A Small-l Libertarian Primer

With Gary Johnson threatening to be a factor in the election, Ken White has must-read where he argues that libertarianism isn’t a a series of answers, it’s a series of questions.

I’d like to propose presenting libertarianism as a series of questions rather than a series of answers or policy positions. Even if I don’t agree with people’s answers to these questions, getting them to ask the questions and confront the issues reflected in the questions would promote the values that I care about.

These are all questions that I think ought to be asked whenever we, as a society, decide whether to task and empower the government to do a thing.

You can click through and read them. I think a conservative audience will like it, as well, because what Ken says of libertarianism, I would also say of conservatism: that it’s more about questioning whether government should do things. It is what Andrew Sullivan calls “a conservatism of doubt”. As I said in my own essay:

Conservatives are leery of sudden radical change because they understand that the human engine is complex. Sudden shifts can produce bad Unintended Consequences. This is seen as a resistance to “change”. But resisting change is sometimes a good thing. Not all change is good. And all of it needs to proceed carefully. We have a wonderful society. Improving it is our second duty; protecting it our first. Conservative thought on this is akin to the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. Big Grand Plans for Remaking the Universe — like socialized medicine — draw opposition from conservatives because they know these plans will not work as advertised … if they work at all.

The reason I left the conservative movement was because it not only stopped being about doubt and caution, but saw doubt as unpatriotic. It became a conservatism that was dead certain it had the answers to everything. Me again:

The problem, of course, is that conservative philosophy and the conservative party have diverged. The ideas I list above really don’t reflect the Republican Party or many of the commentariat who call themselves conservative. Faith-based initiatives, abstinence education and compulsory volunteerism are based on the notion that government can make people better. You will not find a more hair-brained Grand Plan for Remaking the Universe that throws caution to the wind than the attempts to create democracy in the Middle East. Institutional responsibility has been tossed out the window with regulatory capture and deficit spending. Arrogance has replaced humility, zingers have replaced thought. A healthy suspicion of ruling elites has morphed into a raging anti-intellectualism. Conspiracy theories — about global warming, Obama’s birth, Obamacare — have become acceptable discourse. It’s no longer enough for the Democrats to be wrong; they have to be evil socialists who hate America.

Policies that were good ideas have been chased too far, dogma has become the order of the day. The GOP has taken good ideas and chased them into a cul de sac. And on culture issues, they’ve gotten more extreme. I don’t agree with everything in this diatribe, but it cuts deep. Here’s Bainbridge again on the problem: the lack of prudence and caution in today’s GOP; the canonization of views on taxes, regulation and government; is alarming. During the debt debate, the GOP openly contemplated default. That’s not a “conservatism” I can embrace. It’s a dim-bulb populism masquerading as conservatism.

Donald Trump is the apotheosis of this. He is spectacularly ignorant on the issues. He seems to regard knowing things about issues as a weakness. And yet he’s absolutely certain that he’s right.

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