Cultural Freedom

Kevin Michael Grace, who must have time on his hands, reminds me of a rant I published in the comments section of an ill-conceived article he wrote three years ago criticizing Reason for covering culture as if it has something to do with freedom. You might need to suffer through it for context. Anyway, I had forgotten about these comments, and I would like to re-associate myself with them.

Will Wilkinson — Jan. 24, 04 at 05:23 AM

Look…. Freedom from state coercion is just one, very limited, notion of freedom. It's the strictly political notion, and Reason has had the good sense to become more than a merely political magazine.

There is also a cultural notion of freedom that is not identical with political freedom and is deeply important to people. If we lived in a libertarian wonderland of minimal government, yet where social norms were so stringent that any woman who dared aspire to a career, or any man who dared love another man, or anyone who dared to deny God, would be faced with ferocious social ostracism, isolation, and exclusion, then we would have to say that all people in our society are not free in a very morally deep sense.

Coercion is just an extreme among the various forms of psychological manipulation to produce conformity. That these other forms are not a strictly political matter does not make them irrelevant to our freedom to discover for ourselves the best kind of life, given who we are, and does not necessarily make them less morally objectionable.

People who help open up avenues of identity and self-expression do expand the scope of our freedom, whether or not these avenues are worth exploring. I do not approve of people using their political freedom to publicly promote Nazi ideals, say, but I value anyone who helps to make this possible, because it also makes much that is good possible. Similarly, I do not necessarily approve of people who use their cultural freedom to spiral into dissolution, but those who open they way also open other ways well worth traveling.

So stop being a scold. Get over your pinched and neurotically ideological notion of freedom, and start paying attention to the further freedoms that matter much to people actually trying to live their own singular lives.

No, Dennis Rodman is not a worthy role model. Nor is a man, such as Thomas Jefferson, who was so irresponsibly prodigal that he allowed his self-imposed financial ruin to override his acknowledged moral duty to release his slaves from bondage. Yet despite a flaw far deeper and more grievous than any Dennis Rodman could conceive in his fevered dreams, we can see fit to give him his due.

Lord knows it feels so good to be so right about so much. But instead of rote, ham-handed, moralizing ideology why not try a bit of actual moral discernment, instead? I think you'll find it quite suitable for adults.

I was like a whole different person three years ago. A whole different person I agree with!

  • amoose1959

    “a culture of tolerance, and a sound social safety net ” What does this gobbly -gook mean? I’m for motherhood and against sin also. Sounds like words from an adolescent fool.

  • Vangel

    “Or are you one of those naifs who think that, given individual liberty, we’ll all just miraculously come to identical conclusions about all kinds of nitty gritty details of governing (tax rates, budget size, priorities, policies, blah blah)? Sort of the weird high-school phenomena of “We’re all individualists! And you can tell because we all wear these cool identical ‘I Am An Individualist’ T-shirts!””

    I think that you are missing the point. The idea of individual liberty means that you don’t have to do the same thing as other people. In a libertarian society transactions are voluntary and the only legitimate function of government is defence against the initiation of force, protection of property and protection against fraud. The stimulus package is a means of redistributing wealth from some people to others and as such should be opposed even if could work, which it clearly can’t.

  • Sean


    I am unclear as to what the “long angle” is. A Libertarian or liberal movement nurturing the value of human liberty? To what end? Social liberalism in the case of gay marriage and abortion and even ending the drug war require the heavy hand of the state to enforce the freedom they create. With the exception of your David Boaz’s own proposal to “abolish” marriage as a state institution–the greater inclusion of people and the erasure of social stigmas or mores only increases the power of the state and the burdens it must bear–social insurance, discrimination enforcement, etc. Radical freedom loving libertarianism must be equally anarchistic toward state institutions like marriage and the social safety net to ever accomplish its ends–offending each side equally until a critical mass is reached to see libertarianism triumph. In the mean time, libertarian flirtation with liberal social values only undermines its primary goal: the reduction of the state and corresponding increase in liberty. I grant an alliance with the right that would restrict the state only where it deemed it unuseful would be equally problematic. On the larger battlefield though, the small victories on social freedoms like free speech and search and seizure (see McConnell on flag-burning and Scalia on infrared and warrants) can be eeked out among the right. After the Civil Rights and abortion battles were won, the state did not shrink from its role in the lives of ordinary citizens, its still enforcing arcane rules and flirting with impinge on freedom of conscious.

  • Eric Hosemann

    “Liberal” as the term is currently used means “statist.” As in: state power trumps individual liberty wherever well-meaning technocrats and managers deem it necessary. Using the term “liberal” to identify oneself as a libertarian is so 90’s. The debate over what “liberal” means has been won; statists appropriated the term and the culture awarded them sole dominion over it. High school Randians called themselves “classical liberals” in 1993; no one cared.

    Why would libertarians want to truck with a group that considers individual liberty a thing granted by government, and who consider the fruits of one’s labor de facto government property?

    Liberaltarianism is a concession by some libertarians that some form of nanny state must exist. Those liberals who like the liberaltarian idea have their fingers crossed behind their backs; they know that government breeds more government without the essentially conservative impulse towards bureaucratic stasis. Whatever they may tell libertarians, they know their jobs are secure. A nanny state always needs more managers, testers and tweakers.

    What about Conservatarianism? Or Libertism? Making friends with people who are inherently suspicious of individual rights seems like a mistake. Why not rejoin the conservative fold? Libertarian Conservatives like Bill Buckley understood that a free society was best under-girded by strong institutions capable of producing intelligent, competent and self-reliant citizens. This is what Allan Bloom was complaining about. Why does this rub libertarians the wrong way? Should neglect of the Judeo-Christian-Western Civ tradition be institutionalized, as liberal educators assume it should?

  • uselessone

    “an authentically liberal governing philosophy that understands that limited government, free markets, a culture of tolerance, and a sound social safety net are the best means to better lives”

    it’s the “culture of tolerance” part that scares me. also, “better lives” implies a kind of salvation in political life that strikes my american ears… yea there’s too much of that “ongoing project to change who talks to whom, to freshen the stale dialectic of American politics, and to create new possibilities for American political identity” stuff going around as it is, what with this President Obama guy and the hopeychanginess.

    and you did miss the point of ‘vexed.’ of course i did come via the corner, so i’m just part of a wave of conservative republicans who can safely be ignored, i guess. still, i side with jonah even though i think of myself as a libertarian on some issues. i find what you’re saying to be dreamy and unspecific. so i’ll echo thomas’s doubt. because “get a whole lot of people to associate what you want with things they’ve wanted all along” isn’t doing it for me. how are you going to do that? obama hopeychanginess? mind control? what?

    i don’t see how what you’re saying differs from ‘the romance of transformative hope.’ in fact, it is even more starry-eyed and mystical than that romance because at least the romance of transformative hope was belied by a cynical political calculation that would resort to baseless fear-mongering. but this… i’m not part of the team, gazing off into space, “taking the long angle” stuff… that’s creepy

    • Not So Fast

      it’s the “culture of tolerance” part that scares me.

      I’d like to see an amplification of what is meant by “tolerance”. “Tolerate” is a word I generally use in reference to things like migraines and hemorrhoids, meaning to accept unfortunate circumstances which can’t be changed. In the hands of cosmotarians and liberals, it usually means greeting the absurd with a warm embrace and a big wet kiss.

  • webgrrl

    Gosh I kept hoping that liberaltarianism would mean we could all enjoy the beautiful prose of Sir Isaiah Berlin, admit values pluralism, advocate for a parliamentary system and implement futarchy. I’m still sleeping with Four Essays on Liberty under my pillow. . .

  • Patrick

    Whenever I read the term Liberalitarian, I’m reminded of a comic book that came out a few years back in which Sean Hannity formed a super ultra conservative group to fight al-qaedia and save America or something.

    Anyways, the reason Libertarians go to the right is actually kind of obvious. There are those on the right who wish they could be libertarians, but because of natural human tendencies, failings, and desires to deny the liberty of others can’t make that final jump. Liberals piss on libertarians and capitalists, and blame us for the problems of the world, even when it makes no sense.

    There’s more to it then that but that’s a huge hurdle. I’ll list a few more though so it doesn’t seem like I’m characterizing.
    Unlike Will Wilkinson, the majority of libertarians are tolerant of “voluntary” deliberalizing or inequitable social norms and institutions. In fact, many libertarians are opposed to mandating by the use of violence to impose a liberalizing or equitable solution to these social norms, claiming people have a right to engage in these practices under the guise of many personal liberties.
    In contrast, many important liberal beliefs and institutions stem from the notion that it is ok, for the good of society, for a government agency to use violence to back up their idea of social equitability, even if it tramples on the rights of individuals.
    Point: Conservatives

    Legal Traditions tend to be difficult to parse in the libertarian community. While I’ve seen a great deal of stupid by libertarians trying to overcome what a libertarian justice system might look like… honestly this isn’t really a major point of contention. The reliance upon the courts to force change, rather then legislative or democratic alternatives, also leaves a stale taste in the mouth many. I’d say that libertarians appear to not lean in either direction on the court issue, and therefore have no specific reason to go to the left.
    Many liberal social policies depend upon or rely upon arguments for what a justice system should be shaped like. What is acceptable for the length of time of prison, or how hard we should crack down on crime, or if we should have the death penalty or whatever. But libertarianism doesn’t require one to have an opinion on the nature of a justice system at all. I mean, it can and some rely upon that, but one cannot take a collection of libertarian ideals and say “Therefore, the liberals are superior to conservatives in how they want to structure our courts.”
    From a policy perspective, this favors indifference or normative behavior, which tends to favor conservative or republican arguments about legal traditions.

    The right also has an appeal to the ideas of the founding fathers, the constitution, and the like. Many of these documents are some of the most liberty friendly arguments about. If a conservative truly is honest about their respect for the constitution and wish to defend it, there is little additional ground to be gained in that direction. While conservatives are not always honest on this, I think this is also a point for conservatives.

    The separation of church and state thing really doesn’t matter that much, especially in the post-modern theological landscape, and the role that religion plays in the current culture. Most of this is ceremonial and irrelevant, and the time would be better spent in other areas. While the science issue does intersect heavily here, wouldn’t it be better if schools were not in the hands of government to begin with?
    Point: Conservatives.

    I’m sorry to say this, but the vast majority of those 13% are probably libertarians who are also nationalists, and don’t really care about the rest of the world. As such, libertarian arguments for opening the borders, or closing down military bases, or not being a global military super power fall on deaf ears.
    Point conservatives

    Conservatives used to think that more power should be given to the local level, which often appears to be the most optimum and minimal level of government. It’s not, but it sounds good.

    Conservatives want to lower the level of taxation. All government taxation is government spending, which directly relates to the size and scope of government and necessarily its power to deny liberty. Progressives want to raise taxation levels, especially on the rich, and would like to see the size and scope of government expand.
    Point Conservatives

    So… what ground is there for libertarians to form a coalition with liberals on? Anti-War? Immigration reform? Homosexual Marriage? Iraq will be over soon, many liberals are anti-immigration, and homosexual marriage will come sooner or later, it is only an issue because we’re at a cross-over point in popular opinion that it can be used as a weapon by political activists.

    The grounds by which this alliance can be formed aren’t there. And if this is a long term project… what long term liberty threats are there other then the 10 Trillion in debt that threatens our economy? Immigration reform? We’re going to lose that. Education reform? We’ll lose that as well. Social Security reform is going to be solved by raising taxes, so another loss. I just don’t see what long run policy issues on which the Libertarians can form this alliance. Maybe foreign policy? The Drug War? Abortion? Is there even a libertarian consensus on abortion?

    I wish you luck in your quest to forge the alliance, but I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.
    One thing that’s been bothering me is how much liberals piss on libertarians though.
    It’s like, in a good year the Libertarians might get 1% of the vote, or maybe upset a local or small election…. yet somehow they’re the problem. And liberals come saying “How can you defend these policies when it’s so clear you’ve failed.” When have they ever had power? The most libertarian candidates were forced off the stage last election. It takes a ton of work just to get heard or taken seriously.
    I loved the recent Brian Beutler and Megan Mcardle bloggingheads. Brian kept bringing up how there was no libertarian alternative being heard or being offered, therefore it didn’t exist. Why would it be offered on Capital Hill? Who would offer it? Ron Paul? They are completely shut out of the policy sphere.

    • hate religion

      As a libertarian i identify the current conservative movement completely with religion, whether it be christianism or unconditional pro-isreal jews. They attempt to dictate policy based on these religious views, which while violating the constitutions clearly written separation of church and state, is down right scary. Social conservatism is a cancer eating away at individual liberty, therefore I could never form an alliance with anyone willing to eat away at personal liberty. While liberals want smoking bans in some places, they are not trying to make smoking cigarettes illegal. My libertarianism is more focused on individual freedom and liberty than economic issues. True, conservatives in principle should be pro free market, limited gov, limited spending and for lower taxes, they just dont act like it and havent for roughly a decade, therefore they are hypocrites. If I have to choose to form an alliance with one of these groups, id ally closer with liberals than conservatives because market economics aren’t going anywhere whether liberals like it or not. The religiousness of conservatives drives me away from them regardless of how they see economic issues. If thats just me bcause I view religion as toxic then ill live with the liberals

      Do what you want, when you want, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the safety and liberty of another person. (fetus isn’t a person)

  • Kent Guida

    Long-term project, indeed. It’s been going on at least since the ’50s, when Rothbard more or less invented the idea of an union of liberals and libertarians based on opposition to the Cold War. Rothbard never gave up on this strategy.
    Ed Crane picked it up in the ’70s and has been flogging it ever since. It comes up every couple of years, usually in connection to some foreign policy crisis.
    The results seem to be always just over the horizon. In other words, where’s the beef?
    Sure, some day there will emerge a new political philosophy that wins public support and that advances human liberty. But what does that have to do with liberalism?

  • nj


    Last time I checked, the Iraq war has led to some serious budgetary ramifications. The military state is pretty damn expensive and is a big part of the political economy. The conservative movement is putrid on this part of the debate.

  • Cato

    Consider this: It is far more realistic to steer the Republican party back toward a limited-government platform, than to transform a pro-statist Democratic party. You’d sooner turn a Bolshevik into a libertarian on economic issues, than a liberal Democrat. (Of course, if you’re hell-bent on pursuing a utopian dream of perfect libertarianism, put all your money on the impossible long-shot instead of the near-sure-thing.)

    One can’t even claim that the Democrats are in favor of personal freedom on social issues anymore, at least not on anything outside the realm of sex. After all, where does the political energy to implement smoking and transfat bans come from?

    Besides, while some Republicans may pay lip service to abolishing abortion or gay rights, they’ve been remarkably ineffective at making any of that happen. Meanwhile, Obama plus a Democratic Congress are poised to make the W. years look like the Coolidge administration.

    • steve

      I don’ know … I’ve been voting against Republican Christianist tendancies since I voted against Bush 41 as he ran for his second term (and felt really bad about it) … I don’t think they’re as ameniable to change as you think …

      I am going to cheer Will on though … I would really like a political party (that had a chance of winning) to call my own … boy do I want that … it felt great this last time to be voting for someone as opposed to against someone ….. I’d like that feeling more often and the Dems ain’t going to give it to me.

  • Charles Flemming

    Three things:

    1) You’re conflating “Republican” with “conservative.” Please stop.

    2) You’re allowing greedy (congressional) and/or mushy (Bush) self-identified “conservatives” define the conservative brand, no matter how how loudly, how consistently, and how long movement conservatives like Goldberg have been complaining about faux conservatism.

    3) A (very) small sampling of Number 2 can be found here:

    • Beth

      True conservatives have been almost as relevant to the national debate as libertarians.

      Which is to say, in less flippant terms, that he is contrasting the modern politicians on the Right with libertarians; they call themselves “conservative” and have consistently defined that philosophy primarily in terms of foreign policy and tax-cut and spend policies. Trying to redefine it, as Goldberg has, is likely going to be as effective as trying to redefine “liberal” as classically liberal, rather than statist (though even there the ACLU seems to be more effective at the latter than the folks at the National Review are at the former).

      • Charles Flemming

        He can contrast “modern politicians on the Right” all he wants.

        However, he does NOT get to re-define Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan movement conservatives into a convenient strawman.

        True conservatives are every bit as small government-minded as mainstream libertarians. Just because Washington (seemingly) succeeds in corrupting the vast majority of its legislators doesn’t change that fact.

        • longbongsilver

          If “movement conservatives” are anti-government & you cite Reagan as an example, explain his approval of the War on Drugs, wasteful military bloat & the whole culture war garbage then.

          As for the original topic: IMO libertarians interested in a fusion strategy don’t look far enough Left for partners. I will never understand why so much of a movement that, followed to its logical conclusion, results in NO government, seems to think that there’s common ground to be found with people who’ve internalized the government-school Saint FDR claptrap & think corporate power is synonymous w/ a free market.

          Look, libertarians start from a stance of skepticism of central power. Mainstream liberals do not, because they tend to think if the correct people (who don’t exist and never will) hold it it’s all good. Radical Left anarchists don’t have that problem.

          • Charles Flemming

            First of all, I didn’t say movement conservatives are anti government. I said they were in favor of small government.

            Second, I never claimed Reagan was a libertarian. I think he was by and large an economic libertarian, but that is only one component of his own governing philosophy, which is also true of his political legacy and the current conservative movement.

            And that is where I think you are making a mistake. You’re treating the conservative movement—and movement conservatives—as monoliths. Different conservatives prioritize even the issues they agree on according to completely different values. Even within the (thoughtful) individual conservative, there are internal tensions over freedom vs. security vs. innovation vs. stability vs. public morality vs. … We conservatives are not all alike and we, like you—if you’re honest—are not completely internally consistent. We are constantly having to make choices. Trade-offs between seemingly irreconcilable logical forces. Right now, the conservative movement, as represented by such house organs as National Review and Commentary, in recent years have tilted more toward the libertarian position regarding culture. Individually, I’m a good example of that trend.

            Finally, I’m always amazed at non-interventionist libertarians who define libertarianism in such a way as to exclude anyone who believes in a muscular military and a strategy of deterrence.

            I think Goldberg’s original thesis stands: Even purist libertarians—especially purist libertarians—are going to find more common ground with movement conservatives than they are with progressives.

          • longbongsilver

            Even if intervention remains, do we really need to spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined? Especially in light of the fact that 1st-world military dominance has led to enemies concluding (rationally) that they might as well cheat, since a fair fight is impossible*?

            (* – not to say fairness should be any kind of consideration, only stating how it is. Missile shields & multimillion dollar jets are great against enemies that have money for sophisticated missiles & can sustain an air war — that’s why our latest enemies suicide bomb civilians and hijack planes instead)

          • Charles Flemming

            I probably should just ignore the question, since this isn’t a good context for hashing it out. But, and keeping it simple and simplistic:

            That is a huge and important question. My own inclination at this point is borne partly out of the realization that no other nation that fits my definition of “the good guys” stands ready to share the Global Police burden. Pax Americana may not be the best direction, but I sure don’t want to see a Pax Russia or Pax China.

            Once again, this will take us far afield and it’s something I’m more comfortable discussing on my own blog, but I think this points to an area of weakness in the libertarian worldview—crippling weakness in the case of hyper-libertarians. As bullies and thieves get more powerful, the good guys (that’s freedom-loving libertarians) have to defend themselves more powerfully, sometimes to the point of preemption.

          • longbongsilver

            How is this view that global dominance is OK as long as it’s the US doing it any different from the mainstream liberal view that political dominance is good as long as fellow mainstream liberals are doing it?

            IMO the only “good guys”, by definition, are the ones that don’t want that power.

          • Charles Flemming

            Does your local police department exercise municipal dominance because it has more weaponry than most of your city’s citizens and has the ability to make arrests and shoot people?

          • longbongsilver

            Yes, and that’s the entire point of the police.

          • Charles Flemming

            No, it’s not. And your dystopic perception of the role of the police explains more than you are aware.

          • longbongsilver

            It’s called “law enFORCEment for a reason…

            On a lighter note, I admit I did laugh at our text becoming increasingly difficult to read as it folds in on itself.

  • Ayn Rand=snooze

    Liberaltarianism is a bank shot play, duh. Elect Democrats so the Republicans agree with us again.

  • mk

    Well, being somewhere between a liberal and a libertarian, I’m down with the idea of liberaltarianism.

    Will’s explanation was pretty good. And you have to admit it’s a little weird that one would have to choose between social-liberty-but-less-economic-liberty and economic-liberty-but-less-social-liberty.

    Social conservatism, I suspect, is on the outs in the long term. It will take a while, as it always takes society a long time to decisively expunge morally retrograde forces. (Except abortion, which is a pretty genuinely hard issue).

    Alternatively, maybe social conservatism will always exist and will be animated by whatever faddish argument comes along which they are about to lose. (women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, immigration, etc.)

    Democrats are moving towards the center economically. Plenty of money is getting spent but with free trade, welfare, etc., there is movement towards the center. The stimulus bill is an illustration that they just can’t resist however — “oh, just this once. It’s such an unusual situation!”

  • Colin Fraizer

    I guess my problem with your list of wants is “sound social safety net”. What exactly does it mean? The thing that draws me to libertarianism is that it can be summed up by a principle you can actually apply to many items of political concern: “no initiation of the use of force”. A sound social safety net to some means “minimal assistance in recovering from a bad situation” where to others it means “public support of all sorts of ‘positive’ things”.

  • uselessone

    “It will take a while, as it always takes society a long time to decisively expunge morally retrograde forces.”

    To the glorious future, Comrade!

  • SpecialNewb

    “an authentically liberal governing philosophy that understands that limited government, free markets, a culture of tolerance, and a sound social safety net are the best means to better lives.”

    Limited, but not so much it fails or can no longer respond to things like natural disasters, nationwide disease outbreaks and that actually has the ability to provide reasonable oversight of things like food producers, and national defense.

    Free markets where everyone knows what the rules are and those rules are ENFORCED to prevent individuals or corporations from making the market less free for everyone to their own personal advantage and where workers are free to unionize if they want or not unionize as they want.

    A culture of tolerance but also one that supports government efforts at removing systemic bias in public institutions.

    And maybe we’ll differ on the social safety net. Get those things done and I will agree happily that government can lease us alone (though I would appreciate some more funding for scientific and space research–after all all the drug company studies are spun and this way the information is public knowledge).

    But as I’ve aid before I think we can be fellow travelers without following the same path.

  • Craig

    I think this is a discussion that needs to be nurtured and grown. The entire world can see the failure of the 2 party system as it is now being inflicted on the American people. By the registration numbers it would seem that a large number of registered independents (like myself) are without proper representation in the current 2 party lockout.

    There is nothing contrary about personal liberty, social liberalism and fiscal conservatism and nowhere is that view expressed in our present system. Instead it is the warped 2 party discussion followed by depressingly flawed governance. It is to the advantage of the status quo that the combination of those views not be heard on political stage.

    So let it be heard!

  • Guest

    Socialism, hatred of capitalism, and just statism in general are too ingrained in modern liberalism. You’re wasting your time.

  • Sun Ra

    “I’m not sure what it is about that project that would that lead Jonah to think Brink or I should be vexed by the behavior of the Democratic Party and it’s operatives.”

    This should read “its operatives,” I believe.

  • Sun Ra

    “The romance of transformative hope is going to wear off pretty quick as all-but-uncontested Democratic policy deepens and lenghtens the recession.”

    You need the word “lengthens” here.

  • Paul O’Pinion

    It occurs to me that the only way to break the cycle of same old, same old (and older and older BTW) in our 2 party “participatory fascism” is a call for term limits. Every office, 2 terms, no exceptions. New people might have new ideas and less baggage. They might even take each issue on it’s own merits.

  • Stage5

    “I want to help create the possibility of a popular political identity that takes the value of human liberty, in all its aspects, really seriously.”

    Contract this with the perspective of Anthony de Jasay:

    “The question of whether freedom is valuable or a free society is good ought not to enter at all into a properly thought-out political doctrine, liberal or other. It should be resolutely ignored. Whichever way the question were answered would, it seems to me, inevitably steer us in a teleological direction, and undermine the foundations on which the society that we could consider free might stand and survive.”

  • kyle

    “I want to use this time of ferment to work on developing the missing option in American politics: an authentically liberal governing philosophy that understands that limited government, free markets, a culture of tolerance, and a sound social safety net are the best means to better lives.”

    Sounds like you’re conservative then. You will get none of this from the Left.

    • NGF

      Conservative = culture of tolerance huh?

  • Eli

    Honestly I’m not sure if there’s much life left in classical liberalism anyways – as least in the individual freedom/man is an island/bootstraps & brainstems sense. Just as Darwin’s theory of evolution was strengthened and codified by further evidence, not limited to the discovery of DNA, I think collectivism – once a mere common-sense notion, then gun-jumped into a dystopia, is finally getting some real evidenciary legs.

    No good scientist/philosopher takes the concept of free-will very seriously anymore. Materialism has pretty well put that dog to sleep. What we are left with is an anachronistic liberal philosophy clinging to a scientific vacuum: no man is ever, can ever be free. He will forever be a victim of circumstance, whether by genes or environs.

    All is not lost for Freedom however, because the question instead becomes not one of refuge, but one of context. That is, Freedom will never simply exist tabula rasa, absent the impact of social or statist chains, yet it can be nurtured.

    This is where the Classical Liberal recoils in terror. No! Spare us your do-gooder plans! Well, sorry, but dems’ the cold, hard facts. That ship left a long time ago. Freedom is created, not innate, and no amount of wishing is going to change that. Human Freedom is a good IDEA and DREAM and BELIEF and ASPIRATION. But it doesn’t just “happen”. It requires health, good genes, love, nurturing, education, cultural context, etc. Simply put: it “requires”.

    The question is how to most realistically get as many of us there as possible. Some sacrifices must be made. We must all agree to live by certain rules and practices that will not always benefit our individual selves the most at any given time.

    Only fools would presume to think that THEY have the TRUTH on how to do it. The current stimulus debate is a perfect example of INCREDIBLY well-informed people on both sides making very good arguments (give or take a credential or two here and there).

    But what is not up for debate is that every action we take has direct consequences for our fellow man, his children, … thus our own children, … and thus greater future humanity. Just as no good materialist can any longer take credit for his own successes, he can no longer escape responsibility for the failures of others.

  • Craig

    Eli –
    Thanks; it really helps when you capitalize the IMPORTANT words.
    BTW, were you determined by forces beyond your control to adopt such a
    pedestrian rhetorical device?

    • Eli Rector

      Only when not driving my car? :)

  • Greg Panfile

    With all due respect, what is constantly missing from these discussions is acknowledging the fact that, given modern technology, it is impossible to have small government and free markets without the kind of insane blowup that just occurred. True, the Bush ideologues made the situation worse, as did Greenspan’s misguided Randism. But the fact remains that our current environment has a mouse guarding a hen from a fox. There will have to be a balance of power between government and business, otherwise the common people will always get screwed. This means either making government big enough to regulate any business, or keeping business small enough to be regulated by a reasonably-sized government. Conservatives, libertarians, whoever will make no real progress without facing this in practical and not ideological terms, period.

  • Dan

    Ending your argument with the word “period” always makes it so forceful and convincing.

    On a serious note, I like your premise “given modern technology.” Does it occur to you that as the economy grows in complexity, it makes the knowledge problem facing regulation vastly greater? When an investment bank can’t even keep tabs on its own traders, how is the government supposed to control financial markets? Isn’t the best solution to allow those companies that screw up to die, rather than socializing them and perpetuating them?

  • Will

    The Libertarian Capitalist Philosophy: A primer in ten lessons

    1. Government should not pervade all of life.
    2. Business should.
    3. Economic freedom equals political freedom.
    4. Market research is a good substitute for ethics.
    5. Capitalism should dictate the relations between various parts of any given society.
    6. Capitalism should dictate the relations between various parts of the globe.
    7. What have been called “failures” of the free market system are simply indicators that the system has been meddled with too much.
    8. Money is mystical.
    9. Even if the free market paradise is as elusive as a properly-run communism, we will continue to dream of its splendors.
    10. We would be anarchists, but rejecting the authority imposed by capital is just too scary.

  • blake

    Eli,you handily defeat the straw man version of classical liberalism, then you use the strongest argument thoughtful classical liberalism has, but use it against itself. (Only fools would presume to think that THEY have the TRUTH on how to do it)

    not sure what your point is on that.

    thoughtful classical liberalism isnt fetish worship of freedom, its acknowledgement that central planning, whether for economy or behavior, usually causes more problems than it solves. this is not to say all central power is bad, but even most of the laws that we consider vital to social order were effective as common law long before they were written down by central government.

    dan makes a good point, but I think another should be made. you assume that business is the one taking advantage of “common people”. while that does happen, government (including the US) interferes and takes advantage of such people in larger ways and more often than walmart or oil companies ever could. eminent domain abuse, budgetary dishonesty and recklessness that would put any business to shame, etc, are all acts that only a govt entity can commit.
    i have a feeling when a company does something wrong, you condemn it. but when a govt does something wrong, you find a way to think its okay.

    • Eli Rector

      I admit my understanding of classical liberalism is somewhat dodgy, and hence the likely “strawish” character I imbued it with. But I think my point still stands that its defining principle may just be its denial of determinism – which would have been fine centuries or even decades ago… just certainly not today.

      The problem then becomes how society resolves for the individual what he cannot himself. The conservative inclination to DISTRUST central government is healthy. But as a moderate I would say no more healthy that the liberal inclination to TRUST government (all apologies Craig – if I may be so… err… not bold).

      Which brings us to that point I was trying to make on fools: that the verdict on supply side vs. demand side is in tatters. We can argue all day on examples of things ONLY governments or ONLY markets are good at.

      But again, society must be held accountable whether it it acts via either government or markets. Too often times libertarians and conservatives use self-determination as a crutch to shield themselves from social responsibility. If government is fair game for poor policy, then so is its absence.

  • NGF

    Smoking bans and hate speech codes are seen as a bigger threat to liberty than are religious conservatives? Vague claims that traditional institutions and traditional morality are in fact essential concomitants of liberty are made, supported only with hand waving invocations of the ghost of Bill Buckley? The ACLU is cast as the lurking menace of statism, while traditional conservatives are of course thrust into the role of long-time defenders of civil liberties? It never occurs to anyone that the “Peace” part of the Cato Institute slogan might not mesh so well with a certain National Review writer’s well-known position that the US should smack around some puny little country every once in a while just to show the world who’s boss? Why yes, this must have been a discussion initiated somehow by Jonah Goldberg; the trenchant analysis that is the hallmark of him and his followers pervades it.

    I was once a libertarian, and while I am no longer, I still have a great deal of respect for many libertarians and their ideas. Given the relative unpopularity of libertarianism, for the most part one doesn’t come to advocate its principles reflexively and unthinkingly, and this shows in the fact that libertarians can often reference thinkers like Nozick who provide the intellectual underpinnings for their beliefs, unlike most Democrats or Republicans who have almost no awareness of political philosophy at all. But this whole discussion reminds me of when in high school I would go to meetings of a local libertarian group, the members of which seemed very appreciative of every speaker they heard except the one from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who got a notably more muted reception. As best I can tell what made them libertarians is that they hated poor people and minorities even more than conservatives do, and unlike conservatives had motorcycles that they desperately wanted to ride with no helmets on. What they were attracted to is what I would hope is a gross caricature of libertarianism, but then I read a discussion like this and I see these people are still alive and well within libertarian circles today. I’m not going to say that libertarians should be enamored of everything that liberals propose or support, but I think it’s in part the tendency among some libertarians to insist that conservatives simply must be their natural allies that gives the libertarian movement a bad name; it’s what makes it seem like libertarianism must be a name for all that’s bad about conservatism, except made worse. Because from where I sit one of the worst insults that you could level at liberty is to drag its good name through the mud by associating it with the drivel peddled by Jonah Goldberg.

    • Cato

      You make a good point about the strangeness of ‘party’ Libertarians – in my own experience most of them were third raters who believed they were first raters, but that they had been held down by the state, or convention or religion or the like. Or they equated liberty with license (or ‘libertinism’ if you prefer, but ‘license’ is the classical term) Faugh! I couldn’t stand them in California 40 years ago, and they still make my skin crawl.

      The essence of classical liberalism, and (small l) libertarianism, is the primacy of individual liberty in the ordering of society. The problem, of course, comes in unpacking the notion.

  • blake


    you seem to have a lot of unresolved issues with your past and with JG. I rarely read his stuff, im here from a sullivan link, but the commenters here have not been focused on defending religious conservatives. this discussion is (mostly) about who the closest allies to classical liberalism are. those that have said conservatives are closer have made the case from the perspective that the economic perspective of conservatism puts them closer than the civil liberties perspective of modern liberalism.

    your beef seems to be more with libertarian Republicans than with libertarians

    and for the record, other than the idiocy of anti-evolutionism (which is losing), I dont think religious conservatives are a big threat. they mostly just dont want things to change (or evolve) , and that isnt so bad. my biggest gripe with them is that they get Republicans elected who are only pretend “fiscal conservatives” like Huccabee and Palin.

    did goldberg poison your dog?

  • NGF


    No unresolved issues with my past, except for maybe that one night with the transvestite, but I mean he really was a convincing woman … I kid, I kid. I just mentioned that I used to be a libertarian so people would have this context for assessing my comments: that I have some admiration for libertarians, and am familiar with their ideas. And also because the story about the libertarian group that I used to drop in on was funny, along with illustrating my larger point that some people who call themselves libertarians really are just libertarian Republicans, if there can be such a thing, much more so than having been inspired by the writings of Nozick or Hayek or principled and respectable libertarians like that. And sure some of my commentary about the previous discussion and about Goldberg is over the top, but I think that fits with the tone of blogs and their comments generally, and also helps to keep things light-hearted and amusing. But I will defend myself by saying that every single view that I cite as typical of Goldberg or his followers is a view that was voiced at some point in this discussion by a commenter. Smoking bans and hate speech codes, see Craig toward the top. Talk of the importance of tradition and hand waving references to Bill Buckley, see Eric Hosemann. So yes there are people who were making the case for libertarians being closer to conservatives than to liberals in the terms that you mention, though even there I think the case is not very persuasive, but there were also people making the case in just the terms that I described.

    And while I think Jonah Goldberg might poison my dog if I had one and he got the chance, he could also be a great guy personally, obviously I have no idea. But my animus against him as a political commentator is grounded in at least the following complaints:

    1. His sole qualification for being a political commentator is that his Mom was involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal; that’s what provided him the opportunity to be where he is today, not any kind of training or expertise.

    2. His book Liberal Fascism is horrible and juvenile, and he seems to fancy himself some sort of serious thinker and is revered as such by some conservatives, but he has neither the intellectual background or abilities to justify any such pretensions.

    3. And by far most significantly, his views on the Iraq War and foreign policy in general are absolutely repellant (and anti-libertarian I might add), as is amply documented here:

    So there you go. Oh and I don’t see how just not wanting things to change qualifies as liberty-loving exactly, especially when the particular changes that the Republican Party (fueled by its conservative base) has fought hardest against were almost all liberty expanding: civil rights, pro-choice, gay rights, ending U. S. imperialism, and on and on and on.

  • blake


    elaborate on your point about the case for libertarians being closer to conservatives being unpersuasive. in bouts of political despair (like now) i wonder if modern liberals might be closer to libertarians because it seems there are no fiscally conservative repubs in office, just social conservatives who pay lip service to it then fold as soon as they get the chance. but then i see democrats behavior, and i realize, for me, they are even farther away, and i go with what i think is the lesser of two evils. i think religious conservatism is less harmful than economic “progressivism” . i would be considered a social liberal, but i think the economic issues are bigger than the social ones in this country simply due to the number of people such issues affect.

    and since i cant even remember the last thing i read of jg (probably something on the iraq war), i will take your opinion as informed and possibly justified. as you can probably tell, im here less for discussing jg and more for discussing things with libertarians.

    and part of the reason i dont get more excited about the progressive agenda with civil rights, gay rights and us imperialism is that i find their methods either ineffective or counter-productive.

    • NGF

      As I see it you can look at this from two perspectives: a theoretical one, or a practical one.

      On the theoretical level, I can’t see any clear reason why economic freedom would necessarily be more important than social freedom, and hence why conservatives would obviously be greater allies of libertarians than liberals. You could say that economic matters affect more people, as you seem to suggest, but there are at least two problems with that. One is that look at the range of issues that is important to religious conservatives: abortion, same-sex marriage, school prayer, and so on. When you start adding up all the groups that any narrow-minded faction is going to want to marginalize, the number of people affected is often going to be pretty large. Second you may say that it is the comparative severity of the infringements of liberty that should be the tie-breaker for libertarians: religious conservatives are pushing minor impositions for small groups, while taxes are large and levied on everyone. But at the same time a liberal could respond that taxes are really not such a burden for a wealthy person: to a libertarian that will be beside the point, but that’s because to a libertarian the point is supposed to be prohibiting the coercion itself, not worrying about the magnitude of the bad consequences that may come from allowing different forms of coercion. Anyway to me what I found most objectionable in the discussion was the seeming assumption among some that it was just obvious that libertarians should favor conservatives over liberals: it sort of seems to send the message that at the end of the day who really cares that much about the weirdos and freaks the social liberals want to save from marginalization. And I think that has something to do with the fact that the definite majority of libertarians are white and at least middle-class males, who themselves tend not to be the target of the discriminatory efforts of religious conservatives, but who do of course bear the brunt of liberal tax policies. In other words the preference for conservatism over liberalism expressed here might well be more about what issues affect the people commenting here than any sort of principled theoretical reasoning for why those issues are more important than social issues.

      Now on a practical level, it gets much more complicated, with many more factors to balance and whatnot, but here are at least a few considerations to weigh. First that liberals often want to curb corporate welfare and defense spending, two weighty sources of budgetary problems, which I would think libertarians could appreciate. Next is that liberals tend to be much better on civil liberties and peace issues than are conservatives, which effects not only the basic rights of people domestically but also the human rights of people abroad. Finally that even if you are right that liberals don’t have effective tactics for inducing change on the issues that they care about, it certainly is far from clear that conservatives have effective tactics for reducing the size of government: it simply hasn’t happened, regardless of which party is in power. And if government is going to be intervening in the economy and taxing people and running up deficits, there could be a certain sort of fairness in saying that it can’t do it just to fund wars and giveaways to wealthy companies, some of it should go to the poor as well. That’s why Jon Stewart said the issue with economic debates today isn’t redistribution, it’s distribution to whom. And that’s why Ron Paul attacks the Fed’s existence and policies as tilting the economy in favor of rich bankers, and acknowledged how ridiculous it was for the first spending bill that Bush ever vetoed to be the SCHIP expansion.

      Those are at least some of my reasons for thinking that both theoretically and practically it is far from clear that libertarians should consider themselves closer to conservatives than to liberals.

  • TexasJew

    You seem like an especially confused liberal. Stalinist social and economic planning are not Libertarian. If you don’t like partisan politics, then jump into a spaceship and fly off to another planet. These political divisions are very, real and have deep historical and philosophical roots, while your manufactured socialist-enabling ersatz “Libertarianism” does not.

  • Cato

    As a classical liberal who has actually read the classical liberal economists and political philosophers (the “philosophic radicals” as they were once termed), I find the notion of liberaltarianism to be nonsense. Worse, it’s risible nonsense. Either liberty is primary or it’s not. Political liberty is not possible without economic liberty. Economic liberty, that is an economy ordered by economic actors rather than political actors, has been the engine of human progress for the past 200 years.

    What has come to be called ‘liberalism’ in These States is essentially socialism, the statist notion that the individual is subordinate to the state, either directly or indirectly though some notion such as the General Will. It’s a fundamentally totalitarian worldview, for all of its alleged concern with various ‘victims’.

    As an intellectual, I understand, and for many years shared, the disdain of the “Rotarian” nature of the right. Yet, when push comes to shove, those patriotic and (often) religious righties are the ones who are willing to put their lives on the line to defend Western Civilization. And, that’s ultimately why I have no respect for “liberaltarians” — not only are they not serious friends of liberty in any form (other than license for themselves), but they are not personally willing to defend civilization.

    • NGF

      “They are not personally willing to defend civilization.”

      Evidently Rudyard Kipling, not Ron Paul, was the true libertarian.

      Which one of the United States’s wars, except for perhaps WWII, has been to defend civilization exactly?

  • Cato

    If you don’t understand that our civilization faced an existential threat from totalitarian Fascism and Marxism and faces an existential threat from totalitarian Islam, you understand nothing. The veneer of civilization is very thin. These competing ideologies or religions (they’re both probably both in the sense of being essentially closed and unverifiable systems and in being teleological) are themselves intolerant and would destroy liberal (small r) republicanism.

    And, I think one could probably make a strong case that Kipling was a better classical liberal than Ron Paul.

  • blake

    the reason i think economics trumps social issues is my view of the current state of US affairs. (recent years, not just the last 5 months of bailout fever). Here in California, gay civil unions have the same rights as hetero married couples, and even with a gay in my immediate family, i just dont think gay marriage is that big a deal. i have to laugh when people say its about equal rights, because here in CA, it certainly isnt. that debate is over, now its a fight over names. i think the current civil rights movement for minorities is completely co-opted by charlatans and does more harm than good.
    as for peace issues, i strongly disagree that liberals tend to be better. far too often they are willing to go in the opposite direction of the crusading conservatives, and be squeamish about facing things like genocide, because of a tendency to equivocate on right and wrong and a commitment to pacifism as an excuse; serbia ( i know clinton led the charge, but he was not highly liberal, and those he had to fight for it internationally were not conservatives), rwanda, darfur.
    as a teacher, i also have a special disdain for unions, and could go on forever about that topic.

    its true that conservatives have failed to shrink govt, and this may require my reevaluation, but they at least used to not swell it as quickly. and my concern isnt just shrinking taxes, but shrinking interference in many spheres; education, telecom monopolies, crop and oil subsidies, etc. at the very least, at least most conservatives dont think every economic ill is due to “corporate greed”.

    you make a very fair point about the perspective of most libertarians, but most liberals are also white and middle class, especially those considered leaders.

    as to the point of republicans not being fiscally conservative, this worries me quite a bit. fiscal conservatism depends on both spending restraint and taxing restraint, and low taxes without low spending could very well be worse than neither. they will use the politically popular one as a cludgeon, but completely ignore the other. this may be the reason libertarianism cant be popular. spending restraint means everyone cant line up for handouts, and FDR’s “greatest” contribution was the development of the modern special interest govt feeding trough. it is the reason democrats dominated the congress almost exclusively from the 30s-90s.
    it is true that the real question is “who gets the distribution?”, but it seems that is a function of the self selection that occurs when one decides to run for office, not of the rank and file conservatives. by that i mean that those who run for office, even those with an R in front of their names, by definition, think govt coercion is the answer.

  • Ray

    Reading over all this discussion, I have to say I’m kind of surprised. None of it is really that complicated. Libertarianism, the free market, all of it spells out the same basic message that I’ve heard in my thirty-nine years dealing with criminals and racketeers. If there’s a buck to be made, you make it. You remove any impediments to making it; it’s that simple. I have no idea why these grandiose concepts and noble aspirations are associated with it. It’s a heist, it’s a hustle. It’s just a really well organized one. A lot of brainy people are putting the whole thing together. Talk to your local Mafioso, and he’ll give you a version of Milton Friedman without all the hoopla about democracy. And he’s not going to bust your balls about the best way to run a society, either.

  • blake

    your trolling is hilarious! why dont you hang out with the super castro bros and hugo chavez and you guys can compliment each others deep understanding?

    some criminals also think smoking is bad; therefore its obviously good!

    you should leave so the adults can talk

  • Ray

    Adults? Much of this really sounds like a bunch of adolescent, snarky white boys trying to one-up each other.

  • blake

    keep trying . . .

    some trolls are at least amusing.

    “white boys” . . . i dont know how to respond to such devastating insight!

  • blake


    you sound like an adolescent, snarky trying to one-up other internet trolls

  • Ray

    Well, no. Trolling doesn’t interest me that much. Actually I’m taking screenshots for an installation piece–I’m scrambling some of the stuff, other parts I’m keeping as is. I wanted to provoke an amusing exchange, and got one. So thanks. Sorry if it really bothered you.

  • hemorrhoidmiracle

    any more information for this article?

  • Spiznack

    Not necessarily a lost cause so much as a mixed bag as are modern conservatives. I know lot’s of modern liberals who are strongly opposed to smoking bans and censorship. I even know several modern liberal who support abolishing the FCC altogether! Will all liberals readily jump on board with classical liberalism. Certainly not! Neither will most modern conservatives. The fact of the matter is that statists are statists are statists. Neither the right nor the left value liberty as libertarians value liberty. However, we can make inroads with people affiliated with BOTH modern liberalism and modern conservatism because there are individuals in both camps with whom we can find common ground on various issues. I’ve personally been talking to liberals who never thought they could compromise with libertarians along the “liberaltarian” lines proposed by Wilkinson and Lindsey and they are pleasantly surprised. I also know plenty of liberals who are not at all receptive. However, in the long run, by making inroads now, we might be able to, as Will puts it, “freshen the stale dialectic of American politics, and to create new possibilities for American political identity”.

  • odograph

    I took the list as kind of a gestalt, and suspect that Tyler is really telling us “10, mostly.”

  • odograph

    Or maybe I’ve been reading too much Roubini

  • Beth

    No, but it does rather discredit the Republican’s current claim to be shocked! and appalled! at deficit spending.

    The conservative movement appears to have cut the Republicans a world of slack, rather than calling them out on their inconsistency, so I hardly think it’s unfair to call the modern (primarily socially-)conservative Republican party and those people who support it at odds with libertarianism. Personally I wouldn’t give a Republican a credit card, much less the country’s finances.

  • Pat

    And they wound up with Bush’s civil liberties and foreign affairs policies anyway.

  • Tannim

    Right on the money. It’s not an argument over left-statism or right-statism and which of those the anti-statist libertarians like me align more closely with. It’s about liberty vs. statism in general. When one moves past the left-right tyranny distraction and into the real problem of freedom vs. tyranny, then we’re getting somewhere.

  • Tim

    He’s been in office for 3 weeks….he closed Gitmo and froze his staffers’ pay almost immediately, and you somehow think that means those policies are all the same?

  • Dan

    I dare you to say to Jamie Dimon’s face that JPMC is insolvent.

  • tollhouse

    Gitmo is closed? Who knew.