Rightbloggers Revel in "Libertarian Moment," Which Suspiciously Resembles Conservative Whenever [Updated]
Last week the New York Times Magazine ran a story asking "Has the 'Libertarian Moment' Finally Arrived?" The editors of libertarian flagship Reason magazine and many fellow travelers hailed the story, which featured several prominent movement figures such as Nick Gillespie and former MTV veejay Kennedy.
Rightbloggers were by and large positive about it -- which makes sense as, in our experience, libertarianism is basically conservatism for people with social anxieties.
The Libertarian Moment has been predicted before; Reason's editors have been fluffing the idea for years -- see "The Libertarian Moment" by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, Reason, December 2008.
In May 2013, David Boaz of the Cato Institute asked, "Is This the Libertarian Moment?" and judged it was, because conservatives who did not identify as libertarians were expressing what he considered libertarian ideas -- that is, they were pushing "abuse-of-power stories," namely the various White House scandalettes conservatives are always going on about. Imagine, conservatives and libertarians coming together against Obama!
But lately outsiders have been getting into the act, too. Last August Molly Ball of the Atlantic told us "Libertarianism is on the march," and interviewed Boaz, who unsurprisingly agreed with her. The Times Magazine story is perhaps the fullest flowering of this tendency; author Robert Draper claimed "today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side," mainly because more people are in favor of gay marriage and legalized marijuana, have "deep concern over government surveillance," and "appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb."
Oddly undermentioned in the story was libertarian economics, though the political star of the piece, GOP Senator Rand Paul, was quoted as saying that "we can grow as a country, but government needs to be minimized and the private market needs to be maximized."
Libertarians, like members of any underpopulated political group, like to portray their movement as a tent big enough to accommodate a wide range of liberty-lovers. For example: Want to free the weed and drink raw milk? You might be a libertarian! In our experience, however, some liberties are less important in libertarian land than others.
Yeah, we know, but the guy says he's a "libertarian cartoonist." It's hard to find one of those you can even understand. (Via.)
Take abortion, for example. In surveys, most libertarians come down pro-choice (57% against tighter abortion laws in 2013). But you wouldn't know this from reading top libertarian authors who, perhaps hoping to draw more conservatives to the cause, tend to portray abortion as an "agree to disagree" thing, as in this Reason symposium on the subject as described by The American Conservative: "Ben Domenech makes the important point in yesterday's Transom that all prominent politicians who identify themselves as libertarians -- Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie -- are pro-life."
When Arizona tightened its abortion laws in 2012, the Chairman of the Libertarian Party began with the harrumph, "Like so many others, Libertarians wrestle with the moral issues associated with abortion. While our party includes a significant number of people who describe themselves as pro-choice, nearly as many members describe themselves as pro-life..." Eventually he allowed that the Arizona legislation was an "insult" to women, but then returned to the pitch: "And we're REALLY pro-choice: we also defend the right of a woman (or man) to choose NOT to pay for some other woman's abortion or birth control." Now there's a pro-choiceness Republicans can get with!
Many libertarian writers are fiercely anti-abortion, like Reason's David Harsanyi ("Does life really begin on the say-so of a single person--even the mother?... That kind of elastic calculation grinds against reason") and the Washington Examiner's Timothy P. Carney: "Who is the real extremist on abortion?" asked Carney in 2012 and surprise, it was Obama, because he would actually continue to allow it! (Carney also says things like, "The Pill is not just a pill to them. It has become something holy. And they won't tolerate any burden between them and their Blessed Sacrament...")
Then there are the libertarians who are mush-mouthed on the subject, like Megan McArdle, who describes herself as pro-choice but hastens to assure her rightwing readership, "that doesn't mean I view abortion as having the same moral weight as a haircut or a nose-piercing -- just another personal choice about what you do with your body," and who sees "a lot of appeal" in arguments for overturning Roe v. Wade.
Gay rights is generally an easier lay-up for libertarians -- remember, many gays are male and white! -- but it still presents problems of the sort you don't find among the statist Democrats, again probably owing to the need to peel off Republican voters. For example, one of the more comical sections of the NYTM story showed Mollie Hemingway, a "self-described libertarian," trying to explain why denying gay people the right to marry is consistent with libertarianism; she ended with "I don't know. I feel like I need to think about it more," which, considering Hemingway is a hardline
Catholic Lutheran, seems unlikely to lead to a conversion.
At Reason, you're far more likely [* -- see update] to see defenses of the poor bakers who are being forced to bake gay wedding cakes than defenses of gay marriage. When NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay in 2013, Matt Welch explained to Reason readers "The Importance of Allowing People to Say That You Can't Be a Gay Basketball Player and a Christian," in which he focused on the real victims of the controversy, such as ESPN's Chris Broussard, who was "beaten to a rhetoric pulp" (that is, briefly criticized on Twitter) just for saying gay people are Hell-bound. (Hilariously, Welch managed to work Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" into this article.)
And regarding women's rights, you are less likely to see libertarians identifying as feminists -- who, after all, are always trying to get you to pay for their slut pills -- than to see them embracing the Men's Rights Activist movement. The kingpin of libertarian rightbloggers, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, is straight-up MRA; he promoted their convention at USA Today, and at his blog is given to bizarre outbursts like "we subsidize unwed mothers, we give women a pass on sexual behavior that would be considered predatory if it were done by males, we give them all sorts of 'choice' that men don't have..." and "to a certain class of women in the media, it's always about them, and their various mucous membranes." His wife, Dr. Helen Smith, is also down with the movement, and at her website offers advice to male clients who claim victimization by women. And MRA advocate Karen Straughan has been appearing at libertarian events to spread the good news about men's rights ("Among those of us who talk about these issues, it's called 'taking the red pill'").
In our experience, there's only one liberty that libertarians unfailingly support, and that's the freedom of money from the tyranny of government. Libertarians may not be quite sure that you deserve control over your own womb, but they are certain that someone with money should be able to do what he wants with it, whatever do-gooder statists may think about the public consequences.