Some years ago, a reader rediscovered me. He said that he was glad to see that I had become more serious in my political writing, and noted that before I had written from a “glibertarian” perspective. That was the first time that I’d heard the term used. And I don’t think it was accurate. I think I wrote from a libertarian perspective. With very few exceptions, libertarian thinking is simplistic. That was definitely true of me. But “glibertarian”? I don’t really think so.
There are lots of definitions of “glibertarian.” Definition Of claims: “pejorative used by libertarians to describe those who use libertarian rhetoric but will not follow the philosophy to the end [and by] liberals to describe those who use libertarian rhetoric and will follow the philosophy to the end.” This is silly. It just means a glib (or shallow) libertarian. I’m sure one can find examples, but I’ve never known anyone to use “glibertarian” to describe a hardcore libertarian.
A Country of Glibertarians
America is largely a country of glibertarians: people who have a generalized notion that the government is bad, without much of a clue of all the things that the government does from them. If a glibertarian thought a little more, they would be a libertarian. If they thought a lot more, they’d move past the “one weird trick” fallacy for fixing society. In general, I think more thought leads more nuance — to the idea societies are complicated and the best ones combine different aspects of different ideologies.
The problem is that most glibertarians never move even to the libertarian level. So they have vague anti-government ideas, which makes them perfect marks for conservatives. Note that conservatives in America love to talk about small government, but they aren’t actually for it. They are just against government programs that help the weak, poor, and even the middle class. They are all for programs that help the rich. And a big part of that is having a huge military. This is why regardless of the state of the economy, the US government debt has always gone up when Republicans were in charge since Ronald Reagan:
Now I don’t much care about the debt — especially when we are in the middle of a recession. (So Obama gets a pass, but George W Bush does not.) But glibertarians do! They have a vague idea that government is bad so cutting it back will be good. There are a lot of glibertarians right now just waking up to the fact that Obamacare was a government program that allowed them to have health insurance. If they weren’t so reflexive in their belief that the government is generally bad, they wouldn’t be such easy marks for the Republicans and their dishonest rhetoric.
Glibertarians Don’t Think Much
This isn’t to say that glibertarians hate the government. I know conservative and liberal glibertarians. And it’s sad. These are the people that have allowed the United States to make life so much harder for normal working people than it is in other “advanced” economies. And this is why glibertarians are more dangerous than libertarians.
In general, libertarians are just screaming into the vacuum. They are dangerous in that the rich use them to come up with reasons why yet another tax cut will make us all better off. The ultimate “one weird trick”: tax cuts for the rich! But mostly, libertarians don’t matter — or they wouldn’t if it weren’t for all the glibertarians who fall for this rhetoric. Note: there are vastly more glibertarians than libertarians.
The big issue is that it is hard to engage with glibertarians. They don’t have much in the way of a political philosophy. They don’t take politics seriously. I can talk to a serious libertarian and find common ground. I can even get them to rethink some of their assumptions. But I can’t with glibertarians. They don’t think they have any assumptions. Their political beliefs come via osmosis, and they don’t even think of them as beliefs but rather “common sense.”
When Glibertarians Wake Up
They don’t think about their politics serious — until they get fired from their corporate or manufacturing job when they hit 50 and find they can’t get healthcare. Then glibertarians can quickly learn that what they thought before wasn’t just “common sense.” And that it’s all a lot more complicated when things aren’t going well in your own life. It’s called empathy — it comes to some suddenly.
If anyone has any ideas on how to talk to glibertarians while they are still doing well, let me know. I’ve come to think that it’s hopeless, which is why I’m come to think our political system is hopeless. I hope I’m wrong. Please: try to cheer me up.