Sunday, January 17

What Is a “Libertarian-Conservative”? Part 3

by Jacob G. Hornberger

In Part 2 of this series, I pointed to an op-ed published by The Hill written by self-labeled “libertarian-conservative” Steven Calabresi. In the op-ed, which is entitled “Proposed Ryan-Bannon Import Tariff a Smart Tool to Lower Income Tax,” Calabresi wrote:

If the federal government were to tax nothing but business, income, and savings, then we would discourage investment, work, and savings. The more sensible route is to have a diversified portfolio of the things we tax. This is how we can afford to increase military spending, build the wall on the Mexican border, and cut business and income taxes, which are all things that we desperately need to do — now!

The article and the quote reflect the damage that conservatives have inflicted on the libertarian brand because not only do some libertarians favor one or more of such conservative positions, the perception among many non-libertarians is that libertarians favor one or more of such things.

In Calabresi’s recent New York Times article, which I addressed in Part 1 of this series, Calabresi referred to himself as a “libertarian-conservative,” a term he failed to define. Apparently he and the Times feel that everyone knows what a “libertarian-conservative” is.

Now, if we combine these two articles, what is the message that Calabresi sends to mainstream Americans? The message that people are likely to receive is that libertarians believe in import taxes, income taxes, an increase in military spending, and a wall on the Mexican border.

There is one big problem, however: Libertarianism, properly understood, stands in firm contradiction to all those statist positions.

Every libertarian understood that in the early days of the libertarian movement. Libertarianism was (and is) and radical philosophy, a philosophy of genuine liberty, one that necessary entails the repeal, not reform, of all infringements on liberty. Coming to mind are the works of Leonard Read, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand.

Thus, libertarians would consistently oppose and call for the repeal of infringements on liberty, including import taxes, income taxes, and immigration controls.

Not anymore. Owing to the enormous influence that conservatives have had on the libertarian movement, there are now lots of libertarians who feel comfortable endorsing one or more of those conservative positions and, even worse, maintaining that they are consistent with libertarianism.

Consider the “increases in military spending” that Calabresi and his fellow conservatives favor. That has long been a principal conservative position, one that is justified under the rubric of “national defense.”

I think it would be hard to find a libertarian who would publicly support an increase in military spending. Most libertarians would, I think, call for “reining” in military spending. Thus, conservatives have not yet been successful in corrupting the libertarian brand in that respect.

Another aspect of conservatism is foreign interventionism. Conservatives love it. They love the fact that the Pentagon and the CIA are embroiled in assassinating people, intervening in Third World countries, initiating coups, kidnapping and torturing people, initiating and engaging in foreign wars and conflicts, and more.

That’s another area of foreign policy in which conservatives have failed to corrupt the libertarian brand. I think it’s safe to say that most libertarians favor “ending the endless wars” and “bringing the troops home.”

But where conservatives have been remarkably successful in corrupting the libertarian movement and damaging the libertarian brand is with respect to the national-security state type of governmental system that the U.S. government adopted after World War II to oppose the supposed worldwide communist threat.

Today, it is virtually impossible to find libertarians who publicly call for the elimination of the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, and the NSA, the principal components of the national-security state.

The fact is that many libertarians have quietly and internally made peace with the national-security state. They have accepted it as a permanent part of America’s governmental structure. They have bought into the argument made by conservatives that if they publicly call for the abolition of this totalitarian type of governmental apparatus, they will not be taken seriously by the mainstream press and mainstream Americans.

And while such libertarians are loathe to publicly call for the elimination of the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, and the NSA, they continue maintaining their devotion to “freedom, free enterprise, and limited government,” which is a longtime conservative mantra.

The big problem is that a national-security state is opposite to freedom and limited government. In order to achieve a genuinely free society, it is necessary to dismantle, not reform, the national-security state apparatus that was grafted onto America’s federal government structure after World War II.

Conservatives and liberals plunged our nation into a sea of darkness and sordidness with their statism. The only hope that America has for extricating the nation from this darkness and sordidness is libertarianism — but radical, pure libertarianism, not a watered down, hyphenated, and corrupted libertarianism that conservatives have brought to the libertarian movement.

Posted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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