Sunday, May 23, 2010

Libertarians vs. the establishment

I frequently get the sense that libertarians are not a well-liked bunch here in DC, typically regarded as something akin to the screaming children who sometimes escape from their bedrooms during a dinner party while the adults (Republicans and Democrats) attempt to engage in serious conversation.

While Republicans may be considered odious and an unfortunate presence in the political sphere by DC politicos (who skew overwhelmingly to the left), libertarians are almost beneath contempt, sometimes referred to as glibertarians, libertards and -- my favorite -- laissez fairies. They are unserious people whose ideas, while perhaps interesting from a purely theoretical/academic perspective, have no applicability in the real world. Fortunately, since libertarians hold no real power, they are no more than a nuisance and little effort has to be spent engaging with them.

Such sentiment is nicely captured by this column at left-wing online magazine Salon in response to the Rand Paul civil rights brouhaha:
Libertarianism itself is what's stupid here, not just Paul. We should stop tip-toeing around this belief system like its adherents are the noble last remnants of a dying breed, still clinging to their ancient, proud ways.

Now, to be clear, before continuing: there are legions of brilliant individual libertarians. Weigel himself, for example, is a great writer and reporter, and a true master of Twitter. We've never met, but by all accounts, he's also very much a stand-up fellow. But brilliant, decent people can think silly things. And that's what's going on here. It's time to stop taking libertarianism seriously.

...And that's why the best rap on libertarians isn't that they're racist, or selfish. (Though some of them are those things, and their beliefs encourage both bad behaviors, even if accidentally.) It's that they're thoroughly out of touch with reality. It's a worldview that prospers only so long as nobody tries it, and is too unreflective and self-absorbed to realize this. In other words, it's bratty. And that's bad enough.
The New York Times also rapped libertarianism in a recent editorial as an out of touch philosophy.

What is absolutely maddening, however, is the juxtaposition between left-wing condescension towards libertarian thought with the track records of the two philosophies. Liberal policy initiatives almost invariably meet with disaster, while those in the vein of limited government -- whether it is free trade, welfare reform or the creation of an all-volunteer military -- have an impressive success rate. And yet, despite all this, somehow libertarians are the rubes. John Hasnas, I feel your pain.

Related: Don Boudreaux responds to the Times editorial here and John Stossel gives his take on the Rand Paul controversy here.

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