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Progressive Hostility Towards Libertarianism

Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Jessica Flanigan captures my sentiments perfectly as she makes the case for why progressives tend to get so rankled by mainstream libertarianism:

I think one reason for the progressive resistance to the more moderate versions of libertarianism stems from the fact that moderate libertarians are in many ways beating them at their own game. As Glenn Greenwald and Matt Stoller have both brilliantly argued, libertarian politics is currently more in line with progressive values than popular progressive political candidates.

But I also suspect that there’s a deeper, more fundamental anxiety about libertarians that goes beyond politics. Internal to progressivism there is a tension between its historical pro-union and direct governmentalist roots and its avowed concern for the worst off. In practice, it looks like direct governmental intervention and union support no longer works to the benefit of society’s worst off. Progressive opposition to policies like voucher programs are a great example of this tension, as is the current health care mess and the regressive social security system. In a lot of cases, market solutions do a better job of furthering progressive aims than the state run policies that progressives favor, and even the worst off value economic liberty.

I believe that the best version of libertarianism is one that cares about social justice. Similarly, the best version of progressivism is one that recognizes the power of markets. Insofar as we’re all concerned with helping the poor we should both set aside our straw men and get down to the business of figuring out a) what works and b) when (if ever) it is permissible to further social goals by violating economic and civil liberties. That’s where the real disagreement should be, not in whose caricature portrait of the other side is more awful.

So, I hereby call upon progressives to embrace their inner classical liberal…and public choice too.

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  1. March 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    The difference between libertarians and socialists/actual progressives lies in the their proposed solutions to things they both recognize as problems. This is why I give equal respect to Ron Paul as I do to Trotsky or other progressive thinkers.

    The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that they cannot even agree on what the problems are. That is the true source of the ignorance shown to poverty and suffering in our own country,


  1. June 5, 2012 at 12:13 am

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