Monday, July 27, 2009

Can libertarians and liberals get along?

One of the speakers at this year's Liberty Summer Seminar was the Cato Institute's Will Wilkinson, who made an intriguing argument.

Libertarians he said should seek to align themselves with left-wing-liberals.

He says such an alliance would create a new political force he calls "liberaltarianism” or “progressive fusionism."

On the surface that sounds pretty strange, but in some ways his vision makes sense.

Certainly, for instance, on some social issues and foreign policy matters, liberals and libertarians do share common philosophic ground.

Plus once upon a time, back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, libertarians were liberals, so there is also a common historic bond.

And finally, so-called conservatives in both the Republican and Conservative Parties have not shown themselves to be all that reliable as friends to those of us who cherish smaller government and free enterprise.

In fact, Prime Minister Stephen Harper essentially turfed libertarians from his party.

So in a sense libertarians in both Canada and the United States are political refugees looking for a new home. So why not try and hook up with liberals?

But can pro-big government liberals and anti-government libertarians really get along?

Yes, says Wilkinson.

But both sides would need to compromise.

Libertarians, he says, would have to accept the value of and need for the welfare state while liberals would need to concede that only unfettered free markets can produce the wealth necessary to fund things like the welfare state.

Like I said, it's an intriguing idea, but let's face it "progressive fusionism" has about as much chance as happening as Rush Limbaugh has of being named's "Man of the Year".

Besides the fact that liberals just don't like capitalism, there are other cultural issues which divide the two groups such as gun rights.

Yet, I don't want to be too dismissive of Wilkinson's plan.

For instance, I fully support the idea of libertarians infiltrating the Liberal Party to push it in the right direction. (The best way to convince the Liberals to adopt a pro-freedom agenda, is to suggest it will help them win an election.)

At the same time, libertarians should not give up on the Tories, the more natural allies of freedom.

Indeed, in the best of all worlds, libertarian philosophy would be an influence in both parties, and we would see the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition battling each other as to who would cut taxes the most.

Hey, it could happen.


Mike Brock said...

Gerry, I'm not sure we should place such a low expectation on the fusionist movement.

We're seeing libertarianism--in all of it's flavors--growing. Especially among young people.

There are libertarians in the Conservative Party, and there are quite a few left libertarians floating around the Liberal Party.

In some ways, Harper has been great news for the libertarian movement.

By casting them aside, he has given them a new reason to really organize and galvanize.

Fusionist libertarianism is actually easier to contemplate than you might think; if you get a bunch of anarcho-capitalists, civil libertarians, minarchists, etc. all under a tent (like at the LSS), it's amazing how much they can all agree on.

ie. Most anarcho-capitalists would be willing to support civil libertarians, insofar as they move the political situation nominally closer to where they want to be.

Clearly there is a limit to such an alliance. But I see more evidence that libertarians of all stripes are willing to work together towards their common ends.

Matthew said...

This idea has been tried before Jerry: it's called The Liberal Party of Canada! I don't know how libertarians would feel about that party's views on the HRCs, Keith Martin aside...

Hugh MacIntyre said...

Personally I thought that his talk was interesting but his goal ultimately unrealistic. The two sides are too deeply committed to their differences for a realistic political fusion to take place.

Instead libertarians should spend their time challenging assumptions and giving voice to their opinions. If we win the war of ideas then it may not matter what political party would win elections.

As you say the dream is to have a party system full of competition on the best ways to cut taxes.

A Nonny Mouse said...

It's a load of dodo.

Liberals are vote whores trying to woe yet another disenfranchised voting block. They will steal your money all the while telling you to smile for the greater good. Think they have honestly given up on the Green shift? Not, just waiting for memories to fade so they can repackage it my appetizingly. Their idea of greater good. Tie your boat to their coat tails and watch this country and your self further sink into the unrecognizable.

rabbit said...

If the Liberal party decided to advance libertarian, or classic liberal, policies, I would certainly consider voting for them.

And in fact they did a number of things right during the Chretien years, including getting the budget under control by restricting government spending, reducing some taxes, and taking a reasonably business- and trade-friendly approach.

Unfortunately, the national daycare program, the gun registry, and the Green Shift (in reality a massive wealth distribution scheme) do not sit well with most libertarians. And don't even get me started on hate-speech legislation and the HRC's restriction on speech, which are examples of identity politics at its worst.

But there is an opportunity here for the Liberals, since Harper only rates a "B" when it comes to advancing libertarain causes.

tao_taier said...

I figured the Libertarian Party of Canada to become a front group for the Left.

They tactics they would use to "inform" people often involved desperate Populist tactics which go counter to real libertarianism.

So they choose group thinking and the manipulation of popular thought over fact finding and checking objective thinking that would allow the individual to make up their own minds on what to believe regarding such facts.

Something you see on much of the Left of this country how much they like to alter history and form their own narrative over the course of years...

They make what would seem as an odd lie, then months or years later quote from that lie in conjunction with other lies that share the same narrative and then try to use that to form there own narrative on a given issue and stick to it even in the face of hard facts proving them wrong.

They use those lies over and over again while getting backed up by closet partisans and supporters and using those methods over and over again until their lies become truth in the minds of those who don't have the time to investigate things for themselves.

Often what seems to happen is that the more they can get away with lying about something and not get called on it they go on to form this sort of pattern.

It's a common pattern aided by many in the mainstream media here. Meanwhile is often exposed overtime with sites like that provides video access to current and past events in detail and without bias and through internet fact-finding and sharing of information/accurate research.

I can't get over how they manage I say nearly because they often do.

A true Libertarian party wouldn't be aligning themselves with the Left, or aiming outright in forming government, but rather focused on becoming an opposition party that would help raise the level of debate for all sides. And not aiming to govern, but help guide those who do through civil debate of the issues while not teetering too far on either side of the spectrum.

But the only real libertarians in this country are amongst some of the moderates in the current Conservative Party of Canada. Some of them are libertarian on social issues, others on economic ones or a mix of both.

While at the same time their are libertarians who are amongst the fringes of the Conservative movements who are not very moderate at all.

Some of which are too socially conservative while too economically libertarian in their policy promotion and principles. While others may be several shades between or the opposite.

But still tilt towards the conservative spectrum in one way or another.

The Conservative Party of Canada is run mostly by the moderates, even when they're arms are being twisted but certain special/vested interest groups [insert acronyms here], they are still able to gradually introduce moderate compromises that are both workable and generally acceptable for the county and its population to handle with the least amount of grievances possible while attempting to maximize the positives.

This is what comes with the territory of governing over a whole country and the CPC and PMO gets that. where as many if not most in the Libertarian Party of Canada and other fringe or radical groups even within some of the conservative movements in Canada do not.

I've made mention this elsewhere recently, here:

^more specific to policy implementation.

Sorry for my lousy use of grammar, I was never actually taught it but rather have been learning through osmosis [figuratively speaking] over the last 8 years.

tao_taier said...

"In some ways, Harper has been great news for the libertarian movement."

For starters he left gay marriage up to a free vote in the house as it is an issue of conscious.

I don't understand some of the reasoning against gay marriage, since they're at least monogamous and private about it.
They shouldn't be allowed to adopt, since its hard enough for straight, monogamous, financially stable, overall ideal parents as it is.

But thats just my own personal perspective.

tao_taier said...

"And in fact they did a number of things right during the Chretien years, including getting the budget under control by restricting government spending, reducing some taxes, and taking a reasonably business- and trade-friendly approach." -Rabbit.

Yes and no, it was the Reform Party and Paul Martian while he was finance minister who deserve more credit then the Liberal Party as a whole.

Martain and Chretien had to really but heads since Chretien wanted to spend more or raise taxes, but don't quote me on that last line on the two, as I don't recall the specifics and am not sure of myself on that. So you'll have to look it up through various sources to confirm.

rabbit said...


Certainly the Reform party deserves a huge amount of credit for taming the deficit.

But my attitude is that if a government does something right then they should get credit no matter why they did it. It is, after all, to our advantage to reward good performance. Motivation is secondary.

Regarding Harper, he primarly serves as a bulwark against ever-expanding government power, as opposed to an active agent of libertarianism. Given what's happening now in the Excited States, I'm thankful for that.

Anonymous said...

You all will have to do a lot more work at marginalizing your retards before we liberals even bother speaking with you.

Brrr said...

If only given a binary left vs. right choice, Libertarians are far more likely to choose right. Even centre-left modern liberalism is far removed from just about anything that a libertarian could relate to.

Unfortuntely, even that right choice doesn't exist right now, as the Conservative Party of Canada is just another centre-left party again. It's like the entire Reform movement never happened.

rob said...

It seems to me that a true libertarian, of which I think there are far fewer than there are people who profess to be libertarian, would have to look at how the Liberals and the Conservatives differ in policies that affect liberty, and decide which policies matter more. Broadly speaking, I would think that Liberals would be more appealing on social policy, while the Conservatives would be more appealing on fiscal policy. This seems so obvious to me that I'm surprised that the thought that some libertarians align themselves with the Liberal party is news.

tao_taier said...

"This seems so obvious to me that I'm surprised that the thought that some libertarians align themselves with the Liberal party is news."

It's absolutely non-sensical for them to be in favor of supporting the left. Who are not only very socialist but can be very populist as well.

Like I said, they're a front group for the left.
Or are so naive and so uninformed on not only the issues but our country's history let alone the last several years in parliament, that they are incapable of even being much of an opposition party.

But then again, the current opposition parties are nuts. So I wouldn't mind the so-called "Libertarian" Party of Canada getting a few seats in the house so long as they take them from the current opposition parties. Which should be their goal.

Taking them form government works against their own interests on so many policy issues that it would be very self defeating. Especially since they're are many in the CPC who already are moderately Libertarian in many different areas of policy. Including the PM himself on quite a few issues not limited to economic polices.

In the end, it makes more sense to be a Conservative Libertarian generally but have the flexibility of thought to comprehend progress while maximizing potential of any change though applying the wisest/safest policy solutions available.
The CPC for example prefers gradual/thoughtful changes than sudden/expedient radical changes.

That would be one of the biggest pillars between the some Libertarian movements and CPC.
Where as the gap between the "Liberals" and other leftist parties are far more extreme.

I didn't become a CPC partisan in my support of them, until the last election, but doing so doesn't void one from being a moderate and that goes the same for the party itself.