Can Libertarians and the left work together?
I was recently asked that question and below are my thoughts. I would enjoy to hear your ideas on libertarians and the left(in particular the liberal left) working together.
As someone who has often used the term “left-libertarian” to describe
myself, I’ve always found the American Libertarian tendency to ally
with Republicans frustrating. I think the left and libertarians could
accomplish a lot together. Mike Gravel has always made much more sense
to me than Ron Paul. Many reasons exist as to why I feel a partnership
between libertarians and the left would be much more beneficial to both
groups than the status quo. Namely, I think there are very compatible
views on the bill of rights, the military, corruption and being socially
liberal to build an alliance upon.
There is a very strong liberal/civil-libertarian faction in the
Democratic Party. They’re the Mark Udall’s who oppose the Carl Levin’s
of the party. They vote against military aggression, against drug
prohibition and tend to protect the civil liberties of their
constituents (habeas corpus, protest, privacy etc). Let’s look at the
NDAA 2012 as an example: The above is the vote on the Udall Amendment which would have stripped the language of Section 1021 from the law (http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/112/senate/1/210).
Two thirds of the Democratic block voted aye. Only Senator Kirk of
Illinois and Senator Rand of Kentucky voted with the 35 Democrats (one a
moderate, the other Ron Paul’s son). Now let’s examine the 17
Democrats who voted nay. Seven came from states that traditionally vote
Republican and a full 10 voted who voted nay came from a state with a
senator of each party( Because of overlap, 11 out of the 17 belong in at
least one of those groups). Section 1021 would have never had made it
onto the President’s desk without near universal support coming from
Republicans. This point can easily be made about the Iraq War, the
Patriot Act and many other policies. Far too often does the
neoconservative agenda get pushed into law because a minority of hawkish
Democrats decides to vote across the aisle.
Let’s look at how Paul supporters have been treated throughout the
Republican nomination process. Due to Paul’s rather outspoken stances
on reducing military spending, ending drug probation and restoring
habeas corpus he has been perpetually demagogued. The neo-McCarthyites
who demonized the liberals, opposing these things under Bush, are now
launching a full out assault on the libertarians of the Republican
Party. This seems like a rather abusive relationship. Forget all the
propaganda you hear about being “politically correct”. This is a
fiction propagated by the religious right. When push comes to shove,
there is much more toleration of dissent and diversity of thought in the
Democratic Party than there is in the Republican Party.
What about the discrepancies in economic policy? I feel as if this
is largely exaggerated. Let’s look at the issue of “crony capitalism”.
Both the left and libertarians viscerally oppose the collusion of
corporate and state power. The same can be said about occupy and the
tea party. The difference comes down to methods. The left tends to
address this problem by restricting corporate power- the libertarians,
by restricting state power. However, can we not achieve some mutually
beneficial synthesis of these two methods? I think we can. At the very
least, it would be more effective than trying to negotiate with Romney
or any of the other corporate apologists. Allow me to use energy
diversification as an example. Many Libertarians are rightfully upset
over the friendliness between green businesses and the Democratic
Party. They distrust the subsidies because it reeks of collusion. Yet
we spend more on subsidies for oil than we do for green energy. Green
energy would be on a better footing if all energy subsidies were
removed. Democrats have long tried to end oil subsidies. That seems
like-dare-I-say a compromise? Something that benefits all parties?
Sweet ideologues above, forbid it! We could then pursue more effective
methods of energy diversification through infrastructure and public
goods. This is assuming you think the provision of roads and trains
within the duty of the government. However, the point is the same
regardless. Even when it comes to economic policy there is a lot of
room for mutually beneficial cooperation (an interesting example of
I would be happy to provide more examples but I’ll refrain for now.
Lastly, there is the obvious point that both groups are socially
For the past generation the American left has had a difficult time
being liberal(in the original sense of the word). Sadly, we have far
too often stumbled and buckled under the pressure and temptations of
authoritarianism. Libertarians have had encountered much difficulty
being taken seriously by Republicans and actually effecting their
platform. Although I no longer consider myself a left-libertarian (i’ll
explain in a later post), I still believe a little bit more
libertarianism in the Democratic Party would benefit everybody.
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