Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix
What’s Wrong With America.
By Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Public Affairs, 2011. Xv + 264
and Welch rightly see that the Ron Paul movement represents a
new force in American politics, but Paul is not really to their
taste. On the one hand, these authors note, "Ron Paul said
something truly distinct in 2008 about the nature of power namely,
that government should have less of it on all levels and in every
instance. ‘I don’t want to run your life,’ Paul said. I don’t
want to run the economy. . .I don’t want to run the world.’ Such
sentiments are simultaneously radical and fully in the Jeffersonian
tradition of governing best while governing least." (pp.38-9)
On the other
hand, though Gillespie and Welch applaud this message, they do
not care for Paul personally. He has "a stage presence straight
out of an Asperger’s syndrome conference. . .For a thousand reasons.
. .Ron Paul is in no way a viable candidate for anything other
than his safe congressional seat." (p.38-9).
and Welch’s ambivalence toward Paul reflects a fundamental problem
with their book. To them, libertarianism is not only a political
theory and program: it is a social attitude and even an aesthetic
sensibility as well. Because Paul does not for the most part share
their social preferences, they cannot fully embrace him. He is
not really one of their sort.
libertarianism in this way: "While there are competing definitions
of what ‘libertarian’ means, the simplest understanding attaches
to people who believe that government is less efficient than the
private sector, that people should be left alone as much as possible
to lead their own lives, and that tolerance is the most important
social value."(p.34) This very much differs from the conception
of libertarianism defended over a lifetime by Murray Rothbard.
As Rothbard saw matters, libertarians are committed only to defining
the permissible use of force. They are free to adopt whatever
attitudes they wish towards people’s lifestyles, so long as they
respect rights. They are emphatically not required to be "social
liberals". Though Rothbard indisputably ranks as a towering
figure of the modern libertarian movement, his name nowhere appears
in the book.
might respond, "So what if we differ from Rothbard; we prefer
our own view." If they were to say this, they stand open
to two objections. First, people such as Ron Paul and many of
his followers who are social conservatives have been excluded
from the libertarian mainstream by definitional fiat. Further,
Gillespie and Welch’s account raises the question, why are the
social attitudes they favor correct? Are they mere expressions
of preference, or do these authors claim for them objective correctness?
the net of libertarian social values very wide; musical tastes,
one gathers, are included. They mock William Buckley and Frank
Sinatra, among others, who disparaged rock music. "Such dismissive
critiques of rock music and other American ephemera like comic
books, movies, and video games. . .proceed apace." (p.86).
Of course, people who like rock music should be free to play it,
and Gillespie and Welch offer an interesting account of how governmental
suppression of it helped spark revolution in Czechoslovakia and
elsewhere. But why must libertarians like it? Can you not be a
libertarian in good standing yet regard this music as raucous
What do you
think of interracial marriage? It would be hard, offhand, to think
of a question less relevant to libertarianism, as usually understood.
Of course, no one has the right forcibly to prevent such marriages.
What more need a libertarian say about this issue?
and Welch disagree. They praise Tiger Woods for calling himself
a "‘Cablinasian’, a neologism that combined his various racial
and ethnic components. Weren’t we finally at a point in history
where everyone was ready to move on from simple, either-or categories?.
. .As a Cablinasian he [Woods] represents something that’s in
all of us." (pp.130, 140) Why is mixing categories a libertarian
also welcome other sorts of diversity. "Most interesting
of all, one needn’t interact with the mainstream to create an
identity. Online pornography caters to more types of fetishes
than there are varieties of Pop-Tarts, arguably rivaling Starbucks
in its ability to slake any and all thirsts."(p.136).
of variety and change leads them on issue after issue to miss
the essence of libertarianism, the use or threat of force. They
support the free market and oppose government regulation of the
economy, but this is not enough for them. Opposition to government
intervention for them takes its place as part of a larger movement
toward individual choice of certain kinds. "It is worth lingering
a moment to marvel at the velocity of career change not available
to those working in the media (and elsewhere).(p.107) What if
your ideal in life is to get a stable job and remain in it through
retirement? Are you less of a libertarian than someone continually
on the move?
what if you prefer to work for a large corporation? Then, it would
seem, you have shown yourself to be an "organization man"
and displayed a spirit antithetical to that of libertarianism.
"The creative destruction of the Internet, along with the
trailblazing pre-Internet example of disorganization men such
as [baseball statistician] Bill James across thousands of disciplines,
has destroyed corporate monoculture and subservient workplace
identity as we know it." (p.114).
and Welch miss the crucial distinction between freedom from coercion
and their own preferences for particular outcomes of choice that
manifest wide variety. In their discussion of education, this
mistake leads them to some dubious proposals. They say, "without
making any sort of fundamental change in funding levels, structure,
or school taxes, we can accomplish significant educational improvement
virtually overnight through widespread implementation of what
is known as the ‘weighted-student formula’". (pp.192-93).
In this formula "the money follows the students"; students
may enroll in any public school that will accept them, and actual
enrollment determines how much money a school receives. To the
authors, "With a minimum of fuss from the outside, weighted-student
formula funding creates a market in education." (p.103) The
authors fail to grasp that a choice among government institutions
and a free market are very different things.
are certainly not opposed to free market education, but they do
not call for the government to exit entirely from the field. To
the contrary, they enthusiastically favor vouchers. To them, as
always, choice and variety, not libertarian rights, stand uppermost.
"That essentially one model dominates the delivery of education
is a sign that something is very wrong, that a monopoly impervious
to its customers’ needs is calling the shots."(p.195)
Murray Rothbard memorably criticized the Libertarian party campaign
of Ed Clark for offering "low-tax liberalism" in place
of libertarian principle. As a result he earned the enmity of
the Kochtopus, an enmity that his death by no means has brought
to an end. It is not hard to imagine what his opinion would have
been of the pseudo-libertarian concoction we have here on offer.
by David Gordon