Fusionist or Liberaltarian?

Which is easier for a libertarian? Trading in the black markets of banned social behaviors or not paying your taxes? Clearly the former. That’s why when it comes to the unsavory business of political team sports, I generally get behind the team that signals a greater likelihood of leaving the economy to heal itself holistically. Whatever team is more likely to stay out of my pocket and tries not to punish performance (as much) will get my vote. That’s why I continue to support “fusionism,” the coalition between conservatives and libertarians. In short, the accretion of state power in economic matters is much more serious to me than concerns about the renaissance of the moral majority. I’d rather have a President with quaint views on sexuality and drug use than a Fabian Socialist with a trillion-dollar credit card.

But many beltway libertarians have gone “liberaltarian.”  It’s a term meant to describe freedom-lovers who share common purpose with the left on social issues and have therefore made a couple of steps leftward, politically—perhaps even far enough to give hope and change a chance in the voting booth. At least social issues are part of their motivation. Apparently, these libertarians are also tempted by both the pretentions and progressivity of the left—some by the pseudo-intellectual salon culture, others by the genuinely intelligent and cultured members of the leftwing. Libertarians, generally, recoil from the strain of populist conservatism that was created in the left’s caricature of Sarah Palin late last year. And who can blame them? Truly populist conservatives can, indeed, be pretty intolerant and toleration is the prime virtue of any civil society.

So, while I would urge libertarians to carry on sipping lattes with their liberal acquaintances, I’d also suggest they make their core political allegiances with the limited government right—particularly in this age of champagne socialism, White House messiahs and big government fetishism. After all, that’s the only way we libertarians will continue to get a word in edgewise while speaking truth to power. We won’t get it by ingratiating ourselves to lefties and dropping comments about “dispersed knowledge” at cocktail parties. Such is not likely to impress those for whom equality of outcome is their first and last value.

Yuval Levin lays it out pretty well when he writes:

In American politics, the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic populism and elitism. And for at least the last forty years, the two parties have broken down distinctly along this double axis. The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. Republicans tend to identify with the traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursue an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. Democrats identify with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked, crushed-by-the-corporation “people against the powerful,” but tend to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. Republicans tend to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive; Democrats tend to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.

Where does that leave the libertarian? Are we to be the cultural and economic elitists? Such a lonely place. But unless we’re talking about weirdo survivalists in rural Michigan or computer gamers claiming a 2nd Amendment right to own nuclear warheads, many beltway libertarians might, indeed, be considered doubly elitist. Still, I wouldn’t strain these characterizations to make them fit. I like the term “dynamists” much better. While we are much more likely to be cast as apologists for both fat cats and pot-smokers, we’d rather be known as those who see the value of innovation and progress through free association—whether in the cultural or economic sphere. And while we have our own branding problems, we bring some important things to the table—unbeatable understanding of market processes, tech-savvy, and a pretty good insight into the way the left thinks.

So the question remains: with which of the two major power-centers (realistically speaking) should we cast our lot? Should we be liberaltarians or fusionists? Well, it depends. The troubling truth is that in recent years Republicans have given us little on which to pin our hopes. If you’re asking libertarians to choose between two statist mobs, we’d just as soon stay home and write snarky articles at both sides from the comfort of our ineffectual non-profits. (Our rectitude is enough to sustain us.) And while we haven’t seen political power since the 18th Century when a couple of us sat down and wrote those Founding documents, we should realize that there is probably a lot more overlap with conservatives on matters of statecraft. In fact, the best hope for the Republican Party is probably to become more like us. But if conservatives want to keep this fusionist coalition going, they’re going have to do more to keep from losing libertarians to the cappuccino crowd. And we can’t afford to lose each other. Not right now. Not with so much at stake. Let's put the Bush years behind us and move on.

Syndicate content