Jonah: One reason I didn’t comment on Brink Lindsey’s “liberaltarian” article is because I basically agreed with your quick assessment of it. But since you’ve baited me, here are a few further thoughts on Lindsey’s interesting but unpersuasive argument.
The most puzzling section of the piece, however, is Lindsey’s claim that “an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends” and his statement that “the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era”–the fall of Jim Crow, abortion rights, Miranda rights, etc.–“were championed by the political left.”
Gosh, I had thought that conservatives had championed quite a few causes that also might be described as libertarian breakthroughs: tax reform, welfare reform, deregulation, free trade, and the rise of charter schools and the promise of school choice, to say nothing of successful defensive actions against national health care and the like. How about crime control? Any libertarian worth his salt knows that successful libertarianism rests upon a rule-of-law foundation, and my bet is that most libertarians would rather live in the New York of the un-libertarian Rudy Giuliani than in what came before it. Also, the preening about Jim Crow is a bit much; do libertarians really embrace the Left’s commitment to color-coded equal outcomes, or the conservative vision of colorblind equal opportunity? Finally, please, please, please let’s not forget the issue that originally fused the diverse factions of the Right: anti-Communism. As Reagan said, you can accomplish a lot if you don’t care who gets the credit, and libertarians must be remembered as an important part of the coalition that helped confront and bring down the Soviet Union.
I’m a fusionist to the core–when hair-splitters ask me to label my views, I alternately call myself a libertarian conservative (the adjective modifies the noun) or a law-and-order libertarian. My critique of modern Republicanism is very similar to Lindsey’s, at least insofar as it concerns the monstrosity of “big government conservatism.” But although Lindsey at one point describes “the liberalization of divorce laws” as a great libertarian accomplishment (I’m not so sure about this), I think it’s far too soon to break up the fusionist marriage. It’s been said that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and surely there are tensions in the conservative-libertarian union. Before Lindsey joins hands with the socialists, protectionists, Wal-Mart bashers, and nanny-staters, however, I urge him to think a little harder and deeper about contuining to live with the devil he knows. Or does that make me sound too much like Russell Kirk?