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November 06, 2004


Micha Ghertner

I can definitely relate to you more, Belle. And Democrats in general.

That still isn't enough to get me to actually vote! But I did root for Kerry in my own non-voting sort of way.

Brian W. Doss

I think you're right about the 5 other Democrats that are in line with your thinking. However, after the latest catastrophe in electoral land for the Democrats, perhaps the rediscovery of the wonders of Federalism will make more of them come around to your way of thinking?

I'm an LP voter and have shed most of my childhood tribal affiliation with the Republicans (only once have I voted for a Republican presidential nominee, Papa Bush in '92, holding my nose). If the Democrats make a serious attempt to embrace the market and welfare liberalism (as opposed to warmed over Social Democracy/Socialism) then I'll admit that I'd be open to casting a vote for the 'other side' (lord knows the LP keeps embarassing me... as Radley says, I'm coming to think that the national LP, at least, may be a net negative for the broader libertarian project.) A Democratic party wedded to federalism, the bill of rights (all of them) & simple welfare liberalism would get my vote.

Patri Friedman

Its true that Dems agree with Libs about lots of things, but they also heartily disagree. Personally I'd be a lot less anti-liberal if liberals used efficient methods to accomplish their aims. But I would still disagree with them profoundly about how much government should help people.

That's why cooperation is all about promoting federalism, so we can all have what we want.

Your Mom

You know, there are, actually, 6 of us. Count me in.


dude, now that my mom's on board, we're poised to be a major political force! the owl of liberalism combined with moderate welfare programs flies at dusk!

Jim Henley

Belle, it all sounds wonderful. My frustration with the Democratic Party is that while it has voters and probably office-holders who believe many fine things I believe, as an institution it does nothing to advance those things. If the Dems spent half so much energy trying to remove what you and I consider Existing Bad Government as they do adding New Government (most of which I consider bad and you would consider good), it would be a very attractive compromise home. But it's not there. Democratic politicians go out of their way to establish "credibility" on drugs and speculative war. They ignore or even exacerbate corporate welfare. (Come to DC. I've got a baseball stadium to sell you.) They leave the barnacles and sharp protrusions in place to concentrate on adding to the superstructure. The difference between me now and me a year ago is that I wish harder that this were not so.


Pardon the cutting and pasting:

>Look at me, reliable Democratic voter! I support 2nd amendment rights,

Forget supporting them, just quit attacking them. (There are exactly two thing the Bush administration has done in the last four years that I even thought of liking: dumping the insta-check gun database info, and reversing the fed position on Miller v. US, which was a stupid decision. A stupid NON-decision of the most abysmal sort. Even more non-sensical than Bush v. Gore or whatever it was called.)

>think drugs should be legalized,

How about we just defederalize the criminal status and let the states figure it out? Quit sending poor blacks to fed prison camps.

>support means testing of social security,

I'm not sure about this means-testing bidness. Too complex. Raising the retirement age probably makes sense. People are going to be working longer anyways.

>and think running permanent trilion-dollar deficits is a bad idea.


>What's more, I favor the elimination of all agricultural and industrial subsidies!

Ag subsidies suck (and contribute the main red/blue state reciept-of-fed-money difference) because they go to giant ag business, which chase out poor farmers. Also,
they artifically lower the price, which again hurts poor/small farmers. Dick Armey, years ago, offered to exchange small farm support for killing the other subsidies and I still think that was a fine plan.

>And free trade!

I'm fine with free trade with non-communist countries that have 'free trade' with us. Countries attempting to, in effect, drive us out of market segments, particularly via blocking subsidy of their own industries and manipulation of their currency exchange are engaged in trade war, which I regard as no different than other forms of hostility. Fuck 'em.

>And abortion rights! I think people should be allowed to form unions, and also not form unions.


>I don't think it's good that the teacher's unions should forever stymie potential reforms in the US educational system, but I also think NCLB is an invasive federal program wedded to testing for its own sake, which imposes costs on the states and doesn't supply federal money to pay for them.

I know! Let's get rid of the DoE and return the equivalent in fed taxes (preferably by tax cuts, or in this case deficit cuts) to the states. And drop all the *&(*& fed regs. Then people can agitate for the state houses to get on the stick and fix things, which god knows, might even work.

>I think market-based solutions to environmental problems, such as pollution credits, can be great, in the context of stern enforcement of existing environmental protections.

I dunno what the hell the market-based solutions are. As long as the existing regs are sane (some are, some ain't), I have other problems more important to deal with.

>I don't think the feds should subsidize grazing, logging, or mining on government-owned lands.


>I favor innovative traffic-mitigation schemes involving variable road pricing!

Well, now you're kinda in a hurry.

>Ooh, ooh, and I think prostitution and gambling should be legal! And I love gay marriage! But I don't support hate crime laws. Nor do I think the government should force private businesses to hire homosexuals if they don't want to, because they are gay-hating nuts or something! Just leave actual gay people alone, and let them have fancy weddings with Vera Wang gowns and little packets of pastel-colored Jordan almonds, if they want.

Leave it to the states. Then the problem will eventually disappear.

>See, everyone's happy now. So what do you say, Libertarians? Feel the love.

See if you can get the red-diaper babies not to spit on me so much. I'm just askin' - I voted for Kerry anyways.

>Feeeel the love. I'm not the only Democrat who's like this. No, there's, like, 100 of us! OK, 5.

Well, the idea seems to actually be gaining traction. Of course the idea of radicalizing the proletariat towards smashing the advanced capitalist state seems to be gaining some traction too. To wit:

'While the Left has often turned to Gramsci for guidance, most commentators have ignored one of his most important insights: that however negative a role religion played in Italian society, it constituted the most important social force in the struggle against capitalism and fascism, without which the Left could never hope to achieve social hegemony against the bourgeoisie.'

And so on, from Juan Cole. That sort of thing really leaves me with the feeling I'm trapped between two groups of lunatics and idiots, and I expect some people feel the same.

Maybe you should make sure to insist that the voting rights acts be extended and revised to ALL states and not just the Southern ones and to make damn sure all states have one decent standard so blacks don't get screwed. Just so nobody thinks you're arguing for a 'states rights' platform of the 'nigger-hatin'' variety.

This is perfectly acceptable ya know, they put that power in the Constitution in 1789.

['In case they want to kvetch about strict construction.']


This libertarian has always felt more sympathy with the Democrats than with the Republicans. But that's more to do with being a cultural "blue stater" than anything else.

Nicholas Weininger

I actually held my nose and voted for Kerry-- NJ looked close enough to swinging that it was worth it. In retrospect I probably should've known better and added a vote to Badnarik's total instead. If I had to vote at all. Blech. Voting. Slimy.

But a party I'd actually work for would look much less like the current Dems and more like Timothy Burke's proposed soft-libertarian splintered/remade-Dem party.

If you want to start moving in that direction, federalism might be a good first issue. Juan Cole and a bunch of the cool kids are already getting on the "hey, maybe if we had some devolution we in the blue states could keep at least some of our rights no matter what the Bushies do!" bandwagon. And after Ashcroft, federalism folks sure don't have anywhere else to go.

Noah Yetter

News flash: you and those other 5 Democrats? You are libertarians, if moderate and only pragmatic rather than principled.

WE should be inviting YOU to join US ;)

Brian W. Doss

Hey, good point Noah...

Jacob T. Levy

We heart you too, Belle-- and if you run for any US office on that platform (or, hell, a Singaporean office either!) you can count on our support, valuable as that is! Once, 'way back on my original blogged, I asked whether there was anyone running for House or Senate in 2002 who was combined being pro-free trade, anti-ag subsidies, pro-choice, and at least not actively anti-gay. I may have thown in one or two others (maybe being an immigration moderate rather than a restrictionist), but each criterion, taken one at a time, was met by lots of mainstream politicians. I wasn't asking for drug legalizers.

Crickets chirped in the background.

Sometimes I think it's my destiny to end up the most rabid free-marketeer on the DLC's membership list. And then sometimes the DLC seems to think that its mission is to appeal to those who are only moderately homophobic, rather than those who are moderately pro-market. May well be electorally rational; probably is. But it makes it a lot less appealing to sign on the dotted line. I fear the Waring platform is even less popular among Democratic campaign planners now than it was a week ago.

Re: John "buggery, buggery, buggery!" Derbyshire... [shudder]


Although I still have a number of libertarian leanings, I consider myself considerably reformed since my date with libertarianism years ago, and I certainly had no trouble opting for Kerry over Bush.

Perhaps, Belle, the solution you seek is a means of sparking similar reformation in other libertarians. The impetus behind my own reformation was a Buddhist I met who characterized politics as "the mediation of desire."

I spent a lot of time fighting that notion, but ultimately, I felt compelled to concede the point. Libertarians can argue their hands, but, in my humble opinion, Hume holds the trump card.

Rich Puchalsky

Yeah, that's what we need -- to recruit the support of a fringe group that never could gain even a consistent percentage point of the vote nationally. That'll put us over the top! Meanwhile we'll have to explain to all the people who voted for Bush because they liked his family values just why we're turning our attention to legalized prostitution and dope.

There are a lot of libertarians on the net -- it's the kind of simplistic, reasoning-from-strict-first-principles philosophy that attracts computer science people -- but asking them to join the Democrats is electoral suicide. Unless we're asking them to ride in the back of the bus and support us but never make waves and be invisible. Doesn't that sound attractive? Both for us and for them.

Brian W. Doss


Over at Catallarchy you can see a number of libertarians that do not argue from strict-first-principles. Given that we're agreeing with Belle's proposed platform, why erect the straw man of "prostitution and drugs" when all of us care more about free trade and free markets than niche issues?

Rich Puchalsky


Niche issues? Here is a direct quote from Jim Henley, the libertarian who I most respect, about what he would have Democrats do:

"let the Dems put as much real energy into getting rid of big government they supposedly don't like as adding big government they do. Campaign on ending the drug war and mean it. Dismantle corporate welfare instead of engaging in it. Restore the personal income tax exemption to its level in 1948 dollars while eliminating all or most itemized deductions. Promise to repeal all or most of the USA-PATRIOT Act, the RAVE Act and the DMCA. Stand as firmly for free trade as Clinton did."

Drugs are #2 on his list, and the whole thrust of "big government that [Dems] don't like" has to do with the personal freedoms -- I can't understand the sentence in any other way -- that are anathema to the Bush voters who we lost in the last election.

But even ignoring the sex, drugs, and rock and roll parts of the list, the rest is a bunch of loser issues. Dimantle corporate welfare? Sure, that's a great way to win over those farming states. And yeah, let's get rid of the tax deduction for home ownership, that'll win over the middle class. (I'm ignoring the bit of Republican agitprop that made its way into the end; Kerry certainly was as supportive of free trade as Clinton was during his campaign.)

Sorry, you libertarians may be great people personally, and more reality based than the Republicans, but you are electoral poison. I fail to see any reason why Democrats should make any effort to win you over, especially since there are serious differences between us in matters like environmental protection and in regulating the excesses of capitalism that we'd have to evade, thus making us stand for even less than we do now.


I didn't see any mention of health care on your list. That could be a deal breaker for me. If you add in means testing of Medicare along with Social Security and no new health care spending for the under-65 crowd, then you'll have my vote.

Jacob T. Levy

Rich, I don't know that anyone-- including Belle-- was suggesting that it was electorally sound for Democrats to make themselves over to attract us.

Indeed, I suspect something like the following is true: both libertarians and their opposites (roughly, protectionist cultural moderates and cultural conservatives, people who like their farm bills *and* their bans on gay marriage) are in principle swingable. And many/ most libertarians seem a lot more like "our kind of people" to the Democrats who woke up Wednesday morning to realize, with horror, that they live in a country where banning gay marriage could elect a president. Indeed, we *are* more "your kind of people." We view John Derbyshire and James Dobson with the same distaste you do. If it's to be a culture war, we're clearly on your side. If it's to be a dinner party, we won't say the embarrassingly rude things that the populists would say if you invited them instead.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more of them than there are of us. And the things you may have to do to attract them-- i.e. nominating presidential candidates from the Hollings-Gephardt-Byrd caucus-- are incompatible with attracting us.

Of course, we're right and they're wrong. But that doesn't make us electoral winners.

Micha Ghertner


You seem to be under the impression that the only libertarians out there are the ones who vote for the Libertarian Party. That is simply not the case. There are some like me, who don't vote at all and thus are largely irrelevant to this conversation. But there are probably many, many more within the ranks of the Republican Party as a holdover from the Goldwater/Reagan movement. If Dems softened their anti-market rhetoric and did some of the things Belle suggested, they could attract huge swaths of these sorts of libertarians from the Republicans. Especially after this election, when there was nothing libertarian about the Bush administration.


Why can't more democrats be like you, Belle?

But Rich, your such a party pooper. Its not about capturing the Libertarian Party vote. Because the LP is just ineffective, stupid, and self-devisive. It is about as functional as Monty Python's People's Judaen Front. The point is to capture the vote of the people who are feel that the government is too big, too harmful, and whatnot. All you guys have to do is put forth the idea that you are less big government then the republicans. With the USA PATRIOT Act and the war in Iraq and all, that shouldn't be hard to do! I actually think that if someone could visably attack republicans for the fact that they talk small government but don't walk small government, well, that would be a good step forward.

I think Democrats should put fighting corporate welfare front and center. The issue is obviously good for the base. Furthermore, it would grab libertarians, especially libertarian-esque Republicans who see the gop as being against subsidies. Another idea that I would like to see someone seriously put forward is shifting taxes away from sales and income and toward land value.

Perhaps the most interesting question I have been grappeling with is the idea of a "citizen's dividend" or a "gauranteed income". I see this as a great compromise issue between people who are alarmed at the size and power of government and those who are alarmed at the "dismanteling of the welfare state". I mean, we are not going to get rid of redistribution. So why not just make it smarter. Cut out the buerocracy, paper work, and the power of government middle men.

That is enough for now.


I suspect Xavier is right that health care is an issue that the libertarians and the Waring Democrats will part ways. Still, it's a good list.

Furthermore, libertarians, we're a hell of a lot more fun at parties the Republicans.


1. Belle, on letting private employers discriminate against gays if they want to, isn't that essentially the Barry Goldwater position on the 1964 civil rights act? Do you think private employers should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race? If not, why is it ok to discriminate based on sexual orientation but not race?

2. All youse libertarians out there:
It seems to be a common position that--

a) private organizations and corporations and citizens should not be subject to many of the constraints that we put on the government to preserve liberty. They shouldn't have to allow free speech, they should be allowed to discriminate on racial and religious and sexual and political grounds. They are certainly not elected. Nothing resembling a right of association--they are free to break up labor unions. (Everyone agrees that the Constitution does not require these things, but most liberals want at least some of them enforced against private companies.)

b) the government should be as small, employ as few people, provide as few services, spend as little money, and do as little as possible.

Combine these two things, and I would argue: you have LESS liberty, not more, than the status quo. If there are no public streets, sidewalks, or parks--no "public forums"--and private owners do not have to respect anyone's right to stand on their property, let alone say whatever the hell they want there, what is left of the First Amendment? As a practical matter, in their daily lives, are black people more or less free than they were before the 1964 Civil Rights act? Are these gains really offset by the lack of freedom to discriminate on racial grounds? I mean hell, it's easy enough to get away with racial discrimination if you're smart about it. If no business will hire or serve Muslims, and there are no government jobs or social safety net, how free are they to practice their religion? If neighborhood associations ban bumper stickers, window signs, and American flags, in a standard form contract not subject to negotiation, are allowed to prevent minorities from coming in because they drive down property values, and neighborhood associations build an increasing % of the homes in the country and every home in the place you want to live--will people be more or less free to live where they want and express themselves? I know, I know--the armed might of the state. But on the other hand, we get a vote on what the state does, and it's not so hard for a private company to buy some armed might, and money and the lack of it have their own coercive power--as you surely recognize, given your views on taxes.

Bruce Baugh

Good post, Belle. As for me, the (not exhaustive) list I compiled for my LiveJournal explains why I feel quite comfortable identifying myself as a Democrat at this point. Practical progress on a whole bunch of things that matter to me have happened there, and there's institutional interest in more progress on 'em when and if possible. Since moving the margin the way I want it to go is my priority, that works for me.



I don't think that the reality of libertarian thought is so simple or monolithic as you assume. Most do not want to go back to the days of legal segregation. Few want to end all public spaces. However, on this issue let me propose an alternative way of thinking about this: neighborhood localism. Neighborhood associations don't have to be so restrictive or even anti-government. It is just making the decision making body as local and as small as possible, so that neigborhood members have maximized influence on decision making and minimized the control of outsiders

David Rossie


If this is a proposed alliance, where does this libertarian sign up? You have done more in one blogpost to woo me than any of the Republicans did during the election with their veiled threats and doom-and-gloom scenarios.

There's been a lot of chatter about this in the blogosphere; could it be a real trend?

Aeon Skoble

You phrase this as an invitation to join, but the question is, join what? Your libertarian readers would happliy support _you_, but the problem is that there are exactly zero Democratic candidates who even say these things, let alone believe them. I'll vote for the first one who does. If it's Gore or Kerry or Edwards or Gephardt or Daschle or Hillary, though, forget it.


Not that I regard it as infallible, but where do you plot on the political compass? I always end as libertarian but I suspect it's anti-authoritarianism at play there . . .


I've never voted for a Democrat for national office in my life. If the Republican Party keeps moving toward being the party of corporate subsidies, and a Democrat runs on Belle's platform, I'll vote for the Democrat.

Now, go recruit a candidate who credibly promises to support at least one of the big issues on the list (free trade and eliminating corporate subsidies, eliminating anti-discrimination law as applied to private actors, local control and funding of education, Social Security/Medicare reform, ending the war on drugs) and I'll support him or her.

belle waring

I have to grant that there is the wee problem that the dems don't for the most part, actually run any candidates like me. my point is just that many "libertarian" voters have a reflexive attachment to the Republican party which doesn't seem to make any sense. rather than staying repub and trying to get social conservatives to shrink government (a tough roe to hoe, it seems), why not join fellow thinkers on the dem side and try to convice them to move towards more classically liberal positions? it's generally thought to be election poison to want to, say, legalize drugs, and often dems have to make a lot of noise about how awful drugs are. but why? to counteract the sneaking suspicion many voters have that if unconstrained by the need to appeal to conservatives, democratic politicians would all be crooning "legalize it", Peter Tosh style. and you know what? I think this is true. if democratic politicians thought they could peel off libertarian swing voters by making a bit commitment to protect civil liberties, then they might do so...

fred boy

yah.... well, I have to say the republican party is long since not the party of liberty in any sense.

It is the party of religious pork, non-sensical budget lies, favors for rich friends. Bush feeds money into the churches, strokes the hate of fag-haters and gives more and more love to the NEA-bashers. Giving back federal taxes to home-schoolers is idiotic--it's like giving military dollars back to pacifists. Policy is what matters.

Sure, the drug wars should be stopped, but they won't--not any more than the war on terror. Perpetual fear makes the state stronger, and liberty weaker, and that's what the republicans have been increasingly about since Goldwater...it just took a while for that to catch up with the east coast republicans.

It seems to me that you forget the biggest and only non-debatable issue for a sensible libertarian, which is to say accountable open government. That said, it ain't easy to have accountable government with the size of our military operations. Bush doesn't open his books on anything to anyone. Most of what the CIA does and everything that the energy department or the justice department does should be a matter of public record. It is far less so now than it was under clinton.

But please, social security is not the problem, nor is state education funding. We're not putting enough money there, but the money spent is actually pretty efficient, all told, especially in the case of social security.

David Friedman

I'm afraid Randy is a bit busy trying to persuade the Supreme Court of the virtues of states rights and medical marijuana at the moment, so he may not get a chance to respond to your generous invitation. I, however, would be happy to accept--if you could persuade the rest of the Democratic Party to agree to your terms.

Just don't mention ponies.

Russell Arben Fox

Ok, obviously I can't explore this possibility neutrally, since I'm basically part of the other group of swing voters Jacob described, and have my own (decidedly nonlibertarian) vision for the Democratic party. Still, I have to ask: to whatever extent this isn't just an exploration of ideas, but rather is being suggested as an actual coalition-building strategy, is it really so clear that libertarian-inclined voters have their best chance of contributing to a real agenda through the Democratic party? Frankly, the Republicans still appear to be a likelier target. Sure, this whole discussion was kicked off by the huge "moral values" vote in the last election...but then again, which party is it that has actually put libertarian types on their tickets? Or on their national convention speaking calendar? The GOP gave us Schwarzenegger, McCain, Giuliani--pro-choice, free trade, anti-FMA Republicans. Did the Democrats put forward anyone comparably libertarian in a sense relevant to the party's platform--say, someone willing to privatize social security, bust up the public school monopoly via vouchers, drive a stake into the heart of gun control legislation, etc.? No, not that I recall. So perhaps if the crack-up Timothy Burke and I and others have been talking about really does take place within the Democratic party, there'll be a libertarian opening as you suggest Belle; but so long as people are thinking practically and in the short-term, I can understand why most libertarians still lean Republican--the GOP still carries a torch for Herbert Hoover lambasting FDR for practicing a "false liberalism," and is willing to give such folks a place at the table. I mean, c'mon, there's a reason why Andrew Sullivan ended up calling himself a Republican.

Russell Arben Fox

Incidentally Belle, I also have to add: perhaps I'm reading your post wrong, but I'm surprised that you're apparently willing to give up on so much of the old Democratic egalitarian agenda, especially considering your past praise (which I shared) for highly regulated, centrally funded, government controlled health care.


Russel: I read the Belle post that you linked, and it seems to me that the Singapore medical system that she is praising is less regulated and socialist than the American system. I don't see anything in Belle's post to support your assumption that it is "highly regulated, centrally funded, government controlled health care." The last comment in the thread suggests that the government has mandatory withholdings for pension and medical savings funds, which are then held in the taxpayer's name. That may not be the ideal libertarian solution, but it's close enough for me.


I've been gradually making the switch from Libertarian to libertarian over the last few years. When I turned 18 (in '96) and voted for Harry Browne, I said things like, "The lesser of two evils is still an evil!" and "You shouldn't vote because you think your candidate will win, but because that's the candidate you *want* to win."

A few years later, I looked at the LP and realized that it was still an imperfect human institution -- still a lesser among evils, if you will -- and that I didn't actually want the LP candidate to win, either. I've seen no indication that the LP has any ability to convince others of its positions or concretely accomplish them on any large scale.

This doesn't mean I won't sometimes vote Libertarian -- hell, sometimes I've voted Democrat, Republican, Independent, and Green, so why should I rule out the Libertarians? -- but certain people's comments about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good percolated through. I did not reflexively vote Badnarik this year. I voted Kerry.

It was a heady thing to drive through Minneapolis on 35W on Election Day and see the Kerry/Edwards people on every freeway overpass, to realize that I was probably not in perfect agreement with any one of them, but that nobody asked it of me in order for us to work together. (If I'm not in perfect agreement with my own husband to marry him, why should I have to be in perfect agreement with someone else's to vote for him?) I looked up at the overpasses and could bet that some of the people on each bridge firmly believed in gay marriage, in opposing torture and war, in maintaining civil liberties in the face of homeland security excuses. I could see common ground instead of just disagreements.

I don't want to call this "growing up," politically, but I think it's not unrelated.

Russell L. Carter

Reading through these comments I see a lot of sensible stuff. I think the libertarians are right, the Democratic Party doesn't run candidates that make any sense at all. Why are Ahhnold and Giuliani Republicans these days?

I think of myself as radically far left, but I also think civil liberties and fiscal responsibility are where responsibility starts, and the modern Republican Party has explicitly repudiated both. But the Democratic Party, on the basis of the candidates it runs, repudiates civil liberties too.

But there is also a responsibility to treat your fellow citizen fairly, and I think this is where Belle trips up: while being an asshole is all well and good and human and an essential component of dissent, and it's harmless and possibly therapeutic when spewed from the top of a soap box, but it's also demonstrably corrosive when it's the motivator for discrimination, in whatever form.

The libertarian impulse, it looks to me, is to encourage the ability to decline initiating social interactions between individuals, when what they should be encouraging is the ability to terminate social interactions on the grounds of bad behavior. That's how we treat speech; that's how we should treat rental agreements.

I would love to get past this divide, between freedom of association absolutists, and communitarian minded folks, who have in common a deep desire to regain civil liberties, and some measure of fiscal responsibilities.

But then there is the problem of candidates. As far as I can see, they all generally suck.

belle waring

good points, russell l.

Jacob T. Levy

By the way:

I'm not sure whether the mild sarcasm and self-mockery in my comment that If it's to be a dinner party, we won't say the embarrassingly rude things that the populists would say if you invited them instead came through.

I'm torn in all kinds of ways here. First, I'm a secular urban cultural liberal and really am on Belle's side in the culture war; but I also distrust and dislike (even in myself) the 'who are these people?' reaction to cultural moderates and conservatives. I think the latter are right to be perceive contempt pointed their way, and to react to it. And part of my hunch about why Democrats couldn't win this election in particular, why the message of Bush's catastrophic incompetence didn't penetrate, why swing state voters who ranked terrorism as the most important issue voted for Bush instead of against him, is that there were few credible carriers of that message to the red-state populist swing voters. If I were they, I wouldn't trust most of the relevant messengers either.

Second, I have very fond hopes for a political configuration like the one Belle describes. In my heart of hearts I'd rather be swung to the Democrats than to the Republicans. But that's in part for what I take to be bad reasons-- my basic comfort with urban cosmopolites with whom I happen to disagree about economics, and my basic discomfort with cultural moderates and conservatives-- and I was making fun of those reasons with the dinner party comment.

Those of us liberals and libertarians whose preferred policy outcome is legal gay marriage (not civil unions) are in a minority. Even if we swept aside all out differences with each other about economics, we couldn't put together a winning electoral coalition just out of us. I'd like it better if we could. But it's not on the table. And a more-libertarian, including more-socially-libertarian, Democratic Party will have an even harder time than the current DP coming to terms with the need to build a coalition that includes culturally moderate populists.

David Rossie

Does someone know of any libertarians who have infiltrated the ranks of the Democratic party? RLC libs always market themselves to libertarians at large by saying that they can influence the GOP from within the beast. I look at the GOP track record, and wonder how long it's going to take them.

Perhaps if libertarians swarmed to the "minority party" that is now in a state of deconstruction we can help frame the new debates within that party.

John Lopez

"And I do think a similar listing calling only for white applicants is (and should be) illegal."

Out pops the cloven hoof!

Well, it's good to see the true colors emerge. Property rights? What a quaint anachronism!

Micha Ghertner

Now Lopez, play nice.

To Belle and others: Nigel Ashford has one of the most eloquent and concise arguments against anti-discrimination laws as applied to gays in particular and any other groups in general. Especially pertinent is the argument that anti-discrimination are harmful to civil liberties and harmful to the very people they are meant to protect.

Russell Arben Fox

Russell L.--

"The libertarian impulse, it looks to me, is to encourage the ability to decline initiating social interactions between individuals, when what they should be encouraging is the ability to terminate social interactions on the grounds of bad behavior."

This is a superb way of putting it. And what's interesting is that, to the degree one can, as you suggest, orient this "libertarian impulse" away from the language of rights ("I have a right not to be exposed to this nonesense/not to be treated this way/not to be impeded by this association") and towards that of empowerment ("I am able to walk away from this landlord/employer/annoying asshole"), what you're talking about is really the creation of a more equal society, at least in the civic sense. Which is, arguably, a populist/communitarian project. It just goes to show that every ideology contains numerous roots; while in one sense libertarianism is a straightforward radicalization of classic 19th-century liberal individualism, in another sense it borrows from 19th-century anarchism's feelings of distress at the power of the state: not necessarily because it violated the rights of sovereign individuals, but because big government (and big business, and big law) always manifests itself unequally, resulting in dependency, possessiveness, and the undermining of the sort of mutual responsibility and concern which they believed true freedom requires.


"I'm not sure whether the mild sarcasm and self-mockery in my comment that If it's to be a dinner party, we won't say the embarrassingly rude things that the populists would say if you invited them instead came through."

So lunch in D.C. next year is still on? I promise not to say anything about abortion or Mississippi catfish farmers.

John Lopez


I prefer to get straight to the point. Belle explicitly rejects the premise that people's lives are their own to live. Thus, where can libertarians find common ground with her?


The thing about many people who call themselves libertarians is that they don't vote. So why would any interest group want to try to attract people who prattle in a "holier than thou" manner about how they won't sully their pure hands with such a dirty business as actually voting.

I very much concur with the libertarian belief that voting is way overrated and overhyped. However, the absolute refusal of many prominent libertarians to vote at all leads me to conclude that libertarians are just not politically serious. I would have far more respect for them it they voted at all even if only for Badnarick! It would at least show some seriousness about trying to have some (however minimal) impact on real politics.

Leaving aside political calculations I do think "liberal libertarianism" is in many ways highly desirable. Instead of a huge govt administrative programs (most of which are *justified* on the grounds of helping the less well off) maybe we really would be better served by Milton Freidmans negative income tax method of income redistribution (look it up). I find it hard to believe that with all the taxes we pay (always justified by Democrats as helping the poor) we still can't relieve poverty in this country. And yes, I am perfectly well aware they the taxes are even higher in true welfare states.

And as for W. he is just a disaster. I worry that this country is either headed for serious economic troubles (look at the growing deficit and the declining dollar), tyranny, or both.

Micha Ghertner


I explicitly reject the premise that people's lives are their own to live. Yet you can find common ground with me.

I see no good reason to distance oneself from others merely on the grounds that others don't agree with you on everything. Take what you can agree upon and work from there.

Micha Ghertner


You are correct. Many libertarians, including myself, are not "politically serious." We believe that politics is not a serious business, and does not deserve to be taken seriously.

So what? Many other libertarians disagree and do take politics seriously. They are the libertarians Belle is reaching out to. The ones who currently support the Republican Party because they mistakenly believe it is the party more aligned with liberty.

Russell L. Carter


From your kindly posted link:

"Equal rights would mean:

- an equal age of consent for gays and straights
- the right of gays to serve in the military
- the legal recognition of same sex unions, preferably marriage
- the right of adoption by gay families
- the right of inheritance for a gay partner if the other
dies intestate, without a will"

These are the core ideas that inform anti-discrimination law. The rest of the argument extracts these fundamental principles, sets them aside, and is concerned about peripheral things that are (quite reasonably) highly doubtful to be of social value.

So it doesn't follow that anti-discrimination laws are in general bad. Maybe loosen up your classification a little?


Russell: There is a difference between preventing government from discriminating based on sexual orientation and having the government prevent private organizations from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Libertarians support the former, but not the latter. All of the examples that you list are cases where the government is forced to stop discriminating. No libertarian objects to that. No one's rights are being violated by those proposals. Libertarians object to laws that would prevent private organizations from discriminating. A person should be free to refuse to hire or otherwise deal with a homosexual.

There is a difference between a government policy of non-discrimination and a government policy of anti-discrimination.

Micha Ghertner


I was using "anti-discrimination law" to refer to special rights granted to protected groups. All of the rights included in the "equal rights" list above are not special rights. These are rights that all people should enjoy. The right to remain employed, even if your employer doesn't like you, is not a right that all people should enjoy. Notice: anti-discrimination laws must specify which groups get to enjoy legal protection and which groups do not. People with red-hair don't, left-handers don't, and homosexuals don't (at least not at the federal level); Jews do, women do, and blacks do.

Russell L. Carter

Xavier and Micha (maybe Xavier doesn't agree, I apologize for lumping you in)

"People with red-hair don't, left-handers don't, and homosexuals don't (at least not at the federal level); Jews do, women do, and blacks do."

This seems to me to be a completely arbitrary distinction, since e.g., red hair is completely identical in nature to the color of a person's skin.

Russell L. Carter

Whoops. Too many things at once. I see your point. Well, I'm enjoying the botch. The ability to do so seems to be a pleasurable side effect of the plunge to tyranny and fiscal insanity.



I don't think that the reality of libertarian thought is so simple or monolithic as you assume. Most do not want to go back to the days of legal segregation. Few want to end all public spaces. However, on this issue let me propose an alternative way of thinking about this: neighborhood localism. Neighborhood associations don't have to be so restrictive or even anti-government. It is just making the decision making body as local and as small as possible, so that neigborhood members have maximized influence on decision making and minimized the control of outsiders."

This is a fair compromise, but I've encountered a lot of neighborhood associations (I was a newspaper reporter), and:
1) the whole scheme is premised on the idea that if you don't like it you can vote with your feet. As far as moving OUT, that's true. As far as moving IN, not so much. And low income can constrain you from moving in either direction.
2) what about renters? and people walking through for the day?

As far as when you can discriminate and when you can't, I think discriminating against gay people is more akin to discrimination against blacks or (especially) discrimination against women than it is to discrimination against redheads. You've got a long history of violence and individious discrimination, a characteristic that is either immutable or so fundamental to your identity that you should not be forced to change it, and a "despised minority" that cannot count on normal community pressure to protect it.

I do think there should be an exception where sexual orientation would materially interfere with your job performance (e.g. a church that teaches homosexuality is a sin should not be forced to hire gay ministers.)

I do also support hate crimes laws, but I passionately oppose hate speech laws. (Long live the Brandenburg v. Ohio test and the liberal activist Warren Court!)

Here is the difference: hate crimes laws, in practice, add to the sentence for an offense because of the motive. We do this all the freaking time in criminal law. We do it in ways that make no sense--an accidental shooting in the course of a convenience store holdup gone bad is eligible for the death penalty in most states because "pecuniary gain" is an aggravating factor in sentencing. Crimes motivated by racism and homophobia are more morally blameworthy, and more harmful (because of the intimidation and division they inspire & the possibility, albeit unlikely, of mass violence), than crimes not so motivated.

I think most of us agree that spray painting "Die fags" on San Francisco city hall or a swastika on a syngagogue is morally worse than spraypainting "Styx rules!" or "Bobby wuz hea!" there. I can see arguing that motive should be legally irrelevant, but that is not the current state of the law and most people who oppose hate crimes laws do not believe it should be.


And it is factually implausible to me that the 1964 civil rights act reduced liberty and harmed blacks. Sorry. I'm familiar with the counter arguments, and they don't especially impress me.


In a perfect world, there would be no anti-discrimination laws, but that's nowhere near the top of my agenda. I'm perfectly willing to compromise on that. The thing that really bothers me about anti-discrimination laws is that they support the view that the employment relationship is any more open to regulation than any other personal relationship. Even the most passionate anti-racists would generally oppose a law against racial discrimination in the choice of who a person wants to marry or socialize with. Those are private matters where the government doesn't have any business interfering. As far as I'm concerned, employment is no different; it's just a private relationship between the employer and the employee. The mindset that leads a person to support anti-discrimination laws is the same mindset that leads them to support a host of other labor regulations.

I don't think anti-discrimination laws should be a major source of conflict between libertarians and the left. Most of us libertarians really don't care very much. There are plenty of other issues (like health care) where our disagreements are more serious. BTW, what is your stance on health care, Belle? I read the post that Russell linked to about health care in Singapore, and I still can't tell what your position is.


An entirely separate argument is the trajectory of the parties: the Democrats are moving haltingly, stumblingly towards your views. (Free trade would be an exception, I guess. I tend to think that only Gephardt means it.) The Republicans are marching away from them.

But there is a view, which I frankly share, that most people who call themselves "libertarians" care a lot more about taxes and dismantling environmental laws than the criminal justice system, immigrants' rights, privacy issues, etc. We'll never get your vote.

I pretty much feel that way about any self-described "libertarian" who voted for Bush. Reynolds, even Volokh to a degree--there's only a certain amount of willful ignorance of torture before it REALLY starts hurting your credibility.

If you voted for Badnarik, well, there aren't many of you.

I don't think we should take for granted the support of those who voted for Kerry, though.


What are coalition breakers? (for both sides, but especially for mine, the libertarians)

1. excessive moralization
2. excessive talk regarding pointless issues that dont matter
3. demanding that all parties agree on base principles before they can work together

John Lopez

"I see no good reason to distance oneself from others merely on the grounds that others don't agree with you on everything."

Don't take it into your head that I've made common cause with you, Ghertner: you're more intellectualy consistent than the vast majority of the populance (likely to include most of the commenters in this thread), but that doesn't mean you aren't dead wrong.

Which you are.

Fortunately for me, my plans don't require me to make common cause with anyone in particular.

Nicholas Weininger

Katherine, if it helps any, this libertarian was tipped from voting Badnarik to voting Kerry mostly on the torture and enemy combatant issues.

Which reminds me: Hayek's _The Constitution of Liberty_ could I think be a very nice touchstone for a serious modern-liberal/libertarian discussion. Hayek is willing to permit within the sphere of (classical-) liberal society a certain amount of welfarism, though he thinks it's mostly a dumb idea. What he considers the essence of illiberalism is government policy in any sphere which makes the individual subject to the arbitrary discretion of government officials rather than to simple, predictable, impersonal principles of law.

And said arbitrary discretion is what the enemy combatant stuff is all about.

Micha Ghertner

Oh, come on, Lopez; we've practically moved in together.

John Lopez

Actually Ghertner, this little exchange serves to demonstrate why libertarians aren't ever going to make common cause with anyone in particular and are forever destined to go exactly nowhere via partisan politics.

Not that that's a bad thing.

Russell L. Carter

Hey Lopez. I rather like your obstinancy and individualism and your principled disdain for being counted in the crowd. I mean, that's why I moved to the heart of the um, er, 'red' states. But, what if I said I'd count you in with a bunch of gun-toten freedom lovers who are going to shoot quail tomorrow morning (monday-we're done resting, damn, the Eagles lost). Would that be ok? What if one of them was me... a far left wing uh (not sure I'm totally with RAF or Norm) communitarian?

Bruce Baugh

It seems to me that many libertarians underestimate the importance of competence and honesty in governance as prerequisites for healthy marketplaces. If the people who will be executing contracts, enforcing weights and measures, and the like cannot do their jobs well and/or are not interested in doing them, then there can't readily be the secure foundation on which individuals may construct their own plans. Right now the Republican Party is the party of of unbounded dishonesty and active disinterest in punishing incompetence or rewarding diligence, while the Democratic Party has a demonstrated willingness and proven ability to achieve responsible competence in budgeting.

People who know what they're doing and what it costs are people one can negotiate about whether the price is worth paying, alternative approaches to shared goals, and like that. People who refuse to admit the costs and who often deny what they do and want are not people one can negotiate with. Businesspeople routinely break off negotiations with those who show themselves dealing in bad faith. The Republicans have earned the same treatment, while the Democrats have earned a fair hearing and reasonable discourse.

Steven Horwitz

Jacob Levy and Aeon Skoble have said much of what I would say on this thread, but I'll still echo their support for a Democratic Party that moved in the direction you suggest Belle. As a conscientious abstainer, I might even be moved to vote were a Democrat to run with your platform!

More important to me, however, is Jacob's comment about feeling uncomfortable with the cultural conservatives. As someone who calls himself an atheist Jew, I am deeply uncomfortable with the homophobia and xenophobia that so often resides in the GOP, at least outside the beltway. A Democratic Party that voiced a strong commitment to the importance of being morally responsible, but did so in pluralistic ways that could *include* believers of all kinds, and extended that notion of moral responsibility by recognizing how it gets instantiated in the marketplace (for example, through educational choice), could go *a long way* to picking up votes from libertarian-leaning folks who, for some reason I don't understand, think they can "convert" the religious conservatives out of the GOP.

As Aeon said Belle, find me some Democrats who have your platform, and I'll be right behind them.

Scotty B


Isn't there an argument to be made that hate crimes legislation does not further the belief that we are all "equal before the law"? I'm sure many of us have read where the application of hate crimes legislation has been heavy-handed when applied white-on-minority crime, but nonexistant in minority-on-white crime. For the populace to see hate crime law as just, it cannot be applied unevenly.

Also, normally when the CJ system takes into account intent, it is whether or not the perpetrator actually intended to harm someone, not out of what motivations this intent was derrived. Premeditated murder is premeditated murder regarless of whether it was a crime of passsion or attempting to fraudulently collect on a life insurance policy.


Cool... So join the Democratic Freedom Caucus.

Nascent.... But a libertarian group organizing within the Democratic party...

Neel Krishnaswami

Hi Bruce, you wrote:

Right now the Republican Party is the party of of unbounded dishonesty and active disinterest in punishing incompetence or rewarding diligence, while the Democratic Party has a demonstrated willingness and proven ability to achieve responsible competence in budgeting.

I think this is a misreading of the history of the last decade. We got diligence and honesty when we had brutal partisan warfare between the executive and the legislative branches: in the two years from 1992 and 1994, when the Democrats controlled both the legislative and executive branches, we saw the same depressing spectacle of ill-conceived pork as the last few years have given us. It was when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton were most furiously demonizing each other as the Antichrist reborn that our government worked best. I see gridlock and partisanship as positive virtues, for the same reason that I like having an independent press and an adversarial trial system -- partisans have an incentive to shine light where their antagonists are least comfortable.

That is, in fact, one of the reasons I voted for Kerry this time around. Actually, the main reason for my vote was disgust over the tepid response to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But the prospect of increased partisanship certainly sweetened the medicine. (Insert obligatory libertarian comment about expressive voting.)

But I won't make the presumption that the members of the Democratic party are more diligent about the rule of law, because it is simply not true: even in this election cycle, I saw Democratic activists engage in foolish and shameful stunts like the attempt to use FCC licensing to censor the Sinclair group and keep them from broadcasting pro-Bush propaganda. This is not behavior in keeping with a liberal trust in the marketplace of ideas.

All that said, though, if Belle Waring or Timothy Burke somehow managed to convince the Democratic leadership that a soft libertarian position was a good thing, the Democrats would gain me as a reliable voter. Now, if only I lived in Ohio and had 140,000 clones....

Bruce Baugh

Neel, I certainly don't underestimate the value of divided government in keeping spending in line. But it's also true that Clinton's crew worked out balanced budgets to propose, just as it's true that Kerry has a distinguished record of pursuing investigations worth pursuing. Some good things happened because Democrats initiated them, rather than emerging from the often-productive trainwreck that is divided government.

Neel Krishnaswami

Certainly John Kerry has done good things as a Senator, but (to pick one example) he has also advocated many positions which make me distrust his civil-liberties credentials. In the 1990s, he was a fierce opponent of public-key encryption, and was a proponent (along with John McCain) of a mandatory key-escrow scheme. He also strongly supports asset forfeiture laws, and was a strong advocate of the "know your customer" rules for banks, and wanted the government to monitor every electronic money transfer. His book The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America’s Security is instructive (and occasionally frightening) reading on his beliefs. I think he has the instincts of a DA, and I genuinely didn't trust him for what I think were very good reasons. "He did a good job on the Vietnam POW committee" isn't a good answer to that, any more than "George Bush is a god-fearing man" is a proper reply to questions about W's competence.


Jacob Levy wrote:

"...but I also distrust and dislike (even in myself) the 'who are these people?' reaction to cultural moderates and conservatives. I think the latter are right to be perceive contempt pointed their way, and to react to it. And part of my hunch about why Democrats couldn't win this election in particular, why the message of Bush's catastrophic incompetence didn't penetrate, why swing state voters who ranked terrorism as the most important issue voted for Bush instead of against him, is that there were few credible carriers of that message to the red-state populist swing voters. If I were they, I wouldn't trust most of the relevant messengers either."

I think that we cosmopolitans are too prone to beat ourselves up about this, largely, I suspect, out of some combination of fear of being inauthentic and guilt about our educational advantages. The fact of the matter is that while our cultural distance from heartland values *is* a political handicap, it is nothing we need to apologize for. Sure, we are sometimes guilty of being too dismissive of anti-abortion views. Although it is clearly the case that a some opposition to abortion is really opposition to women's emerging sexual independence, not all of it is. Some of it is clearly focused on the life of the fetus, and those types of concerns aren't backward. But the rest of the social right's agenda really isn't worthy of respect. In theory, there is a non-bigoted case against gay marriage, but I can't think of any non-bigoted reason to insist that opposition to gay marriage is one of the most pressing issues of our time. What are their other issues? Are we a Christian Nation? Is support for Biblical Values the basis of our polity?

Moreover, the contempt that social conservatives openly express toward East Coast elites far outstrips any contempt we express toward them. We are asked to shame-facedly apologize for the fact that we don't like Nascar and never attend Bible study. It is true that some of our visceral loathing of Bush is a consequence of his embodying Red State sensibilities. But he returns that loathing, and that is part of why we loath him. He's the one who runs against Hollywood and insists on describing the American South and the Midwest as the "real" heart and soul of America. He's the one who, in a interview with Bob Woodward, dismissed concerns about the absence of WMDs as the product of an elitist mindset. They hate us for who we are, not because we hate them.

I think the main hope for democrats is to ignore "values" voters altogether and try to peel off libertarian-types in places like Colorado, Nevada and Arizona, while hoping that the cities continue to grow in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania. I don't see any other path to victory

Ben Masel

Let's look at how Democrats with relatively libertarian positions fared in comparison to the National ticket.

Russ Feingold's GOP opponent made the race a referendum on the Patriot Act and Iraq War. Russ changed his position to vote against renewing the Assault Weapons Ban, and has embraced, if not an end to the Drugwar, a de-escalation. While less of a freetrader than Kerry, his opposition to NAFTA is couched less on fundamental principle than actual implementation.

When the votes were counted, he finished 10% ahead of Kerry in rural areas, 6% in the suburbs, and 4% in cities.

Any other races bearing side by side analysis?


"Isn't there an argument to be made that hate crimes legislation does not further the belief that we are all "equal before the law"? I'm sure many of us have read where the application of hate crimes legislation has been heavy-handed when applied white-on-minority crime, but nonexistant in minority-on-white crime. For the populace to see hate crime law as just, it cannot be applied unevenly."

As you seem to realize, it's facially neutral. As far as enforcement, I only know the # of incidents reported as hate crimes, not the # that should be but aren't, but it's not totally imbalanced and not really out of wack from what I'd expect. There are plenty of anti-white hate crimes and even a few anti-heterosexual hate crimes. So "non-existent" is definitely an overstatement and I would have to see some evidence before I believe that it's unequally enforced.

Also, we have to eliminate a large % of our criminal code if unequal enforcement is a disqualifier.

"Also, normally when the CJ system takes into account intent, it is whether or not the perpetrator actually intended to harm someone, not out of what motivations this intent was derrived. Premeditated murder is premeditated murder regarless of whether it was a crime of passsion or attempting to fraudulently collect on a life insurance policy."

No, I recognize the intent-motive distinction and I am talking about motive. Intent is used in deciding whether it was a crime, or what crime it is, but motive is used in sentencing *all the time*. It is also one of the possible "aggravating factors" that makes murder eligible for the death penalty. (Also, I think "Crime of passion" and "premeditated" are contradictory, though "crime of passion" is more common as a description than as a legal term.) Now, technically a "hate crime" uses motive to define the crime, but in practice it is functionally equivalent to a sentence enhancement, since you cannot be convicted of a hate crime except concurrently with a normal offense. Courts have been moving towards functional tests in this area, and I think they're right to do so.

Jacob T. Levy

One point unrelated to anything I've said before:

The need for laws banning discrimination in private employment based on suspect classifications is not currently disputed by *either* major political party. If you will only support a candidate who supports repeal of the CRA1964, you're stuck with the LP and will be for the forseeable future.

Given that, it's not clear to me that there's a libertarian-first-principle answer to the question of whether sexual orientation ought to be considered a suspect classification. It's certainly not a particularly good reason to support Republicans over Democrats that the former support the current CRA and state-level equivalents, but oppose adding one more category to the list. (Yes, yes, one wants exemptions for religious employers and little old ladies renting out one room in their attic. All manageable under current law.)

But then, I'm also of the view that, at any given level of government spending and taxation, there's no reason in libertarian principle to prefer a regressive to a proportional or progressive tax structure or budget. Libertarians shouldn't disprefer Democrats because of progressivity as such; and shouldn't disprefer Democrats because they support one rather than another list of suspect classifications.

Ben Masel

If libertarians just join the Democrats we get lost. A more effective approach is to take a sometimes inside, sometimes outside approach, culling the Dem caucuses of their most antiliberty members.

In 1998, the Democratic candidate for District Attorney here in Dane County (Madison WI and environs) was exceptionally prohibitionist, meanwhile the Republican was a moderate, appointed by Tommy Thompson to fill a vacancy. I recruited Defence Attorney Peter Steinberg to run LP, on a single issue plank of ending marijuana prosecutions. When Peter took nearly half the campus area vote, the Republican survived, the only GOP candidate to carry the County. This swayed our area Dem. State Legislators, none of whom wanted to be singled out for similar tratment in the next cycle.

This year the LP ran an anti-tax candidate for Russ Feingold's US Senate seat. I've told the Dem heirarchy that unless they can persuade Herb Kohl to retire, or change his stripes on Drug and Civil Liberties policy, I'll be runnning as a spoiler from the left. The Republican know that in that event, their best chance will be a non-fundamentalist who won't scare the Dem. base out of defecting.

Nicholas Weininger

Jacob: you no doubt know your Hayek better than I do, but what about the arguments he makes against progressive taxation in _The Constitution of Liberty_? I'm thinking here especially of the arguments that it distorts the relative rewards for different classes of services and disadvantages people whose incomes vary considerably from year to year-- the latter particularly important to libertarians, I think, as those people include a lot of the independent entrepreneurs who we'd especially like to see less burdened by government.

Ilya Somin

I'm a libertarian law professor, so I guess this appeal is directed to me as much as to anybody.

I certainly welcome it, and I hope there can be libertarian-liberal alliances on at least some issues. But there are 3 serious problems:

1. It's not just a matter of agreeing on some issues, but of actually being willing to put those issues high on your political agenda. Many principled liberals oppose farm subsidies, protectionism, corporate welfare, etc. But they aren't willing make getting rid of these things a high priority. At bottom, they don't really consider them especially important. Most liberals, even honest principled ones, rarely show the same outrage over these kinds of abuses of government power that they feel over, say, the much less significant sins of Halliburton and Enron (despite the fact that farm subsidies cost the taxpayers thousands of times more dollars than Halliburton's contracts do).

2. Even if principled intellectual liberals could buy this alliance, I don't know if liberal political leaders would. To make a serious play for libertarian support would cause the Democrats problems with unions, protectionist industries, and other powerful interest groups that form much of the core of the Party. I'm skeptical if leading Dem politicians are willing to make this tradeoff.

3. Then there's the question of the war, which internally divides libertarians themselves. A party that could attract hawkish libertarians like me would have problems with the doves, and vice versa.

John Lopez

Russel Carter,

That's fine, I can be counted in lots of different groups based on the sorts of things I can defend from principle. But that doesn't mean that I necessarily want to be associated with them, or necessarily want to disassociate myself from them either.

That's one of the problems with libertarian political movements. Let's take the anti-war crowd: you might say I'm anti-war because I oppose state war. But I will *never* be caught marching or tamborine-pounding alongside the mainstream antiwar movement, because I will not associate with bald-faced Communists. Period. I'm also against government (that's a euphemism for the "a-word"), but you won't find me running with black-masked window-breakers, because I'm not a street thug.

Other things are perhaps more blurry: someone who wants to form a commune, or someone who wants to dedicate their life to evangelism (religious or political) are perhaps wrongheaded, but that disagreement doesn't necessarily mean that they're dismissed like any common racist rodent.

The point is, principled individualists ("libertarians") will draw sharp lines somewhere, and those sharp lines are what excludes them from forming political coalitions.

Russell L. Carter

"The point is, principled individualists ("libertarians") will draw sharp lines somewhere, and those sharp lines are what excludes them from forming political coalitions."

Nah. Hold your nose. I do all the time. But then, I've got an excellent chorizo recipe that I make from scratch.

Or if you want to think of it in another, more um serious way, think of what Erasmus would have done.

Bruce Baugh

Neel: Thanks, and I don't mean it sarcastically. Those are serious worthwhile objections, and vastly more interesting than the usual. I'm off to research and ponder.

Joe Blow

If the republicans are to be the dominant party, they will soon forget everything they knew about limited government. The interest groups that live off goverment such as the public employees unions and trial lawyers will become their clients.

The Democrats will more loudly preach the virtues of balanced budgets and limited government. When Roe v Wade is over turned, they will understand that they will be able to preserve reproductive choice in a few states.

They will work to shape the DOMA so that the states can enact domestic partnership and gay marriage laws (although most gay marriage laws will be defeated in referendums).

The libertarians, disgusted with big government republicans, will join the small goverment Democrats -- for a while until the cycle turns again.


And I do think a similar listing calling only for white applicants is (and should be) illegal.

Well, in that case, why would you have a problem with making it illegal to only hire straight people?

This is a serious question: if it's okay with you (in the limited sense of "people have a right to be assholes" - I'm not for a minute suggesting that you like or approve this behaviour when I say it's "okay with you") for someone to publicly discriminate against gay people, why wouldn't it be okay with you for someone to publicly discriminate against black people? What is, in your view, less wrong with allowing companies to refuse to hire gay people, while not allowing them to refuse to hire black people?

What I'm getting from what you said is that you feel that it's somehow okay for straight people to feel uncomfortable about having to work with openly gay people, but it's not okay for white people to feel uncomfortable about having to work with black people - which would suggest that you feel homophobia is a natural feeling, but racist bigotry is not.

I disagree, naturally, but I'd certainly be interested in your view of this, if you care to explain it.

belle waring

OK everyone, I think it's awesome that I've now gotten more comments on this post than Badnarik got votes! Jesurgislac: you're right. I guess I do think there should be anti-discrimination laws that protect gay people, since it wouldn't make much sense for me to feel that way about racial discrimination and not anti-gay discrimination. In my zeal to send love notes to libertarians I think I overtstated my committment to property and free association rights. But I think sometimes people on the left think it's just *obvious* that the government ought to be able to force people to hire employees whom they strongly don't want to employ. Reading the words of libertarians has helped me realize that this isn't very obvious, even if it is justified on utilitarian grounds. Some things along these lines: it's specifically illegal to discriminate in renting on the basis of whether a couple is married or not. I can see why we might want it to be the case that unmarried mothers aren't stuck with no place to live, but at the same time it also seems that the landlord is not providing a public service in offering an apartment for rent. It's their place; if they really feel strongly about not renting to those living in sin, I dunno, maybe we shouldn't make them? Now, as you've pointed out, I would object to people who wanted to rent only to whites, and this is in part because of the shameful legacy of racial discrimination in our country. But unmarried people? Well, it seems the landlord can decide not to rent to the person *for no reason*, or for any number of illogical reasons (such as a false belief that people with blond hair have loud parties), so in a way it seems odd to select just a few reasons and declare them out of bounds. Now, as I say, I do think in the case of someone who is only willing to rent to white people, or straight people, that they are doing something immoral, and additionally doing something that if widespread would cause serious harm, so on balance I do incline to think it should be illegal. It's just that in the case of individual landlords (as opposed to banks with racist loan policies) and individual small businesses (as opposed to Coke) I think that sometimes we on the left are don't fully appreciate the intrusive nature of a demand like that. So, I agree with you rather than the libertarians on this, but my thinking has undergone a shift on this type of issue since my younger commie days.

Jason Soon

Great piece. I've been pondering this alliance myself for quite a while from an Australian (moderate) libertarian perspective. Here's something I wrote in response to your call

Jeremy Osner

Geez I guess I'm going to finally join this thread -- I hope I'm not too late! Here is something that has bugged me for a long time about questions of liberty and regulation: It seems sensible to me to draw some kind of distinction between regulation of small and large businesses. But (a) I don't think this distinction is drawn very frequently and (b) I have seen libertarian arguments that either state or seem to imply that such a distinction would be a very bad thing.

Take racism -- I would feel bad about it if I found that a local plumber refused to hire workers who were black, and I would certainly not hire him to work on my house -- and I would encourage my friends and neighbors not to patronize him; but I wouldn't support a civil penalty against him. I mean, it's his business, he ought to be able to run it as he chooses even if he is a bigot.

But that "it's-his-business" meme doesn't scale for me to a larger business. If PepsiCo (for example) were to refuse to hire blacks I would support not only a boycott of their soda but also a large enough civil penalty to force them to change their practice. There really is a difference in kind, not just in size. It's difficult for me with my lack of economics/social science chops to quantify this difference but I think someone who denies that it exists is not arguing in good faith.


As far as libertarians go, I see a pretty sharp distinction between two types of libertarians, and I think it's determined by the value theories they embrace.

On one side, there are the Randian "Objectivists" and similarly minded people who believe values are objective or at least seek absolutes and universals. (I'm very skeptical of the Objectivists and objective value theories.)

I find it a little ironic or inconsisent that many of those in the "Objectivist" camp seem to get their economic theories from Austrians such as Hayek and Mises, since a subjective theory of value is recognized as a pillar of Austrian economics. (As far as value theories go, I side with the Austrians over the Objectivists.)

With the Austrians there seems to be a similar equivocation between subjective and objective value theories... I don't know if I've ever seen any of the Austrians or their followers say much about the subjective value of "liberty" itself.

I mean, if a subjective theory of value is a part of the foundation of your system, I'm not exactly sure how you can say that liberty is more valuable than other options--say, the satisfaction some get from feeling they've constructed a just society.

Some people clearly choose what they consider a "just society" over the society libertarians seem to desire. I think a lot of economists would then conclude that they value social justice over liberty, which is no problem to subjectivists.

But, man, I dunno. Maybe I've accidentally constructed armies of strawmen here. If so, sorry. This is simply a libertarian issue I have trouble with. I find it hard to reconcile economic subjectivism with ethical and political absolutism.


Jeremy Osner--such a distinction exists in practice, unless your plumber is dumb enough to tell applicants on tape that he doesn't hire black people. You won't prove disparate impact in a small business.

I don't understand the reason for it in principle, though. The aggregate actions of many small businesses can be just as harmful as the actions of one big company.
In most irrational preferences it'd balance out because for everyone who liked redheads and hated blonds there's someone who feels the opposite. But for racism, homophobia, etc--there is a long and pervasive history of discrimination. There is empirical evidence that it does not balance out.

Aeon Skoble

Prometheus - you say "if a subjective theory of value is a part of the foundation of your system, I'm not exactly sure how you can say that liberty is more valuable than other options" -- your confusion is based on the fact that economists and philosophers often use words differently. The "subjective value" theory of Austrians is about economic values, not moral values. A political system may objectively "value" liberty precisely because of the subjectivity of economic values. That's the answer to your query.
Also, "Objectivism" (capitalized) isn't the only objective moral theory around. Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, Mill -- all objectivists (small o).


"Some things along these lines: it's specifically illegal to discriminate in renting on the basis of whether a couple is married or not."

Is it really? There are colleges with family housing. There are also towns that in their zoning laws make it illegal for un-married, un-related adults to share an apartment--the Supreme Court says this is perfectly okay. (Now THAT's an issue for the libertarians to get exercised over.)

Charles Johnson

Can't believe what I'm hearing from the Left, but I like it. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that large sections of the right that just voted Republican would not jump on the Federalist wagon if it's constructed correctly (by which I mean Constitutionally). I just today expressed my deep concern to a friend that our "victory" (yes I voted for Bush and yes I'm a "values voter") will turn out to be a disaster 10 years down the road. And don't make the mistake of thinking only the libertarians are your potential comrades on the right in restoring the country to Constitutional principles. No Christian that understands the deeply flawed character of human nature thinks for a minute that the "religious right" will handle the corridors of power any better than the left has, and the further to the right that you go in the Republican party the more sympathetic ears you will find. The majority of those wacky (in your eyes) home-schoolers are cranking out students who know more about the virtues of federalism than any other major segment of our population. Don't think anyone graduation from the government schools will even understand what you're talking about.
Good luck, and let us religious weirdos know if you guys are really serious. I'm tempted to think you're simply in a state of post-election shock syndrome.
Charles Johnson
Ponder, TX

Brad Spangler

The following is relevant to this discussion...


Dear Liberal Friend;

I feel your pain. You just suffered through an election in which your side lost and a politician you despise was returned to the White House at the head of a triumphant band of congressional allies. Now you fear that the "enemy" administration will use the power of the state to shove its alien values down your throat.

Of course I sympathize. As a libertarian, I've spent all my life suffering through disappointing election returns. Each turn of the political wheel brings new laws and bureaucracies that exist to impose values on me that I utterly reject. The difference between me and you is that I never have high hopes on election eve, so I feel resignation instead of despair. Oh. Another difference is that some of the alien values shoved down my throat in the past were yours. Whoops! I guess now you know how it feels.

But what's all this talk about emigration and secession? Are you really so distraught that you want to leave the country and (maybe) take some of the geography with you?

Well, you know that I'm sympathetic; I've discussed such options myself. I suppose it's unfeeling of me to mention that folks like you once vocally hoped the IRS would hunt people like me to the ends of the Earth when we pondered escaping to a less kleptocratic jurisdiction, and you unkindly suggested that "Appomatox settled all that" when we fantasized about raising our own flag over a friendly locale. That's in the past. Let's let bygones be bygones.

Are you sure you've thought through the emigration idea? A little research may be in order.

It's odd that you contemplate escaping "four more years of rapacious capitalism" by taking up residence in New Zealand. That beautiful little country has been known in recent years as a test case for throwing off socialist restrictions in favor of free-market reforms. As of 2002, New Zealand scored 8.2 on the Economic Freedom Index compiled by 62 international research institutes; that's the identical score claimed by the United States. True, the Labour Party is currently in charge and imposing some new regulations, but it was the Labour Party that deregulated the economy to begin with. Some American libertarians moved there way ahead of you. If you go, I'm sure they'll be happy to show you around.

And if you're concerned about civil liberties and the Patriot Act (a dubious claim after the praise you heaped on Janet Reno and the FBI just a few years ago), it's hard to understand your fascination with the European Union. The EU combines law enforcement and intelligence-gathering in Europol -- a dangerous mix of powers at best. Britain permits foreign terrorist suspects to be detained indefinitely without trial -- one of the more controversial anti-terrorist measures adopted by the U.S. government. Jeffrey Rosen, The New Republic's legal affairs editor, calls European antiterrorism laws "far more sweeping than anything adopted in the United States."

As for Canada ... Oh Hell. You've been going on about the wonders of Canadian socialized medicine for years; maybe it's time you got to experience it first hand. A word of advice: rent the enjoyable French-Canadian movie Les Invasions Barbares (Barbarian Invasions) first. Really.

Now, as for this new-found secessionist sentiment of yours and this talk of a looming civil war between progressive blue states and reactionary red states ...

Ummm ... are you sure you're up to it? Oh I know that the blue states have big universities and successful businesses and a vibrant culture -- wasn't I the one who turned you on to that great Ethiopian restaurant before I moved away? But, believe it or not, red states have businesses, colleges and culture too, as well as something that you don't have and that you're going to need if you're serious about this brother-against-brother stuff: guns.

It was all well and good when your side was running the show to sniff at the Second Amendment and say that the government should have a monopoly on force. You insisted that any talk of resisting the powers-that-be was just SO reactionary (you DO remember our little chat after the Waco unpleasantness, don't you?). But the world looks a little bit different when the cops work for the opposition, doesn't it? If you plan to redraw national borders, you're going to want something of a heavier caliber than those sharply worded e-mails you've been circulating. Frankly, the other side is heavily armed; you're not.

It's OK. My friends and I are here to help. We'll be happy to teach you how to fight for yourself. For starters, point the end of the gun with the hole in it at the bad guys. Wait, not at your head; that was the right direction five years ago, but things changed--

Now stop it. It's no use trying to hire the Korean kid from the deli to fight for you; he has long hours at his business to deal with. What with city regulations and "progressive" programs that have to be paid for, bribes and taxes eat up half his income.

No, you'll have to deal with this yourself. Libertarians like me have been living under unfriendly regimes all our lives, so we understand your situation and we're ready to assist with weapons training (if that's really what you want), a shoulder to cry on and a healthy, cynical attitude toward the law.

But we'll have to come to an understanding.

We're friends and all, but I'm afraid that you've used up your goodwill. There's going to be hefty charge for my assistance. Don't worry, it's nothing we can't work out, although, to be honest, me and my friends offered the same deal to the conservatives some years ago and they didn't go for it.

It's actually something of a theological issue. If we're going to work together, you're going to have to stop trying to shove your god down the throat of nonbelievers.

No, I don't have you confused with Bob Jones. I know you call yourself an agnostic. But whatever you call yourself, just like the Bush supporters you worship an awesome god in whom you put all faith -- and you think the rest of us should do the same. The Bushies call their god Jehovah and you call your god Government. As happy as I am to hear, yet again, about the sainted John F. Kennedy who died for our sins, I don't plan on joining your church. Just as I'm unenthusiastic about coughing up a tithe to appease the other side's Lord in Heaven, I don't really hanker to make a cash sacrifice to your Lord in D.C. I'm perfectly capable of picking my own causes and funding my own good works, thank you.

So here's the deal: If you agree to let me live my own life according to my own values, so long as I don't trample on your rights, I'll agree to do the same by you. Think about it; if we all lived according to that sort of understanding, the stakes would be an awful lot lower when your side lost an election. Then you could go about your business without taking time out to chat with immigration lawyers or draw maps with creative new borders on them.

There's no rush; George W. Bush will be in office for four more years. That's plenty of time to consider the potential benefits of a society in which people live and let live, instead of treating each election as an opportunity break the other side to their will.

Sympathetically yours,
A libertarian friend


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