Filed under: A Milder Despot | Tags: political parties, political philsosophy
Thankfully, my take on the “liberalterian” dustup between Jonah Goldberg, John Hood, Will Wilkinson, and others comes late on a Friday afternoon, so I’ll get the last word. Or at least, I would if anyone read this. (It’s all so incredibly interesting to me.)
I think that Goldberg’s original post was a bit odd and, I agree with Wilkinson, “poorly aimed.” Bringing up the names of prominent writers and claiming that you’d know what they think on any one subject (in this case, the stimulus) or that a small sample size (in this case, Dems/the Left voting on the stimulus) invalidates some grand idea, you’re spoiling for a fight. Which, of course, Goldberg got.
I do, however, agree with Goldberg on the basic point: the project to transmogrify the Democratic party into an inherently libertarian coalition is going to be largely fruitless. Even recognizing that Wilkinson is looking at a far larger picture and longer term than most political operatives are (and acknowledging that I do not fully understand his ‘Rawlsekian‘ fusionist philosophic underpinnings), I see the project as hopeless.
Now I may be looking at the world through my hyper-partisan glasses (they look really cool, I got them at this hipster store you wouldn’t really know about), but the Democratic Party in America seems to be trending less libertarian, if anything.
This isn’t apparent on the face of things. Obama likes to label himself a “pragmatist” rather than an “ideologue.” This was most exemplified when Obama (the leader of the Democratic party, after all, and who I presume to be the person to set the tone for the party for a long time) said, “the question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”
Now the practical result of such a ‘pragmatism’ might very well be to roll back some portions of the government. But it reflects a dangerous underlying hostility to liberty that simply is not reconcilable in any way with the principles of libertarianism. “Pragmatism” seeks to say “individual liberty has no inherent value in itself.” “Pragmatists”, as such, have no problem rolling back individual liberty or equality under the law if they are deemed to be an impediment to societal organization.
I see this strain of thought, combined with an utterly unskeptical eye toward the limits and failings of government power, combine to make up the philosophic foundation of the modern Democratic party. As I said, I’m looking at this discussion from my incredibly subjective point of view and I’m open to holes (perhaps glaring ones) in my discussion here.
To look at it in a less analytic light, of course, reveals a sympathy to liberty on both Republican and Democratic sides. They both employ the rhetoric of individual liberty in different areas. However, I see the GOP’s social restrictions (abortion, gay marriage, and others) as the philosophic outlier. While Democrats’ commitment to some areas of individual liberty can be described as philosophically consistent, it’s simply the result of luck. Democrats and the American Left see no area of life as exempt from government authority and “pragmatism,” but liberty gets lucky that they simply accept liberty in area x or area y, with no philosophic commitment to liberty.
It’s important to be honest to both sides in this. What I have outlined is not to say that the Democratic party is wholly committed to expanding government without question, just as Republicans (and the libertarian strain of the Republican party) aren’t anarchists. Both sides agree that there are necessary functions of government and necessary areas of individual freedom. It’s simply that the reasons for these areas of agreement are completely disconnected from each other.
Democrats and the American Left have no interest whatsoever in becoming more libertarian. The Bush administration, conservatives in power, and Republicans in general have utterly failed to carry out their principalled commitment to liberty. But a failure of the messengers proves nothing but that men are fallible, not that that part of the coalitional specturm is actually incapable of carrying out the message.
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