George Will’s Convenient Libertarianism

George WillOver at The New Republic yesterday, Isaac Chotiner writes, George Will, Tea Party Tory. The article walks a thin line that will make both George Will lovers and haters happy. It discusses Will’s “evolution” from Tory to libertarian. And it doesn’t pull any punches as when it notes the erroneousness of Will’s claim that the global temperature has not raisen in the last 15 years. Still, I find the article more or less a whitewash of Will.

George Will is generally my first example of how it is easy to be a conservative pundit. As long as you don’t drool, everything is fine. And it’s funny to me that people like Will and David Brooks complain about liberal elites and their pseudo-intellectualism, but that is a better description of them. Regardless, for the umpteenth time: if Will were a liberal, the best he would be doing is teaching at a small state college. He certainly wouldn’t be working at the Washington Post and on broadcast television.

But you do have to give one thing to Will: he knows where his bread is buttered. That is well on display in this recent turn to libertarianism. Of course, like all conservatives, I’m sure that Will always saw himself as a libertarian. The great thing about being a libertarian is that you don’t have to do anything about social injustices, but you get to feel good about yourself in that you would never partake. For example: you don’t think the government should do anything to facilitate equal rights for minorities, but you would never treat another person differently because of their skin color.

So why is George Will all gung-ho about libertarianism now? That couldn’t be more obvious: he sees the conservative movement going in that direction. He’s already seen conservatism in America go from Toryism to radicalism. If he is to stay relevant, he either has to go libertarian or fascistic. And we know that fascism isn’t really fitting for his personality. So libertarianism it is! Or at least, the kind of wishy-washy libertarianism that some in the Republican Party have embraced.

In the end, it is the same old conservatism. Libertarianism in the Republican Party is just a patina to give their “worship the rich and screw the poor” politics the look of a consistent ideology. For example, he’s tentatively in favor of cannabis legalization but not for the legalization of other drugs.[1] Libertarians argue, “You have a right to do whatever you want to your own body!” Republican “libertarians” argue, “You have a right to do whatever you want to your own body, as long as we’ve decided that it is okay for you!” A communist would argue exactly the same thing.

So George Will V 2.0 is out and he’s all for libertarianism? That means nothing, other than that he is following trends in the conservative movement. And this is what he has always done. It’s all that popular conservative pundits ever do. It’s why they are popular. And when the pretend libertarianism of the Republican Party peters out, George Will V 3.0 will be there to appeal to the new trend in movement conservatism.


[1] This really is the ultimate example for libertarians. If you believe that people have an absolute right to their own bodies, then you believe anyone should be able to grow poppies in their backyards, extract the morphine, produce heroin, and use it. Anything else means that you want to tell other people how to live their lives. But as I’ve noted before: even most “real” libertarians are all about telling other people how to live. A great example of this is how libertarians (almost to a man) want to stop businesses have having union shops. Voluntary contracts are great, but only when libertarians agree with them. Ugh!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “George Will’s Convenient Libertarianism

  1. Upon encountering a libertarian my first task is to identify which species of libertarian they are. Some good work has been done on this topic, http://leftycartoons.com/the-24-types-of-libertarian/ but more study is needed. I have a relative who is of the “I Got Mine – Screw You Jack” variety, but is pleasant enough if you avoid politics. I have an old friend who I talk to on Facebook. We went to school together, were in Boy Scouts together. He talks a lot about “Statists” and oscillates between hating on liberals and saying very emo things about how beautiful Bitcoin is because it is not tainted with state violence. Violence is part of being human. Better to face that and control it than build silly narratives about it. And Bitcoin sounds like something Douglass Adams would have invented for political satire. Still my old friend’s politics are far more palatable than my relative’s.
    Libertarian, as it is used in our political discourse, seems to be an attempt to construct an alternate theory of conservatism that is not simply an appeal to tradition and authority. This tends to be a pretty transparent fraud, as the essence of conservatism is unequal, authoritarian relationships. Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind makes this case well. When Rand Paul, who calls himself a libertarian, argues for authoritarian conservative policy outcomes he invariably invokes ‘local control’ as his rationale. This is the tell, as local control is always whatever flavor of Jim Crow is up for discussion. So I am not sure that in actual practice many libertarians are really concerned with maximizing personal liberty as they claim.

  2. @JMF – I generally find that I can bring libertarians to tears on the issue of currency. In general, the libertarian movement has not thought about the issue very deeply. They are so vested in the idea that the government will just abuse the Fed and inflate away their wealth, that they can’t think about it clearly. It’s weird because the last 30 years have shown that the Fed has done exactly what they say they want: keep inflation low. When it comes to this issue, it is hard to find a libertarian who isn’t at base a conspiracy theorist. Bitcoin is just the high tech gold standard. Very silly, but there are worse sins.

    I liked Robin’s book very much. He does understand libertarianism well. Online, I highly recommend Noah Smith. His take is very similar to mine, but he writes a lot more words. Rand Paul is a joke. As I discussed in the footnote: if you aren’t for legal heroin, you really aren’t a libertarian. I have major problems with real libertarians, but at least I have a bit of respect for them. Most politicians who call themselves libertarian are not.

    Ultimately, all you really have to know about libertarianism can be gained by looking at the demographics of the movement: white, male, upper middle class. As for the "local control" argument, it is just a bait and switch. If you moved everything down to the states, they would want to move everything to the cities, and from there to nothing at all. I hate hearing that argument. And the conservative argument that is ultimately behind all of that is that federal taxes are the only level at which you can get progressivity. That’s why [i]they[/i] want to move things down to the states. At this point, believing in a flat tax system is what unites all conservatives. But if they ever got that, they would argue that each person should have to pay the same [i]amount[/i], not the same [i]percentage[/i]. I know how libertarians think.

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