lib•er•tar•ian: Two roads diverged in a wood…


By Joe Campbell
November 25th, 2007

Alaska
© kruggg6 @ flickr

lib•er•tar•ian

n. 1. a person who believes in the doctrine of the freedom of the will;
2. a person who believes in full individual freedom of thought, expression and action;[digg-reddit-me]
3. a freewheeling rebel who hates wiretaps, loves Ron Paul and is redirecting politics.

From the Washington Post, an ideologically-muddled piece by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch (of Reason magazine) about Ron Paul and the libertarian phenomenon. I would guess the “muddle” is because Gillespie and Welch are still somewhat wedded to the idea of a conservative-libertarian political axis. The idea behind the piece was to explore the growing support for the libertarian philosophy in American politics – especially as demonstrated in the strength of Ron Paul’s campaign. Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t fully explored – and it ended up distorting Ron Paul’s positions significantly and mainly ignoring the left-libertarian movement. But the article did bring up an important topic – and one that I haven’t seen covered by the mainstream press.

Even as consensus on base libertarian ideas is growing, the movement is diverging into two camps. Or, more apt, libertarian ideas are taking root in two different political movements. In broad terms, I’m going to call them Ron Paul Libertarians and Kos Libertarians.

Ron Paul Libertarians

Favorite films
Enemy of the State
, V for Vendetta, The Firm, The Conversation

Favorite websites
Reason.com, reddit.com, digg.com, mises.org, lewrockwell.com (see footnote 1)

Favorite TV show
The X-Files, Family Guy

Favorite Conspiracy Theory
“9/11 was an inside job!” (See footnote 2); Honorable mentions: “Global warming is a hoax!” and “The Fed is evil.” (See footnote 3)

Geographic center
The Internet

Top proponents
Ron Paul, phenomenon

Number 1 boogeymen

Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, CIA, The Media, The Federal Reserve (See footnote 3)

Signature issues

  • opposition to Iraq war and most of American foreign policy since 1990;
  • opposition to wiretapping and increased national security measures;
  • support of marijuana decriminalization and ending the War on Drugs;
  • reducing taxes;
  • support of gun rights;
  • eliminating the social support network of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, etcetera.

Ron Paul supporters tend to fall into two categories: the old guard – the Barry Goldwater wing of the Republican party – and a large contingent of newer members – who are suspicious of government, especially the military-intelligence-industrial complex that seems to be gaining more and more power. To speak in broad strokes: the older members are pretty old – and the main reason to include them is that Ron Paul himself is one of them. They have strong feelings about economic and social issues; and on these, they tend to be reactionary. The older guard want to reverse the New Deal and go back to simpler times.

The newer members care less about restoring the social and economic structures of pre-World War II America, and more about restoring – in their words – the Constitution. They want a new America where the government leaves them alone – with their guns, their hacking, their anarchist beliefs, their marijuana, their prostitution – whatever. (See footnote 2.) They are scared about the growing power of the government and feel we are approaching a police state, if we are not there already.

Ron Paul supporters, both old and new, tend to be contrarians, which makes them a cantakerous lot. But in a society, in a political debate, their views need airing.

Kos Libertarians

Favorite films
The Insider, An Inconvenient Truth, Fahrenheit 9/11, Thank You For Smoking

Favorite website
DailyKos.com

Favorite TV shows
The Wire, The Daily Show

Favorite Conspiracy Theory
“The Iraq war is part of an intricate plot to help Bush, Cheney, and the rich get hold of key resource before the coming near-apocalyptic events brought on by global warming.” Honorable mention: “9/11 was an inside job!”

Geographic center
The Mountain West/The Internet

Top proponents
Jon Tester, Markos Moulitsas

Number 1 boogeymen

George W. Bush, Oil companies, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Blackwater, Hillary Clinton

Signature issues

  • opposition to Iraq war;
  • opposition to illegal wiretapping and the aggressive pursuit of unchecked executive power;
  • support openness and transparency in every portion of the government;
  • support of marijuana decriminalization and ending the War on Drugs;
  • support of net neutrality;
  • support of gun rights;
  • support of using government as a check against corporate power;
  • support of a strong barrier between religion and the state;
  • support of social security programs such as Social Security, aid to the poor, and health care programs.

The era of Libertarian Democrats was inaugurated with a post on the Daily Kos by its founder, Markos Moulitsas. From Markos’s piece:

Traditional “libertarianism” holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad….

The problem with this form of libertarianism is that it assumes that only two forces can infringe on liberty – the government and other individuals.

The Libertarian Democrat understands that there is a third danger to personal liberty – the corporation. The Libertarian Dem understands that corporations, left unchecked, can be huge dangers to our personal liberties.

Libertarian Dems are not hostile to government like traditional libertarians. But unlike the liberal Democrats of old times (now all but extinct), the Libertarian Dem doesn’t believe government is the solution for everything. But it sure as heck is effective in checking the power of corporations.

Markos cites Jon Tester, Paul Hackett, and Jim Webb as models for this type of liberal libertarian politician, but the movement has yet to “take off”, even though 2006 proved a banner year. What is clear though is that this movement is growing in power and influence, and is likely to grow more. As the Republican party has become more authoritarian and the executive branch has become more powerful under Democratic and Republican stewardship, and as corporations have come to infringe more and more upon the rights of employees and customers, support for this point of view is growing.

Kos Libertarians believe do not need a government small enough to drown in a bathtub as Grover Norquist famously said. Rather, we need a government that is as small as possible, while still allowing it to act as a check against corporate power. In other words, Kos Libertarians believe we need a government that not only butts out of our life, but that protects our rights against others.

footnote:

1. Edit to the page. Added mises.org and lewrockwell.com.

2. I forgot to add the Fed. But of course they are important here.

3. As with most conspiracy theories, these positions are held by a vocal minority of supporters. And just because I label them conspiracy theories does not mean I consider them false – only that they involve an elaborate conspiracy, disinformation, the hiding of vast amounts of information from the public, and are not accepted by the mainstream press.

4. I don’t mean to imply here that all of these Ron Paul libertarians are gun-toting, pot-smoking, anarchist, pimp hackers – but that gun-owners, pot-smokers, anarchists, pimps, and prostitutes, and hackers all have something to gain from libertarian values as they have minority views that the government opposes. Also, based on my non-scientific discussions with Ron Paul supporters, I have come across, repeatedly, people who feel strongly about the first four issues. The last one, I read an article about.

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