al-Awlaki assassination underscores urgency of left-libertarian coalitions

Shawn Gude

Shawn Gude is a writer, graduate student, activist, and assistant contributor at Jacobin. His intellectual influences include Chantal Mouffe, Michael Harrington, and Ella Baker. Contact him at or on Twitter @shawngude.

Related Post Roulette

10 Responses

  1. DarrenG says:

    And as for the skeptics, what’s your viable alternative?

    To what, precisely? I’m still not at all sure what form you see this alliance taking, especially toward a relatively short-term goal such as making actions like the killing of al-Awlaki illegal.

    Are you advocating libertarians switch their traditional allegiance with either the GOP or minor third parties to help elect pro-civil rights Democrats? Organize and fund a (likely Quixotic) court challenge? Or something else?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DarrenG says:

      Libertarians have made great progress toward their agenda in the courts; see the Institute for Justice and the Pacific Legal Foundation for examples. Libertarians organizing and funding court challenges isn’t so crazy, and it probably offers a good division of labor.

      Can we count on you guys to be good on the electoral politics side? (No, seriously, can we?)Report

      • DarrenG in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Court challenges in general aren’t crazy, and yes, some libertarian organizations are doing great work there.

        A court challenge over al-Awlaki seems like a serious long shot, though, due to problems with standing and jurisdiction if nothing else (but I’m not a lawyer and don’t even play one on TV, and I’d be happy to be proven wrong here).

        Not at all sure what you mean by either “you guys” or “be good on the electoral politics side,” though.Report

  2. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Suffice to say that the al-Awlaki precedent—and I have no doubt that, absent significant push-back, it will become a precedent—is absolutely abhorrent and an affront to liberal democracy.

    No, that doesn’t suffice atall, sir, not in the least. It avoids, elides.

    As for the rest, I’m beginning to think you’re right, and why I customarily take great pains to distinguish “the left” in America from her “liberals.” From FDR to Harry Truman to JFK to Bill Clinton—even to Barack Obama—there has been no substantial disagreement between America’s center-left and center-right about national security, partisanship stopping at the water’s edge.

    So you go do your thing out in the blogosphere and round up whatever libertarians and lefties and far-righties that you can and do your Kucinich-Ron Paul-Nader-and whoever you quote from the paloecons— Larison, Pat Buchanan?—and stay in your little bubble.

    Because the Awalki dude never denied he was making war on the country of his birth. He could have surrendered and fought the accusations as untrue, but they weren’t. So now he’s a martyr: he’s happy with his virgins or raisins or whatever, we’re safer.

    Everybody got what they wanted, dude. The rest is commentary.Report

    • there has been no substantial disagreement between America’s center-left and center-right about national security, partisanship stopping at the water’s edge.

      I know your examples were specifically about Democrats, but I have a hard time believing the truism that either side really has honored the “politics stopping at the water’s edge” truism:

      1952: Eisenhower’s “I will go to Korea,” an implicit criticism of Truman’s handling of Korea.

      1960: JFK trying to lambast the Republicans on the alleged “missile gap”

      1992: Clinton’s pledge to end, or at least reconsider, MFN status for China, a criticism of Bush Sr.’s China policy.

      2008: Obama, at the Denver Convention, saying (I paraphrase): McCain isn’t even willing to go after bin Laden.Report

      • Chris in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        I don’t often agree with Tom, but on this agree. You’ve pointed out rather small differences. They don’t suggest a general difference in national security policy. In fact, the only real major difference I can think of in national security over the last few decades between the parties is on North Korea, with Clinton negotiating and Bush telling them to fish off (but in the end, he was negotiating again, just with a pissed off North Korea that, as a result of his earlier position, was now nuclear).

        When I read about a left-libertarian alliance, I think of a left, not a liberal, and libertarian alliance, because I don’t see mainstream liberals and libertarians getting along, because liberals (the American center-left) don’t seem to have a whole hell of a lot in common with libertarians. However, the left in this country has significantly less clout than the right (as opposed to the center-right), so such an alliance doesn’t make a whole lot of political sense. Furthermore, the left and libertarians are extremely unlikely to agree on economic issues. I do think that an alliance between libertarians and the left would get some of the pet issues of both groups — war, the drug war, prison reform, and maybe another issue or two here or there — more attention, but not much, and it wouldn’t help the political prospects of either group in any way.Report

        • Pierre Corneille in reply to Chris says:

          Perhaps I did exaggerate the differences. All I really meant to say was that politicians do make foreign policy an issue in elections, contra the assertion that they do not. But I agree with your examples and could probably find more to support what you said.Report

    • Ben Wolf in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      “He could have surrendered and fought the accusations as untrue, but they weren’t.”

      Tell me, how would he “fight” the accusations after being thrown into indefinite detention in a black site? Furthermore, as the man was never charged with a crime, on what basis would he surrender himself? You’ve effectively argued he must prove his innocence, rather than the state proving his guilt. And note the Obama Administration’s response when asked to see the evidence of al-Awlaki’s guilt: “We have it but we’re not going to let anyone see it, so shut up”.Report

  3. Michael Drew says:

    I am going to try to make a “full” (in the context of blog commentary) treatment of what I think is needed (however pessimistic I am that it will happen) to actually achieve a change in the way officeholders conduct themselves with respect to, well, really anything, but civil liberties matters in particular.

    But let me offer my short response to this here now. Bluntly, I don’t think you have made much of an argument as to what it is that this alliance will do to be effective at changing these policies. This is not to argue that it wouldn’t. But I think you’ve confused new urgency to many to address this problem for new urgency to adopt your particular solution. Yes, for civil libertarians, the Awlaki killing cranks the urgency of the need to apply pressure on officeholders to change their ways up perhaps to 10 out of ten or higher (for those who haven’t despaired of the possibility of effective pressure). But it if only is you are already convinced that a left-libertarian alliance on the issue is the most effective, or at least, a potentially effective, means to achieve that, that the killing underscores the urgency of that means of doing so. I may have missed your argument for why we should think this. I certainly don’t deny the proposal has the ring of a good idea to it. (As you note, I was not arguing against the continuation of issue-specific coordination, merely against the assertion of broad political significance of such, and the possibility of a more general alliance.)

    But, and I will attempt to go into this more when my time allows, I think it’s possible that a rigorous assessment of what would actually achieve change in this area might (might!) suggest something else: that perhaps radical de-identification from ideological and political groupings of the advocacy to the public that (I will argue) is what will be required to achieve transformational change, rather than the conscious joining of identity groups and corporate organization in an effort to deliver said message.

    I’m not asserting this now. But I think that so far what we have essentially seen on this topic from you is someone who has a remedy (or a general proposal) in mind for which he’d like to advocate, and who is clear and passionate about problems he’d like to try to solve in the world, but who has failed to offer very much in the way of a case for why that thing would in fact address the problem in question better than some other thing. In fact, to put a fine point it, I don’t think we’ve even seen a very full description of what the alliance would actually amount to – what it would do, and what the fact of the alliance would add to the current capabilities of its erstwhile allies.

    This idea is by no means a bad one. But it’s not clear to me that it is an urgent or necessary one, nor even am I convinced it would be an effective one, for achieving the the end to which you advance it. I need to hear more about why I should think it is. So far, I have to give you an Incomplete on this project.Report

  4. Jason Kuznicki says:

    But… but… how can we possibly agree about death squads when we can’t even agree on how to understand Ludwig von Mises?Report