I regularly read the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, and today’s post has not disappointed, as Matt Zwolinski points his readers in the direction of James Peron’s blog. In a piece entitled Why Libertarians Need to Talk to the Left and How to Do It, Peron has to remind libertarians that they are neither of the Left or the Right:
Classical liberals found much to agree with socialists on and worked with them. There are risks in alliances, one of which is that you may be tempted to compromise principles to appease partners. Classical liberals started doing just that. Instead of liberalizing socialism, the alliance resulted in pushing liberalism in a socialist direction.
This alliance remained in place until the early 1900s. During this time, classical liberalism waned, losing its intellectual power and appeal. In the end, the progressives not only destroyed liberalism but made off with its name as well.Just as classical liberalism ended up being corrupted by the Left, the modern libertarian movement has been corrupted by the Right. We have apologists for state restrictions on the free movement of labor, using racist arguments in the name of job protectionism. They claim to be libertarian while doing so, in fact, some even try to claim to be the only “pure,” “radical” libertarians, yet indulge in collectivist labeling of immigrants, other races, gay people, etc. They adamantly defend social conservatism as being part and parcel of libertarianism. They are harbingers of the conservative take-over of libertarianism.That is why we need to speak to the Left. We need to counterbalance the corruption from the Right. Yet, we must carefully consider where we are allied. We can’t enter into wholesale alliances with either Left or Right. We must be selective in the battles we fight.
This is a great historical primer from Peron, and I do recommend reading the whole thing, but I do have one persistent nitpick: libertarians do not do nearly enough attacking of our own. It seems as though we are constantly on the defensive, always deflecting blows from both the Left and the Right, and never even giving pause to consider striking back and making the conservative or the Leftist uncomfortable with his or her own views.
I realize that ours is a humble creed, but nasty, Leftist tactics like Political Correctness, subsidies for abortion clinics, the “multicultural” canard, and, of course, wars in the name of humanity are all talking points that the Left has refined very well over the decades. When we argue against these things, I think that libertarians are destined to come off as “conservative” to a lot of different people. This is unfortunate, but what I have found works best for tackling the Left’s bigotry (and the Right’s) in public debates is the old tried-and-true formula of individual liberty and the acknowledgement that the world is not a perfect place.
This means recognizing that the “states’ rights” battle cry is largely associated with slavery and Jim Crow. This means recognizing that gay people are being systematically excluded from society at large (what would Che Guevara do?). This also means pointing out that the gender wage gap is essentially non-existent. This means we have to demand that suspected terrorists get a speedy trial by jury in US civil courts. This means recognizing that women are free to choose, and that they are free to pay their own bills for their choices, too.
At first, I don’t think libertarians have much of a choice in regards to coming off as conservative, especially when confronted by the aforementioned tactics. Likewise, we could argue about these same issues with conservatives and come off as “liberal” to them. I think that’s just way the political dichotomy works here in the United States. What’s a libertarian to do?
Peron hit the nail on the head with this lament:
“[libertarians] aren’t out to change minds; they are out to ‘WIN’ debates.”
What I have found is that most of the people I engage with rarely change their minds. What I think we need to be aware of is that other people are usually reading the debates and trying to come to a decision of their own, and these are the people who we must strive to influence. I think the job of the libertarian is to pull people we vehemently disagree with closer to the center and keep our focus on influencing the crowd that has gathered to watch. Whether we use a sword or a shield to do the job should be left up to the individual doing the arguing, but when crackpots like David Kramer post stuff like this on a well-known libertarian blog, I think it would be a good idea to start stabbing.