The Hope and Horror of Liberaltarian Alignments

Tyler Cowen and Arnold Kling have both discussed some or all of this passage from Ross Douthat, in which he expresses concern for the possible damage of a possible flight of libertarian intellectuals toward the left. I'll take it in two pieces. 

What could happen … is a bigger-tent liberalism – somewhat chastened, perhaps, by some big-government failures in the Obama era – that makes libertarian intellectuals feel welcome, engages them in conversations about smarter regulations and more efficient tax policy, and generally woos them away from their culturally-dissonant alliance with people who attend megachurches and Sarah Palin rallies. This would make for a smarter left-of-center in the short run, but I think in the long run it would be pernicious. It would further the Democratic Party's transformation into a closed circle of brainy meritocrats, and push the Republican Party in a yet more anti-intellectual direction. And it would produce an elite consensus more impervious to structural critiques, and a right-wing populism more incapable of providing them. The Democratic Party would hold power more often, and become more sclerotic as a result; the GOP would take office less often, and behave more recklessly on those rare occasions when it did manage to seize the reins of state. 

First, I think Ross is right to see this as a game about the distribution of opinion elites. Second, I think he's right to imply that a GOP with a weakened libertarian influence would become a more “right-wing populist” party. Which I think helps me make my point. Why would an intellectual libertarian want to keep company with a group of flag-waving moral reactionaries? Masochism? Now, if I interpret this as an argument aimed at people like me, it's an exceedingly odd one. Ross seems to say that a more liberaltarian Democratic party would both produce better regulatory and tax policy and win more elections.

Why shouldn't I, an incrementalist classical liberal, think that's an awesome result? Because on the rare occasion the GOP manages to govern they'll wreck the country? And so thinky libertarian types should remain the redheaded stepchild of old fusionism so that right-populists don't actually indulge their terrifying instincts? I'm not sure that's what Ross is saying, but that sort of sounds like what he's saying.  

This is obviously a political gloss on what is essentially an intellectual project, and I know Will, like many libertarians I admire, prides himself on not thinking in terms of partisanship. But for anyone who cares about political outcomes, I think it's important to consider the correlation of forces when you set out on ideological projects – especially in a country where the two-party structure has been as durable as it's been in ours. I understand the impulse for smart, independent-minded libertarians to flee what seems like an increasingly anti-intellectual American Right and seek conversations and alliances with the friendlier parts of the left-of-center. But the vacuum on the Right also militates in favor of smart, idiosyncratic thinkers trying to fill it, instead of fighting for a seat at the crowded liberal table. That doesn't mean registering as a Republican, attending CPAC, or casting a vote for McCain-Palin (or the next iteration thereof). But it means being open to the possibility that the old fusionism, battered and bruised as it is, may still hold as much promise for the advancement of libertarian policy goals as “liberaltarianism” ever will.

I'm glad that Ross sees that the American Right is increasingly anti-intellectual. But I don't think that's best combatted by sticking it out and raising the intellectual tone of an increasingly hostile group of egghead haters. As I think Ross agrees, the balance of elite opinion matters. And I think intellectual capital flight from the right really does threaten the GOPs future success. If Republicans keep bleeding young intellectual talent because increasingly socially liberal twenty-somethings simply can't stand hanging around a bunch of superstitious fag-bashers, then the GOP powers-that-be might start to panic and realize that, once the last cohort of John Birchers die, they've got no choice but to move libertarian on social issues. Maybe. I like to imagine.

But Ross's crystal ball is no better than mine. So I think my best bet is just to go ahead and try to come up with a more coherent and effective version of practical market-friendly liberalism. I'd like to think that would be attractive to the tens of millions of Americans who think conservatives are vile, that conventional liberals are too deep in the pocket of the Democratic Party to actually promote prosperity and opportunity, and that libertarians are dogmatic, weird, and irrelevant.

  • Joe Kristan

    How do you say that the right is “anti-intellectual?” Compared to what, exactly? Maxine Waters? Joe Biden? Barney Frank? Unless you equate religious faith with anti-intellectualism – and maybe you do – I fail to see it. Because professors are liberal makes liberalism more intellectual? Like, say, the supergeniuses in your local Department of Social Work?

    A lot of libertarians just are more comfortable socially with liberals than with traditional conservatives. They enjoy the same sushi bars, drink the same lattes, and feel at home together mocking people who take things like church seriously. Unfortunately for liberaltarians, the liberals as a class share maybe 10% of the economic and freedom agenda of liberals — free availability of abortion, maybe gay marriage, and non-intervention in other countries when Republicans are in charge (and you’d be surprised how many conservatives out in the sticks don’t much care about gay marriage). Once you get beyond making fun of Sarah Palin, there isn’t much for movement libertarians and liberals to agree on.

    The whole liberaltarian effort looks like an attempt to fit in at the liberal cocktail party without selling out. Will talks about it as a “social” effort. The irreconcilable conflict between the smothering nanny state and a freedom agenda will prevent it from amounting to much more.

    The real friends of the libertarians are in the pews and out in the sticks. The only people with remotely libertarian views on economics and the role of the state who actually run governments are in the counties, small towns, and red-state statehouses. It’s sad how many libertarians want to mock these people as “anti-intellectual” when they hold compatible intellectual views in so many ways. If you socialize with them, I’m sure they won’t speak in tongues to you.

    • manuelg

      > The real friends of the libertarians are in the pews and out in the sticks.

      Wow. Just like “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”. A sentence whose grammar is correct, but whose meaning is nonsensical.

      I am imagining every high school nerd that ever fed a revenge fantasy off of _Atlas Shrugged_, standing up and running into the beckoning arms of rural Southern Baptists. Feel the love…

    • A Nony mouse

      “Unless you equate religious faith with anti-intellectualism – and maybe you do . . . .”

      Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.

      • Mark G

        The late Pope John Paul II was many things, but calling him “anti-intellectual” suggests a idiosyncratic definition of that term.

      • trevortb

        The only way you get to jump to that conclusion is if YOU, A Nony Mouse, equate religious faith with anti-evolution and global warming denialism – which I don’t. There have been many studies that prove somewhat of a correlation, but I know plenty of religious folks who subscribe to Darwin.

        I do however, equate creationism and global warming denialism with anti-intellectualism. I don’t know if Will does.

  • Greg N.
    • Will Wilkinson

      It’s a venerable tradition!

      • Greg N.

        Venerable, sure. Successsful? Not so much. Maybe the last administration provides a new opportunity for the same efforts, but since the left doesn’t need us to win politically, what incentive do they have to work with us at all? I think the Rawlsekian approach (maybe it should just be called the Hayekian approach since, as I understand it (which admittedly is superficially) the outcome of his “system” yields roughly Rawlsian ends) is roughly the correct political philosophy.

        But whether whatever philosophical overlap exists between us and them can translate into a real working relationship with leftist elites is not at all clear, even if all you’re looking for is, say, a sweet social network or book parties.

        To me the non-theoretical parts of this project (whatever they are) are like a Dungeons and Dragons geek approaching a popular jock and saying, “let’s put our differences aside. After all, those band dorks are enemies of us both and together we can defeat them.” Of course, the popular jock doesn’t need the D+D geek’s help to defeat the band dork. So why would he want to compromise or inconvenience himself when he can just defeat the band dork by himself?

        • LarryM

          Unsuccessful? Depends, I guess, how one defines success. While the government is no smaller than it was (say) 20 years ago, a lot of the most inefficient/damaging regulation/programs are gone. Libertarian influence has led to better designed, les pernicious (in the sense of less economicly inefficient) regulation & spending program.

          I can see why some people might not want to define that as a success (especially in the sense that big government that is more efficient might be more popular), but some libertarians would differ.

  • Tim

    You say libertarians are rather irrelevant right now, and that is correct as Ron Paul spent several years showing us. However, if the Republicans don’t smarten up or have the old fogies die off….or some combination of neither……..then that party will die off as others have in the past. Would that not leave the libertarians as the “other” significant party? Would they not be what is left? Or would you suspect what would remain is left of the Democrats….I for one doubt it, that would leave too much of a vacuum on the right. With that said, do libertarians then hang out in the Democratic party for a few years waiting to either take the reigns of the Republican party or wait until it dies off and assume the role of the opposition party? Comments?

  • Tim

    Because professors are liberal makes liberalism more intellectual?

    I would suggest….yes. If the smart people are liberal, does that not say anything to you. I would go as far as to suggest libertarians are by far the most “intellectual” of any political belief structure. Go out in the real world and most religous/social conservatives just simply go with I want my taxes low ideology and vote accordingly. The same as liberals who don’t want their abortions and gay marriages interrupted just simply hook up with liberal thought on taxes and spending……meanwhile in between somewhere is a group who thinks through the benefits of each and realize the best of both worlds……and I’m a proud liberal.

    • JB

      Who says professors are smart? You do?

      Those who can’t do, teach.

      • Maelin

        Their IQ scores prove that they’re smart. Or do you disdain such science, preferring instead things like street-smarts or common sense or the omnicient gut? If so, you fit right in with the increasingly-Palinized Right, and you are the reason intellectuals are fleeing your party like rats from a sinking ship.

        • JB

          My party? I don’t even have a party, buddy.

          Anything citing “their IQ scores”? I know facts are hard and all.

          I went to a top 20 school and often had fairly intelligent professors, but I purposefully avoided the boatload of morons. This was at one of the “better” schools. Academia, from professors down to students, isn’t all that brilliant as many people like to claim it is.

          • skeptical

            It isn’t the morons vs. smart people. What makes “intellectuals” is the ability to be persuaded by demonstrable proof, and even your boatloads of morons are educable because they read, critically evaluate research, expose themselves to multiple points of view, even if they don’t like them.

            That makes middling professors at middling schools more “intellectual” than all the people responsible for Republican recruiting this decade, and however much Libertarian intellectual purity stands up to weaselly liberalism, Libertarians haven’t quite understood human problems and suffering aren’t solved by a shouting match.

            You might have done well to immerse yourself in the thinking of a boatload of morons.

          • JB

            Human problems are definitely not solved by people shouting “I care ALOT and poor people hurt me in my sensitive places” while actively promoting policies that screw over people.

            If you honestly don’t think Republicans read, then maybe you need to get out more and meet a few of them. I don’t think many college professors are “intellectual” because very few of them question the dogma they hear and spread on a consistent basis.

  • manuelg

    > tens of millions of Americans who think conservatives are vile, that conventional liberals are too deep in the pocket of the Democratic Party to actually promote prosperity and opportunity, and that libertarians are dogmatic, weird, and irrelevant

    Settle down there, Sparky. More Americans vote for the next American Idol than vote. I doubt you could find tens of millions of Americans who could _parse_ those words, much less endorse them.

  • Greg N.

    And wasn’t “low tax liberalism” of the 1980 Clark/Koch/Crane campaign an even earlier version of liberaltarianism?

    • Will Wilkinson

      A super-venerable tradition!

      It made sense to focus on tax rates then. Now, the focus should be more on the composition of spending.

      • newshutz

        The size of spending is itself the major problem. Whether it is payed for by taxes, borrowing, or inflation, it is the size of the spending that is the problem.

        Or perhaps the target should be the burden of regulation.

        I have always wondered why so many are pro-regulation when the “powerful actors” that are the target of regulation, so often co-opt the regulations to protect themselves.

        Either way, government most often works at cross purposes to the claims of the instigators.

      • TGGP

        Now, the focus should be more on the composition of spending.
        Why should a libertarian care about that? It’s not that we want the Bible or Das Kapital in schools, we’re opposed to public education!

  • Gene

    You know what was awesome? Ross Douthat’s article in the post-election “future of conservatism” issue of National Review, where he said that what Sarah Palin needed to do was go on the View and do an African tour with Bono. I’m not making that up. It’s the future of conservatism.

  • Gene

    Other than the fact that it kind of wanted to make me kill myself, it was pretty awesome.

  • Gene

    er, kind of made me want to kill myself. Carry on.

  • Unit

    The reality is that Republicans think A and when in power do B, while Democrats think C and when in power do B. Libertarians are generally against B. What we need is a substantial presence of libertarians in both parties, so that when in power there is an internal narrative that advises against doing B.

  • TGGP

    If only the right was characterized by Birchers. They were too libertarian for Goldwater, so he kicked them off the bus (though he owed his nomination in part to them). Birchers distrust the government even when the GOP is in charge.

    • MikeS

      Birchers distrust the government even when the GOP is nominally in charge, because it’s run by the Jews either way. I don;t think that’s where Will wants to go.

      • TGGP

        Some prominent Birchers kicked off the bus by Goldwater & Buckley were themselves Jewish. Their paranoia was about communism (among the most healthy things to be paranoid about), and most of the people they accused of being commies were gentiles.

  • Jer

    Most liberals I speak with have an even lower view of libertarians (as in: “they want Walmart to have its own private army”) than they have of conservatives.

    Sure, maybe libertarians want to help make policy with liberals, is there any indication that the feeling is reciprocal?

    • Liz

      Is the feeling reciprocal? I kind of doubt it! My own experience says that conservatives and liberals today at least share some sort of populist sentiment. General reaction towards anything remotely libertarian/”liberaltarian” is that it’s too “ivory tower.”

    • JB

      Liberals for the most part hate libertarians. Generally liberals aren’t very bright (but boy do they like to think they are!) and they hate it when people don’t fit in the neat little boxes they create in their minds.

      I’ve had problems with numerous liberal friends because they are so close-minded and won’t even talk to people who don’t think in lock-step with them. I do know a few open-minded liberals, but I tend to find conservatives and libertarians that I meet to be more open-minded.

  • Pithlord

    I don’t entirely understand this whole debate. Will isn’t particularly interested in dirty, non-theoretical politics anyway, and no political operator cares how libertarinas vote, since they would be outnumbered by people who make balloting errors. So what is the significance of this discussion?

    • Will Wilkinson

      Hey, It’s these other guys who are trying to make this politically relevant! I just want a solid political philosophy and a sweet social network. Then, what happens happens. (Probably a mild shift in the parameters in left and right, at best. At worst, book parties!)

      • JB

        Finally some honesty. This is really about you fitting in at cocktail parties with all the rabid liberals you hang out with.

        How about just telling them they should be more open-minded? I’m sure you’ll get an open-minded response with that suggestion.

  • Noah Yetter

    “The Democratic Party would hold power more often, and become more sclerotic as a result;…”

    Did you miss this whole statement? Ross’ point is that if all the libertarian intellectuals join forces with the D’s instead of the R’s, not only will the R’s do a bunch of damage when they do win, but all the rest of the time when the D’s are in power they will be ineffective and corrupt. You won’t GET your better regulatory and tax policy outcomes.

    Not that I think this is a terribly sensical way to choose sides, I just wanted to make his point clearer.

    • Will Wilkinson

      Well, he seems say that we’ll get better policy FOR AWHILE. When it gets sclerotic, jump ship!

  • odograph

    Interesting, I wrote a post about Republican anti-intellectualism back in October 2007 (I’m a “lapsed” Republican because …

    I’ve certainly given up “waiting” since then. I just call myself centrist or independent.

  • Jason Kuznicki

    “I think [Ross Douthat is] right to imply that a GOP with a weakened libertarian influence would become a more “right-wing populist” party.”

    Isn’t this rather directly reversing cause and effect? Libertarians got fed up and left because the GOP became a right-wing populist party.

    • Will Wilkinson

      I think so.

  • Paul O’Pinion

    Are Victor Davis Hanson and Charles Krauthammer not intelligent enough? Krauthammer is actually in favor of abortion. I think that Will’s best point is that if Republicans/Conservatives don’t stop harping on social issues (abortion, drug legalization, gay marriage to name a few), they will never recover. It would also help, of course, if they actually did practice fiscal restraint, which goes back to Unit’s mention of think A and do B.

    • Will Wilkinson

      I didn’t say that there are no smart conservatives. I am saying that there WILL BE no smart conservatives the way things are going. It’s telling that when David Brooks wrote a column mentioning bright young lights on the right, he ended up mentioning several liberal-leaning libertarians.

    • MikeS

      Are Victor Davis Hanson and Charles Krauthammer not intelligent enough?

      Yes. At least, their partisanship makes them say stupid things, which is close enough for pundit work.

    • Jenna’s Bush

      Charles Krauthammer intelligent?

      LOL! That’s a good one!

  • Jer

    Didn’t the stimulus bill basically represent progressives telling libertarians to go shove it?

    I guess I’d understand the discussion better if I felt constantly wooed by the Democrats. I don’t.

    • Will Wilkinson

      No. The stimulus bill represented democrats servicing their constituencies. The entire Bush administration was the GOP telling libertarians to shove it. Except for failed social security reform. We had one brief, beautiful moment there.

      • Kevin B. O’Reilly

        Don’t forget the guest-worker program proposal. That was a nice moment — not sure if it shined, though.

        • Will Wilkinson

          True. Bush/Rove had great instincts on immigration. I think Bush and McCain were not only ahead of their party, but ahead of their country on one of the most important moral issues in politics. They really deserve credit for this. It’s a shame that the rest of the immigrant-bashing GOP decided to give America’s fastest-growing demographic group reason to hate it for generations to come. And it didn’t even keep them from bleeding seats. Talk about unbelievably stupid.

          • Dain

            I’ve met almost no progressives/liberals who recognize any distinction between conservatives and liberals. Look at the widespread assumption that Bush was a free-marketeer. Or here, in California, where Schwarzenegger is hated for his “austerity” measures and cruel budget cuts, even as he’s presided over a 40% increase during his tenure so far.

            The opinion forming elite’s understanding of nuance doesn’t seem to “trickle down.”

      • ap

        not sure this statement makes sense, as another pointed out below.

        both sides are telling libertarians to shove it.

  • webgrrl

    right-wing populist

    Too late, it’s happening already. If you’re watching Chris Matthews tonite, you just saw a GOP House member blame the financial crisis on Chuck Schumer and George Soros. . . a.k.a. “The Jews Did It.”

    • Charles Flemming

      So you’re equating blaming Chuck Schmuer and Goerge Soros with anti-semitism?

      I guess that passes for intelligence in your neck of the liberal woods.

  • Jer

    If they service their constituencies out of my taxes or inflation, I’m kinda taking that as a “shove it”.

    I agree fully about the Bush admin. of course.

  • Septimus

    Excellent post. Some are trying. Check out the Modern Whig Party at

  • GilM

    Count me among the skeptics that libertarians will ever find a happy alliance with the statist, collectivist, left. They may praise autonomy in theory, but in practice they quickly surrender it to state institutions.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s wise to align with the right much either (and be rendered irrelevant while the left has more power). And, they have their own set of coercive interferences they’d like to impose.

    I think the best we can hope for is to try to remain an intellectual check against the worst of both sides. This may help us stave off either sort of tyranny until the singularity arrives and our robot overlords take over.

    • webgrrl

      No no no Gil, too pessimistic. See, the Singularity happens. So we all upload ourselves into awesome hot android bodies – think Darryl Hannah as Pris in Blade Runner – which we lease, so we can change ’em every 3 years. That means you get to be Harrison Ford! What’s not to like?

      I believe in this scenario the best job training for the future will be yoga teacher, or any mind/body therapy – that way you can specialize in helping emulated digital peopleminds learn to “drive” the more advanced features of their new modelbodies smoothly. Think like, racecar instructor but for your pelvis. Srsly, boyfriend, srlsly!

      • GilM


        I’m sure there’ll be a time when it’ll just be human augmentation and friendly AI.

        But, eventually they’ll advance and then meet some of the real idiots among us. And then we’ll be fighting Terminators all day. So, maybe we should bone up on urban warfare as well as yoga.

  • Craig

    I am no conservative, but this ‘liberals are intelligent, conservatives are troglodytes’ meme is, to put it mildly, ridiculous.
    I spend a lot of time around liberals, and, apart from their narrow area of expertise, they are not that well-informed. In fact, they often haven’t read even the most elementary arguments of those with whom they disagree.
    And they are most emphatically not open to real or classical liberalism.

    • P.M. Jaworski

      I think the meme has legs.

      I don’t know many intellectual conservatives. When I come across them, scratch the surface a bit, out pops someone who is better described as a libertarian rather than a conservative.

      There is a relevant distinction that isn’t often made between a political morality and the institutions that you endorse. You can be a) libertarian on the former and therefore libertarian on the latter. b) something else on the former and a libertarian on the latter. and c) something else on the former and something else on the latter.

      This makes it possible for someone to endorse social conservatism as a culture, while insisting on all the same, or roughly similar, institutions that libertarians do. I meet *plenty* of intellectual “conservatives” in this sense. But I’m inclined to focus on the institutions, rather than on the reasons why people endorse those institutions, including empirical beliefs about what, in fact, will happen should we slash taxes, uphold freedom of speech, end the drug war, and so on, when assessing someone as either libertarian or not.

      I care not a whit, when categorizing people as libertarian or not, whether or not they are fundamentally utilitarian, welfarist, Rawlsian, liberal, social conservative, contractarian, Kantian, natural rightists, Randians or, etc. in their moral outlook. Jesus could have had a chat with them late one night and told them that eminent domain is bad for all I care. What matters is what institutions these people endorse, for purposes of political categorization.

      This is why Objectivists count as libertarians, even if they stomp their feet real hard and insist that they’re not (damnit), why Milton Friedman counts as a libertarian, why the J.S. Mill of “On Liberty” does too, and so on.

      But maybe a few examples of intellectual conservatives who endorse political institutions that would keep teh gays from having an equal shot at divorce as teh straights, who insist on upping the drug war, who think we need to have certain decency laws and so on, might help me get over thinking that The Meme is The Truth.

  • C3

    I continue to struggle with this “the Republicans are anti-intellectual” meme. Are we talking intellectual as in “well read” or intellectual as in “thoughtful”. I find “thoughtless” folks on both ends. Some of them are “well read” but more as a point of reference than a point of discussion.

    Contempt (overt or otherwise) of the general populace will not help either party. So four years ago Thomas Frank got to rag on the folks in Kansas and now this year several conservative/libertarians pile on. Is this about the intellectual strength of a party or the electoral strength?

    PS Why must it a bipolar?

  • The Timid Scholar

    WIll, I wonder what you’d think of “Rational Progressivism”? I came across this concept in an essay by Nate Silver of If this be liberalism, then liberaltarianism may have a chance, I think. Check it out:

    • Will Wilkinson

      Sounds pretty good to me. Silver is exactly the kind of guy I find it worthwhile to talk to.

  • newshutz

    One stumbling block to a liberal libertarian alliance is the presumption that there are real liberals out there to ally with.

    It seems to me that there are lots of Democratic party partisans and lots of anti-market leftists, but very few liberals.

    Just as there are lots of Republican party partisans and lots of traditionalists, but very few real pro-market conservatives.

    Libertarians need to reach out the few like minded in both camps, because there are not enough of any one of us.

  • Kent Guida

    Will, if what you want is better political philosophy, you need to spend time with people who take philosophy seriously, and that pretty much rules out conventional progressive liverals, and pretty much rules out everyone who spends their time in the political arena.

    Philosophy and activism don’t mix very well. Even those rare people who do both don’t do both at the same time. If you are trying to make a point about philosophy as an activity to a bunch of politicdal activists, you shouldn’t be surprised you can’t get to first base.

    I suggest you leave it at “People should pursue philosophy, without regard to acquisition of political power, and in that pursuit they should seek out others with the same desire, regardess of political affiliation.”

    If you can get enough people doing that, good things might happen in the political arena. But that’s not why you do it, is it?

    • Will Wilkinson

      Kent, Agreed. Our liberaltarian activities have been focused on academics. Brink and I have done small conferences at UCLA, Princeton, and Stanford featuring mostly academic liberals and libertarians. Like I keep having to repeat. My motivation has almost nothing to do with short-term partisan politics. It has to do with ideas, identity, and frutiful intellectual community. I have learned a huge amount from sympathetic academic liberals, and intend to learn more. I’m tired of libertarian cocooning, so I’m done with it. But I think I’ve got a lot to bring to academic liberals. The lessons of Hayek, Buchanan, Coase, North, Vernon Smith (just to name my favorite Nobelists) are profound and will be integrated into any plausible, workable future liberalism.

      • Dain

        I’ve become even more disinterested in activism since discovering the depressing literature on ideology, with its “motivated skepticism” and such. Who was it that said “Intellectuals make poor leaders [and followers I’d add] because they are always in doubt”? It’s disheartening to think, as even you’ve hinted at Will, that any kind of activism libertarians partake in will not enliven the human spirit/psyche, because it isn’t built to appreciate the non-romance of the extended order and a strong defense of individual autonomy.

        That’s where I’m at, and it’s left me as an outwardly pleasant cynic who likes to go to “cocktail parties”, i.e. techno clubs, occasionally shock liberals (I’m in the bay area – where are the conservatives anyway?) by defending well my libertarian ideas, and perhaps get laid by doing so too.

      • Greg N.

        So when can we buy “A Hayekian Left” at Border’s?

  • Kent Guida

    In that case I think it is safe to say your project has essentially nothing to do with the Rothbard-Crane left-right alliance strategy or its current liberaltarian incarnation.

  • HS

    Yes… The Modern Whig Party does come to mind. Founded by Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, they have quickly attracted 25,000-30,000 members. While a drop in the bucket, they do seem to be on to something.

  • db

    There seem to be a lot of commenters above defending Republicans from the charge of anti-intellectualism on the grounds that, in practice, people who vote Democrat are no more intellectual than those who vote Republican. I think this misses the point.

    The reason Republicans are viewed as more anti-intellectual is that their leading politicians have assumed a strident no-nothing posture. Recent examples are all things Sarah Palin and John McCain ridiculing the study of grizzly bear DNA. Sure grizzly bear DNA research probably shouldn’t be funded by the federal government and certainly not by earmarks if it is, but the idea of this type of research is not absurd on its face. McCain using this as a laugh line is a compact example the new no-nothing Republicans.

  • Guest

    Must we bicker on the degree to which the state should control everything? Doesn’t anyone ask the forbidden question anymore? Why should a public policy be the be-all and end-all of our existence? We politicize everything, and then use political parties to determine the degree of state control after the fact. No one questions whether a particular measure should be in the purview of government at all. And so we see articles like this one, pitting political parties against each other, confounding the confusion with speculation about the impact of “smart people” on a Statist culture.

    Hey! How about we stop passing so many laws?

  • Jeremy Pober

    I think you’re missing Ross’s point. I similarly argued that pragmatically speaking, those of us who are supportive of the liberaltarian project are going to have to choose between one of two mutually exlcusive options:

    1) The ideal liberal state, where both major parties are under the influence of those with some sort of liberal value set. This is sort of what it’s like in New England (especialy MA) where you basically get to choose from progressives who occasionally trend too authoritarian and libertarians.

    2) The practical shot term option, where we line up in one party against social conservatism.

    2) seems to be the short term goal but I worry that it might, in principle hinder 1) because for 1) to exist we need to marginalize social conservatism, and letting them occupy the other “spot” in our two-party system is doing exactly the opposite of that.

  • Nathan

    The one thing the Republican Party has going for it is the left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party is filled to the brim with morons. And, as usual, they think they are ‘where it’s at’ at all times in a party for whom they’ve only been an albatross for four decades.
    Still, when the ‘GOP’ makes its come-back, it will be about numbers-game politics. White working class women are the future of the Republican Party and policies that appeal to them will be on the menu then. Libertarians will always be the Republican Party’s Casandras on a good day and it’s Andrew Sullivans on a bad one.

  • Paul O’Pinion

    I do not always agree with Krauthammer or Hanson, but their partisanship is as reasoned as many on the left (Krugman) and they make many good points. Pundits do tend to have an affiliation or a bent, be it Liberal or Conservative.

  • Charles Flemming

    Sorry. There’s nothing even remotely stimulating intellectually in this conversation.

    Seems to me you guys arguing for this weird liberaltarian fusion have simply decided that being anti-religion and anti-social conservative is all you care about and you’ve worked yourself up to a good hate against religious and/or socially conservative types who agree with you on all the economic and governance issues you used to care about.

    Good for you.

    Doesn’t make you smarter.

    Meanwhile, religious and socially conservative types are diversifying at light speed. A phenomenon you’ve evidently missed.

    Oh, one more thing. Two maybe (depending how you count). I’ve read a lot of the crap that passes for “intellectualism” in colleges these days and it’s nonsense on stilts. And seeing through that is not anti-intellectualism by a long shot.

  • Mark G

    Like Chas I’m puzzled at the distaste here for religious conservatives. FDR formed a coalition with Klansmen for goodness sake — because they agreed on a set of political goals. Later, “liberals” of all stripes teamed up with Black church leaders to advance the civil rights movement, even though the agnostic liberals had no use for the explicitly religious rationales advanced by their partners. If Sarah Palin’s policies, taken as a package, are nearer my views than her Democratic opponent’s, should I vote for the Democrat just to discourage religious conservatives from seeking office?

  • hp

    Like several of the previous posters I don’t understand the invective directed against religious conservatives. While I am no friend of religion, I don’t see it as being as pernicious as modern liberalism. Social conservatism generally addresses issues that are peripheral to the lives of most people (abortion, gay marriage, evolution). When applied to the economy the collectivist impulse is (as we are finding out) catastrophic to us all . . .

  • Phillip

    Wow! That was fast. Damn Will, I hardly knew ya!

    Got bored in high school dropped out and joined the Army. Aborted my attempt at the college thing when a “professor” in a History of Ancient Mesopotamia class blew off timeframes and geography so she could spend a week on medieval witch hunts. She put men on one side of the class, women on the other and then told the guys “You burned us.” I decided if that’s what passed for education I’d handle it myself. Guess that makes me anti-intellectual.

    I just recently discovered your blog and vids at bloggingheads and was delighted to find another source of interesting info and commentary. Unfortunately you and your followers tend toward the same caricaturing of people you disagree with as damn near everyone else on the Internet.

    I played the True Believer and sacrificed my vote on Barr. I am awed by McCain’s POW story but I didn’t vote for him. I admire Palin’s trajectory of accomplishment but I was never going to vote for her. But I just don’t get the Palin hatred.

    People are people are people. Everyone regardless of IQ, belief system or the bumper stickers on their fucking cars has biases and petty hatreds roiling within. It’s funny watching those who seem to think themselves more evolved than the unwashed masses rationalize their own.

    • Charles Flemming


      Spot on…

  • Scott B.

    Does opposing gay marriage make one a ‘fag-basher’?

    If so, I’d love to hear Will’s analysis of the bigorty of one of the most fag bashing groups in the U.S., i.e. black Americans.

  • Paul O’Pinion

    Stick around!

  • Mark

    If the author of this drivel is what passes for “young intellectual talent” these days, I think he’s made a pretty strong case for the Republicans to keep on bleeding off this rabble. His characterization of the modern GOP as “a group of flag-waving moral reactionaries” and “a bunch of superstitious fag-bashers” is inaccurate, silly, and tired and I can only imagine that Mr. Wilkinson is either trying to get attention or that he hasn’t taken his medication today. By all means, please join the Left and amplify the cacophony of rapid, unsophisticated, spiteful political analysis it embraces. We libertarian Republicans will be just fine without you.

    • Steve C

      Um, Will’s characterization pretty much sums it up for me. Palin/Wurzelbacher populism, kissing Limbaugh’s ass (real, national politicians – what’s the left equivalent of this? oh, there’s not one). Funding anti-gay-marriage state and federal constitutional amendments, the constant signaling that backwaters are the “real America”.

      I have in my mind a sea of old white people at the Republican convention laughing as Guiliani described Obama’s community organizer days, the Republican rallies the last two weeks of the campaign, the angry white crowd booing during McCain’s concession speech. This is the 2009 Republican party.

      • Mark G

        Steve — Conversely, I am totally offended by your denigration of my part of American as a “backwater” 😉

    • Charles Flemming

      Mark: I’m with you.

      Steve: You’re the perfect picture of the leftist who labels himself a libertarian so he’ll feel good about himself. Your cartoon image of the Republican Party tells us everything we need to know about you. Out of all the current emphases among conservative Republicans, why do you make anti-gay-marriage activism (which is actually pro-tradition-definition-of-marriage) your picture of the Republican Party? And ” the constant signaling that backwaters are the ‘real America'”? C’mon, dude, you know full well it’s blowback against your effete, pseudo-intellectual snobbism. And what exactly is wrong with drawing from all our positive historical roots, including those of small-town America? Yes, there are ignorant bigots there. But there’s a raft of ’em in the left blogosphere as well—and the libertarian. YOU’re certainly no paragon of intellectual enlightenment or clear-eyed argumentation, no matter HOW much you delude yourself. (I especially love the part where you use the quintessential urban social liberal Republican as your poster boy for rustic Republican right-wingerism—ignoring the fact that Giuliani brought more positive change to the social fabric of New York City than Obama ever dreamed of doing for Chicago.)

      I have more on this here:…/

  • Andrew

    “superstitious fag-bashers”

    Ah, yes, of course. Because, obvious contempt for religious liberty and democratic action concerning the definition of “marriage” is so self-evidently part of a libertarian or classically liberal philosophy, no Will? Thanks for reminding me why I’m so easily unimpressed with you every time the Corner (or at least Goldberg) keeps telling me how I just must read Will’s reasonable thoughts on this or reasonable thoughts on that.

  • ottovbvs

    The agonizing and dancing on a pinhead over this surely qualifies for an Olympic gold in the annals of navel gazing. The facts are oh so simple. The Republican coalition of social conservatives/nationalists/economic conservatives is collapsing under the weight of a set of policies and ideas that have been tried and have failed, or are totally out of tune with the popular mores of the times. This has caused the most “reality” based part of the coalition, the highly educated management/professional economic conservatives, to jump ship while at the same time energizing parts of the traditional Democratic coalition. The consequences in a nutshell is a GOP under the control of movement conservatives and the loss of most of the country outside the south and Mormon mountain states. Until the coalition is rebuilt the picture will remain basically unaltered, in fact it’s going to drift even further in the democratic direction because of demography. The movement conservatives don’t get this but it’s going to take a long time so stand by for years more unproductive navel gazing like this.

    • Charles Flemming

      Is this the best you can do, ottovbvs?

      Where do you dig this stuff up?

      A “set of policies and ideas that have been tried and failed”? When did this take place?

      “Popular mores”? THIS is your concept of what “highly educated management/professional economic conservatives” care about?

      What’s hilarious is that you probably think you’re intelligent and well-informed…

      • ottovbvs

        Why can’t idealogues like chasflemming debate a proposition without a load of personal abuse. Clearly in this guy’s world all is well and the events of the past eight years never occurred. Clearly for the first time on record college grads didn’t really vote for Democrats. Clearly for the first time ever the Democrats are not in firm control of the NE from ME to VA. Clearly Democrats don’t have a nearly 2 to 1 advantage in the 18-29 demographic. Clearly the hispanic community has not departed the GOP in droves. Clearly a majority of the country is not pro choice even though referendums on this topic is three red states failed limit choice. Clearly the Dems don’t have a party ID advantage greater than it’s been for 35 years. Clearly when ignorance is bliss, wisdom is folly for chasflemming.

      • Charles Flemming

        Clearly, ottovbvs, you have your ad hominems reversed.

        You show by your comments, including this “rejoinder,” that you don’t know the difference between the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Nor do you know the difference between the various kinds of conservatives within the movement, many of whom are very libertarian, a surprising number of whom are social libertarians, not to mention a growing number of cultural/religious conservatives (like me), who are nonetheless quite comfortable leaving people’s moral choices up to them.

        Clearly you are unaware of just how poorly academia is doing in actually educating young adults and preparing them for anything other than left-wing, postmodern uselessness. We slam the academy, not because we’re anti-intellectual, but because we long for the restoration of academic vigor and integrity, which is sorely missing in today’s America. Your appeal to that authority is ludicrous to anyone who knows how to read and think for himself.

        Just as clearly you are a pro at building straw men and then cherry-picking to support your “case.”

        You will get respect when you get off your high horse and a) demonstrate that you are familiar with the people and movements you criticize and b) quit speaking to very intelligent, well-educated people as if they just crawled out of the swamp.

        I delight in de-gassifying the deluded condescensions of leftist blowhards like you.

        And—my friend—as harsh and personal as this comment is toward you, there is not a bit of ad hominem anywhere in it.

  • ottovbvs

    And if you want a snapshot of how far movement conservatives are from getting it, just do a surf of comments here.

  • Joe Kristan

    If you can’t understand the way I put it, maybe Arnold Kling will make more sense to you:

    “At dinner, I would rather discuss issues of philosophy and economics with liberals like Akerlof and Shiller than with non-libertarian conservatives. But the political arena is different. Think of it as a Thanksgiving meal. At the conservatives’ table, I feel like an uninvited guest. At the liberals’ table, I feel like the turkey.”

  • boqueronman

    It is difficult to read Will “Quagmire” Wilkinson without my blood pressure rising a few notches. Unfortunately, he once again stumbles into the territory of historical revisionism (that religion and science are mutually exclusive – read up on the Enlightenment and, if you wish, the Catholic Church’s doctrine on reason) and – one of his favorites – Jacobin style anti-clericalism. Both subjects aallow his opinions to roam about unchecked by history, reason, or, indeed, common sense. Let me quote from a short essay by Dr. Bob at

    “Detached from its moral grounding by its intellectual paradigms, the West has become increasingly and intractably secular. We now look to science for all answers about life; we have experts for everything; the new creation of Christianity has devolved into the evolutionary hopelessness and purposelessness of survival-of-the-fittest reductionism. We have become no more than random chance, with no purpose higher than our survival in this life, and no meaning beyond genetics or neurotransmitters or selfish genes. Morality, ethics, self-restraint are but social constructs convenient to our survival — and eminently disposable when the need arises.

    The consequences of this imperceptible but profound change in worldview, centuries in the making, have brought us to our current state. We no longer trust the individual, based on the inculcation of moral and ethical values through family and cultural tradition, but instead trust no one, multiplying laws, rules, and regulations to micromanage behavior no longer restrained by the inner moral compass and now-discarded social mores. We no longer look to the individual, and family, the community, the church, to be the prime movers of support or those who fall by life’s wayside, in poverty, ill health, economic or social misfortune. We have outsourced our hearts, contracting with those most ill-suited to the task of compassion: those who by our own appointment or their own unbridled ambition have become our leaders in government.”

    To repeat a part of the above, “we no longer trust the individual, based on the inculcation of moral and ethical values through family and cultural tradition.” Libertarianism unmoored by a Judeo-Christian understanding of and appreciation of the individual’s responsibility to conduct himself or herself within a framework of moral and ethical constraints is a very great weakness and a reason why its doctrinaire proponents, such a Wilkinson, have never and will never play a practical role in national politics. Oh, and please, this chimera of the “threat” from the so-called religious right is risible. Their agenda is basically to prevent their taxpayer monies from being used for what they consider morally and ethically questionable activities, to say nothing of patently unconstitutional ones. None but the fringe elements push for any legal constraints on private activity.

    Really, if your priorities are such that you endorse what Obama and his Chicago Boys are implementing, manipulated census data, a Civilian Expeditionary Workforce to suppress internal dissent, the Fairness Doctrine, the prohibition of voluntary, private sectarian activities on university campuses, ACORN funding to facilitate voter fraud, a new Smoot-Hawley protectionism, and probably hundreds of other hidden gems in the “pork”ulus bill, I say go ahead, break bread with the Democrats. Oh, and I’m sure you’re all in favor of that no-loose foreign policy of talking the NoKos, Iranians, Chavistas, Hamas/Hezbollah out of hating us. That should work.

    • Charles Flemming

      boqueronman, your comment was obviously written by an illiterate backwoods snake handler…