If you think of libertarianism in terms of the prominent political candidates this year, it looks like there is basically a choice between conservatives who are at very least friendly to racists and white supremacists (Ron Paul) and conservatives who reject white supremacists (Bob Barr). While there are some areas of common agreement on civil liberties and opposition to the Iraq war, for the most part the social conservatism of both makes their views quite distinct from liberalism.
If you think of libertarianism in terms of the prominent political candidates this year, you are also missing a considerable amount of libertarian thought which is much closer to liberalism, especially if we remember the origins of liberal thought. Several libertarians and liberals have written of a fusion of these views, with some reviewed in previous posts.Will Wilkinson has written a brief summary of liberaltarianism.
Wilkinson dispenses with some of the major libertarian disputes, such as those between the anarcho-capitalists who agreed with Murray Rothbard and the proponents of limited government who agreed with Ayn Rand and others. He notes:
Sadly, “libertarianism” has become identified rather strongly with this ideology — an ideology some of the thinkers most strongly identified with libertarianism, like Hayek and Friedman, never shared.
Wilkinson sees libertarianism as more in the tradition of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan, resulting in differences of opinion with some other libertarians:
If I tell most highly-educated people that these are the thinkers whose views of desirable institutions are most like mine, they might infer that I am some kind of rabid libertarian ideologue. But when I actually defend something like the arguments for an economic safety net each of these giants of libertarian thought actually set forth, lots of libertarians accuse me of not really being libertarian at all. And many liberals act surprised, as if I’m being saucily iconoclastic by wandering so far off the reservation. I can tell them that Hayek was actually in favor of a guaranteed minimum income and that Friedman basically invented the idea behind the EITC, but they’ll still think I’m some kind of congenial squish. But what I am is a market liberal just like Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan — the same intellectual role models who make me a rabid libertarian ideologue. So, which is it?
Frankly, “liberaltarianism” and “progressive fusionism” don’t really amount to much beyond what Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan thought anyway. So the fusionism here isn’t really a fusion of anything. It’s just seeing our way back to a pre-existing economically literate political liberalism.
When Paul supporters are not propounding some bizarre conspiracy theory or providing arguments to justify racism and anti-Semitism, they can often be recognized for their cries that any government program is evil and their ridiculous accusations that those who don’t agree with them are socialists. Wilkinson sees the absurdity in such arguments:
The death of socialism as a viable competitor to the liberal-capitalist welfare state makes continued slippery-slope-to-socialism thinking look densely anachronistic. Other liberal welfare states, like the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, etc., have moved in a rather more market-liberal direction, becoming rather less of a soft-socialist middle-ground between the American model and full-on economic socialism. The question these days is whether the U.S. will have the good sense to adopt more rational market-based old-age pension policies, like Sweden or Australia, or lower corporate tax rates to a level more in line with the rest of the wealthy world. Slightly higher personal tax rates and slightly more redistribution is a possibility, but a slide into socialism just isn’t on the table. In this context, the negative income tax looks much less like a dangerous concession to the world-historical forces of evil.
The libertarians who have not allowed justifiable opposition to Communism warp their minds are increasingly seeing the mistake of aligning with the conservatives:
Meanwhile, with the obsolescence of the anti-communist alliance with conservatives, many libertarians have sloughed off much of their previously tactically useful sympathy for socially conservative initiatives. Freed to be full-on social liberals, many libertarians are left sensing a much deeper cultural affinity for the left than the right. And this leads naturally to seeing more clearly their ideological affinities with welfare liberals. And then you read thinkers like Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan, and you think: Oh, yes. This is extremely sensible. And now that the welfare-liberal elite has become rather more economically literate and is no longer sighing over five year plans, there is no reason to think they cannot find this sensible, too.
So that’s where I’m at. An old-fashioned market liberal who thinks Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan get it right, and who thinks Rawlsian welfare liberals should be able to recognize themselves in these thinkers.