New Alliances

No longer the political party enthusiast I once was, I do not affiliate myself with a political party, nor do I adhere to a particular ideology or dominant political belief. However, various discussions in the blogosphere have piqued my interest in the debate about whether libertarians should try to associate more with American liberals to create a progressive synthesis they call Liberaltarianism. It is a counter-intuitive idea, but the Republican party is not the free market, individual rights, limited-government-promoting organization it once was. Or perhaps it never was? In 1884 a group of principled Republicans called the Mugwumps promoted a Democratic candidate instead of accepting the financial corruption of their Republican party.

The Libertarian party hasn't fared well as a stand-alone, which is unsurprising in the American democratic system which favors the two big tents. Contemporary Republicans tend to be more socially conservative (no to gay marriage, no to immigration, no to abortion), and they promote big spending on national security and defense. Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, are socially liberal, pro-peace and anti-institution in many ways. You can read the whole argument for a new alliance here, but here's an excerpt:

“Despite the GOP's rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq”. 

And psychologically, “Since libertarian personalities are close to liberal personalities, and since young folks with a libertarian cast of mind have little or no memory of the threat of socialism at home and communism abroad, there is little in the right-wing politics of traditional American identity that resonates with them. The party of liberal-minded Americans, the Democratic Party, just feels more like home, despite its often pointedly un-libertarian economic policy” (Wilkinson).

And what about Libertarians influencing Democrats? Shifting the Democratic voter in a more libertarian direction would be marginal, surely, but as Wilkinson states, “Big effects are often an accumulation of small effects.” We need big effects, and since the real problem with politics today is that the prevailing ideological categories are intellectually exhausted, I think a new synthesis is a great idea even if it is just a marginal step on the path to change.

“Today's ideological turmoil has created an opening for ideological renewal--specifically, liberalism's renewal as a vital governing philosophy. A refashioned liberalism that incorporated key libertarian concerns and insights could make possible a truly progressive politics once again--not progressive in the sense of hewing to a particular set of preexisting left-wing commitments, but rather in the sense of attuning itself to the objective dynamics of U.S. social development. In other words, a politics that joins together under one banner the causes of both cultural and economic progress” (Lindsey).

Proponents of Liberaltarianism focus mostly on domestic issues like school choice and social security funds and do not yet have much to say about foreign policy, but I think they’re on the right track (an Economist blogger shares my opinion here). Of course, there are criticisms: a blogger  at the Ashbrook Center says that Liberaltarianism is futile.