Liberaltarian Q & A session
Michael Drew asks some questions in the comments. And before I even begin to try and answer them, let me just admit to not having this all worked out. There are no solid answers, and I’m almost certainly not the best person to take a shot at this – but shoot at it I will none the less…
For liberaltarianism to “survive,” or even come into existence in a real way, it badly needs an ontology. What is it? I mean what is “it”? A loose coalition? A movement? What are its goals? Is it just an ideological inclination? Does it have to be conscious? Does it matter if you want to be a liberaltarian? If you don’t? A liberal willing to say somehthing good about markets is one? Matthew Yglesias “might as well be” part of the movement? Or is?
Right now I’d say it’s just the murmuring of a movement and maybe it will always be. As Alex Massie pointed out in his post on the matter, there really are parties that embody some form of liberaltarianism across Europe. So it has the potential to be more than just a loose coalition. But right now I’d say it’s just an inclination a number of people have who sit somewhere between libertarian and liberal and who have very little use for the American right. Matt Yglesias may be part of this ‘loose coalition’ and is likely toward its left wing. Right now I’d say the whole thing is necessarily vague, still in its early stages, still in the inclination phase. The policy preferences of Will Wilkinson and Matt Yglesias and Tim Lee and Jim Henley and any other number of people who might be loosely tossed into this project will differ wildly. I wish I had a better answer.
And, “Both sides will have to give ground to make it work”? Can you point to single liberal who wants to do that? It’s not like different liberals don’t already hold plenty of positions that coincide with libertarian ones – they always have. But that’s not a statement of common cause – those positions already exist and are sincerely held. Is liberaltarianism just the overlap between modern liberalism and libertarianism?
Based on what then are you asking anyone to give ground? To what end? Are we really to believe libertarians are prepared to give ground on core principles not just rhetorical flotsam left over from right-fusionism? I certainly wouldn’t ask them to. This all just sounds like a scheme of persuasion to me. Name me an issue on which libertarians are willing to substantively compromise, not just “adjust the language used,” and give me a reason that liberals should want to reciprocate, and I’ll try to give the project another chance. Otherwise, I still don’t get what it is or what it’s for. It still sounds like it’s basically two things: libertarians highlighting the many places liberals’ positions long have and do overlap with theirs, and libertarians adjusting their language and areas of focus so as to be less scary to liberals.
I think we’ve seen lately where some liberal ideas are being challenged on economic matters from within the ranks. Yglesias especially has been posting a lot about public choice theory – the barber shop regulations, healthcare cartelization. Stuff that liberals don’t talk about much but which you’ll see plenty of in libertarian circles. Meanwhile, I think we have issues like private prisons which are pretty widely accepted by many libertarians as good things being challenged by Wilkinson. In other areas liberals and libertarians generally align well enough, though there’s plenty of room for liberals to get more serious about civil liberties and hold their own leaders to higher standards in that regard – just as, I believe, libertarians interested in working with liberals need to take issues like healthcare reform more seriously and not always fall back on market solutions for everything. This is typically where I bring up how great Wyden-Bennett was.
But I’m probably an outlier myself, and quite frankly I’m having a hard time speaking for either side. I’m probably a lot more libertarian than most liberals but a lot more liberal than most libertarians. That’s one reason I like this new fusionism idea so much, but I also feel sort of awkward writing about what it should achieve or how various sides should make concessions. I would like to see a move toward something more akin to northern European social democracy – very free trade, minimal government regulation, but a sturdy and generous safety net apparatus to keep society stable and workers cared for and economically and socially mobile. Obviously I’d be thrilled if we could do this without resorting to the super high tax rates in these places, but I’m convinced lately that tax rates are really way down the list in terms of priorities we should be worried about. Creating a good business climate free from too much government regulation, barriers to entry, etc. is more important. Providing the work force with healthcare and social security and allowing them to live freely, civil liberties protected and respected by the state – these are far more important to me. Others interested in this project may prioritize tax rates much more than I do. I don’t know.
I think for me what I’ve realized is that the right is just an inhospitable place these days. Even nominally conservative goals – to create a stable, middle class society and a resilient, vibrant civilization – are better served by liberalism – but not necessarily leftism. If anything I think this whole liberaltarianism thing is intended to make modern day liberalism more liberal and less leftist, and modern libertarianism less right-wing. That there is no proper ontology, no set of standards or agreed upon goals, methods, etc. is more a sign of infancy than a sign of its implausibility.