Jacob and Will on Liberalitarianism

Like many libertarians, Jacob expresses considerable skepticism about Will Wilkinson's liberaltarian project (though I much prefer Will's "Rawlsekianism"):

I always thought the libertarian-leftist alliance was doomed by the fact that they sort of hate us.

I, too, think a libertarian-leftist alliance is pretty unlikely. But that's really okay, since no one is actually talking about allying with leftists. Libertarians have a very long tradition of bashing those on the left. To me, this is a bit puzzling. My formative years mostly happened after the Cold War was over. So what I've seen since I became a legal adult is a pair of Republican presidents explode deficits, massively expand entitlement programs, and launch two disastrous wars in Asia and another in Africa. In between, I watched a Democratic president champion welfare reform and a free trade act, balance a budget, and help bring relative stability to the Balkans.

Many of those acts were pretty unpopular with a broad segment of the left. We can call that the Barbara Ehrenreich wing of the left -- the neo-Marxist, anti-capitalist, isolationist, identity-politics wing. To belong to this faction, I think, is to be a leftist, in the sense that Jacob understands.

But that's not liberalism. Leftism, indeed, is pretty fundamentally illiberal. As someone commented already (though I can't remember who offhand), it's actually somewhat strange that Ehrenreich and someone like Brad DeLong find themselves in the same coalition. Say what you like about DeLong (and I've criticized him myself), he's pretty reasonable on things like free trade and immigration. There's a lot of common ground to be found there.

I think Will has this one right. Liberals (of the boradly Rawlsian sort) and libertarians (of the non-Rothbardian sort, anyway) have a fair amount of common ground. We agree on a number of first principles (respect for autonomy and state neutrality being the biggies). Our disagreements mostly arise over how best to implement those principles. But these are (mostly) pragmatic disagreements. Those can often be overcome more easily than philosophical disagreements.

That's not to say that this will be easy. One might in fact point out that at least some of the hating goes both ways. Liberals will have to get over their reflexive support of government regulation. Meanwhile we libertarians may have to get over our reflexive dislike of government regulation. If there is any merit at all in Rawlsekianism, it's going entail that there are places where Rawls is actually right (gasp!)

A "liberaltarian", for those who don't follow internecine libertarian debate, is a hypothesized left-wing fellow traveler of the libertarian movement. Like the Higgs Boson, the liberaltarian is a phenomenon that hasn't yet been directly observed but that everybody hopes to find someday.

This observation, while admittedly clever, is, I think, flatly wrong. I'd argue that several of the DR bloggers fall into the liberaltarian category. Indeed, I believe it was Matt McIntosh who once described himself as "a liberal who actually wants to help people." Wilkinson probably also falls into this category. I'd argue that Megan McArdle, Matt Yglesias and a good chunk of the staff at reason could fairly be described this way, too.

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The Republicans

In between, I watched a Democratic president champion welfare reform and a free trade act, balance a budget, and help bring relative stability to the Balkans.

Clinton signs Welfare Reform, Angers Liberals.

Even though President Clinton promised to "end welfare as we know it" in his 1992 Presidential campaign, the national debate over welfare reform did not take shape until 1994, when the original "Personal Responsibility Act" was introduced in the House of Representatives as part of the Republican "Contract With America."

Remember Hillarycare? That was a liberal plan, stopped by libertarians and conservatives.

Bill Clinton had campaigned heavily on health care ... a comprehensive plan to provide universal health care for all Americans, which was to be a cornerstone of the administration's first-term agenda...

Opposition to the plan was heavy from conservatives, libertarians, and the health insurance industry... By September 1994, the final compromise Democratic bill was declared dead by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell.

Hillarycare is a microcosm of what Clinton's Presidency would have been like had he not been stopped, and it wasn't liberals who were stopping him.

You've missed the point

Is it your suggestion that we have to go with CNN's definition of "liberal"?

I'm making the argument that two different sorts of people get lumped together under the "liberal" label. There are those who are what I've termed "leftists." These are the anti-capitalist, anti-trade, types. They're exemplified by, oh, everyone writing for The Nation and a large chunk of people writing at The American Prospect. And these folks were indeed very very angry at Clinton (as well as the DLC generally) over the whole welfare reform thing.

But it's a mistake to assume that everyone on the left is this type of person. For all their obvious left-of-center-ness, it's simply inaccurate to describe a Krugman or a DeLong or a Summers or a Goolsbee or a Roemer (either one of them) as anti-capitalist or anti-trade. Bill Clinton and Dennis Kucinich simply don't hold the same views on economics, for all that they are both members of the same political party.

This is the distinction between liberals and leftists. Will alludes to that distinction, though he doesn't frame it in those terms. I made it pretty explicitly, though you seem to have ignored all of that in favor of pointing out...that Clinton isn't a libertarian? We knew that. The argument wasn't that, anyway. It was that, in my lifetime anyway, some fairly prominent Democrats have been more in line with libertarian goals than some fairly prominent Republicans have been. But that was kind of a throw-away lead-in to my main argument.

And that argument is that there are plenty of liberals who understand the value of the free market and who are committed to individual freedom, but who simply disagree with libertarians about which policies are best suited to further those goals. In some cases, those differences are going to be philosophical. A Rothbardian type who thinks that taxes are tantamount to theft period isn't going to have much to say to a liberal. But, really, that person isn't going to have much to say to a conservative, either.

The kind of fusionism that Will has in mind, I think, is between those who say that freer markets will increase overall prosperity and those who say that some regulation will be necessary to increase overall prosperity. Those are empirical rather than philosophical disputes.

Crude arguments

I made it pretty explicitly, though you seem to have ignored all of that in favor of pointing out...that Clinton isn't a libertarian?

Excuse me but you gave some extremely crude history and all I did was to slightly refine your history, which slight refinement has the effect of largely reversing the lessons you were drawing. How exactly is filling some of the enormous gaps in your own crude history a bad thing? Maybe from the point of view of a hyper-partisan, but from the point of view of truth it's an improvement.

How exactly is correcting some of your omissions an instance of "ignoring" something? So if you leave something out, and I add it in, then this is a case of me "ignoring" something and of you not "ignoring" something? I think you have it reversed.

Sigh

As I said, it was a throwaway line, and not something I was devoting a post to defending. Just for the record, you've ignored pretty much Clinton's entire history with welfare reform, which started while he was still in Arkansas. If you want to actually have a debate about the history of the welfare reform bill, that's cool with me. Go do some digging and write a post making your case. But I'd just as soon not be lectured about doing one's homework on the basis of 5-minutes of Google-fu.

We agree on a number of

We agree on a number of first principles (respect for autonomy and state neutrality being the biggies).

How does that square with smoking and trans fat bans or the persecution of Wal-Mart?

I don't see any broad "respect for autonomy" in the liberal catechism. I see targeted care for the interests of their member voting blocs, including urban gays and minorities.

See how much liberals stick up for the autonomy of rural conservative polygamists.

This observation, while admittedly clever, is, I think, flatly wrong. I'd argue that several of the DR bloggers fall into the liberaltarian category. Indeed, I believe it was Matt McIntosh who once described himself as "a liberal who actually wants to help people.

You're right, I was too brash. Such beings do exist, though they are few. In the category of "liberals who actually want to help people" I would add Bjorn Lomborg. Unfortunately, he's been rejected by the left and embraced by the right despite holding Rawlsian/socialist political views. Make of that what you will.

I attended both meetings of the College Republicans and the College Democrats when I was in school. One of the groups welcomed me, one of the groups could barely conceal their hatred of me. Can you guess which was which?

I do agree that it is a good strategic goal to try and make progress with as many political groups as possible. The greenies had to be thrilled to see both McCain and Obama supporting cap-and-trade schemes on the stump. But I have no illusions as to where the bulk of the progress has already been made.

Liberals vs. Leftists

I guess I didn't make this clear enough before, as you and Constant have both made a similar objection.

No one doubts that people who get called "liberals" argue for things that are illiberal. My claim is rather that "liberal" gets applied to two very different groups of people. Some of them are actually much closer to European social democrats. That's not a particularly liberal group at all. They are quasi-socialist statists, and I don't think that there's much to be gained by engaging with folks of this sort.

But it's simply wrong to assume that everyone who identifies as "liberal" holds similar views.

Let me put this a different way. You know how annoying it was back when everyone decided that because Ron Paul allowed a bunch of racist crap to get published under his name, it must mean that all libertarians are a bunch of racists? That, of course, was unfair. The Rockwell crowd is pretty unsavory. But we're not all Rockwell-types, happy to play up racial resentments. Anyone who assumes that we are is guilty of pretty crude and uninformed stereotypes.

Well, the same goes for Rush-style liberal bashing. It's just as wrong to stick every liberal into the Walmart-hating, smoke-banning category as it is to stick every libertarian into the racist category.

As for respect for autonomy in the liberal catechism, I would submit that, say, opposing FISA, condemning torture and trying to close Gitmo ought to fall into that category. There weren't many Republicans carrying the torch for individual autonomy in any of those situations.

No one is arguing that the left on board with some kind of libertarian utopia. I am, however, arguing that the right isn't on board with that, either. And that it's entirely possible that at least some folks on the left are closer to being on board with our ideas than most of what remains of the right. So it's worth engaging seriously with liberals (not leftists).

I added an extra paragraph

I added an extra paragraph to the end of my comment expressing some tentative agreement with you. I do think that it is a worthy project to try and create more Lomborgs, Wilkinsons, and Clintons while reducing the number of Kuciniches, Bidens, and Kennedys in the world.

That doesn't change my opinion of the coalitions as they currently exist. On the other side, the "leftists" outnumber the "liberals" by a staggering amount. Orders of magnitude, especially among the rank-and-file activists.

Libertarians like Lomborg

Libertarians already like Lomborg. So the advice that we should like people like Lomborg and not lump them in with people Chomsky is pointless. We already do make the distinction.

I think the point is not

I think the point is not that libertarians like Lomborg, but that they hope to convince more liberals to be like him. Liberals with reasonable views on economics are less dangerous than the other kind.

And how is that any different?

And how is that any different from what libertarians have been doing all along? Libertarians have been making economic arguments to anyone who will listen for as long as they've been called libertarians. Libertarians have been hoping and trusting their listeners would see reason - and, for the most part, been bitterly disappointed, but the outreach has been a constant of libertarianism. Bastiat, Hazlitt, Friedman, Hayek, and the like have been heroes and role models.

Did they?

But it's simply wrong to assume that everyone who identifies as "liberal" holds similar views.

Well, duh. So what? The same is true of conservatives, who come in a few different varieties, and I didn't see you splitting any hairs about them in your discussion. Nor was anyone complaining about it.

It's facile, after everyone's been using a limited set of terms to talk about fuzzy heterogeneous groups, to then accuse one side of lumping different kinds of people together. That is tantamount to criticizing people for using language. It's a cheap argument, and it proves very little - it proves, for example, that the person making it has decided not to give his targets a chance to restate their views in more refined form but has decided that the way they expressed themselves is the sum total of their views. It's like criticizing someone who says, "nice weather we're having today", for failing to understand that the weather can be spoken about much more precisely than by such crude categories as "nice". He doesn't deserve that criticism. If it is really important to you to talk about weather in greater detail, then make it known and allow him an opportunity to speak about it at whatever level of refinement you want.

You know how annoying it was back when everyone decided that because Ron Paul allowed a bunch of racist crap to get published under his name, it must mean that all libertarians are a bunch of racists?

Actually, what I remember is how annoying it was back when a bunch of libertarians went bonkers about this. At one point I googled the issue and what I found was libertarians getting upset about this. I also remember that Ron Paul's supporters were primarily not libertarians and that, in the wider media, Ron Paul was rarely if ever identified as "a libertarian" - rather, he was identified as a Republican with strong anti-war views.

Constant, I think it is

Constant,

I think it is valuable to make the argument that these large, amorphous coalitions exist and that specific parts of these coalitions might be sympathetic to our views. I only point out to Trillian that the size of his "liberal" clade of the left-wing is vanishingly small.

Advice not needed

As I mention elsewhere, the advice that we should like people like Lomborg and not lump them in with people Chomsky is pointless. We already do make the distinction. In fact everyone makes that distinction - for example, conservatives with the Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He got plenty of respect from the right. Everyone can easily distinguish between Moynihan and Barney Frank.

I think CJ is onto something

Everyone in the set that includes me, you, the other Distreputables, Wilkinson, Lomborg, Jagdish Bhagwati, and evolution-centric writer Matt Ridley would fall under the umbrella of "classical liberal", and two hundred years ago would probably have been ale-drinking buddies. Leftists are in a different category all together. I think it would be a great thing if the "welfare-liberals" of today would distinguish themselves from leftists. If there is to be a left-of-center + libertarian alliance, much like the right-of-center + libertarian alliance of the Goldwater-Reagan era, these are the people who are going to form it.

These are already considered allies

How is Lomborg not already considered a friendly by libertarians? If this is all Wilkinson wants then it is like a campaign to make children like candy. So either it is more ambitious or it is kinda silly. I suspect: more ambitious.

As good of a place as any to

So either it is more ambitious or it is kinda silly. I suspect: more ambitious.

As good of a place as any to link to your previous criticism of the Wilkinson response.

More ambitious

I don't think that Will's targeting someone like Lomborg, really. I think that he's casting a wider net than this.

Take, for instance, Matt Yglesias. Here's a guy who works for the Center for American Progress. That's a pretty reliably lefty group. But then look at the kinds of things Matt says about, say, parking. Or transportation in general. Matt is pretty fond of letting markets take care of rather a lot of current problems. Indeed, there's a whole lot of ground where Matt, Megan McArdle (who's pretty solidly in the libertarian camp), Andrew Sullivan (a self-professed conservative) and Will all broadly agree.

One can, I think, say the same thing about John Holbo at Crooked Timber. Or Josh Marshall (and, indeed, a whole lot of the various TPM alumni).

Are there a lot of politicians who fall into this category? Probably not. I think Clinton (both, really, but Bill's a clearer candidate) comes close. Not as close as Yglesias, but still. We have few politicians in this category, though, because there isn't currently a constituency for it. That's the project that Will has in mind. Lay off the broad attacks against "liberals" when what you're really attacking is a particular strand of leftism, and instead start talking seriously to folks who probably won't ever become libertarians but who are willing to take your ideas seriously. And, in exchange, take some of theirs seriously, too.

As Jonathan says in another comment, political coalitions are built from people who don't actually agree about everything. The question isn't whether you can convert liberals. The question is whether there are some big areas where you can agree to work together.

The conversation has

The conversation has continued and spread. The Corner is a great blog, by the way, even if it is often reflexively partisan. They linked to this post today that I think you will agree with.

Yes...

...there is in fact much that I agree with here. I knew I'd read that Ehrenreich/DeLong connection somewhere today, I just couldn't remember where it was. Thanks for the pointer.

Liberals consider "respect

Liberals consider "respect for autonomy" an important principle only if you accept liberal assumptions about what areas of life freedom of choice is important or relevant to. Much as conservatives will fight to the death to protect your right to be a white conservative Christian, liberal thinkers are intensely protective of the freedoms valuable to the interests of liberal intellectuals and secondhand idea dealers. (A realization that came in large part from reading Rawls, ironically.) And much like conservatives, they are generally indifferent or actively hostile to any other liberties.

"Liberaltarianism" strikes me as a misnomer, implying as it does some sort of merging or halfway point. The concession made by liberals is quantitative- a liberal welfare/regulatory state somewhat smaller than what we have now. The concession made by libertarians is qualitative- accepting the legitimacy and desirability of the liberal welfare/regulatory state, and with it both the fundamental liberal idea that society needs technocratic "correction" and the whole liberal conception of which freedoms matter. I understand that even acknowledging that cases exist where more government is not the answer probably feels like a huge concession for a lot of liberals, but from my perspective it's not terribly impressive.

I second that emotion

I always thought the libertarian-leftist alliance was doomed by the fact that they sort of hate us.

I attended both meetings of the College Republicans and the College Democrats when I was in school. One of the groups welcomed me, one of the groups could barely conceal their hatred of me. Can you guess which was which?

This sums up my experience as well. Conservatives laugh and say "You just want to smoke pot." Liberals cannot conceal their disdain.

Good luck with your endeavor, though.

Could It Be Mutual?

Conservatives laugh and say "You just want to smoke pot." Liberals cannot conceal their disdain.

It's true that many leftists/liberals are often disdainful of libertarians. But I suspect that at least part of this is because the feelings have often been mutual. I mean, how often is the term "socialist" thrown around as a catch-all pejorative for all things statist, whether specifically linked to the totalitarianism of the left or not?*

From the outside, while a good amount of libertarian rhetoric** explains the philosophy in terms that could be boiled down for laymen to something similar to "fiscally conservative and socially liberal," for much of modern history (Goldwater-Bush II), if it came down to siding with hypocritical, government-growing Republicans/conservatives (the growth of the military and federal debt under Reagan) or hypocritical Democrats/liberals (e.g., Obama's vote for FISA), it has been the "socially liberal" rather than "fiscally conservative" part of the equation that has been abandoned.*** I suspect this tendency has also been why Republicans are more receptive: perhaps they see (politically-oriented) libertarians as supporting in theory both economic and social freedom, but in reality tending to vote for the former if the choice between the two must be made (hence, why both conservatives and liberals buy into the stereotype of the libertarian as a Republican who just wants to smoke weed). As such, it's easier for them to see libertarians as allies, because they expect (politically-oriented) libertarianism to hold their nose and support Republican promises of lower taxes, less regulation, and protection of gun rights when it's time to head to the voting booth.

One need not search long on the internet to find a thread or blog comments section devoted to the possibility of either a Democratic-libertarian alliance or left-libertarianism to find criticisms of either idea from the perspective that there's something contradictory about viewing libertarianism from a left perspective.****

Why the former idea is seen as a contradiction in terms, when Ron Paul-style relatively conservative Republican types can be accepted as "libertarian" I do not know, unless there's some objective reason why tax and welfare policy are more important to the definition of libertarianism than social issues like gay rights.

Similarly, I could also understand it if someone said that left-libertarianism is a contradiction in terms because libertarianism is neither of the left nor the right (the standard Nolan Chart spiel). However, I don't see what it is that permits libertarianism to be a philosophy of the "right" and forecloses it from having a "left" perspective except emotional baggage from the Cold War (New Deal?) alliance that all things of the left are bad, unless "left" (improperly, in my view) is being equated with authoritarianism such that all authoritarianism and statism are viewed as by definition being of the left.

Of course, these generalizations and tendencies may not be true for all libertarians, but I think that they're sufficiently prevalent that many on the left view libertarians as generally hostile rather than as potential allies where their views intersect.

* (1)
**Not meant in a negative sense, but simply as a term for tools such as the Nolan Chart.
*** (1)(2)(3)
****(1)(2)

Pardon my conflation of

Pardon my conflation of liberal and leftist as those terms are being used in this discussion. I hope that context makes clear where I'm talking about welfare liberal types and far leftist Che Guevara types, but if necessary, I'll try to clarify.

Longtimelurker, Good to see

Longtimelurker,

Good to see you come out of the shadows. Why not register and start a blog here?

To me, the social freedoms are less important than the economic ones. Economic freedoms help you obtain all levels of the Maslow hierarchy of needs. Social freedoms only target the very top.

But I know not every libertarian shares my biases. I don't attempt to define "libertarian" by my own taste.

I think that your view is

I think that your view is reasonable, at least when it's qualified as being about having a hierarchy of goals and, well, being a personal preference. I guess my issue, however, is that rather than taking a view like yours, where the economics emphasis is due to such an agenda, one may see that the idea that someone could de-emphasize economics or ally with liberals in the name of promoting civil liberties is viewed as inherently un-libertarian. (I think that's almost the entire rationale/governing principle behind the claim that "liberaltarianism" is a contradiction, whereas the libertarian-conservative compromise on social issues has not been viewed that way, at least until Bush II.)

I'll look into starting a blog. Usually, although typos and errors almost inevitably slip in when writing online, I end up spending an inordinate amount of time proofreading, which tends to make participating in online discussion (especially when exchanges/dialogues begin) less fulfilling than it would otherwise be.

I'll look into starting a

I'll look into starting a blog. Usually, although typos and errors almost inevitably slip in when writing online, I end up spending an inordinate amount of time proofreading, which tends to make participating in online discussion (especially when exchanges/dialogues begin) less fulfilling than it would otherwise be.

I'm pretty similar, but I've found having a blog here quite rewarding. And being part of the community blog is nice, because there's no pressure for constant output, which was my main reason for never starting a solo blog.

I can see how libertarians

I can see how libertarians with strong libertarian ethical views or libertarians who place high personal value on some of the social behaviors outlawed by the right wing could be frustrated with libertarians like me. Personally, I lean utilitarian and I have rather vanilla tastes in life.

Your comments betray your ability to think and write clearly. I wouldn't worry about the occasional typo. But you are welcome to do what you want and take my encouragement as a compliment.

I don't think that's it

I guess my issue, however, is that rather than taking a view like yours, where the economics emphasis is due to such an agenda, one may see that the idea that someone could de-emphasize economics or ally with liberals in the name of promoting civil liberties is viewed as inherently un-libertarian. (I think that's almost the entire rationale/governing principle behind the claim that "liberaltarianism" is a contradiction, whereas the libertarian-conservative compromise on social issues has not been viewed that way, at least until Bush II.)

I don't think that's it, because I don't think that liberals have, historically, done all that much for non-economic liberties. For example, it was liberals who wanted to keep the fairness doctrine and conservatives who wanted to get rid of it. Liberals also have a tendency to turn liberty into its opposite. It wasn't enough to get rid of the Jim Crow laws. They had to go and transform it into affirmative action, forcing libertarians into principled opposition. Liberals have turned the rights of women and minorities into special privileges which infringe on the rights of everyone. Liberals as a rule support government schooling and oppose departures from that model such as vouchers and home schooling, and in the name of keeping church and state separated they have therefore been behind the push to keep church and education separated - insofar as they have pushed for state-controlled education and in the meantime insisted that prayer etc. be kept out of state schools. They have in this and other ways intruded on the family unit, placing the state between parent and child. Liberals try to shut down debate on the prediction of global warming, sometimes going so far as to suggest that objections to global warming be criminalized.

And gun ownership is not primarily an economic dispute. Liberals are against individual freedom, conservatives are for it, in this dispute as well.

This is not to suggest that conservatives have a spotless record on non-economic individual rights. That's not my point. My point is that liberals have a far from spotless record, and conservatives meanwhile are on the libertarian side in many non-economic disputes. From my perspective, the balance tilts slightly in favor of conservatives on the non-economic front, though of course it depends on which disputes you care about most. On many disputes where conservatives are supposed to be against freedom, it does not appear to me that liberals are much better. For example, drug use, pornography, prostitution, polygamy.

And where conservatives are for old-fashioned views on society, such as a woman's place in the family and the like, as far as I can tell they don't generally propose that these things be mandated by law. Such visions as Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale strike me as being laughable in their disconnect from political reality, though closely connected to the bizarre view that some liberals have of religious conservatives.

Some Different Issues

(1a) Fair enough re: liberal inconsistency. I suppose my original point was that while it's true that these inconsistencies exist, they also exist among conservatives/the right (e.g., spending under Reagan, federal bloating under Bush pre-2006). So while one's emphases may make one more sympathetic to conservatives, my beef is with the notion that it's inconsistent with libertarianism for a person to have a different set of emphases that results in a preference for liberals over conservatives (pro-choice, pro-LGBT, anti-border fence, in favor of Obama's claim not to prosecute people using medical marijuana where it has been legalized, etc.).

(1b) How much of this is based on partisan politics vs. people's beliefs on the ground? The point C.J. and the pieces that I linked above (especially Anthony Gregory's) seems in part to be that many everyday liberals or leftists might be more sympathetic to libertarian causes than the prominent politicians/bloggers. To the extent that this is true, it would be a mistake to write off liberals.

In any case, an interesting post at VC discusses this issue as well. Most of the post lists reasons for which liberaltarianism is likely to fail, and all are good reasons for being skeptical of a long-term alliance. Somin's next-to-last paragraph, however, sums up what I'm trying to convey: the problems with a liberal-libertarian don't necessarily lead to the conclusion that libertarians' natural allies are on the right or that libertarianism is itself a philosophy of the right. As such, a political libertarian's decision to side with liberals in a given instance shouldn't be viewed as anathema or inherently contradictory.

(2) But another part of the discussion relates not simply to this practical, on-the-ground assessment of actual liberals, but to judgments related to the abstraction of political views that the Nolan Chart is supposed to map. I.e., at least part of the argument is based not on the fact that liberals aren't good on the things that they're supposed to be good for (civil/social liberties), but that conceptualizing a political libertarianism as something that would emphasize civil/social liberties and progress to greater economic freedom (and therefore find useful an alliance with people who would be Nolan Chart liberals) rather than in the opposite direction (i.e., the libertarian-conservative alliance) is a priori invalid. You see this in "libertarians vs. libertines"-style discussions (the implication seeming to be that a libertarian-conservative alliance that downplays social issues is more coherent analytically-philosophically than a liberal-libertarian alliance emphasizing the non-economic). It's one thing to say that liberaltarianism is a bad idea because liberals are bad on economics, plus the stereotype that they're good on social issues is false. It's something different to say that, between the Nolan Chart archetypes of liberal and conservative, it's un-libertarian to side with civil libertarian redistributionists over free market social proto-fascists. This second view, I believe, is common among many libertarians, and is the source of liberals' and conservatives' respective willingness to ally with libertarians and of the aforementioned stereotype about libertarians being conservatives who smoke weed.

I'm not seeing the same things

my beef is with the notion that it's inconsistent with libertarianism for a person to have a different set of emphases that results in a preference for liberals over conservatives

I'm not seeing the same phenomenon that you're seeing. That is, I'm not seeing people expressing the notion that it's inconsistent for a libertarian to place greater emphasis on civil liberty than on economic liberty. I'm not seeing this attitude coming from libertarians. Maybe I'm not reading the libertarians you're reading, but I'm not seeing it. I think that historically libertarians have sided more with Republicans, but it has by no means been exclusive, and anyway the decision to vote Republican is not the same as the notion that it is inconsistent to vote Democrat.

You see this in "libertarians vs. libertines"-style discussions (the implication seeming to be that a libertarian-conservative alliance that downplays social issues is more coherent analytically-philosophically than a liberal-libertarian alliance emphasizing the non-economic).

I'm not sure what discussions you are referring to. I myself have distinguished libertarians from libertines, but the distinction I made was between "libertines" in the sense of people who actually advocated and/or participated in what some might call "dissolute" behavior, and libertarians, who did not necessarily do either but merely held that dissolute behavior should not be illegal. I think this is an important distinction, and one that can be generalized: we should remember to distinguish between advocacy of something, and opposition to laws against it. And conversely, we should distinguish between opposition to something, and advocacy of laws against it.

Maybe this bothers you. Libertarians distinguish between social pressure and the law. Social pressure may cause homosexuals to be ostracized. A libertine will oppose such social pressure but a libertarian will not necessarily oppose such social pressure. This is not a compromise with the right wing. It is not a partial abandonment of libertarianism. If you believe that it is then this might cause you to believe that libertarians are ready to compromise their beliefs for the sake of an alliance with the right. But I don't think it's a compromise.

It's something different to say that, between the Nolan Chart archetypes of liberal and conservative, it's un-libertarian to side with civil libertarian redistributionists over free market social proto-fascists. This second view, I believe, is common among many libertarians

As I mention above, I'm not seeing this view expressed. Maybe you see something different, or maybe you are interpreting something in a different way.

Economic > Social

Well, I'm a libertarian that makes this argument: Economic freedom is more important than social freedom. Reasons why at the link below, but I think that's a fairly obvious premise in the current world:

http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2009/02/18/the-promise-of-liberaltarianism/#comment-6385638

I agree but

Actually, without getting into detail about precisely what I think, I roughly agree with the statement:

Economic freedom is more important than social freedom.

But I do not see this as being equivalent to the statement:

it's inconsistent with libertarianism for a person to have a different set of emphases that results in a preference for liberals over conservatives

or to the statement:

a libertarian-conservative alliance that downplays social issues is more coherent analytically-philosophically than a liberal-libertarian alliance emphasizing the non-economic

In short, I'm a libertarian and I'm a specific type of libertarian, but I don't claim that my libertarianism is the only variety that can rightly be called libertarian.

By the way:

Economic freedom is more important than social freedom.

I agree with this as a statement of strategy, which is how you defend it. Your argument is that "you can buy social freedom with economic freedom while it does not work the other way around." That is an argument about which battle is key to winning the war. That is, importantly, not a statement of your ultimate personal values but rather a statement about consequences.

Your most recent post pretty

Your most recent post pretty much indicates that there's really not much difference between us, except that I perhaps think that there are more people like JB (who think that the economic outweighs the social as a matter of principle rather than preference or strategy) than you do. Perhaps I'm also reading things differently from you as well, and this different reading may come having a different set of emphases that govern my interpretation.

The libertarian-libertine distinction is not one of acceptance of others' practice; I have no problem with social disapproval as opposed to law. I think that the line that I'm drawing is also described by the (derogatory) term "modal libertarians" (DeCoster here and Brainpolice's point #6 here).

Perhaps I'm mischaracterizing, but I read DeCoster's criticism of modal libertarianism (described in terms of the social values of the left) as being that such is unprincipled. I understand her argument, but it could easily be argued that it's also unprincipled, though nevertheless libertarian, to support libertarian principles because one wants to be free to refuse to hire black people. I guess my issue is with the idea (which you don't hold) that something's inherently problematic about the former tendency but not the latter, or at least that the former tendency is more problematic. (Unless she's saying that these modal "PC" types are in fact trying to enforce their views through law generally.)

Yeah yeah yeah

So why have you still not signed up?

Walter Block

I'm surprised to see, in one of your sources, Walter Block mentioned as arguing against Roderick Long and therefore, apparently, as anti-left-libertarian. Walter Block wrote one of the first libertarian books I ever read, called Defending the Undefendable, and it struck me at the time as being a defense of the right of people to engage in whatever the hell they wanted to do provided it did not violate individual rights, which in the other source you cite, pretty much defines "modal libertarianism". Quoting from your source:

Libertarian guru Murray Rothbard called them "modal libertarians." They are an assemblage of leftover Marxists, 60s-70s drug users, cultural leftists, assorted members of the Arts-and-Croissant crowd, and Christian-hating atheists. They latch onto the libertarian name because, somehow, they think "libertarian" means "do-whatever-the-heck-you-want" in the name of freedom.

Well, some people are

Well, some people are talking about allying with leftists. The attempted entente between libertarians and the left is taking place at two levels: liberaltarians like Jacob Levy and Will Wilkinson on the one hand, and libertarian leftists like Rod Long and Kevin Carson on the other. It's a bit like the distinction between the Buckleyite fusionism represented by National Review, and the populist rightist fusionism of LRC et al.

How would you answer the

How would you answer the argument that individual liberty leads to inequality because of differing abilities? This would anger leftists, who seek to redistribute until everyone is equal, but would suit libertarians just fine. This is an inevitable outcome that would doom any alliance between libertarians and leftists - at least without totally redefining the two philosophies.

Indeed, we already have the distinction between the right's championing of equality of opportunity vs the left's championing of equality of outcome

Leftists != Liberals

How would you answer the argument that individual liberty leads to inequality because of differing abilities? This would anger leftists, who seek to redistribute until everyone is equal, but would suit libertarians just fine.

I think that this is totally right. Only I'm not really talking about an alliance with leftists. Anyone who believes in equality of outcome isn't really playing the liberal game (broadly understood) anymore. So it's not clear that there's much to be gained from attempting an alliance here.

That said, I don't think that there are many liberals who actually champion equality of outcome. I submit that there are far more libertarians who think everyone on the left champions equality of outcome than there are actual people on the left who champion equality of outcome.

I'm talking here about welfare liberals. The John Rawlses of the world, not the Naomi Kleins. Like Will, I think that the differences between Rawls, Josh Cohen and Joel Feinberg on one side and Hayek, Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick on the other are differences in degree rather than in kind. There's a lot of common ground there. Indeed, in the world of politics, where alliances tend to be really big tent, there's far less difference between Rawls and Milton Friedman than there is between Friedman and, say, Mike Huckabee.

To add...

...I would say that "left of center" does not mean "leftists" as CJ (and I) see the term.

Leftist: make everyone equal
Liberal: help the helpless (while I'm the Whedon tear)

Leftist: take away from the rich who got their wealth unfairly
Libera1: help the little guy whose beginnings were unfair

But that's really just the liberal self-image

Helping the little guy is how Nazis viewed themselves as well. What distinguishes a liberal from a libertarian isn't that the liberal wants to help the little guy while the libertarian does not, but that the liberal thinks it's moral to forcibly take other people's property for this purpose. And the libertarian's objection isn't to forcibly-taking-property-for-this-purpose, but to forcibly taking property full-stop.

Liberals believe that the difference between liberals and libertarians is that liberals want to help the little guy while libertarians do not. The belief is incorrect.

But we're not talking about the difference between liberals...

...and libertarians are we? At least I was talking about the difference between welfare liberals and leftists. Sure, both want to forcibly take property from one set of property and give to another. I agree. That's not libertarian.

But I see their motivations as very different. One is essentially hate (leftists) and the other, ideally anyway, is love (welfare liberals). Now of course, I don't think we should rob Peter to pay Paul, so I don't agree with either. But I submit that there is a difference between the two groups, and it's quite significant.

I don't think many of us are ancaps come hell or high water. If my family and I were starving, yes, I would steal bread to feed them. And I'd probably steal from the richest of the rich because they're probably going to be the ones least affected. If an ancap society resulted in mass suffering, I would no longer be ancap. And I would steal the gun in DDF's mass murder scenario.

In this context, I think welfare liberals can be seen as much closer to libertarian ideals than leftists. They believe that a world without redistribution would be an awful place to live for the less fortunate, so much so that they're willing to "steal the gun" or steal Bill Gates' bread.

If we can convince welfare liberals that the best way to help the helpless is not to steal Bill Gates' bread but to have a libertarian society which compounds GDP faster than any other society, then those welfare liberals will become libertarians. OTOH, leftists don't really care about that because their motivation is to hate the rich. At the very least, a political coalition is much more easily formed between libertarians and welfare liberal than between libertarians and leftists (which as has been said many times already, will likely never happen).

Point taken

At least I was talking about the difference between welfare liberals and leftists.

Ok, got it. On the other hand some of the best libertarians I know were leftists and not merely liberals. I think that what characterizes some leftists is that they're rigorous and thorough and systematic in their thinking and they genuinely want to get to the bottom of things, which qualities tend to push a person to extremes, and the smarter ones might very well become libertarians once a switch is flipped.

Fixed that

Fixed this for you.

Leftist: make everyone equal
Liberal: help the helpless but make the rich pay for it not me.
Conservative: help the helpless through my charity.

I understand that charity statistics back this up. Conservatives give more. I said make the rich pay for it not me because liberals believe in progressive income taxes and paying for social programs via taxes.

Rawlsekianism

I've read Rawls and I have problems with his ethical theorizing.

Will's position:

A just society is a scheme of cooperative mutuality. The basic rules of the game should benefit everyone. A good way to ensure a set of governing principles does benefit everyone is to pay special attention to how the least well-off fare under them. Rawls says: when choosing a set of principles, we should pick ones that leave the least advantaged class as well off as possible. I agree with this.

I disagree with sentence number two. I don't think it is necessarily a "good way". Besides I've read Rawls directly and I don't remember his argument being this way.

He started instead with the ludicrous idea that it was best to consider what one would want if one had an equal likelihood of being any member of society. This however is ridiculous. We don't cooperate ex-nilo.

Joining or exiting a society is an individual decision. Individuals are not homogeneous, do not have equal likelihood of ending up anywhere, nor their children, and thus this philosophical system fails the reality test.

We don't decide the rules of poker with the notion of what the loser is going to feel like or what he's going to take home. We make the rules fair so people will join the game knowing that it is rigged to the benefit of a particular participant.

Rawls is still too fixated on outcome in his moral theorizing. When one tries to ensure outcome one generally has to eliminate justice. Thus rendering the system no longer ethical.

The question also arises why we shouldn't apply Rawls to animal rights also. Animals participate in our society of "cooperative mutuality". After all they live in society too. We feed the chickens and they give us eggs. Do we have to consider how we would want things run if we could potentially be born a chicken?

This does not fully delve into my differences with Rawls. His theories are especially appealing to leftist precisely because they justify violations of natural rights in a ambigous way. It's a kind of Rorschach test for leftists. It justifies their desire to tinker without putting any great restraints on their desires to violate negative rights.

aswea

aswea

Exactly!

You know, I was wondering how long it would take before someone brought up 1982's Association for Social Work Education in Africa. I guess the relevance of certain institutions is so blindingly obvious that we don't even realize we've overlooked them.

In other words: Huh?