Thursday, February 19, 2009


I’m trying to show how attractive classical liberalism can be once it is scoured of the conservative barnacles of the now irrelevant Cold War alliance and once it begins to take seriously (rather than just ignore) the powerful arguments of the best contemporary liberal thought. - Will Wilkinson

Will Wilkinson wants to believe that the association with the Right has corrupted American libertarianism. Unfortunately for him, he's exactly backwords on that point. The historical association with the Right is the only thing that keeps libertarianism even remotely legit. Without it, libertarianism in America amounts to, "Pleeeease let me smoke my dope in peace." It may be a decent argument even, but it impresses nobody.

And about engaging the best arguments contemporary liberal thought, that's like talking to the best cello player in Fresno.


Prior Peter, OSB said...

This will surely shock you, but I'm at least sympathetic to what you claim that Wilkinson is saying. I don't think that it is entirely fair to equate libertarianism with libertinism. The reason the libertarian candidacy this year with Bob Barr was such a joke, despite the fact that they could have expected a bump thanks to the Ron Paul enthusiasm is precisely that Barr wimped out and aped establishment conservatism (meaning the Republican party).

I didn't read the article, so I can't comment as of yet on so-called 'liberal arguments'. Not being a cellist, I laughed at your remark about Fresno. That said, if by 'liberal' we mean the classic variety of the Founders, then there are still substantive arguments that Republicans would do well to reconsider. The Reagan revolution and the 1994 elections, imho, suggests that this style of conservatism is what is actually electable and popular besides. And let's conclude by saying that what people mean by 'liberal' in today's context is about as illiberal a brew of fascism as can be imagined without being forced in good conscience to call it that.

Koz said...

I don't think it necessarily follows by logic that libertarianism is the same things as libertinism. But, it has worked out that way for postwar libertarians. And 1980 and 1994 are perfect data points in support of it. Certainly we can allow that the success of those years had some libertarian influence, but clearly it was affiliated with the American Right as a whole. It really is a crock, IMO at least, to think that libertarianism is better off without the larger Right.

This is especially true in the intellectual context, which I gather Wilkinson is most concerned about anyway. Specifically, with mainstream conservatives we can see the nature of freedom and appreciate its contexts. Without it, we're left with a bunch of tedious Rawlsy crap.