A Libertarian House Divided?
People are always asking me how I can work with so many libertarians without claiming to self-identify as such. I’ll leave a more direct answer for another time, but I will speak around the answer for a moment.
I’m currently reading Brian Doherty’s new book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. Brian has a lengthy history with libertarians, and with my employer, giving him an insider’s perspective. In addition, it’s written with a journalist’s flare, making it an easy and fun read that so far I’d highly recommend. Brian has also written the lead essay for this month’s Cato Unbound addressing a recurring theme of his book, which has resulted in empassioned reaction essays from several prominent colleagues.
My favorite essay in the exchange? Virginia Postrel, who says everything I want to say about self-identified libertarians. I generally like to know the product before I buy it, and what product would I be getting if I signed up for libertarian as a descriptor? Am I buying the “because it makes the world a better place” label or the “because that’s the way it ought to be” label? Does it matter? And if it does matter, is it because of differences between practitioners in each camp or because of the perceptions of those practicitioners by society at large?
And certainly the two descriptions don’t have to be mutually exclusive, to head off a rebuttal. In fact — in an ironic twist for a disproportionately atheistic group – the ”oughts” typically take it as a matter of faith that the two will align in their ideological endgame. And yes, you could essentially turn this into rights theory vs. consequentialism, but I’m not a philosopher so I’m not going to. Moreover, that’s not my point. My point is how do people define themselves in a way that’s useful either to understand themselves or to assist outsiders in understanding them?
But I’m digressing a bit. Read Postrel, and the other contributors, and then make up your own mind about my ramblings… I hear some libertarians think that’s okay.