The Kinda-Coolness of Liberty

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There’s a lot of confusion, these days, about who is, and who is not, a libertarian. It has actually become fashionable to apply the term to oneself, sometimes on the most tenuous of bases.

Many conservatives (and some liberals) think that liberty is kinda cool. Because they believe in the kinda-coolness of liberty, and recognize that, especially these days, they don’t have enough of it, they consider themselves libertarians. They don’t realize there’s more to the definition than that.

Most of those who use the libertarian label, based on its hip cachet and kinda-coolness, are conservatives. Liberals who worship at the shrine of statism love to point at them and cry, “See? All libertarians are really big old rightwingers!” Albeit, perhaps, rightwingers who smoke pot or like gays.

When my liberal friends identify libertarian-leaning conservatives as “typical libertarians,” it brings out the English major in me. I diagram the term for them. “Conservative” is a noun, and “libertarian-leaning” its modifying adjective. Therefore libertarian-leaning conservatives are still conservatives. I always hope this helps, though it usually doesn’t.

I understand why, to liberals who find libertarianism threatening, the temptation to confuse us with conservatives is so compelling. It’s a lump in which they may tidily dispose of us. They’ve got an argument they deem satisfactory against every conservative idea, and they don’t want to have to scrounge up a whole set of new ones to contend with us.

Liberals are scared of us. Conservatives don’t necessarily like us much, but they’ll cozy up to us when it suits them.

Some of the things “libertarian” conservatives say, I must admit, can be rather troubling. I recently invited a friend of mine — a gay conservative blogger — to a meeting of our local chapter of Outright Libertarians. We’re a gay and lesbian group, striving to promote libertarian ideals in what is euphemistically termed “the community.” She got into a flame-war, on our website, with some Outright members, and emailed me in an awful funk. Why, they actually committed the heresy of opposing America’s glorious War on Terror!

Her argument against our point of view boiled down to this: “My brother is over in Afghanistan, fighting for your freedom of speech. So shut the hell up!”

What was I to do? As gently as I knew how, I told her she probably wouldn’t be a good fit for our group. That she is not, so far as I can see, in any way, shape, or form a libertarian, I suppose I need to let her figure out for herself. Modern-liberal statists determined to toss all dissenters into the same, convenient dumpster have no incentive to figure it out.

On a blog where I regularly comment, I was told — by a “progressive” who dislikes libertarians — that he was wise to the despicableness of my convictions. His proof? Some college kids, who identified as libertarians, told him they didn’t care if the poor starved. Or something like that.

Why is it that “progressives” can’t believe anything said by those on the right of the political center, on any subject — from global climate change to whether it’s going to rain next Thursday — yet find so credible the name they choose to bear? At least, as long as it’s this particular “L” word. They can be taken at face value about absolutely nothing else, but when they call themselves libertarians, their word is gold.

I think we know the answer to that question. Liberals are scared of us. Conservatives don’t necessarily like us much, but they’ll cozy up to us when it suits them. And if they want to survive the next generation, they’d better do it a lot.

I have learned something rather interesting, however, about liberals. Once I’m able to speak to them, one by one, they’re less hostile to libertarian ideas than I was told they’d be. Rightwingers warn that liberals will never listen to us when they cozy up to our kinda-coolness. But once they find out that many of our beliefs are actually quite similar to theirs, my leftist friends and relatives begin to open their minds.

One special surprise has been that even deep in the woods of Obama’s rule, far more liberals express concern about government overreach and the erosion of our freedoms than I remember conservatives displaying when Bush II was in power. We can, perhaps, tell more about people’s affinity for liberty when their “side” holds the upper hand than we can when they are out in the cold. Outright Libertarians, I know, are attracting far more interest from those to the left of us than we are from conservatives such as my snarling friend with the brother in Afghanistan.

Maybe that’s why dedicated leftwing statists are so afraid of libertarians. The field may be riper for poaching than we realized. That is a very interesting discovery. And for this former progressive Democrat, it is a heartening one.




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Jon Harrison

No, it's just my opinion.

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