"Kos" in an essay on the CATO institute website bolstering his "case for the libertarian democrat". He makes four major points:
1. That he is personally motivated by a belief in individual liberty.
2. That unregulated corporations are threats to individual liberty.
3. That people who consider themselves libertarians can be won over to the argument that government is necessary to patrol and underpin a free market.
4. That silicon valley is his utopia because it combines a truly free market with government provided education and infrustructure.
I'll leave aside the bizarre notion that the high tech economy is a utopia (his description of silicon valley is hilariously naive), and focus on the first three assertions.
There used to be a name for the politics built on the notion that freedom and opportunity are inherently linked, and that government must play a role in insuring fair play and a level playing field for entry into the market. It was called liberalism. In tension with this assertion was a politics that argued that there are fundamental imbalances of power within capitalism that the state must either mitigate or abolish. This was called, among other things, democratic socialism. On the opposing side were various stripes of anti-government conservatives.
In today's politics, as we know, any kind of socialism is well off the table. But more importantly, the case for liberalism itself has been vilified. These are bad, bad times. Moulitsas makes a strong case for reviving liberalism, and for why the goal of human freedom is not served by corporate deregulation. What he argues for under the banner of "libertarian Democrat" politics is just liberalism. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, when Moulitsas implies that what he is promoting is new, that it is somehow more "libertarian" than traditional liberalism, he is handing the right a key victory. This rhetorical move reinforces the idea that traditional liberalism was about something other than individual freedom: in essense, conceeding the argument of libertarians and conservatives. Kos, along with many other bloggers, hold themselves up as something different from all those "old fashioned" liberals who somehow were out to destroy the free market or support a big government that is a threat to personal freedom. That's not true. We should say so.
In short, Kos is right that the market needs government. He is right that Silicon Valley is a "success" because of government intervention. The fact is, however, that the only people who disagree with this are libertarians. I can understand that we need to hone our arguments against them, making the case to voters that freedom doesn't come from deregulating the oil industry. What I don't understand is why we would seek to bring these folks into our party. The central problem in American politics today, from any social justice oriented perspective, is how constrained we are in our abilities to use the government as a tool. This needs to be pushed back against, not reinforced.
Joining the chorus for liberarian-friendliness is Campus Progress, the student activist project launched by the centrist Center For American Progress. In a think piece on their website
, Julian Sanchez argues for campus coalition work with libertarian students. Included in his piece are the observations that the typical motly campus left culture is alienating to most students (true) and that a majority of young people are vaguely libertarian in mindset (also true). He then says that libertarians might piss leftists off, but we should remember that they are all decent, good people who are not bigoted even if their policies are.
Not so fast. Sanchez misses the point that campus libertarianism is, in fact, rife with both subtle and unsubtle racism and classism, and that on most issues of real import, progressives and libertarians are going to be opposed to one another. So we agree about wiretapping and marijuana. If there's a campaign to mount on those issues, we should be in the same room. But the day to day work of progressives on campus and off should be to push back against the libertarian mindset. All students today grew up after the Reagan revolution, which has had a profound affect on their world view. We need to work hard at undoing that damage, not give in to it.
Basing our arguments in a defense of freedom is important, especially in the United States. As I often femind my friends and colleagues in Europe, all politics in the United States is liberal politics, even social democratic politics. By all means, let's out freedom the libertarians. Let's not let them act as if they have a monopoly on freedom as a value, just as we work on taking religion back from the bigots and the flag back from the militarist right. However, we don't need to become bigots, militarists or libertarians to do that.
Etiketter: ideas, the left