One of the issues of central concern to libertarians is whether to have a state. Some libertarians are anarcho-captialist libertarians, who reject the state, while others are minimal state libertarians, who favor a limited state. While the anarcho libertarians have thought a fair bit about how a stateless world would work, there has been relatively limited thinking, among both libertarians and nonlibertarians, about specific institutions that might replace government regulation within a world that includes a state. In my view, two significant examples are arbitration and where businesses supply some of the rules (such as the rules that a mall might…
One way to understand the differences between these three ideologies is to contrast their preferred methods for decisionmaking.
I am strong advocate of liberty in society. Nevertheless, I don’t think of myself as a libertarian. First, many libertarians tend to engage in more reasoning from first principles and less reasoning from experience than I think wise. While in general individual freedom in a great social good, it is hard to define a priori the exact boundaries for freedom of a given society.
Moreover, while people do have rights, they also exist at a particular historical time and are to a degree constituted by social traditions. It is not, of course, that all these traditions are excellent and should be retained, but their too rapid elimination on the basis of abstract principles can disorient citizens as well as invite backlash against freedom.
As a result, I have been more attracted over time to “fusionism,” a combination of classical liberalism and traditional conservatism popularized in the modern era by Frank Meyer, which I see as giving a priority to liberty but offering respect for tradition. And tradition and liberty can be complementary as well as in dialectical tension. Under political structures conducive to liberty tradition offers some rough empirical guidance on the appropriate contours of freedom and constraints on imprudent changes during periods of political passion. And it provides a bulwark against destabilizing social change.
And nothing better expresses the essence of fusionism than sound federalism.
One of the great difficulties of consistent libertarianism is that of making people bear the full consequences of their own actions and choices. Another great difficulty, indeed, is whether we should much care to live in a society that found a way of doing so.
Richard Primus has argued that it would not make sense for a libertarian to be an originalist. But his arguments impose an unreasonably high standard for a libertarian’s choice of interpretive method, and reflect, like another recent post, a misunderstanding of originalism.
First, he says that the Constitution does not entrench libertarian principles as such. True enough. Libertarianism is a philosophy of the twentieth century. The key provisions of the Constitution are from the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century. But for a libertarian who wants to decide which constitutional interpretive philosophy should be instrumentally useful (to be clear that is not I), it should not matter that the Constitution does not perfectly capture libertarianism. Instead, the question should be whether an originalist view would move constitutional law today toward more libertarian results than plausible competing interpretive theories. And here the answer is yes.
First, the original Constitution sharply limited the scope of the federal government and constrained it through the separation of powers.
By the time Abraham Lincoln had won the election of 1860, the young Republican party had been through significant upheaval and ferocious infighting but it had a very general set of core values. It was a party opposed to the expansion of slavery along with two corollaries: granting land to independent farmers who didn’t use slavery, “free soil,” “free labor” and support for industrial development.
Just eight years later, during the administration of President Grant, many of the party’s founders had left the GOP to support Horace Greeley’s candidacy as a Democrat. The party was nearly destroyed electorally over Reconstruction, unprecedented political corruption in the White House and several business contractions during the late 19th century.
New parties, particularly those caught up in a moment of changing political dynamics and crisis are subject to wild shifts and growing pains. UKIP’s evolution in the UK is but one example of this trend. It’s obvious that from election to election minor changes in the content and emphasis of platforms occur, but in potentially seismic political moments volatility can be much greater. This is especially true within smaller political organizations that are not anchored to entrenched interests and established leadership.
As a classical liberal, I regard libertarianism as I would a wilder, younger brother. Libertarianism is younger because it is largely a product of modernity, while classical liberalism is more rooted in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is wilder, because it posits that the public-good function of the state is more limited and the externalities less frequent than I and other classical liberals believe. Yet the philosophies are close kin: they both see that the state poses a perpetual danger to its citizens, only disagreeing at the margin on when it is necessary to relax the strictures on governmental action. And at least with the most sensible libertarians and classical liberals, these disagreements are largely empirical.
Thus, in a race where the Republican candidate for President is careering away from classical liberalism and the Democratic candidate is flirting with the socialist elements of her party, a classical liberal might find a natural home in the Libertarian Party. Sadly, however, the Libertarian ticket has taken some important positions hostile to liberty. Begin with religious freedom.
When National Review debuted in 1955, the liberal columnist Dwight MacDonald lamented that the thrust of the new magazine was not conservative. In MacDonald’s lexicon, a true conservative was one who “sticks to his principles even when the results go against his prejudices,” for conservatives do not “appeal to the hearts of men” but to the “laws and traditions of a country.”
William Ruger and Jason Sorens have identified a lacuna in both thought and rhetoric in the current conceptualization of individual freedom on the part of libertarians: an inability or perhaps unwillingness to engage arguments for virtuous self-government.