The False Claim That Libertarians Have A Natural Home on the Right


Pictured: two dudes who hate each other.

Like being green, being a progressive who holds libertarian values ain’t easy, primarily for two reasons. First, the title “libertarian” has become so tainted among some progressives that merely claiming the label means answering for sins committed by every other self-proclaimed libertarian. It’s the equivalent of requiring vegetarians to renounce the crimes of the National Socialist Party.

Second, many libertarians have an abiding hatred of progressives that transcends both reason and pragmatism. The latest display of such venom can be found in The Week, where Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry claims that the only home for libertarians is on the right.

Gobry appears to be the French version of Ben Carson, in that he sometimes presents the normal conservative drivel in a shiny, diverse package. Here, he makes the familiar argument that “progressivism is an all-encompassing ideology” which could not possibly incorporate libertarian thought. Unfortunately, his analysis does not support such a grand conclusion.

Gobry argues that libertarians should abandon the Democratic Party because President Obama has run roughshod over the Constitution and waged war in foreign countries. While a legitimate argument on its surface, Gobry here displays his lack of knowledge of our two-party system. Republicans, to Obama’s right (naturally), have called for more stringent measures than those proposed by the president. In fact, on any foreign policy question of the day it’s fair to say that, aside from Rand Paul and Justin Amash, Republicans prefer the more belligerent option. This is certainly true in Iran, where President Obama is seeking a diplomatic solution that Republicans seem intent on sabotaging. It is arguably true in Syria, where Republican politicians have preached toughness without articulating what they would do differently. The civil liberties issue has split both parties into establishment and insurgent wings, rather than dividing along the familiar partisan divide.

Gobry furthermore asserts that libertarians and conservatives have a natural affinity because both praise localism, whereas progressives present a totalitarian vision to which all must bend. He uses the example of gay marriage, which is a particularly poor one. Gobry argues that conservatives would be willing to accept same-sex marriage as an issue for states to decide, whereas liberals insist on fighting for a national right to marry via the courts. Believing this interpretation requires the reader to forget the long history of anti-gay efforts at the national level, the Defense of Marriage Act being a prime example. Furthermore, a true libertarian would value the right of individuals to love and marry whom they choose, regardless of the whims of the state they live in. To suggest that state’s rights should be paramount in such a matter is antithetical to a belief in personal choice and voluntary relationships.

Gobry’s point falls apart on a logical basis as well. After all, many local and state jurisdictions have adopted progressive reforms, belying the notion that progressives prize national solutions over efforts closer to the people. Many progressive reforms, such as initiative, referendum and recall, began as local measures that then spread to other jurisdictions. The increase in the minimum wage is a more recent example. Conservatives and progressives both pursue the political strategy that will best advance their interests, localism be damned.

The only area in which conservatives and libertarians have a true affinity is taxes, and I would argue that even this alliance will fray as time goes on. Libertarians will have to reckon with the fact that some level of taxation is inevitable, and more importantly recognize that conservatives have no problem bending the tax code to suit their ideological purposes – despite the stridently anti-tax positions favored by conservative politicians.

All of that is to say that Gobry’s article is full of more holes than 50 Cent’s wife-beater, and that his arguments are as old as the preceding 50 Cent reference.