Oversimplificaton in Libertarian versus Big Government Choices

Michael Kinsley predicts that libertarians are rising but the more notable aspect of his essay is in showing how dividing politicians along libertarian versus big government grounds is not as easy as it may seem. I would take his arguments further to add that a choice versus libertarianism and big government is an over-simplification as is the belief that libertarian candidates are always those who would bring about more freedom. Kinsley begins:

To oversimplify: Democrats are for Big Government; Republicans are against it.

To oversimplify somewhat less, Democrats aren’t always for Big Government, and Republicans aren’t always against it. Democrats treasure civil liberties, whereas Republicans are more tolerant of government censorship to protect children from pornography, or of wiretapping to catch a criminal, or of torture in the war against terrorism. War in general and Iraq in particular–certainly Big Government exercises–are projects Republicans tend to be more enthusiastic about. Likewise the criminal process: Republicans tend to want to make more things illegal and to send more people to jail for longer. Republicans also consider themselves more concerned about the moral tone of the country, and they are more disposed toward using the government in trying to improve it. In particular, Republicans think religion needs more help from society, through the government, while Democrats are touchier about the separation of church and state.

Many people feel that neither party offers a coherent set of principles that they can agree with. For them, the choice is whether you believe in Big Government or you don’t. And if you don’t, you call yourself a libertarian. Libertarians are against government in all its manifestations. Domestically, they are against social-welfare programs. They favor self-reliance (as they see it) over Big Government spending. Internationally, they are isolationists. Like George Washington, they loathe “foreign entanglements,” and they think the rest of the world can go to hell without America’s help. They don’t care–or at least they don’t think the government should care–about what people are reading, thinking, drinking, smoking or doing in bed. And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights.

The relationship of these two ways of thinking to the two established parties is peculiar. Republicans are far more likely to identify themselves as libertarians and to vilify the government in the abstract. And yet Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us. Now that the Republican Party is in trouble, critics are advising it to free itself of the religious right on issues like abortion and gay rights. That is, the party should become less communitarian and more libertarian. With Democrats, it’s the other way around.

Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world. And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society. That is, they should become less libertarian and more communitarian. Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.

There are actually many Democrats who self-identify as leaning libertarian, and few Democrats who would believe that a live-and-let-live attitude towards Islamofascist dictators is an accurate description of their foreign policy beliefs. Beyond these points, Kinsley does describe the dilemma that I, and many other voters face in choosing between Democrats and Republicans. We want a government which is liberal on social issues and respects separation of church and state. On economic issues the choice is less clear as we oppose both the corporate welfare of the Republicans and the big spending special interest politics of many Democrats.

The error in Kinsley’s argument is to assume that the libertarians offer the solution to this dilemma. While the views I describe above lean in a libertarian direction, many who hold such views differ from strict libertarianism in not necessarily opposing all government programs. Libertarians argue that all government is bad, and then ignore any evidence of situations where government action is beneficial. Consistent libertarians would support the total dismantling of all social welfare programs, while many of us do support maintaining a safety net. For us, a realignment along a choice of a libertarian versus a big government party could be beneficial, but not if the only choice is pure libertarianism versus big government.

The choice of a libertarian adds additional complications when the libertarian candidate is not really so libertarian. Ron Paul has been running more as a social conservative than a libertarian on many issues, and many fear that Paul’s beliefs would actually result in a reduction of liberty despite his libertarian rhetoric.

Paul’s view of the Constitution radically differs from established views as well the pro-liberty view in a few areas. Paul fails to recognize the profoundly secular nature of the main body of the Constitution as well as the intended meaning of the First Amendment. Paul, as well as many of his supporters, promote the same revisionist history advocated by the religious right which denies the separation of church and state intended by the founding fathers. Paul takes this further in advocating policies which would effectively repeal separation of church and state such as backing Constitutional amendments supporting school prayer. In addition to my recent post on this topic, Ed Brayton raised similar issues yesterday. Ed also points out Paul’s endorsement from Christian reconstructionists such as Gary North, who was previously on his staff. Orcinus has several posts documenting Paul’s relationship with extremist groups.

Paul also ignores the extension the original Bill of Rights to acts of the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, he is inconsistent on this point. He cites states rights as justification for his opposition to abortion rights, however he also voted for the federal ban on so-called partial birth abortions. As you go to smaller levels of government it is more likely that a repressive group can obtain a majority vote in a region to restrict rights. Questions of individual rights must not be determined by majority vote in a region if we are to preserve our liberties.

Paul’s opposition to the principles of separation of church and state, along with his opposition to defending rights on a federal level, make his views highly attractive to the far right and Neo-Nazi groups which have endorsed him. The fact that he often seems to encourage such support also increases skepticism of him. As a blogger at Orcinus who reviewed Paul’s association with extremist groups which are hostile to freedom recently warned:

If America ever becomes a fascist state, it will be Ron Paul’s long-time followers who bring it about. And we — progressives, miniorities, feminists, gays, “intellectuals,” and Jews like Maher and Stewart — with be the first ones to feel their genocidal rage. We cannot overlook his long association with far-right extremists just because he agrees with us that the war is wrong and pot should be legal. If Bush has taught us anything, it’s that we need to hold ourselves and our candidates to much higher standards than that. What we choose to overlook now, we will live to regret later.

Michael Kinsley began his essay by showing the problems of over-simplification of the views of Democrats and Republicans. This applies just as much to those who call themselves libertarians.

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  1. 1
    FZappa says:


    Who are these “many” people you claim to exist who believe a Ron Paul presidency would result in a *reduction* in personal liberty? That’s quite a statement.

    As a general comment, you don’t appear to know much about Ron Paul. Go here:


  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    You appear to be the one who doesn’t know much about Ron Paul–which unfortuantely is true of many of his supporters who ignore many of his writings. Do you dispute his position on separation of church and state, his position on state’s rights, his opposition to abortion rights, his support for a federal ban on so-called partial birth abortions, or his support by far right extremist groups? Check out the links in the post where these issues are discussed in further detail.

     ” That’s quite a statement.”

    I never actually made the exact statement you attribute to me, but for just some examples of those concerned about the effects of Ron Paul on liberty check out the links in the post. Similar views have also been expressed at other sites, especially with regards to Paul’s opposition to abortion rights and to separation of church and state.


  3. 3
    Bryan says:

    My suggestion for all of you is to do more reading and less writing.

    Watch this;


    Read these;

    Murray Rothbard
    Frederic Bastiat
    Ken Schoolland
    Ludwig von Mises
    Henry Hazlett
    Hans Hermann Hoppe
    James Bovard
    Mary Ruwart
    Leonard Read
    Adam Smith
    HL Mencken
    Lysander Spooner

    Do not fear education. You have nothing to lose but your ignorance.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    My suggestion is that you do more reading of your own and make less assumptions about others.

    I’ve read quite a bit by virtually everybody on your list. Ron Paul is no Murray Rothbard. Just because Paul sometimes calls himself a libertarian doesn’t make him one, or doesn’t mean he isn’t a right wing kook. You might pay more attention to what Paul really believes, including the issues I mention above which are inconsistent with the views of those you listed.

    You might also consider expanding your reading list. The great libertarian authors you list are well worth reading, but it sounds like you might need to also expand beyond the echo chamber of any one ideological group. One point of this post is that none of the groups (liberals, conservatives, or libertarians) are always the right answer.

  5. 5
    Mike says:

    Ron Paul is the greatest man to ever live, and I do not exaggerate. This is a great opportunity, and you have to support him.

  6. 6
    Mike says:

    >>>>>If America ever becomes a fascist state, it will be Ron Paul’s long-time followers who bring it about. >>>>>>

    America is already a fascist state. Troops in Iraq call muslims “hajis”, and don’t really care if they kill them. Sometimes they kill muslims for sport. The Christians constituents at home really don’t care either, their christian guilt is placated by supporting the Jewish fascist state in the middle east.

  7. 7
    Mike says:

    Socialism in Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s was split between two groups: native Europeans, and Jews. The native Europeans created the nationalist socialist party (the NAZI’s), and the Jews created the Bolshevik Soviet Communist party.

    The national socialists (the Germans), as the indiginous peoples of Europe, created a socialist idealogy centered around preserving their race (similar to what Jews have done in Israel, or Indigineous Venezuleans have done in Venezuala) against the advances of the unsurping and aggressive Jews (similar to how Jews in Israel see the Arabs as a violent population bent on dominating them and how the indigious Venezuleans see the white Europeans as imperialist aggressors bent on dominating them).

    The Soviet Communists (the Jews), as the newcomers into Europe, created an idealogy that made race irrelevant (i.e. the unity of mankind), so as to create a space for themselves in Europe.

    Now let’s compare these bloody socialist movements to Libertarianism. Libertarianism had great thinkers that were both Jewish and of German descent. They were all united in minimizing coercion by creating a minimalist State dedicated to protecting liberty. Libertarianism is a superior idealogy.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    I’ll leave it to readers to attempt to decide which is the greater hyperbole in the two comments above, “Ron Paul is the greatest man to ever live,” “American is already a fascist state,” or “the Jewish fascist state in the middle east.”

    I’m not sure to what degree we can blame the nature of his followers on Paul, and certainly there must be saner ones than those who have commented here and in response to my other posts discussing him, but his campaign increasingly gives the appearance of a cult which is divorced from reality.

  9. 9
    Mike says:

    well Israel is a fascist state. They keep 6 million Palestinians out of their native land in order to keep a Jewish state.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    “Libertarianism is a superior idealogy.”

    I can’t argue that Libertarianism is a superior ideology when the two choices offered were Communism and Fascism. Of course these aren’t the only choices, and Ron Paul is far more a far right social conservative than a libertarian.

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