Saturday, June 25, 2011

Politically-Divided Families, Including Libertarian Factions

A good sign of whether people are wrong is whether they want to limit and squelch debate itself (says the known debate-organizer).  A corollary is that I keep finding that my favorite people tend to come from politically- or philosophically-mixed families, or at least from a background that meant (whether at home, school, or work) they often had to cope with being told they were wrong. 

To put it a bit more cruelly, in cases where open-mindedness has not resulted, I at least love it when, say, very-left-wing New York-dwellers (almost invariably relatively-fun ones even if they’re angry and nuts, as opposed to staid establishment types) at some point tell me they have ornery conservative parents – especially if they hail from a rural region, because then you know damn well they have to just put up with it sometimes (family reunions, childhood, Grandma’s Baptist funeral, etc.).

I say this out of a desire to facilitate healthy dialogue, you understand – and I say as I head off to visit my own parents, aunt, grandmother, and parents’ relatively-new dog Mac (a Scottie) in New England this weekend.

I also say this just after two reminders reach me of how many disagreements there are just within my own “political family,” namely the libertarian movement:

1. The Times noted the long, argumentative comment thread that resulted from an attempt to define libertarianism – and, oddly enough, one of the few resources to which the Times directed people at the end of the article was a mostly-humorous piece by Andrew Corsello from GQ about Ayn Rand’s influence that quoted me, Michael Malice, and Nick Gillespie among others (and for more Rand, run quickly to the one or two remaining performances at Brick Theater in Williamsburg of the comic-book-based play Action Philosophers, which contains a lengthy and funny Rand bio segment).

2. When a friend newly interested in libertarianism asked for explanation of the surprising factionalism he encountered (in a still-small movement), I dashed off the following taxonomy, which I admit is quick and hasty (and here edited to be even shorter) but fairly accurate, I dare say:

Objectivists: really got rolling as a mostly self-contained movement in the late 50s, all thinking Ayn Rand is the only libertarian who got things entirely right, including atheism and anti-altruism (selfishness being a virtue, etc.).

Milton Friedman: pretty much the most straightforward popular exemplar of libertarianism since 1960 or so, emphasizing free markets and managing to sort of get along with and be respected by Republicans because of it (begat a son and grandson also active in the movement).

The Cato Institute, John Stossel, Reason, and the like: all sort of follow in Friedman’s footsteps (since circa 1980), turning the successes of free markets into an optimistic econ message that in theory all people everywhere might embrace (they often praise Hayek, who emphasized the decentralized nature of economic information, even more than Friedman; technically, Friedman was a “Chicago School” economist and Hayek was an “Austrian School” economist – like his predecessor Ludwig von Mises – with the former school using mainstream-econ stats and the latter more reliant on rational-philosophical arguments based on core concepts like mutually-beneficial exchange).

Libertarian Party: striving since their founding in the early 70s to actually win elections; notoriously uncompromising (and prone to internal fights) and thus frequently ridiculed, rightly or wrongly, as too impractical to have much impact, but I figure multiple strategies can’t hurt.

Murray Rothbard: single-handedly makes things much more complicated, since Rothbard started out in the Rand circle; left in a huff; veered way left culturally in the 1960s (indirectly allying with Black Panthers and praising peasant revolts that seize land in the Third World, Palestinians, etc. – all with at least plausible pro-property rationales); founded the hardcore version of libertarianism called “anarcho-capitalism” (of which I’m a more easygoing adherent myself) that suggests not just shrinking government but eliminating it altogether, replacing it with private law courts and private police; co-founded both the Libertarian Party and Cato; then veered way right at the end of the Cold War, becoming a close ally of the “paleoconservative” movement, which emphasizes the value of the local over the distant or cosmopolitan – in the process creating...

a faction of libertarianism sometimes called “paleolibertarianism”: includes Ron Paul and the Alabama-based Ludwig von Mises Institute and which (A) believes libertarians should accept limits on immigration both to avoid overburdening the welfare state and to avoid importing more socialist voters and (B) holds some rather neo-Confederate views about the importance of states’ rights, the evil of Lincoln, and in some cases even the desirability of emphasizing racial, anti-affirmative action politics, which I think is a bad idea (and likely led to those racist newsletters going out in Paul’s name a couple decades ago, though he’s denounced them since)

But there are those, likely including Ron Paul, who insist on seeing the paleolibertarians as “the real libertarians” – as if the rest of us all just arrived – in much the same way the tiny paleoconservative movement condemns neocons as phony upstart conservatives (despite the neocons dominating for decades and the paleos not really existing until the Cold War ended).

The paleolibertarians tend to focus on what I came of age thinking of as just Ron Paul’s quirky issue set: the Federal Reserve as the root of most economic problems, the American military as an imperialist evil, the gold standard.  I’m not saying they’re wrong, but they’re divisive in a way the Cato/Reason/Chicago crowd tend not to be, I think.  And the paleo faction could be safely ignored until now, when Ron Paul and their close association with the Tea Party and anti-immigration movements have arguably given them more heft – and more youthful adherents, I suspect, even among the hip – than the more staid, older, rationalistic, econ-oriented folks with whom I am sometimes more at home (and who tend to prefer Gary Johnson to Ron Paul).

But if everyone will stick to the broadly-agreed-upon econ issues (cut spending, deregulate), I think we’ll be OK.  Or so I keep arguing, though even that sometimes creates disagreements. 

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