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View Diary: No, Seriously, What is Libertarian Populism? (124 comments)

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  •  I don't think you understand libertarianism (2+ / 0-)
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    native, Sparhawk

    (which comes in many shapes and flavors, so that's okay) and I doubt, but I'm less certain, that you understand what libertarian populism is today, either.

    We keep getting these diaries that have the laudable (to me) goal of demonizing other parties' beliefs.  I really am for that!  My preferred method for that is snark.  When we start pretending to educate people about something and seem to actually misunderstand the material, that disturbs me, because I see no benefit in being deliberately ignorant about what other parties are people do or think.

    There was a similar diary on July 12 about Krugman's NY Times take on libertarian populism.  I think that what may have spurred the recent discussions about it.  Teacher Ken wrote a not bad diary about it, Krugman on "libertarian populism," which tried to flesh out and support what Krugman was saying.  Krugman's position, to make it VERY short, is that libertarian populism, as it is being defined on the right now, is just another pathetic and false rebranding tool based on the Republican's incorrect hope that they can mobilize a sliver more disaffected white voters to the polls next time by using Paul Ryan rhetoric.  Which really is ludicrous.

    But the attempt to define "libertarian populism" really is on the one hand, a cynical Republican play on their side, and a totally confused mashup on the left.  Over here, we have trouble telling the difference between the guys with "OBAMA IS A MORRON" signs and rank and file libertarians.  

    I posted this in Teacherken's diary.  Should save me some time:

    I suppose that's what libertarian populism (1+ / 0-)

    is today.  I'm not involved in the movement anymore, haven't been for decades.  But I can tell you that back when I was, libertarian "populism," if such a thing existed, was about distrust of the government, not about laissez-faire capitalism.  There was that, too, of course, but it never had any visceral appeal like worrying about whether the government was spying on your household.  The NSA scandal, for example, would have had the average, less well-read libertarians absolutely frothing at the mouth that it was a prelude to a coup d'etat.  Libertarianism back then (and I suspect, still) attracted conspiracy-theory types, people who thought the government invented AIDS, that the crack epidemic was the work of the CIA, that the US assassinated Madelyn Murray O'Hare, that they were covering up Area 51. etc.

    So the diarist is spot on about one thing at least.  Libertarianism at the rank and file level is and has always been a bit paranoid.  I havent' seen a poll on it, but I bet you that if they did a demographic breakdown of where liberals, conservatives, and libertarians break down, that even today, the libertarians would be the ones more likely to believe in alien abductions and government coverups.  The guys more involved in the intellectual end of the libertarian spectrum would NOT believe that, but the stoners and bikers and lifestyle dominant end of the movement spectrum would.

    So the most interesting paragraph in the whole diary, to me, was this one:

    Shorter: the context of the concept—the web in which it is embedded—is inseparable from the concept itself. When you buy American libertarianism, you're generally buying a whole package of embedded concepts—chief among them a paranoid fear of the "other," which in American thought is defined as non-white and non-Christian (it used to be non-Protestant, so, progress, I guess?). And lest you protest that, in principle, one could have one without the other, I'll remind you that the world of libertarians is not a political philosophy classroom; it's the world where guns are necessary to protect against them, where the wheels of government turn to prop them up, where they are taking over our country, and we need to take it back. (Yes, I have met people who resolutely subscribe to libertarian philosophies and don't wear masks emblazoned with the Stars and Bars, but it's worth remembering that, at it's core, libertarianism is about saying a hearty "fuck you" to everyone who isn't you or yours.)
    I totally agree with everything after "the world of libertarians is..."  That's spot on with my experience, back in the 70s and 80s, when I was up to my eyeballs in the movement.  

    Before anybody jumps on to batter me about that, let me just point out the huge twenty-five yea gap between then and now during which my political beliefs have seasoned.  Dumbo in his 20s wasn't politically the same as Dumbo in his 30s, 40s, and 50s.  Personally, I suspect people who don't change their views over the years are shallow and have never actually digested their own belief systems.

    But I disagree with the first part of the paragraph, that: "When you buy American libertarianism, you're generally buying a whole package of embedded concepts."  That's not true at EITHER end of the libertarian spectrum.  Libertarians, intellectually, are like a roomful of cats.  Republicans and Democrats have packages of embedded concepts.  Libertarians don't.

    And let's think about who libertarians are, again.  There are two standard off the shelf parties in this country, Brand A and Brand B, i.e., the Democrats and the Republicans.  Libertarians and independents in general decide not to buy either Brand A or Brand B.  In their very first decision, they are rejecting the establishment options.  If you talk to people like that, and you probably have, you'll hear something like that:

    "Oh, I think both parties are the same.  They're both trying to get rich off our backs in some weird way I can't explain coherently.  Well, I'm not going to be a sheep!  I'm going to make my own mind about things like that!"

    That kind of sentiment, by itself, could be either one of the right or the left.  There's no embedded package there.  It's distrust of the establishment, and that could be targeted against either party, depending on circumstances.  

    For instance, notice how many on the right went berserk about the corporate bailouts of 2008/2009.  Some of them were by Bush, some by Obama.  You may have been one of the people here in 2008 screaming bloody murder about the 700 billion dollar no-strings-attached bailout that Bush wanted.  I know I was horrified by it.  I didn't want to trust him with that kind of money without some kind of strings attached.

    And then Obama came into office in 2009, and even more of the same kind of bailouts proceeded.  Now it was the tea party times screaming bloody murder.  Jane Hamsher, at the time, pointed out that WE should be the Tea Party!  Why hell are we being so quiet about this now?  We liberals are supposed to be against big corporations getting rich off the backs of the average American.  Can't we at least have SOME strings?

    So what was the embedded package of concepts here?  Being opposed to the bailouts at the intellectual level was anathema to the intellectual libertarians for reasons that could be enumerated very succinctly.  

    The average libertarian, though (and this is whom I would think of as the "libertarian populists") were horrified because the government was surely, once again, screwing them in some way they couldn't precisely finger, and any paranoid theory that came along to explain it was better than nothing and good enough for them.  I think Hamsher was right.  The people Freedomworks swept up into the tea Party could have been OURS if he had reached for them.

    I guess I'm describing libertarian populism as a non-intellectual popular sentiment that will always be part of the American popular makeup, one that is distrustful of the establishment, and that can work to the advantage of either party if they are clever enough.

    •  I think you could have just stopped with Krugman (1+ / 0-)
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      and IMO he is right that the current version of this anyway is just a bunch of tripe peddled by 1%-ers like the Kochs to unsuspecting people who will be screwed if the the actual policies being proposed are ever implemented. But hey, they are anti some of what you are anti, so people go along.

      "When you buy American libertarianism, you're generally buying a whole package of embedded concepts."  I think this is partly true in that a fair number of people are attracted by the libertarian take on social issues (anti drug war for example) w/o wanting the whole dismantle the government part of it. But if you are in that camp I think you are just a social liberal, not a libertarian. Nor IMO is libertarianism just a healthy distrust of government. Libertarians don't just distrust the government, they want it impotent in many respects. They want to shut it down. And in this respect the current Tea Party politicians in Congress are real libertarians.

    •  Interesting critique (0+ / 0-)

      And, obviously, you have had experience in that movement and I haven't. That said, I don't think you can strip any movement out of its historical and intellectual context.

      Nevertheless, thank you for your comment; it's given me a lot to think about.

      "Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something." -the last words of Pancho Villa

      by Shef on Sun Jul 21, 2013 at 07:06:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's historical and intellectual context (1+ / 0-)
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        is an even bigger mash up.  The libertarian socialists of the late 19th century, like Oscar Wilde, hated capitalism and thought it was an impediment to liberty.  Yet the Ayn Rand of the Fountainhead is probably closer to Nietszche and Wilde than Milton Friedman.  (In fact, for all her writing, I don't think she ever really understood capitalism as anything more than a theoretical model for her utopia).  Then you have the pragmatic banker-friendly libertarianism of the late 20th century of people like Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan.  Toss it all in a blender, put it on max, and whatever comes out isn't exactly a coherent philosophy with a big following.

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