Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Minor Musing About Libertarians In The Age Of Trump

This Dakota Free Press post about Bob Newland's speech to the 2019 Libertarian Party Convention caused a few ideas to gel for me. (As a quick aside, I believe I have met Mr. Newland only once and he struck me as an affable gentleman.)

First, it's refreshing to see a Libertarian discuss a role for government in infrastructure. I would like to hear Libertarians also espouse Hayek's view of social insurance:
There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained , the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. . . .there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. . . . 
Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.
Hayek goes on to say, ". . . there is no incompatibility in principle between the state's providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom."

Libertarians' unwillingness to support a social safety net might have something to do with their view of socialism, a political theory Newland took time to attack. In 2019, however, the biggest threat to classic liberalism is not socialism but the new toxic mix of nationalism, populism, and Trumpism. 

Earlier this summer members of the conservative intelligentsia engaged in a rather heated argument about liberalism. Writing in First Things, Sohrab Ahmari attacked Never-Trumper David French because French, a cultural conservative,  "has individual autonomy [as] his lodestar: He sees 'protecting individual liberty' as the main, if not sole, purpose of government." In short, Ahmari is attacking French for being too Libertarian.

More importantly, Ahmari uses Trump, a man whose only political philosophy is an "I alone can fix it" narcissism as a blank slate. According to Ahmari,
[Trump's] instinct has been to shift the cultural and political mix, ever so slightly, away from autonomy-above-all toward order, continuity, and social cohesion. He believes that the political community—and not just the church, family, and individual—has its own legitimate scope for action. He believes it can help protect the citizen from transnational forces beyond his control.
Trump's recent "go back" to "crime infested places from which they came" tweets put the lie to any claims that he seeks "social cohesion." However, it seems clear that Ahmari wants to use Trump's followers to impose a form of "order" that will, unironically, attempt to force people to be autonomous and virtuous in ways that bend the terms "autonomy" and "virtue" beyond recognition. In short, government will exist to force citizens to relinquish rights to achieve the nationalists' or Trumpists' order.

Finally, the Ahmari article coincides with Newland's apprehension about what he calls an "insidious threat," "squincthy-eyed evangelicals" who attempt to impose "their version of God's will" on others. Ahmari is not an evangelical. He will, however, give intellectual heft to some social conservatives' desires to quell their inchoate fears with government imposed puritanical security. That threat should have all of us keeping one foot in the Libertarian camp.

1 comment:

larry kurtz said...

Newland's Facebook page reads far more like a Heidelberger socialism fan page than a libertarian manifesto. A cynical observer might wonder whether Bob and Cory are having an extramarital affair.