On hippie-punching


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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42 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Given the multitudes of hippies out there, hippie-punching could mean many things.

    Punching the Libertarian Left, maybe.
    Punching the Sensitive New Agey types, perhaps.
    Punching the pot-smoking, Trustafarian bastards, even.

    I have deep sympathies for the Libertarian Left, “there but for the Grace of God go I” pity for the Sensitive New Agers, and a couple of knuckle sandwiches for the trustafarians.

    We need hippie-punching.

    We just need to be discriminate in application.Report

  2. Avatar Dennis says:

    It seems to me that there isn’t as much a libertarian philosophy as there are libertarian philosophies. I think there is one libertarianism that is closer to the right and tend to reflect those views and there is another one that is closer to the left. I also think that those views of libertarianism tend to reflect age, with some older folks opting for the right leaning libertarianism (concerned with government programs like Social Security and the free market) with those primarily from the Millenial Generation reflecting a more leftward leaning libertarianism (concerned with civil liberties and gay rights).

    I can see a few things happening:

    The two different libertarianisms split of try to influence the two major parties;

    Younger libertarians inflitrate the GOP and make it more socially/classically liberal;

    Reform the Libertarian Party to make it a more classical liberal party ala the Liberal Democrats in the UK;

    Create a new third party.

    It will be interesting to see what happens.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      @Dennis, The Liberal Democrats are far from a classical liberal party – they’re an uneasy and inconsistent alliance between the old right wing of the Labour Party (which split to become the SDP) and the old Liberal Party, which was once a classical liberal party but became increasingly mushy under pressure from its left and eventually merged with the SDP. Most of the membership joined since the merger, but there are still two clear an distinct intellectual traditions within the part. The liberal one is currently dominate but its not guaranteed to remain so.Report

  3. Avatar Bo says:

    It’s the electoral hurdles that prevent libertarian-leaning lefties from gaining ground at the polls

    Also, if one ran for office, the other would have to be Cato’s token L-LL, which would leave none to write for Reason’s blog.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM says:


      Believe it or not, but there are libertarian leaning liberals outside of movement organs and actually involved in grassroots politics.Report

  4. Avatar Emile says:

    I find discussions like this frustrating.

    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.

    I think there is no good political home for *me* (including the Libertarian party).

    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.

    I would say that I grew up a democrat (as in both my parents were registered as such) but have been disillusioned by all organized parties since I have been able to vote. I am an anti-drug war, pro gay marriage, pro civil rights, anti war ex-democrat.

    I can’t speak to how much the right might move, but as a sort-of-former-democrat I think you have it wrong as to how much and to where the left might move. My reluctance to call myself a libertarian despite holding mostly libertarian views comes from this precise misunderstanding. I don’t think that “the left” is committed to big government solutions per se. I think that they are committed to improving the lot of people on the wrong end of the power/wealth spectrum.

    My (relatively uninformed) impression of libertarianism as a party is that it is a lack of this focus which makes them appear to be at the right fringe. I think that if the libertarian message emphasized appropriate and effective government, rather than just *less* government, you might be surprised at the coalitions made possible.

    Compassionate libertariansm, if you will 😉Report

    • @Emile, +1.

      Just to add: one of the points I’ve been trying to make is that the Left actually has moved quite a bit since LBJ.Report

      • Avatar Emile says:

        @Mark Thompson, thanks.

        I guess I should make explicit that when I said “[those on the left] are committed to improving the lot of people on the wrong end of the power/wealth spectrum” I intended that to mean something more like “that’s the vision that causes me to still consider myself on the left” and not that it still represents the democratic party. In much the same way that I think principled people “on the right” seem to no longer feel that the republican party actually maintains their core values.

        When I read about pinkertons shooting up mine workers’ camps, I want to be on the mine workers side. I don’t necessarily mean that I am wedded to the particular solution that we as a society hammered out, just that those social conditions cried out for *a* solution.

        By and large, by getting the unions, the democrats can say they were. How ’bout the libertarians? What actual, real world solution can be offered that is really rooted in personal liberty?Report

        • Avatar Emile says:

          @Emile, or shorter: Someone please write a “A People’s History of the United States” where you propose libertarian solutions to the problems as Zinn lauds the “democratic” or “leftist” solutions (or, more often than not, proposed solutions leading to even more brutal beat downs.)Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      @Emile, I’m sort of in the same boat, although I started in the anarchist left, so really a lot closer to the libertarian left anyway. The liberals I knew always called me “that libertarian”. Of course, coming from that background makes me grit my teeth whenever someone says “the left” just loves the state.

      In terms of libertarianism, for me, their Big Useful Insight is that when you’re trying to solve a problem by passing a law, you’ve already failed to solve the problem. But, yeah, I’m reluctant to hop on the libertarian train because of the things you’ve mentioned. I’ve certainly encountered a few libertarians who are concerned with improving the lot of those at my father’s end of the wealth/power spectrum. And I’ve met too many who justified Robert Anton Wilson’s unfair but amusing line, “I really did try hard to be a libertarian, but I could never get myself to hate poor people enough.”Report

      • Avatar JosephFM says:


        I have always had a lot of sympathy for the anarchist left.

        I get hung up, though, on the assumption that people would ever really be willing or able to give up on cutting off their noses to spite their faces, and stop bossing each other around, which is generally why I’ve never actually been either an anarchist or a full libertarian, sympathies aside.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          @JosephFM, Yeah, there’s always the question of whether we’d just wind up with rednecks as our feudal lords. My real sticking point was over the “no Gods” idea, which struck me as impossible to achieve without telling people what they can think.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      @Emile, Yup. How about you and me start a party?Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    Great post E.D. I do want to make a minor point regarding your laying the death of Wyden-Bennett at the feet of Democrats alone. There is a head of one of the two sponsors of Wyden-Bennett mounted over a fireplace for daring to conspire with the enemy to propose it. It isn’t the head of the Democratic sponsor. I think that says something about the idea that Democratic intransigence alone consigned Wyden-Bennett to the slow lane to nowhere.

    Senator Wyden, on the other hand, is a respected Senator in good standing with his party and his constituents.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      @North, This is one of the great mysteries to me – everyone claims to have loved Wyden-Bennet. Even the Republicans trying to kill the ultimate health care bill claim to have loved it, even though it included a mandate (which they claim oppose even though they come up with the idea …). Given that everyone loved it, why did it never even get discussed in committee? The world wants an answer.

      On the Democratic side we can clearly blame the unions to some extent. On the Republican side its rather less clear. One suspects the health insurers.Report

  6. Avatar Come Back Zinc! says:

    The hippy punching really just means that libertarianism, in reality, is motivated far more by anti-liberalism than any positive agenda. Look at your own Jason Kuzcinski. The man simply cannot comment on politics without reverting to a show of his utter distaste for liberals– the same liberals, incidentally, who fought to allow him to have sex with whomever he chooses and are fighting to allow him to marry whomever he chooses. Look at Reason magazine; the vast majority of what they care about is liberal bashing, over and above anything else. And it seems like that spirit has been popular here.Report

    • Avatar Emile says:

      @Come Back Zinc!, Huh, this is a very surprising comment to me. I find Jason’s writing to be some of the most interesting, level-headed and least hippie-punching analysis out there. Jason seems to me in all ways to be the best side of libertarianism. Do you have some specific examples in mind?Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      @Come Back Zinc!, I’m sympathetic about the site- one reason I wanted to discuss such a straightforwardly progressive book was to break up the discussions about where libertarians should place the salad fork and whatnot. I don’t really agree that Jason’s so strongly anti-liberal. I can think of more than a few posts he’s done that went after the right just as hard.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      @Come Back Zinc!, it’s my take that libertarianism is to the left of liberalism.

      Look at the general arguments regarding gay marriage. Liberals (tend to) argue that the state ought to recognize gay marriage. Libertarians (tend to) argue that marriage as religious concept ought not fall under the purview of The State.

      Look at The Drug War. Liberals (tend to) argue that drugs should be made legal, taxed, and the taxes could be used to pay for wondrous works. Libertarians (tend to) argue that, absent evidence of harm, drugs and drug use shouldn’t be under the purview of The State.

      It’s the Liberals who (tend to) argue that the government ought have the power to make sure that this morality ought be chosen over that one (just like the Conservatives, donchaknow) while the Libertarians believe that folks ought to be able to live how they please without a government imposition of morality.

      Libertarians are to the Left of Liberals in a lot of places.

      Maybe that’s why there’s such tension…Report

      • Avatar Emile says:

        @Jaybird, I was with you right up to:

        It’s the Liberals who (tend to) argue that the government ought have the power to make sure that this morality ought be chosen over that one

        (emphasis mine.) Sure, they both want the power. But I would argue that the left/right divide is that the right tends to want to use the power to enforce morality, while the left tends to want to use the power to engineer stronger social safety nets, higher base standard of living, etc..

        My problem is that I care too much about the state of the world that results when we *don’t* pay attention to engineering a social safety net. It appears to me that too often libertarians treat these two uses of power as identical abuses.

        As I point out above; I don’t think that the left is in principle committed to the use of state power to solve social ills. It’s just that they don’t typically buy your arguments that the social ills can be alleviated in other ways.

        For me, sometimes it seems obvious that the use of state power is a drastically bigger problem than it’s target (see drug war), sometimes not so much (no more lead in gasoline, etc.)

        I guess I’m not a good libertarian in that I don’t privilege personal liberty over all other goods in all cases.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @Emile, ut I would argue that the left/right divide is that the right tends to want to use the power to enforce morality, while the left tends to want to use the power to engineer stronger social safety nets, higher base standard of living, etc

          Do you honestly feel that “stronger social safety nets, higher base standard of living” exists independently of moral concerns?Report

          • @Jaybird, Might I suggest that “strong[] social safety nets” and “high[] base standard of living” are prerequisites to the exercise of an individual’s moral agency? That without those two items, elites have the ability and the authority to make moral decisions for, and remove moral agency from, those below that line?Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              What exactly do you mean by that? I hope I’m reading you wrong here.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              @Mark Thompson, I would argue not.

              I would say that culture does more of the heavy lifting of moral agency than social safety nets and high base standard of living *COMBINED*.

              I mean, dig this: I visited my uncle in Michigan a few months back. He and my Aunt live in the same house in which they raised two kids. Their house is smaller (!) than the house that Maribou and I share.

              And yet, back in the 70’s, their house was normal if not one of the nicer ones.

              We sat and discussed how small the house is now (it’s just my Aunt and Uncle living there) and, in the 70’s, it was pretty big.

              As for “social safety nets”, they’re fairly recent in human history if we’re talking government-level stuff. As for high base standards of living, we’re talking relative.

              Unless, of course, the argument is that the moral agency we have post-WWII is a higher quality of moral agency to that displayed by generations previous (like, all of them)…Report

            • @Jaybird, “Unless, of course, the argument is that the moral agency we have post-WWII is a higher quality of moral agency to that displayed by generations previous (like, all of them)…”

              I think that’s exactly my argument, actually. If you’re struggling just to survive from day to day, then the ability to even undertake a moral evaluation becomes a luxury that you may not be able to afford. I would argue that, indeed, the more we emphasize credentialism as a culture, the more we deprive those below a particular level of income/upbringing of the ability to exercise moral agency since that makes it ever harder (to sometimes outright impossible) for that group to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps.”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              @Mark Thompson, oh, dude.

              This conversation deserves a series of posts.

              I can see arguments both for and against, mind.

              Are we really better moral agents than the abolitionist movement? How about the Fathers of the American Revolution? How about that awesome Muslim period that lasted a couple hundred years? How about the Romans? How about the Greeks?

              The past is another country. I don’t feel that the ground I stand upon is firm enough for me to say that, of course, we’re better at this than they are. It reminds me of the folks who point out that, of course, we’re better than China. Of course, we’re better than Canada. Of course, we’re better than Denmark.

              This isn’t an argument saying you’re wrong, of course…

              But there are nooks and crannies of such arguments that polite people don’t explore in public…Report

            • @Jaybird, “This conversation deserves a series of posts.”

              Agreed. I’ll try to work on something over the next day or three.Report

      • Avatar Travis says:

        @Jaybird, on the flipside, there are a good many libertarians who argue that we should eliminate restrictions on public land use — or sell off the public domain entirely. Or, they’ll argue that the “free market” can replace OSHA, and who needs those pesky workplace safety laws anyway?

        How do you reconcile that with being “left” of liberalism?Report

        • Avatar Simon K says:

          @Travis, Eliminating restrictions on public land use doesn’t really seem like a libertarian position – if the state legitimately owns something, the state can decide what to do with it. I can see a libertarian argument for selling off public land, especially public land that’s already heavily used (ie. BLM land, not Yellowstone) to get rid of the socialisation of costs, but its a different thing. The OSHA thing is one of those Underpants Gnomes libertarian arguments – there’s clearly a missing bit in the middle where some kind of magical free market pixie dust gives workers enough power to prevent exploitation without the aid of the state.

          To be serious though – libertarianism is primarily about means. Most libertarians also have some particular set of ends that they are looking to realise and believe that those ends would be more easily realised if other people didn’t employ non-libertarian means eg. getting the state to do things for them. Its not really a secret that different groups of libertarians are looking for radically different sets of outcomes.

          There is a large – albeit not terribly noisy – faction of libertarianism that is well to the left of liberals on economic issues, those being the market anarchists and mutualists. Their answer to the Underpants Gnomes problem with abolishing OSHA is pretty straightforward – large corporations of the type that cause most health and safety problems will have a hard time existing once state protection is withdrawn, trade unions and competition from worker owned enterprises will take care of the restReport

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @Travis, dude, there are Libertarians who are to the Right of most Conservatives (is “isolationism” still a right thing? Or is it a left thing now? I’m guessing it’s still a right thing). At the same time, they’re to the left of most Liberals on others.

          This allows both sides to paint them as irrelevant extremists who don’t have a whole lot to offer until a close election is coming up… at which point, folks start talking “coalitions”.Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        “Liberals (tend to) argue that drugs should be made legal, taxed, and the taxes could be used to pay for wondrous works. “

        Which liberals are these? To the extent that liberals do tend to talk this way it’s almost always outside the context of immediate political activism.Report