Libertarians Burning their Carry-Cards
A Pajamas Media essay by VodkaPundit’s Stephen Green explaining why he’s no longer a card-carrying Libertarian has generated substantial discussion, including congratulations from Glenn Reynolds, Bill Quick, and Roger L. Simon, all of whom still think of themselves as small-l libertarians. They all agree that a doctrinaire individualism and anti-government mindset is unserious in a grown up world infested with nasty terrorists.
Andrew Sullivan is “relieved” to see them, especially, Reynolds, formally renounce the title “After four years of his defending or ignoring every abuse of government power under the Bushies.” Jim Henley is sad that these folks “never absorbed the libertarian critique of the state’s war power” but ultimately figures it doesn’t much matter since, “In a corrupt political discourse, no label is much use.”
Ultimately, Henley’s right. I’ve never been a Libertarian, card-carrying or otherwise, but have often described myself as “libertarian-right” in orientation. I generally believe in small government and am wary of state power but support a strong military and active (although preferably non-militarist) engagement internationally.
Sully’s critique of Reynolds is for supporting “the permanent suspension of habeas corpus, the transformation of the executive branch into a de facto extra-legal protectorate, the breaking of laws by the president, the authorization of torture, warrantless wiretapping, a war based on intelligence that simply wasn’t there, and a ramping up of the drug war.” My guess is that Reynolds would oppose most if not all of those things, at least if characterized that way, but I’ll let him defend himself. As for me, I’ve opposed all of those generally but been willing to give the benefit of the doubt on electronic surveillance, provided all that’s entailed is quasi-anonymous data mining and that the results are used only for intelligence purposes but kept out of criminal court via the Exclusionary Rule.
Stephen also thinks Reason has become “unserious” since Virginia Postrel stepped down and Nick Gillespie took the helm. I wasn’t reading the magazine in Postrel’s days and consider Gillespie a friend, plus he’s published my work there, so my perspective may be biased. Still, I think Reason provides valuable contributions in both its print and online editions. Ideologically, I’m somewhat closer to The New Individualist, which Stephen and I have both written for (he more than I). But that’s largely a matter of emphasis, with Reason most focused on domestic issues like the drug war and TNI more interested in the global threat from Islamist fundamentalism.
Simon makes a strong point when he writes, “You want to have some ideology to hang onto, some method of organizing everything, but the moment you settle on one thing, if you’re even partially awake, it kicks you in the head.” The world isn’t so simple as to be efficiently run via a bumper sticker slogan. The problem, though, is figuring out where responsible trade-offs end and cheerleading for one’s team begins. It’s one thing to be an “adult;” it’s quite another to be a party hack willing to abandon all principle when necessary to defend the decisions of the leadership.
UPDATE (Dodd Harris): I was a “card carrying” (and dues-paying) Libertarian once upon a time. I ‘burned’ my membership card because it became clear that, even in an era that was as open to libertarian ideas as any in my lifetime, the LP was too obsessed with gimmickry and fundamentally unserious political theater to be a viable force in actual, real-world politics. Meanwhile, the GOP (the one viable party the principles of which are at least rhetorically favourable to economic rights) was slowly being taken over by the fundies. Hence, I became, and still am, a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus. That way I can at least help shore up the cause of economic liberty in a party that actually wants to win national elections.
Stephen is exactly right about Reason‘s decline since Virginia Postrel stepped down. I subscribed for the entirety of her tenure and continued to do so for a couple of years after Gillespie took the reins. Gillespie was, and is, a fine writer. But his editorship led the magazine to become far more focused on fringe cultural phenomena like “outsider art” than serious policy discourse. Reluctantly, having seen no sign it was likely to return to its former place as the premier outlet for libertarian political thought, I let my subscription lapse the last time it ran out and haven’t read it since (though I do still read the website from time to time).