In his interview with Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham on Tuesday, President Trump declared “I’m somewhat libertarian; I have to be honest with you; Rand Paul will tel you that….”
Why was Trump claiming to be “somewhat libertarian”? Because he wants libertarians to vote for him.
Rejecting Trump’s entreaty, Bonnie Kristian has written an interesting response in an article entitled “The Obliteration of the Republican-Libertarian Alliance,” which appears today in This Week. She writes:
As a libertarian, no. No to all of this. No, in fact, to the self-serving claims of “libertarianism” by Republicans who just want to use weed or get our votes. No to the assumption that the Republican Party is automatically the lesser of two evils from the libertarian perspective. Whatever case there used to be for that alliance rested on the GOP at least pretending to share libertarians’ fiscal conservatism. With Trump, that pretense is gone. We do not “have to” vote for Republican candidates generally, and we certainly don’t have to vote for this Republican.
Kristian makes reference to the concept of “fusionism,” which holds that conservatives and libertarians are really a unified philosophy owing to such mutually common positions as “a free market, fiscal discipline, low taxes, and a minimal regulatory bureaucracy.”
Over the years, some libertarians have bought into this concept, arguing that conservatives were closer to the libertarian perspective than progressives and, therefore, libertarians and conservatives should work together to defeat progressives.
Rejecting that notion, Kristian points out,
The Republican Party of 1980 to 2015 often let fall its limited government ideas outside the economic realm; the drug war, mass surveillance, and the Pentagon playing world police are all big government, too. But even if Reagan was right then, libertarianism is emphatically not the heart and soul of the Republican Party today. The tear is complete. If the alliance ever made sense, it does not anymore…. Libertarians are not properly part of the GOP coalition, if indeed we ever were. There is no libertarianism in the soul of the Trumpian Republican Party, and Republican partisans today are not libertarians.
Two big problems
Unfortunately, however, it’s not as simple as simply rejecting Trump, conservatives, and Republicans. There are two big problems within the libertarian movement that must still be confronted — (1) conservative-leaning libertarians and (2) libertarians who have chosen to abandon integrity and principle for the sake of expediency.
Many conservatives have come into the libertarian movement over the past 20 years. The big problem is that they have brought some of their conservative baggage with them, which has caused major damage to the libertarian brand and, consequently, the libertarian movement.
Consider, for example, Social Security and Medicare, which are the crown jewels of the conservative-progressive welfare state. Like their progressive counterparts, conservatives love Social Security and Medicare and are irrevocably committed to preserving them and reforming them.
It wasn’t always that way. When Social Security was proposed by the Franklin Roosevelt administration in the 1930s, conservatives opposed the idea, correctly pointing out that this was a socialist program that had originated among socialists in Germany.
The same thing happened when FDR’s protege, Lyndon Johnson, proposed the adoption of Medicare. Conservatives, led by Barry Goldwater, opposed it and argued that it would end up destroying America’s healthcare system.
But once Goldwater was smashed in the 1964 presidential election, conservatives made peace with the Social Security, Medicare, and the entire concept of a welfare state and became fervent believers in them.
Why did they do that?
For the sake of expediency. They felt that the only way they could remain players, both in the ideological and political arenas, was by surrendering to what they considered to be the inevitable. Thus, they became as ardent supporters of American welfare-state socialism as progressives, even while continuing to call themselves supporters of “free enterprise” and “capitalism.”
Then, when conservatives came into the libertarian movement, they began convincing many libertarians that this was the way to go — to accept Social Security, Medicare, public schooling and other welfare-state programs and come up with ways to reform them in the hope that libertarians could gain acceptance from mainstream Americans, both philosophically and politically.
A radical philosophy
Libertarianism, rightly understood, is a radical philosophy. It is a philosophy of liberty — genuine liberty, which encompasses the right of people to do whatever they want, so long as their conduct is peaceful. That includes the right of people to keep everything they earn and decide for themselves what to do with their own money. There is no mandatory charity, including Social Security and Medicare, within the libertarian philosophy.
Yet, today libertarianism has become a conservative-libertarian mush. That’s because conservatives who came into the libertarian movement succeeded in inducing many libertarian to adopt conservative positions and settle for reforming them under the guise of “libertarian public-policy reform.”
The result is that libertarianism as a philosophy is now indistinguishable from conservatism in the eyes of the mainstream press and mainstream Americans. In fact, for many people libertarianism is simply a branch of conservatism. This phenomenon is manifested by the fact that education foundations or think tanks that describe themselves as libertarian are often referred to as “conservative leaning” by the mainstream press.
And it’s not just Social Security. Other baggage that conservatives have imported into the libertarian movement includes Medicare, Medicaid, immigration controls, public schooling, limited drug legalization, and selective foreign interventionism.
With respect to Social Security, there are three groups of people within the libertarian movement today: conservative-oriented libertarians who believe in and support Social Security, libertarians who don’t believe in Social Security but publicly support it for the sake of expediency, and libertarians who oppose Social Security, both privately and publicly, and call for its repeal.
Integrity and principle
What conservatives have done to the libertarian brand and the libertarian movement is a shame. But the real shame lies with those libertarians who have chosen to abandon their integrity by becoming public supporters of Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, immigration controls, Amtrak, the Postal Service, or other socialist programs. Such libertarians know better.
Privately, such libertarians will say they oppose Social Security. They know that socialist programs violate the principles of libertarianism. But they have decided that it is more important to garner acceptance from conservative-oriented libertarians and from mainstream Americans than it is to adhere to their integrity and honor.
What they fail to realize, however, is that their abandonment of integrity and principle is all for nought. By embarking on this road — the conservative road — they lose the support of libertarians who continue standing for genuine liberty. Moreover, once mainstream Americans discover that libertarianism, as a philosophy, stands in stark opposition to Social Security and the rest of the welfare state, the chances are small they they will support a libertarian who has abandoned integrity in the attempt to please them?
Moreover, by embracing Social Security such libertarians have lost the moral high ground when it comes to ridding America of the curse of the overall welfare state. When such libertarians call for the end of food stamps, farm subsidies, public housing, and corporate bailouts, what do they say when people respond, “Why should we be required to give up our favorite socialist dole when you’re not willing to give up your favorite socialist dole?”
Today, what America and the world need most is libertarian leadership. That means adhering to principle, no matter what the cost. It’s the best chance we have of achieving the genuinely free society.
The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Visit https://www.fff.org