I have long known that Dave Weigel is one of those “bleeding heart” libertarian. These are the kind of libertarians I was when I was a libertarian: very concerned with social justice—left leaning, you might say. But such libertarians are still (1) libertarians and (2) wrong. Weigel showed this today by making a bit of fun at Alex Sink, Democratic Congressional Candidate Has Big Questions About Libertarianism. He notes, “It is not actually inconsistent to believe in small government as it pertains to economics and also believe in small government as it pertains to social issues.” Ha! That’s a good one!
One of the biggest myths about libertarianism is that it is for small government. This is no more true of them than it is for Republicans. Think about what kind of government institutions libertarians are in favor of. They believe in the military. They believe in copyrights and patents and other kinds of property rights enforcement. And most of all, they believe in courts. This last one is the killer. In exchange for normal regulations, libertarians are for a legal system in which everyone is suing everyone else all the time. As a result of this, the true libertarian utopia would turn out to be one with a huge government doing things in the most inefficient way possible. It’s either that or system so unjust that the poor just give up trying to have their rights enforced. But that second kind of libertarianism wouldn’t be acceptable to the heart bleeders. So you’re only left with: big government.
Weigel wonders that anyone could still be unclear about what libertarians believe. He writes, “You think, what with all the attention paid to the Paul dynasty and to Edward Snowden and to the Koch family, that people basically understand what ‘libertarianism’ means.” Let’s look at that list. Snowden’s anarchist thinking has hardly been big news. I’ve been following him closely and it is only because I pretty much used to be an Edward Snowden that I understood where he was coming from.
What do the Pauls believe in? They are both anti-choice. So on the biggest social issue in modern America, they come down very clearly on the state intervention side of things. I’m more than willing to accept that a libertarian case against late term abortions can be made. Even middle term abortion. But first term abortions? No. And “citizenship begins at conception?” That idea is absurd.
But it goes further than that. At least Ron Paul believes in drug legalization. Rand Paul has only ever been willing to accept cannabis legalization. That’s not a libertarian argument: “You can do whatever drugs you want as long as it is one that I think is okay for you to use.” That’s the same old philosophy of liberal democracy, which is great. But it ain’t anything like libertarianism.
And the Koch brothers? Really?! I’ll admit, in a fundamental sense, they are libertarian: they care only and forever about keeping their taxes low and government regulation impotent. Regardless, they may talk libertarian, but when it comes to social policy, they are (Again!) anti-choice. As for the rest of their agenda, they might be for some libertarian social policy, but it doesn’t matter to them. They’re willing to allow gay people to marry, but if that gets in the way of their tax cuts, its true importance becomes clear. As Robert Greenwald wrote:
So I think we should cut Alex Sink a little slack. What libertarianism means in modern America is not the “pure” system that I’m sure Dave Weigel has constructed in his mind. Instead, it is what conservatives have been my entire life. Proponents talk about broad freedom, but they push economic libertarianism with social conservatism thrown in to get the votes necessary to get elected. My advise: Weigel should find a new name for what he believes, because it won’t be found in a major American political party, most especially the Republican Party.
I am generally sympathetic to libertarianism. The fundamental problem with it is that it attempts to define an end point. One of the big ideas of liberal democracy is to work toward maximizing freedom. When I was a libertarian, I found that my work for the cause only led to more libertarian economic policy. So the rich got richer, but the poor, if anything, got less free. That’s not a bargain that I’m willing to make. I don’t see how a libertarian could look at Obama and Romney and think, “Romney will better maximize my freedom!” That’s just nonsense. That’s the thinking of someone who believes that freedom only applies to marginal tax rates.
 Some might take exception to this. It’s true that “serious” libertarians are very much against our intellectual property laws. But this is a minority, based upon my experience over the last thirty years. And notice how it leaves the door open to creeping government control. Suddenly, hunting down kids who are ripping DVDs isn’t an intrusion; it is just the government doing what a government properly does: protecting property rights! Once you start making those kind of arguments, you might as well be arguing for droit du seigneur.