Hacks and Hayek

Up To A Point: My Problem With People Who Agree With Me

A libertarian gathering in Las Vegas shows the basic weakness of small-government advocacy.

The Daily Beast

I have just returned from a confab of people who agree with me, at one of the nation’s largest annual gatherings of individuals and organizations devoted to libertarianism and libertarian-conservatism. And this presented certain difficulties.

No, it wasn’t full of nuts – no Birthers, no Birchers, no Truthers, no xenophobes, homophobes, white supremacists, no one wearing a sidearm, and if there were any male chauvinists they were keeping a cork in it because they were accompanied by wives with strongly held egalitarian views.

Blacks, Latinos, and Asians were there, if not as many as I’d like to see. Gays were fairly well represented. Millennials were all over the place. Various types and kinds of libertarians and libertarian-conservatives were present, some of whose views could be made fun of, and were.

Making fun of each other’s views is a libertarian sport. And since we libertarians are not, for the most part, athletic types -- let alone team players -- making fun of each other’s views may be the only libertarian sport.

Randians think the simple notion of keeping your hands to yourself can be forged into a philosophy. Gold Bugs consider U.S. currency a magic act with the dollar mysteriously levitated on the world economic stage. Strict Constructionists believe the Constitution was carved in stone by a higher power instead of penned on paper by guys in Philadelphia. And maybe all of them are right.

The more socially conservative libertarian-conservatives worry about family cohesion and erosion of religious belief. They aren’t fully reconciled to abortion, gay marriage, and drug legalization.

I’m opposed to abortion. But it’s a moral, not a legislative, issue. Imagine trying to make the Ten Commandments into laws. There goes Hollywood Buddhism, representative art, golf on Sunday, the language I use during golf on Sunday, most sex, Wall Street, fibbing to escape the Tupperware party next door, and envying your boss’s Porsche. And we’d all be jailed for putting mom in the nursing home.

As for gay marriage – they’re getting married, which is more than can be said for many Americans.

And we lost the drug war. Let’s surrender gracefully (and grab legalization tax revenue that, at my age, won’t be coming out of my pocket unless the head shops start selling Cialis bongs).

A dinner was given for twenty or so people who had been invited to speak at the four-day event. The dinner’s purpose was to thrash out libertarian and libertarian-conservative differences of opinion.

Chief among these is foreign policy. After much discussion, however, we conceded that libertarianism is based upon sane rationality and that foreign policy is too full of irrational insane foreigners to allow for a consistent libertarian approach.

Making fun of each other’s views is a libertarian sport, but not a blood sport. I remember from my leftist days a lot of screaming and yelling and indignant gettings-up and walkings-out at our meetings (which were convened over cold pizza instead of prime rib and lobster tail). Perhaps thanks to the surf and turf and the stellar Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc, there were no lost tempers.

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We debated whether there is such a thing as a “too pure” libertarianism -- individualist to the point of privatizing sewer systems so that you go to the free market, select the sewer company that best suits your needs, and have them dig a hole from their competitive sewage treatment plant to your private bathroom. We gave up and left it to individuals to decide.

And we had a long talk about libertarian social conservatism with some diners making a defense of its creeds. (Anti-immigration excepted. A libertarian is willing to hear anti-immigration arguments – from a Sioux Indian. Otherwise, go back to the old country and shut up.) The consensus was that libertarian social conservatives had supported too many stupid social conservatives at the expense of votes from blacks, Latinos, and women. The point of libertarianism is to limit (or, Inshallah, diminish) the size, power, and expense of government. It’s time for the social conservatives to take a hit for the team.

We ended the dinner with a toast: “To the dignity of the individual.

To the liberty of the individual. To the responsibility of the individual.”

And therein lies my problem. Nobody really disagrees with us these days. Our own children, at their most rebellious age, believe in the first two things we toasted. (Although, until they acquire jobs and babies, they practice passive resistance to the third.)

At the core of libertarian belief is the free market. But now everybody believes in that too, including Communist dictators in China and the rajahs of India’s corrupt bureaucracy. Even villainous crony capitalists who reign over much of the rest of the world (and aren’t exactly absent in the U.S.A.) believe in the free market – if they can keep other people out of it.

The next day I was talking to the new president of a libertarian think tank. “Have you been to many of these conferences?” he asked. I hadn’t. He said, “They bother me a little.”

“Preaching to the converted?” I ventured.

To make a ridiculous comparison, it’s as if the Twelve Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot -- played by Bill Maher) never left Jerusalem. They just hung around the Mount of Olives evangelizing themselves.

“No,” said the think tank president, “it’s not just to whom we preach but what we’re preaching.”

That is, people love to hear what libertarians have to say until those people go into the voting both. Then limitations on the size, power, and expense of government start to get personal.

According to the Census Bureau, 49 percent of Americans receive some kind of government benefits. And political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides of The Century Foundation (which is liberal-centrist) say that if you throw in everything that can be construed as a government benefit, e.g. mortgage interest deductions, 96% of Americans are on the take.

What would be a good yard sign for a libertarian politician?

Vote for _______He Can Give You Less

It would take a demagogue with a powerful ideology to convince people to make the necessary sacrifices for libertarianism. But libertarians disapprove of demagoguery and consider ideology to be nobody’s business but your own. I guess Ayn Rand was a sort of a libertarian demagogue. But she attracted Alan Greenspan, not crowds.

How do we go about creating a mass movement when we don’t believe there’s such a thing as the masses?

We do have manifestos. But they tend to run a little long -- On the Wealth of Nations, for example.

If we marched we’d go in all different directions.

We could host teach-ins. But what we’d teach is Econ. 101 and I doubt attendance would be large.

We could hold sit-ins -- sitting home alone watching a DVD of Milton Friedman’s “Free to Chose.”

We could stage boycotts. But if you believe in “Free to Choose” what do you boycott, freedom or choice?

Libertarian civil disobedience is a possibility. But all Americans practice libertarian civil disobedience already, on their IRS forms.

I suppose we could infiltrate the government and do nothing. But federal employees, at the V.A. for instance, seem to have that base covered.

Terrorist bombings are out of the question -- contrary to our rule of keeping your hands to yourself. And, given the mechanical aptitude of most of the libertarians I know including myself, also contrary to keeping your hands.

We don’t even have a plausible slogan.

Let Us All Not Get Together!

Make Sure Not Much Happens Ever!