May 14, 2004

Posted by Jon Henke

I've been discussing my political ideology with various people lately, and I think it's time I fleshed it out here.

I am a Neolibertarian.

I consider myself a Neolibertarian for two main reasons:
1: Utility
Libertarians have no sense of pragmatism; no concept of "degrees of freedom". While their goal is liberty, when they are actually faced with a choice between 80% liberty and 50% liberty, they invariably allow 50% liberty because they're unwilling to vote for anything less than 100% liberty.

10 out of 10 for taking a principled stand guys, but minus a few thousand for taking that stand on the sidelines.

2: Foreign policy:
As Dale Franks wrote of Libertarian foreign policy...

..they really don't have one. To them the foreigners are suspiciously heathen, and the best thing we can do is ignore them 'til they go away. [...] So, I'm a libertarian, sure. Right up to the water's edge. Then, all the sudden, I morph into Teddy Roosevelt.
Well, that's where I am, too. Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy was Wilsonian Internationalism without all the naive faith in idealism and collectivism.

On the opposite side of the coin from the Wilsonians is the Libertarian movement, which believes we can apply libertarian principles to foreign policy on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, they seem to forget those libertarian principles. Harry Browne - 2000 Libertarian Party candidate [full disclosure: I voted for him] - writes....

Most libertarians believe you shouldn't initiate force against someone who has never used force against you. Force is to be used only in self-defense not used just because you don't happen to like someone, or because someone doesn't like you, or because he might become dangerous in the future, or because some third party has attacked you and you want to prove you're not a wimp.
Let's cut to the chase: this, as stated, is not correct. No libertarian I know would subscribe to this position. Certainly, we agree that one shouldn't initiate force or fraud, but Browne leaves out an important instance in which one may use force - to prevent a violation of rights.

If we genuinely subscribed to the philosophy as described by Harry Browne above, then we would never intervene to put a stop to crime. After all, if it's not happening to you, what right would you have to initiate force against the criminal?

If, as Browne writes, "Force is to be used only in self-defense...", then I would be obligated to walk past a murder. Unless the murderer was actually attacking me, I'd be morally prohibited from interfering. That is the result of such a philosophy.

Now, there are legitimate grounds on which one can oppose the war in Iraq, but libertarians forsake their own principles when they claim the war in Iraq is unjustified on the Libertarian philosophy of non-aggression. It is exactly this sort of head-in-the-sand naivete and idealism that prevents me from being a Libertarian.

I - along McQ and Dale, I believe, though I'll leave it to them to confirm - am a Neolibertarian. A pragmatic libertarian domestically - a hawk on foreign policy. I believe in Lockean ideals, but I know we live in a Hobbesian world. The best we can do is degrees of liberty.

Having said that, I suspect there are many other Neolibertarians. The blogosphere seems full of them. I'd like to propose we popularize the term - to make it mainstream. Perhaps, for starters, a Neolibertarian Blog League, for lack of a better idea. Suggestions?

UPDATE: Beltway Traffic Jam



I think that's a good start. The next step would be to expand the neolibertarian position on important issues...

1. Foreign policy
2. Education
3. Gun control
4. Drug and alcohol use
5. Immigration
6. Free trade
7. Subsidies
8. Environmental issues
9. Industry regulation
10. Public Health

Posted by: Galen at May 13, 2004 11:52 AM

Libertarian policy runs into two problems. The first is that any ideology breaks down if taken to extremes. This is why lots of foolish Libertarians are turning into neo-Anarchists. Shrink the size of government becomes: "We don't need a government people will just do whats best in their long term interests and everything will work out fine." Which bring us to number two, people are not long-term rational discriminators, most people are short-term rational discriminators. The long term is always in doubt so most will choose short term good (like staying alive) over long term good (like getting rid of a brutal dictator). The truth is we know what places without government look like, the 3rd world is full of them and its not a good thing. Its only when the populace has hit rock bottom and the short term and long term coincide that they throw the bums out.

Posted by: MrAcheson at May 13, 2004 01:25 PM

i'm a neolibertarian, too.
can we sart a party?
i'll bring the chips...

Posted by: dan at May 13, 2004 01:41 PM

For years now, I've been trying to sort out the differences between the Standard Labels (Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian,...) and their splinter groups (Neo-Con,....).

One of the problems with labels is that they usually come with a laundry-list of positions - like Galen's, with the stances spelled out. Then when someone says, "I'm a liberal", the other guy pulls out his laundry list - which may not even resemble yours - and expects you to agree with him.

Maybe labels are necessary. But somehow we need to come up with a "platform" for each of them.

Perhaps the one for true libertarians would be easiest: act in such a way that you would want that action to be a national law. (That's a paraphrase of someone else, and since I'm not a Libertarian, I'll have to ask whether that's even close.)

Posted by: Mike at May 14, 2004 01:09 PM

Acheson makes good points.

The libertarian pursuasion is absolutist (you might almost say "scientific" if the bolshies hadn't gotten there first). It's a convenient substitute for thought, with the added benefit that on some matters it comes up with good answers. But it's narrow and simplistic - something serious people typically outgrow.

As for "neolibertarian," that sounds like something the adherent sort of makes up as he goes along. It's about as meanful as "neo-Catholic."

Posted by: George at May 14, 2004 01:36 PM

I've always felt I was a libertarian rather than Libertarian. I side more with Neal Boortz rather than the "mainstream" of the Libertarian Party. As Hobbesian Conservative notes: "conservatives who share some libertarian leanings, but cannot muster the undying faith in mankind that a proper libertarian must have" fits me pretty well.

Posted by: Mike at May 14, 2004 01:49 PM

I think what Jon is driving at is a pragmatic system that tries to preserve as much individual freedoms as possible. Of course a "no government" system would be undesirable, just as a zero regulation system would be ripe for abuse. But the natural order of our government (both sides) seems to be to expand itself, usually at an expodential rate. Has anyone seen a chart on government spending since WWII? At some point it will significantly impede upon our social and economic freedoms. How far do you want it to go?

As far as labels, you have to have some way of identifying yourself. I wouldn't expect people to have to mark off every box to be considered a Neolibertarian. That's a big problem that I have with the two main political parties now. I'm looking for a group of positions that fits me better than what the Dems or Republicans are currently offering...and I think others are too.

Posted by: Galen at May 14, 2004 11:31 PM

I'm with Mike in my dislike of labels. Underlying policy positions can quickly morph into something completely different with the label still attached.

I'm more of a believer in stated principles. For example, a neo-libertarian might support the principle that the combined cost of government at all levels must never grow faster than the rate of inflation.

Or - Changes to the U.S. Constitution must come from the amendment process, and not from the courts.

Or- Government transparency in all activities is required except for national defense.

Frame your own.

Posted by: pilsener at May 15, 2004 08:35 AM

I believe Andrew Sullivan labeled these folks "Eagles," no?

Posted by: Bill from INDC Journal at May 15, 2004 11:45 PM

That's extremely interesting, and I like the term, although it's a little unclear what it means.

One online journalist described neo-libertarians (in January of this year) as essentially moderates, pro-war, who want to move in a libertarian direction but are not really philosophically libertarian, just politically.

I found one website that asserts neolibertarianism is basically just the counter to geolibertarianism, holding that land should be as a private as capital. But that's the mainstream of US libertarianism so it makes little sense to use a prefix that doesn't really modify the term.

But the founder of the Republican Liberty Caucus said years ago (more than a decade) that neolibertarian is a distinction for the RLCers from the LP and the rest of the movement. Since one of the big distinctions of the RLC is being a little more moderate, a little more open to intervention, a little more pro-life and a little more focused on economics, I'd say it makes sense here. So overall I'd say it's a good use of a term that needs popularizing.

I myself think SOME sort of action against Saddam was more than justified, although it appears there may be some issues with how the war is being conducted. I also think incrementalism is the strategy that will win us our freedom back, just as incrementalism is what leftists used (Progressive Era, New Deal, Great Society) to get us here. If it's okay I might be interested in joining a neolibertarian project; I haven't started a blog yet, although I do have a website. I'm a member of the FSP and a registered Libertarian (not particularly thrilled with Bush and I don't know that we can save the GOP from itself), but I think this could be fun.

And on a sidenote, I hate the philosophy of Hobbes.

Posted by: Angrylibertarian at June 18, 2004 09:27 PM

Oh, and Carl Milsted of had some great stuff about party-building, incrementalism and utility for the LP.

Posted by: Angrylibertarian at June 18, 2004 09:28 PM

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