Bartlett’s Quotation

The secret to building a successful political alliance is to direct loony insults at your potential allies.

Bruce Bartlett holding his knowledge of libertarianism

Or at least so a good many people seem to think, from Keith Preston on the right to, now, Bruce Bartlett on the left (well, using “left” generously to apply to this mainstream Republican apparatchik turned mainstream Democratic pundit). Bartlett opines:

[M]ost self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don’t like paying taxes. They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn’t extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything. …

[T]here is a theoretical case to be made for liberals and libertarians at least continuing a dialogue. But for it to go anywhere, libertarians must scale back their almost single-minded focus on economic freedom as the sole determinant of liberty. They must work harder to defend civil liberties and resist expansion of the police state whether it involves suspected terrorists, illegal aliens or those who enjoy smoking marijuana.

Libertarians should also be more outspoken about America’s disastrous foreign policy, which Obama seems to be doing very little to fix. … The main problem seems that neither liberals nor libertarians are up to challenging the loudmouthed bullies on talk radio and Fox News who equate anything less than a 100% commitment to the “war on terror” as treasonous.

(CHT Peter Klein.)

Y’know, I’m all for arguing that libertarians need to place more emphasis on the left-wing aspects of the ideology; and it’s certainly true that some elements (cough, the Libertarian Party, cough) of the movement have been stressing economic freedom at the expense of personal freedom. (Hence my agreement with Point 2 of the Grassroots Libertarian program.) But this Bartlett dude must be living in some sort of impervious energy bubble if he thinks libertarians haven’t been saying much about – haven’t, indeed, been at the forefront of discussing – civil liberties, abusive cops, the drug war, or the war on terror. I mean, who does he think runs

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59 Responses to Bartlett’s Quotation

  1. Brainpolice May 30, 2009 at 2:29 pm #

    This seem to basically be fall-out from libertarian-conservative fusionism. The libertarian-conservative paradigm has given the rest of us a bad name, to the point at which most people’s image of libertarians is indeed reduced to a sort of paleo-conservative caricature. But such a caricature is incredibly unfair to the libertarian movement (as opposed to the mainstream hi-jackings), which is by the very least a rather pluralistic panacea of tendencies tied together by little more than a few principles. It isn’t fair to the libertarian movement that people such as Ronald Reagen, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck and Dennis Miller have claimed to be “libertarians”. Libertarians should stop letting the conservatives hi-jack their terminology.

  2. MBH May 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    Yeah, his last points are really weird. Unless, he equates libertarianism with the positions of the Libertarian Party and mainstream libertarianism. Then it would make sense. But that’s an unfortunate conflation.

    To his first point: I think he’s right. Ron Paul–for instance–focuses way too much on precious metals. As if diamonds for gold were the most basic form of economic exchange. In Rothbard’s sense, the most basic economic exchange is one state of affairs for another. So, the most basic economic exchange (on the interactive level), really, is work for another kind of work. All “leftists” could agree on that.

    To the survivalist charge: I think he’s wrong. He looks at withdrawal from society as if it were necessarily anti-social. That’s not true at all. If society itself “resolves” conflict in a confrontational way–in Hasnas’ sense–then withdrawal from the structure of society constitutes the most social–properly understood–end imaginable.

    To the broadest point–that we should build political alliances b/t liberals and libertarians: well, as long as we know what we’re talking about, Mr. Bartlett. But still, a tension does exist between agorism and engagement within the system. As of last night, I think that Hasnas’ conception of the compositional legal paradigm (as opposed to the confrontational one) can bridge the gap. Left libertarians and liberals, I think, could easily reach consensus that the compositional mode of conflict resolution is preferable to the confrontational mode (Keith Olbermann not included).

  3. Brandon May 30, 2009 at 6:11 pm #

    It sounds to me like Bartlett is describing Austrian Economics, which isn’t a political philosophy, and is therefore rightly focused on monetary issues. Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty and the Manifesto have plenty to say about the issues Bartlett says we’re neglecting.
    A better criticism was from Mike Kinsley, who said we’re too focused on property rights, like liberals are too focused on “discrimination” or whatever it was. But that’s because Kinsley was unconvinced a libertarian society would be safe, in the Hobbesian sense.
    I don’t know what libertarian-conservative fusionism is.

  4. Robert Paul May 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm #

    Bartlett is just being silly, so I’m going to comment on something else that’s still on-topic.

    Almost everyone here is probably aware that part of the LRC crowd is Catholic, and some LRCers have made an effort to reconcile their Catholicism with their libertarianism. Most of you probably react to this the same way I did – with something like, “OK, maybe it’s possible, but why? Who cares? Why is it relevant?”

    But now I want to point out that something similar can happen among left-libertarians as well. Sure, reconciling certain leftist beliefs with libertarianism can be very worthwhile. I’ve done quite a bit of that. However, in some cases, I think it has more in common with what the LRCers sometimes do.

    In other words, some of the beliefs held by the statist Left deserve to be treated as nothing more than religious doctrine.

    • Brainpolice May 30, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

      I’m not particularly familiar with him, but I do recall seeing some lecture from him a number of years ago and he seemed like a minarchist. So basically you’re saying that he’s being dishonest or an oppurtunist, since his former aquiantance with the libertarian movement makes it clear that he should know better?

  5. Kevin Carson May 31, 2009 at 1:10 am #

    He seems to equate “economic freedom” to the interests of big business, and in so doing ignores the extent to which economic freedom is really freedom to build alternatives to state-subsidized and state-protected big business: all the localist, cooperativist, communitarian, alt econ stuff that the decentralist Left finds so appealing. In effect, Bartlett accepts the implicit assumption of the libertarian Right that “economic liberty” is a franchise of corporate interests.

    • Roderick May 30, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

      I agree that the narrow focus on the gold standard (as opposed to a broader focus on freed-market monetary systems as such) is a mistake. But the Paulistas are right to emphasise the importance of getting away from a form of money that government can manipulate at will, and toward one whose value is determined by actual consumer preferences. Come the (r)evolution, maybe we’ll all use gold and 100% reserve banks, maybe we’ll all use fractional-reserve notes, maybe we’ll all use mutual banks, maybe it’ll be a combination, but whatever we use we’ll be free to stop using and switch to a competitor if the issuers start fiddling too much with the value — and that’s they key point.

  6. quasibill May 31, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Ha. Yes, like Preston – and Aster. Funny that – she gets a free pass for the same actions.

    • MBH May 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

      That makes sense. And it seems like such as system could still satisfy the Keynesian focus on employment. I mean, whatever form of currency we choose to use, it’s most likely going to be the one that best represents the capacity to create over time. And the capacity to create over time, most likely indicates something like full employment.

      Is that how you see it, or do you see something else?

    • MBH May 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

      I agree with the Austrians over the Keynesians regarding the cause of downturns–that they are the natural consequence of economic booms/bubbles. I also agree that the proper strategy to prevent a severe downturn is to moderate credit during those times.

      What I’m confused about is the Austrian tactic in situations where the mistakes were already made. In these instances I tend to think that steering mechanisms ought to encourage demand, not to re-inflate bubbles, but to soften falls. I don’t understand what the Austrian response is here outside of do nothing.

      I’m not criticizing the Austrian business cycle. I think it’s correct. I just want to understand, in situations where mistakes have already been made, whether the temporary generation of demand–to soften the fall–is out of the question for Austrians.

      • MBH May 31, 2009 at 1:29 am #

        Kevin, agreed. All the more reason for left libertarians to say more about how decentralization would not serve corporate interests or make red markets more powerful.

        • Roderick May 30, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

          Not necessarily; he might just be clueless. Or he let a few early encounters form his interpretive matrix, and ever since then nothing inconsistent with it gets in.

          I’ve frequently had arguments with people who are obviously intelligent and sincere, but who’ve gotten a certain interpretive framework lodged in their minds at some point and nothing seems able to dislodge it; any data that contradict the framework no longer do so once they’ve been processed by the framework.

  7. mb May 31, 2009 at 10:42 am #

    Bartlett is really one to talk about foreign policy. Here he is in 2003 touting the economic benefits of the war on Iraq:

    And in 2007, praising candidate Hillary Clinton: “Given the views of the Democratic base and the enormous unpopularity of the Iraq War, it is a real act of courage for her to steadfastly refuse to say her vote for the war was wrong.”

    • Soviet Onion May 30, 2009 at 10:03 pm #

      but he was also a big Cold Warrior who urged a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union

      Wasn’t that also Karl Hess’ position back in his Goldwater Republican days?

    • Brainpolice May 30, 2009 at 10:32 pm #

      I tend to use the term in a broader sense than Meyer vs. Rothbard, however, as a reference to the general fusion between paleo-conservatism and libertarianism in America, the neo-liberal way in which minarchism is often concieved of and certain tendencies towards knee-jerk anti-leftism.

      As far as I can tell, Rothbard himself fell into a libertarian-conservative trap in his later years, when the paleo-libertarian thing got formalized, despite the fact that his earlier position was almost explicitly the result of a break with the traditional American right on numerous matters.

  8. Brainpolice May 31, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

    Brandon: Yes, numerous matters, and not just the single issue you are talking about. Have you read Rothbard’s message to students of YAF, telling them to flee YAF because it supports police statism and prohibitions on voluntary economic activities? Or his many pieces totally bashing Ronald Reagen? Rothbard was not exactly a friend of these movements. It was not until much later on that he explicitly endorsed a right-libertarian strategy and viewpoint.

  9. Christian Prophet May 31, 2009 at 9:54 pm #

    I’d like to see someone demonstrate a difference between economic freedom and personal freedom. I have never been able to find a difference. Only today I found the most useful street-language all-encompassing definition of libertarian: LIBERTARIAN: One who does not wish to force an agenda on others; neither by fraud, gunpoint, legislation, judicial decision, or majority rule.

    This definition comes from the blog:

  10. Aster June 1, 2009 at 11:32 am #


    You did not listen to a word I said. I offered to sit down and reason both privately and before the public, and you have refused. In which case there is no point in continuing this conversation. It is a tedious waste of time.

    The real ideas- the lethal ideas- that are more important than personalities here can be seen in Preston’s recent promotion of hard-right Weimar intellectuals or in the writings of the national anarchists. Otherwise, those who wish may read Keith Preston, read you here, and read my own words, and judge for themselves. The fact that the left-libertarian community came out so unanimously not only against bigotry but repeatedly in favour of the values of individualism and authenticity greatly encourages me.

    So long as you do not stoop to something equivalent to the Prestonite bigotry and prejudice which performatively excludes me from social citizenship, I see no reason why I should concern myself with your opinion of me. I would much rather focus on the promising task of building and promoting the left-libertarian movement.


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