Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Liberaltarian" is sooooooo two thousand "aughts"

It occurs to me that I haven't linked to David Weigel at his new Slate gig yet ... done. And there's never a bad time to ping JD Tuccille's Disloyal Opposition ... check. Finally, might as well go right to the horse's mouth on this "liberaltarians leaving Cato" thing.

Why are Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson leaving the Cato Institute? Helifino.

Maybe they just coincidentally both got job offers at places they'd rather be at about the same time.

Maybe they were shown the door because their views don't fit with whatever direction Cato is going in (or about to go in).

Maybe it was something in between, i.e. "you guys might want to explore other opportunities, because we're about to get markedly less friendly to 'liberaltarianism' around here."

Or maybe it was something else.

I don't think it really matters that much, because "liberaltarianism" is way over.

I'm not saying it's a bad idea as such, necessarily. Some of my best friends, or at least favorite bloggers (e.g. Jim Henley and the rest of the crew over at Unqualified Offerings, and the guys at Freedom Democrats), are arguably "liberaltarians." Hell, I even spent some time in that sector of the freedom movement myself, specifically the Democratic Freedom Caucus, about mid-decade.

Here's the thing, though:

The focus of political libertarianism -- the axis around which it turns in terms of realpolitik -- is opposition to the party (whether formally organized or ideologically defined) in power.

For most of the history of the modern American libertarian political movement (which I'd personally date to the mid-40s under the influence of Leonard Read, Ayn Rand et al), the formally organized party in power has been the Democratic Party and the ideologically defined party in power has been "the liberals."

To the extent that the modern American libertarian political movement generated momentum and acceleration, it did so in the direction of opposition to the Democrats/"liberals" from its early days through at least 1994, when the Republicans took control of Congress for the first time since the 1950s. I'm not saying that libertarians were necessarily allied with Republicans/conservatives in any particular way, but we were very clearly opposed to e.g. the New Deal, the Great Society, etc.

You don't undo 40 years of movement in one direction overnight. It wasn't until the Republicans had been in the majority in Congress for awhile that "liberaltarianism" (whether identified with that label or not) started making itself really visible. And by the time it had worked itself up to a jog, the Democrats had re-taken Congress and it was pretty obvious that the next president would be a Democrat too.

"Liberaltarianism" may have slowed the libertarian political movement's speed of rightward spin a bit, but it didn't stop that spin, it certainly didn't reverse it, and the opportunity to do so passed out of view in the distance about the time Nancy Pelosi assumed the title of Speaker of the House.

Sorry, guys, you ran out of time.

There's certainly still some action to be had on the libertarian left (more than ever, actually), but that action is in the anti-political libertarian movement, which understands that the real party in power is the political class -- Democrat and Republican, "liberal" and "conservative" alike -- and which has, as its long-term project, the overthrow of that class in all its manifestations.

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