Nice to Meet You, I’m a Libertarian
Describing an incident in which the local utility company chose to – without notice – rip out some of his trees in order to replace his water meter as “Why People Hate Government,” John Cole asserts:
“If libertarians would focus on crap like this instead of all the smug bullshit and contrarian economic analysis, they might actually be able to build their party.”
There are so many things wrong in this sentence that I think it quite perfectly illustrates ignorance (from Cole and plenty of others) about libertarians in general. The fact of the matter is that libertarians actually do focus on things like this quite a bit, and indeed proportionally more than do other ideologicalical groups. Of course, Cole focuses his writing almost exclusively on national politics, so he would rarely encounter the myriad libertarians who focus on local property rights issues and things of that nature.
Indeed, considering the comparatively small size of the libertarian movement, it’s extraordinary that one of our main institutions, the Institute for Justice, focuses almost entirely on the kinds of local property rights issues that Cole is complaining about here – the Institute for Justice’s position in Kelo v. New London was about nothing if not the right of a homeowner (and especially a low-income homeowner) to prevent the government from arbitrarily interfering with their property. And it’s not as if the IJ is an anomaly within the libertarian movement writ large – nothing has raised the ire of libertarians over the last few years quite so much as the Court’s decision in Kelo. I struggle to think of any other national organizations that have as much a focus on local issues that impact people’s daily lives as does the IJ.
Cole’s ignorance is further displayed in his assumption that libertarians as a group want to “actually be able to build their party.” Presumably, by “party,” Cole is referring to the Libertarian Party. I frankly do not know many (small-l) libertarians who give a crap about the Libertarian Party – at best, most libertarians I know view it as a completely quixotic effort that, as long as we have our particularl style of democracy, will never be in a position to do more than win an occasional local council seat or seat in the state legislature. Other libertarians question the entire concept of a “Libertarian Party,” arguing (more or less correctly) that the existence of such a party is self-contradictory. And quite a few others question whether the Libertarian Party serves any function at all.
In other words, libertarians on the whole have about the same amount of interest in the “Libertarian Party” asAmerican environmentalists have in the Green Party.
All of which is simply to say that there’s a big difference between the caricature of libertarians and actual libertarians. People who are not libertarians are certainly free to disclaim and ridicule libertarian thought on economic and welfare policy as “smug bullshit and economic analysis” – and sometimes they may even be right! – but to reduce libertarianism to just those areas where one disagrees with it is to rather miss the entire fucking point.