What kind of libertarian are you, anyway?

In a comment on my thread on the O’Reilly-Donahue deathmatch, rishi gajria says:

What surprises me the most however is Andrew Sullivan’s (I came via his website) assertion that you are a liberatarian. I have yet to get a sense of that in your posts.

Andrew, who very kindly mentioned my blog at andrewsullivan.com, does call me a libertarian. And I do have libertarian affiliations, with Reason magazine and with the Cato Institute. It’s a label that fits me better than “conservative” or “liberal.” But what do labels mean, anyway? Here’s what I say in the intro to my website:

One of my goals in my writing is to cut through left/right stereotypes and focus
on the issues from an independent perspective. My politics can be described as libertarian/conservative — leaning more libertarian on some issues and more conservative on others.

I am a strong believer in individual rights and limited government. I believe in judging people as individuals, not on the basis of membership in a group. I believe that reality trumps ideology, left or right. I believe Western democracy, flawed through it is, is worth defending. Perhaps most important, I believe that it should
be possible for honest and intelligent people to disagree on political issues and respect each other.

What does this mean with regard to specific political issues? I believe that generally, more markets and less government interference is good, though I’m willing to be persuaded by evidence that this is not so in specific cases. (I still believe that the failure to reform Social Security and to move toward partial privatization is going to bite us in the butt someday, perhaps sooner rather than later.) I believe in a safety net, but I also think that government programs have a way of degenerating all too easily into morale- and responsibility-sapping entitlements. I dislike corporate welfare as much as any other kind. I believe the government should stay out of adult men and women’s consensual sexual relationships, reading and viewing choices, and end-of-life care decisions. I oppose race and sex discrimination even when it comes in the guise of “affirmative action,” and attempts to regulate speech in the academy in the name of protecting “the oppressed.” I dislike right-moralism about sex and left-wing moralism about greed (though I don’t think that either unbridled sexuality or unbridled greed is a good thing). I don’t believe that the government should impose religious values on citizens, or offiically favor religion over irreligion. I think this principle should also extend to secular left-wing religions such as “Earth first” environmentalism or radical feminism.

As for foreign policy: unlike many libertarians, I was a strong proponent of U.S. military strength during the Cold War, and today I strongly believe in the importance of the War on Terror. I think the Islamofascists are not a movement with legitimate grievances but the enemy of modern democracy and civilization. As for the war in Iraq: I have very mixed feelings about it. I believe we were drawn into the war through misinformation; I think it has been badly conducted, and has been a true disaster in some respects (the credible reports of torture condoned by superiors are particularly distressing). But I cannot, in good faith, say at this point that it was wrong to topple one of the most brutal entrenched dictatorships in the Middle East, and create at least the possibility of a democracy (however imperfect by our standards). I think we must hold the administration accountable for the conduct of this war, and I would like to see an exit strategy that would allow us to withdraw without letting Iraq fall into the terrorists’ hands. But I reject many of the arguments of the antiwar movement — for instance, that freedom cannot be exported by means of war. (Tell that to the Germans and the Japanese. Or to African-Americans.)

So, what does all this make me? A libertarian? A classical liberal? A libertarian-conservative? A maverick? I’m not sure. To tell the truth, I haven’t yet found a label I’d be fully comfortable wearing. And maybe that’s just as well, because to me, ideas matter far more than labels.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “What kind of libertarian are you, anyway?

  1. Jon Henke

    It makes you a Neolibertarian. (see here for more)

  2. Amy

    Cathy, I think I love you! I’ve been struggling to define myself and situate my own inclinations with the reality of politics today and I think this post summed it up nicely. You wrote “I think that government programs have a way of degenerating all too easily into morale- and responsibility-sapping entitlements.” While I agree, I think that it isn’t just for the recepients, but for the government as well. By maintaining the current welfare state (and I broadly include prisoners from the war on drugs in that umbrella)” We have institutionalized poverty and maintain it because it is easier than actually doing something about povery. We have to hold the system eqaully responsible. Thank you, for seeing through much of the noise and helping me define my own language for future debates with my “neo-con” husband and my “loopy left” friends and co-workers.

  3. Cathy Young

    My goodness, John! There is a label for everyone, isn’t there? Thanks.

    And thank you, Amy! Excellent points. I can feel the love. *lol*

  4. Quentin Langley

    What does it make you? How about “hawkish free-market conservative with libertarian leanings sound”? That’s how James Taranto described himself to me when I interviewed him for my book. I sometimes use “classical liberal neo-con” and in a British context, “Liberal Unionist”, but you have to be an historian to follow that one.

  5. Oldsmoblogger

    You very nearly speak for me (also, I’ve enjoyed your work with Reason for years, for what it’s worth). Another acquaintance of mine likes the term “muscular minarchist.” I used to use the term “right libertarian,” and I’ve been soaking up the wisdom of St. Randy Barnett; in practical terms the Republican Liberty Caucus has proven the best fit. Basically, I’d like to see a good stiff dose of decorum to go with a restoration of (well-armed) Constitutional liberty.

  6. Anonymous

    I came here via volokh.com, and I like your determination to get to the bottom of things. The following comments are not meant to be contentious.

    Above, you wrote, “I don’t think that either unbridled sexuality or unbridled greed is a good thing[.]”

    I’m trying to figure out how unbridled greed can be a bad thing in our (U.S.) society. (I assume you mean bad for society, as opposed to bad for the individual. I agree that unbridled greed is not a very good strategy for an individual.) I can’t think of a way in which unbridled greed harms U.S. society. When unbridled greed takes the form of crime or otherwise actionable conduct, the law acts as a brake. When unbridled greed takes a form that is not actionable but is nevertheless arguably harmful, the market effects of bad reputation act as a brake.

    Maybe my question is really, What do you mean by “unbridled greed,” and why did you feel the need to express your opposition to it?

  7. angry young man

    I don’t think such expansive definitions really fit our world any more, regardless of how accurate they are. You are as you vote.

    Someone who voted for Bush might say, “I’m a liberal economically and socially, but I really had to go with him on my key issue, homeland security.” Too bad. Your vote doesn’t come with a line item veto.

    If you voted for Bush, you are a radical Christian conservative willing to vilify gays for politcal gain, destroy science as a pursuit, reduce schooling to test taking, and cripple the nation’s integrity and economy if it will put more profits in your cronies’ pockets. Someone who voted for Bush might say, “I’m not for that.” Tough. That’s what your vote gave this country.

    And you should take pride in it. Raise your purple finger and holler. You fool.

  8. Cathy Young

    I didn’t vote for Bush, angry young man (well, actually I did in 2000, but not in 2004), but I don’t accept your proposition.

    A neolibertarian like myself (thanks for the label, jon henke!) could vote for Bush, and then use her influence (working with like-minded people) to steer the party and the administration in a more neolibertarian direction.

  9. Cathy Young

    Quick response to the other comments:

    (1) From what I know of James Taranto, he leans far more conservative and far less libertarian than I. Perhaps it’s a matter of the angle of one’s leanings.

    (2) Kenneth, thanks very much; good to see you here.

    (3) Re “unbridled greed”: actually I meant to say primarily that it’s not good for individuals, not society.

  10. Unbridled Greed

    All righty then! Thanks for the response, and keep posting.

  11. angry young man

    i meant fool in general, cathy, not you specifically. glad to see the label doesn’t apply

    as for your comment, “steer the party and the administration in a more neolibertarian direction,” i think the idea that anyone who did not come out of the twisted eat or be eaten world from which republican leadership is molded could change the party, is very idealistic. republicans are not conservatives or any party with a plank responsive to a constituency. they are kleptocrats whose first mission is the survival of their money streams.

    that’s behind their reaction to nola. because they stood to lose nothing by the destruction of the city, they did nothing. then when it became clear their positions were threatened by their outrage they though money at the problem–and only because that money could go to their cronies and be paid for by cuts to those who weren’t their cronies.

  12. Olga

    angry young man: Given the actual choice (not the protest vote) in the last election between two completely unsuitable but fairly evenly matched candidates, if anyone who voted for Bush, for whatever reason, is “a radical Christian conservative willing to vilify gays for politcal gain, destroy science as a pursuit, reduce schooling to test taking, and cripple the nation’s integrity and economy if it will put more profits in your cronies’ pockets,” how do you describe anyone who voted for Kerry?

    Anonymous: Here’s an example of unbridled institutional (not individual) greed that I personally consider detrimental to the society — media consolidation that, in the name of making ever more money for the stockholders and CEOs, leaves little diversity of opinion (except left/right) or creative originality in music/books/movies/TV. It’s certainly not illegal, nor should it be in a free-market society, but I find it sad that we have fewer and fewer choices left. Fewer and fewer choices in everything, in fact. Every other store on the street is a Banana Republic, when it’s not a GAP.

    (For the record, I’m not a Libertarian, I’m an independent.)

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