In the midst of the 2012 election, which for some reason I was more obsessed with than any in recent memory (even 2008), I spent a fair bit of time thinking about what my own real political perspectives were. And in the fallout of the 2012 election on the Republican side, I’ve been watching the Republicans, particularly the Republican libertarians pretty closely.
Wikipedia is my friend. It articulated in one neat clause what I understood about libertarians in the United States: “…people commonly associate the term libertarian with those who have ‘economically conservative’ and ‘socially liberal’ political views…”
But libertarian philosophy as a whole is actually quite broad, including those who eschew capitalism. That strain of thought is called “libertarian socialism.” (It is also sometimes called social anarchism – something that should be familiar to those involved in Occupy.) This pretty broad set of ideas is by far the closest that I come to calling my political home (even closer than democratic socialism.) I have great company, though. Apparently, Noam Chomsky is a libertarian socialist. I should have known that.
I’ve actually had this set of ideas for a very long time, just not fully articulated. Every year since I first voted in 1980, the exercise was largely a practice of nose-holding while flipping the lever (or filling in the circle.) No candidate I’ve been able to vote for (that had a chance to win) has ever been on board with where I am politically. Those of us that are generally considered to the left of the mainstream Democratic party feel this way, and I’m sure that just as many people on the right feel the same.
And, of course, the whole idea of “Left” vs. “Right” is problematic. There are at least four major policy threads in US politics: the role and freedoms of business and enterprise, the role of government in caring for its citizens (the social safety net), the role of government outside of its borders (foreign policy), and the role of government in regulating the behavior of individuals (“social issues” like gay rights and abortion.) (Some people boil this down to two threads – big vs. small government, socially liberal vs. conservative.) Other issues, such as the environment, or the military are to some extent subsets of these, or where these overlap.
The problem for me (and many who fit into this left-leaning libertarian/anarchist camp) is that if there is a strong government, I’m going to always vote to have that government control capitalism, because capitalism without control will very definitely kill us (even with the modest controls there are, it might anyway.) But, ultimately, I don’t really want capitalism to exist at all (at least not in its current form,) which means that the need for government control (and therefore, a lot of government) becomes moot.
I have come to realize that most libertarians in the US agree with me on many things – perhaps more things than many Democrats do. They tend to be socially liberal and deeply question militarism and intervention. Most libertarians in the US, however, are economically conservative, as that wikipedia entry suggests. Economically conservative in ways I find exceedingly problematic. They don’t have any reasonable approach to climate change, which is arguably the most important issue of our time.
Ron Paul, US libertarian poster-child is not the greatest example of libertarians – in fact, he’s not really a mainstream libertarian – he’s more like a bad libertarian/Republican hybrid – the worst of both (although at least he is anti-interventionist.) But hold on to your hats… I have a theory.
Wipe off your crystal ball, and look at 2016. (This might actually take until 2020, unfortunately.) The socially and economically conservative mainstream of Republican voters, including white evangelicals and tea party members, dig in their heels, and keep forcing Republicans running in primaries to espouse ideas that the mainstream finds more and more odious. And they keep losing, over and over again. One of two things happens: The increasingly large and vocal libertarian wing that got insulted and upset at the 2012 Republican convention where they were disenfranchised, splits off, or revolts and takes over the party.
In either case, you have a party which espouses things that a lot more people in the US can get behind. And, to my mind, simply takes off the table stuff that is in reality on its way off the table anyway, like choice and gay rights. It means actually meaningful conversations about military intervention and drug legalization, instead of the basically indistinguishable current difference between the Republicans and Democrats. This isn’t so helpful for issues of climate change and economic inequality, however. That’s because US libertarians, by and large are libertarian capitalists – some of whom have neanderthal opinions about gender and race (and I’m insulting neanderthals.)
A while ago, I wrote an article entitled “Why I’m going to call myself a Christian.” Many Christians would not recognize me as such – I’m too much of a (small-u) unitarian and a Buddhist for most Christians to think I’m one of them. But part of the argument was getting to have a say in how one defines what it meant to be a Christian. Maybe I should start calling myself a libertarian? No, no, not yet, at least certainly not without the “socialist” tacked on after.