War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. — George Orwell
These days it’s popular, especially among liberals, to consider libertarians as conservative wing-nuts. They argue that libertarian candidates have nothing new to offer, that their ideas are old-fashioned, outmoded 18th-century notions better suited to an agrarian age and long since supplanted by modern political theories about social justice, economic equality, etc.
Is this true? Are libertarians — who believe the purpose of government is to protect freedom and not otherwise manage people’s affairs — simply passé? Are their tenets merely quaint historical stepping stones to our more modern, wiser policies? Are libertarians the dinosaurs of politics, soon to become extinct in a world of progress?
Maybe it’s a matter of distorted perceptions. For one thing, the naming conventions in politics are reversed.
Take “liberal”, for example. The word comes from “liberty”, which was the revolutionary idea of the nineteenth century, the notion that people ought to be free to pursue their lives unhindered by despotic rulers. Libertarians like to call themselves “classical liberals” to honor that history. But the word “liberal” got co-opted by Progressives, who at first simply took up the cause of the disenfranchised — a perfectly legitimate liberty project — but this then morphed into the “social justice” and “equalist” movements of the late 20th century. Now we have lots of rules about how we must conduct ourselves in the presence of those whom the Left considers lacking in privilege, and we labor under scads of laws that limit the behavior of businesses. As a result, today “liberal” effectively means “controlled”. It’s backwards.
Meanwhile, members of the Right — who at first championed many of the same freedoms espoused by libertarians — have lately morphed into “neo-conservatives” who prefer a large central government that enforces ethical conformity on Americans (and any foreign countries that get uppity), not to mention support for too-big-to-fail corporations. Basically they’ve become big-government liberals with a strict moral code. So that’s backwards, too.
Both liberals and conservatives nowadays fall under the rubric of Progressivism, which advocates strong central authority to manage society. For liberals, this means social justice, and for conservatives it means moral purity. Both sides now approve of Social Security, Medicare, and so forth. Both sides give lip service to “liberty” but neither wants Americans to have very much of it. Both teams prattle on about “American freedoms” but each side really means “Our group should control the rest of you.” And that’s backwards.
Along come the libertarians — who had to abandon the name “liberal” when it came to mean “busybody” — and they’re vilified by the Left as super-conservative. But how many conservatives support immigration, gay rights, legalizing marijuana, getting out of the Middle East, getting fat cats out of Washington and the government out of your phone? Roughly zero. Conservatives would reject libertarians for those positions alone. “Pish tosh,” reply the liberals, who despise anyone who wants freedoms that include business owners. Financial success is unequal, so it’s anathema to Progressives. Therefore libertarians must be a form of conservative. And that’s backwards, twisted around, and upside-down.
Confused much? I don’t blame you.
It gets worse: Progressives yearn for a world where all people are required to accept each other and sacrifice one for all and all for one. This invokes ancient tribal life — where every villager was loyal to the same culture, religion, language, and gene pool — much more than it resembles a modern, diverse urban society. Trying to shoehorn today’s city dwellers into a village-style moral system, then, is positively Luddite.
Also, Progressives have been in power for so long, their programs in place for so many decades, that they’ve become the movement that resists change. By comparison, conservatives look like the Rebel Alliance. Right-wingers have no qualms about rushing headlong into the digital future, where business opportunities abound. They’re first in line to trade with foreigners, hire them, etc., while Liberals don’t want to let outsiders compete against our union wages. (If, on the other hand, those foreigners are immigrants — and likely to vote Democratic — it’s suddenly unfair not to let them into America.)
So which group is more modern? Which is more “progressive”? Which is really the conservative one?
Libertarians support social freedoms espoused by Liberals, and they want business freedoms embraced by conservatives. To this day, no country has openly accepted both principles, so if any party could lay claim to being ultra-modern, it would be the libertarians.
At least their awkward name really means what it says. It’s about liberty. And that’s frontwards.
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UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg on collegiate liberal rebellion: “My single biggest complaint about the majority of college campuses is the widespread myth that being liberal is rebellious somehow. . . . Being liberal is just about the least rebellious thing you can do on an elite college campus. At least libertarians rebel against bad economics and speech codes.”