If anything, I have become more and more of a libertarian the further I’ve moved to the “left”. I say “left” because I think terms right and left have become more than a little useless. I’m probably more of a right-wing liberal than a left-wing liberal, but I’m a liberal in the first place because I care about freedom and dignity and poverty and all that jazz. So I lean to the right on a lot of economic issues, but I’m hardly ideological. I think a lot of welfare-state policies are basically remedial efforts to make up for all the poverty created by cronyism between government and corporate rent-seekers. So I don’t have too many bones to pick with food stamps or healthcare vouchers.
Anyways, I don’t mind a good political philosophy discussion. There are a lot of unknowns out there. Abstract philosophy and real-world pragmatism often come to loggerheads whether we’re talking about libertarianism or any other political philosophy. What I can’t abide is a bad critique. And that’s exactly what Stephen Metcalf has done with his abysmal attempt at a take-down of Nozick and libertarianism writ large. For those of you keeping score, here is a breakdown of the many good rebuttals to Metcalf’s hit piece:
Jason Kuznicki, Aaron Ross Powell, and David Boaz represent the Cato response. Boaz, among others, points out that Nozick did not say what Metcalf says he said, at least according to this Julian Sanchez interview with the man himself.
Conor Friedersdorf has a good response up in The Atlantic.
Will Wilkinson tackles the notion that Hayek and other libertarians were corporate shills.
Brad DeLong reveals some massive factual errors in Metcalf’s piece.
And Tyler Cowen won’t even link to it.
All of this calls to mind the Chris Beam piece from a while back which, by comparison, looks rather good in retrospect compared to the nonsense passing for high contrarianism in Slate.
In any case, this sort of thing always bodes ill for the liberaltarian project, if it is a project, mostly because I fear it represents a great deal of confirmation bias on the left. A lot of liberals who see all libertarians as less-lovable Ron Swansons nod along with Metcalf as he makes one clichéd assertion after another and the end result is a bunch of readers happily cheering a piece that makes no attempt at all to treat its subject with any sort of seriousness or grace. It affirms deeply held opinions and distrust, and helps cement the language barrier between liberals and libertarians in ultimately a very destructive and unfortunate way.
There will be more like it, I’m sure. I blame the Koch brothers. Who do you blame? We all need our super-villains.