Ed Driscoll

Why Liberaltarianism is Doomed

In the emailed version of the G-File today, Jonah Goldberg explores how the Occupy Wall Street gang is yet another example of why the fusion of liberalism and libertarianism (remember those arguments from 2007 and 2008?) are doomed:

If you never followed the debates over liberaltarianism, you can read this, this, or this, or this, or this, or this for a primer.

But the gist of it goes like this. There are libertarians who really hate conservatism and/or the Republican party. They like liberals for one reason or another. Therefore, they want to dissolve the conservative-libertarian marriage and get the libertarians and liberals hitched instead.

Well, what’s sort of fascinating about the Occupy Wall Street/Tea Party comparison is how much overlap there is between their complaints. Scrape off the 31 different kinds of Marxist mold growing on the surface of the 99 Percenters, hose off the stench of urine, bong water, and failure, and you’ll find a complaint that many Tea Partiers can appreciate: disgust at corporate bailouts, crony capitalism, and economic mismanagement.

That’s a major swath of agreement. The problem? The 99 Percenters’ proposed solutions and the Tea Partiers’ are absolutely incompatible with each other. The 99 Percenters aren’t against taxpayer bailouts — why would they be? They don’t pay much in taxes — they’re just against taxpayer bailouts of the wrong constituencies. After all, if Obama somehow forgave their student loans tomorrow, most of them would go home happy. They want debt forgiveness — and that’s a bailout. Meanwhile, the Tea Parties formed in no small part because, as Rick Santelli put it, taxpayers didn’t want to pay for their neighbors’ mortgages.

It’s really intriguing how the policy differences are informed by cultural differences. The twentysomethings haven’t paid much, if anything, in taxes and have received more than they’ve given. The Tea Partiers tend to be older and have spent a lot of time paying into the system. They resent paying for handouts. The Occupy Wall Streeters resent not getting them. And their definition of greed is not merely wanting to keep your own money, but resisting when others try to take it from you.

That’s a huge, huge difference.

Anyway, libertarians may be culturally “progressive,” but they aren’t economically. The protesters’ answer to the problem is more government and more bailouts, even as they trot out prefab arguments about self-sufficiency and getting away from materialism. (“We can charge our iPhones with generators made from, and running on, 100 percent renewable hemp!”) And yet somehow, the libertarians can’t explain to them that the reason government and big business are in bed together is that the government keeps intruding into business. Libertarianism is the answer, but these people refuse to ask the right questions.

It’s a shame that the libertarians can’t better exploit this as a teaching moment. But that’s just it, they can’t. Because psychologically, culturally, and intellectually, the Left is always going to be economically statist and egalitarian. Why? Because that’s what it means to be left-wing.

Libertarianism and leftism are — and here comes the vocab word of the day — incompossible worldviews for the simple reason that one simply means the opposite of the other.

As Kathy Shaidle wrote in 2004 when the majority of post-9/11 “liberal hawks” such as Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan abandoned GWB for John Kerry:

God love him: [Jeff] Jarvis has literally walked through Manhattan covered in human ashes, and is such a booster of blogs, and seems such a nice fellow. But at the end of the day, he’s a Boomer. And he and his liberal cohort are convinced Bush is gonna make anal sex illegal or something, so… Kerry it is!

And we saw the same thing played in 2007 and 2008, when Barack Obama’s pants and coolness won out over John McCain’s lifetime of experience. Social issues invariably shortcut logic, just as they’re designed to do.

Incidentally, the other day, Obama declared that America had gotten too soft and too uncompetitive. How would he square his (publicly tentative, at least for now) support of Occupy Wall Street’s trustifarian rebellion with that statement?