think realistically there is no good political home for libertarians in contemporary American politics. Both the right and the left are inhospitable to a broad libertarian political program. And I realize that what Mark is after is not a permanent coalition, but rather a reframing of the libertarian message. He wants libertarians to emphasize social issues, civil liberties, and foreign affairs in part because it will change how libertarians are perceived and how libertarianism influences the broader conversation. I suspect when most Americans hear the word ‘libertarian’ they think of some anti-government zealot with a hefty gun collection waving a Tea Party sign. Right now libertarians sits right there on the edge of political discourse in our popular imagination – sort of like militiamen but not quite.
I’m all for liberal-tarianism myself. I think having more libertarian influence on both the left and the right and on the many issues libertarians care about is important. If that takes emphasizing social issues and foreign policy more, then by all means I hope someone comes around to help pay for it. But the economic issues are still going to come up at the end of the day. Social security reform, health care reform – the things that liberals and libertarians are both passionate about but in stark disagreement over – these will still be major philosophical points of contention. And big labor will be a pragmatic hurdle for which I see no good solution.
The right has its own hurdles, to be sure. But I see the right moving toward more social liberty and less hawkishness before I see the left move significantly away from big government solutions and the social democratic project. Obviously economic and personal freedom can be achieved even with a very generous welfare apparatus, but whether many libertarians will go for that is another question entirely.