Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On the co-opting of the word "libertarian"

A commenter at Obsidian Wings asks:

"A libertarian can say that they honestly think that we should not have any regulation, but when [Republican politicians] are appealed to, and it turns out that 'not any regulation' means regulation dealing with Enron and not with marijuana, I'm not sure if the libertarian gets a complete pass and should be able to say 'how the heck could I have known those guys were going to do that?'"

I think this is the very reason libertarians have been fleeing the GOP and/or mounting an anti-establishment insurgency for the last couple years. After 25 or so years of being co-opted by the GOP, the Bushies finally pushed us over the line. Unfortunately, elements of the GOP like Glenn Beck have now taken to calling themselves "libertarians at heart" while advancing very un-libertarian arguments. I think this is because it allows them to feel good about themselves, and seem much less manipulative. Consider it the GOP's version of "I have black friends." Of course, it involves a dramatic level of doublethink to make such an argument, but in the process of doing so, they've completely misrepresented the real libertarians.

The way in which the neo-cons have co-opted the term "libertarian" has pretty much left that word with relatively little real meaning. Indeed, we now have self-styled "libertarians" who are ok with water-boarding, imperialism (aka forced democratization), and all sorts of other things that are as un-libertarian as it gets. I'm starting to wonder the extent to which the long-standing alliance with the GOP has had more of an effect on libertarians than on the Republican Party itself. This would be in line with my still-ongoing series on corruption, and the idea of politicians having more of an effect on interest groups than vice versa.

Now that the real libertarians have either left the GOP or are mounting a truly last ditch insurgency with the Ron Paul campaign, we may be faced with an opportunity to finally coalesce under one independent banner. This is something anticipated (at least with respect to left-libertarians) by mattbastard at CFLF.