Blogs > Liberty and Power > Progressive Libertarianism and the Problems with Ron Paul

Nov 30, 2007

Progressive Libertarianism and the Problems with Ron Paul

David calls out the Paul skeptics here at L&P. As one of them, I'll answer the bell.

First, let me say I consider myself a very staunch libertarian, and I have been for more than 25 years. I worked on the Ed Clark campaign in 1980 as a cherub-faced 16 year old. As I've argued here before, I consider myself a libertarian of the left in the senses that 1) I believe that libertarian policies will better achieve most of the aims of the left than will their own preferred policies and 2) libertarians should be joining forces with the left on cultural issues, e.g. feminism and gender issues. Even if we don't agree with them that more state intervention is the way to address the problems, we should be more willing to recognize the problems and talk about both policy and cultural solutions to them. It will then come as no surprise that I'm a Paul skeptic.

Paul may be the most libertarian of the bunch from either party, but I do indeed have concerns about several of his positions. Before I launch into them, let me just say that I'm in strong support of a number of his more controversial positions: getting out of Iraq ASAP, getting the state out of the monetary system (see my post on the relationship between these two positions here), ending the Drug War, and generally de-regulating the US economy. Nonetheless, here are my concerns:

1) Abortion. I'm strongly pro-choice and I do believe that one can and should find constitutional protection for the right to choose. I agree that Roe was bad constitutional law, but I'd say it got to the right result for the wrong reasons. Granted, Paul's argument to give it back to the states is better than a constitutional amendment banning it, but I think that forcing pregnant women to carry to term is akin to slavery, and in the same way I would not tolerate a state that permitted slavery, I am unwilling to tolerate the banning of abortion at the state level. I have always found talk of "states' rights" by libertarians to be strange - states have no rights, only individuals do. (The language of federalism is perfectly fine of course.) Not to mention that "states' rights" remains, like it or not, a certain kind of signal to neo-confederates and other folks I'd rather not be associated with.

2) Immigration. I'm very much an open-borders kinda guy. Paul's "build a wall" and denial of automatic citizenship to children born in the US both strike me as not just bad policy (immigrants contribute much more than they "take" - legal or illegal) but also highly anti-libertarian. Why should employers be prevented from engaging in labor contracts with adults from anywhere in the world? Why are some to be excluded? Don't people from other countries have the "natural right" to emigrate? Do we believe that people should be free to move or not? And why are libertarians, of all people, so concerned about the fictional lines drawn by politicians? Like free trade, isn't this about individuals interacting with other individuals?

3) Free trade. I understand his concerns about the regional free trade agreements and the ways in which they empower trans-national organizations to settle disputes. I also share his concerns about the special interest components of those agreements. That said, I believe those agreements have been net gains for free trade and for the well-being of much of the world. My problem with Paul's position is that it's too focused on the impact of these agreements on the US, ignoring the fact that they do much good for the rest of the world, whatever the effects at home. I think the effects are positive for us too, and I don't fear any "loss of sovereignty" from them. The inward looking aspect of his stance on free trade (and immigration) is a real problem for me.

All of this leads to my general discomfort with Paul, which I think I would characterize as a lack of cosmopolitanism. For example, I don't think he's a racist but there are reasons why he's getting donations from KKK leaders. Even though many of his positions are solidly libertarian, the way they are framed, along with the three above, lend themselves to appealing to the nativist/Buchanan types in a way that I think goes against the historical progressive spirit of classical liberalism. I share David Bernstein's concerns about the way in which Paul addresses the racism issue, even if there's nothing in it that is "un-libertarian" in policy terms. This is an example of the sort of left-libertarianism view I advocated for above (and that I believe L&P co-blogger Roderick Long shares, though I don't know what he thinks of Paul). If the true spirit of libertarianism is a cosmopolitan one, we can and should do a lot better than a policy statement on racism that refers largely, if not only, to the way in which state-enforced racial categories (mostly of the left) have "divided" America. That may well be a problem, but its silence on the racism of the right and the real ways in which people of color continue to face discrimination (though much less than in the past) cuts against the grain of what should be libertarianism's progressivism. What is so difficult and so wrong about saying racism exists in other forms and that as people committed to equal and individual rights we should work to end it?

Libertarianism's progressive spirit is one of cosmopolitanism and openness to cultural change (perhaps best captured in our own time by Virginia Postrel's work). Paul's cultural conservatism and several of his positions push in the opposite direction and, in my view, might do long-term damage to libertarianism even if it reaps some short-term benefits in this campaign. I do not believe the future of libertarianism is in making alliances with the forces of nativism and the wrong sort of isolationism, nor with those who cannot see the ways in which the US is still not a society that treats women, gays/lesbians, and persons of color as equal individuals, both under the law and culturally. (To be clear, I'm not advocating for any state intervention to address these problems - in fact, the state is the source of some/many but not all of them). The future of libertarianism is to align with Postrel's forces of "dynamism" both left and right. Paul's campaign is attracting young people, but I suspect mostly because he does indeed tell it like it is and that straight talking appeals to cynical youth. And I do admire Paul greatly for his honesty and his intellect. But in the long run, the young will never sign on to a movement rooted in cultural conservatism. Paul's campaign is, in that sense, running a huge risk of long-term damage to libertarianism.

We were born as a progressive and cosmopolitan movement and we forget our history at our own peril. In the end, that is why I cannot get all that enthusiatic about Paul, even as I agree that ending the Wars in Iraq and on Drugs might be the two most important steps toward a free, prosperous, and peaceful society that we could take.

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More Comments:

Adam Ricketson - 12/8/2007

"Each implicitly assumes that a group can be treated as an individual"

It's not an assumption, it's a dynamic expected based on specific social processes/interactions. Basically, people tend to associate with others of similar socio-economic status. Many of their values/beliefs/attitudes are developed by interaction with these other people, leading to group cohesion. They will also explicitly coordinate their behavior and share information on the level of small groups, and when this network is considered, you end up with semi-cohesive groups coordinating their behavior in opposition to each other.

Robert Paul - 12/7/2007

As a left-libertarian who strongly supports Ron Paul, I feel oddly unrepresented after reading the posts here and at LRC.

I missed most of the Cold War, so I've always found the link between conservatism and libertarianism in contemporary American politics to be absolutely ridiculous. I do understand the reason for its existence, of course.

The way I see it, conservatives have been using the rhetoric of libertarianism to win elections for decades. That tactic is coming back to bite them now in the form of Ron Paul's success. Many conservatives are flocking to Ron Paul because he delivers what they've always been promised but never actually received.

I think Steven's concerns are overblown. Ron Paul is usually careful to avoid calling himself a libertarian. This is probably for political reasons, but I suspect it's also because he knows he isn't a full libertarian.

That being said, he comes shockingly close for a mainstream candidate, and he's managed to bring one of the two biggest issues for libertarians, monetary policy, to the forefront in a way I hadn't thought possible.

He's not as strong on education, the other big issue, in my view. His federalist stand on this and many other issues surely irks many libertarians. But if anarcho-capitalists can be expected to support gradual reductions in the size of government, surely minarchists and others can support Ron Paul.

There's no reason to worry about Ron Paul making libertarianism look bad. No one who wants him to win would introduce him as a libertarian anyway.

Thanks for reading.

Robert Paul (no relation)

Anthony Gregory - 12/7/2007

No, I don't believe you can justly force someone to work to pay back debts. I don't think that's the moral solution. Maybe you can take a part of their wages, getting it from their employer, who would hand it over voluntarily because of contractual agreement and reputation.

I think it would be most effective to deal with such errancy through shunning, blacklisting, and other redress against the person's reputation. There could be insurance for losses resulting from default and failures to pay.

David Friedman - 12/6/2007

And if you don't pay me the damages, what happens?

I'm not sure I see the distinction between "force you to work" and "punish you for not working."

To put it differently, are you saying that you have no problem with slavery via contract, as long as there is some price at which the slave is permitted to buy himself free?

Anthony Gregory - 12/6/2007

Perhaps the debt shouldn't be eliminated. The question is whether you can justly force me to work. I owe you damages but not my will. Will is, unlike tangible property, non-transferable.

Yong Wen Chen - 12/6/2007

Nice one guys. In this spirit, I hope you both don't mind a late reply on my part?

David asked about my "Cultural" persepctive as an Asian. As someone that has great respect for the wisdom of Confucianism and also sees where it has been a problematic influence in Chinese history, my take is that I think "progress" of a sort will always be important. I am wary of falling too much on the side of "we were in paradise until the appearance of X" type narratives. So for example, I think there were important reasons for "Progressivism" to have arisen in history, and whilst I think it is on the whole now increasingly causing more damage than good, the solution is not to just throw all that away and curse it as evil. I think it needs to be re-examined carefully, with the lessons learned integrated somehow with what we have also lost of more "traditional" and community centred points of view.

I know that is all airy and would likely all fall apart if I try and ground it in specifics. I just feel that a kind of "cultural conservatism" is the way of the future, but we should be moving creatively forwards towards that form, not backwards.

Thanks for listening to my ravings....

David Friedman - 12/6/2007

Anthony Gregory asks "why would the makeup of our present population – and how it might have happened to be a result of violations of liberty in the past – justify those violations of liberty?"

It wouldn't.

But if a particular principle would have made lots of human beings worse off, that's a reason to think more carefully about whether it is true.

Whether it is permitting enforceable indenture contracts or forbidding them that violates individual rights is not clear. In most other contexts, we consider that one part of the right to something is the right to transfer it.

Most libertarians have no problem with enforcing "debts" due to involuntary transactions--the burglar's debt to his victim, for instance, can't, in the view of most of us, be eliminated by the burglar declaring bankruptcy. So why should the debt I owe you for financing my trip to the New World be eliminated that way?

Anthony Gregory - 12/6/2007

If inalienability and individual rights had been consistently upheld, though, would not there have been much more wealth, allowing people to get to N. America one way or another? And besides, why would the makeup of our present population – and how it might have happened to be a result of violations of liberty in the past – justify those violations of liberty?

David Friedman - 12/6/2007

It may be hopeless, but I would like to try to point out that both of you are at this point misrepresenting the argument:

David Miller said a number of unkind things about Steve Horowitz but he didn't say he was in favor of the war, as Steve's "I'd be interested to see if you can find anywhere I've said I'm in support of the war" implied

On the other hand, David did say:

"There are a group of “libertarians” such as Steve and his pal Ginny Postrel who would like to convince all of us that war, taxation, etc. are of secondary importance compared to cultural issues,"

That claim, applied to Steve, is inconsistent with what Steve wrote in the essay that set off this discussion--as Steve pointed out in his response.

It seems to me that David raised an interesting set of questions about cultural conservatism, the history of the libertarian movement, and the views of younger people--which promptly got lost as a result of the generally hostile tone of the, mostly his side of the, exchange, and so never got answered.

David Friedman - 12/6/2007

Glad to see that the later parts of the exchange were a considerable improvement over the earlier parts.

But in the hope of getting a little disagreement back into the discussion, I have a simple question--to which I don't have an answer.

From the standpoint of a libertarian, should marriage contracts be enforceable?

In other words, should a couple be free to make promises to each other which are legally binding? If they are, you have at least the possibility of penalties for adultery, restrictions or prohibition of divorce, and similar arrangements--all coming out of voluntary contracts.

It's tempting to try to answer with a simple "one cannot sell oneself into slavery," but that too raises interesting issues. If indentured servitude contracts had not been enforceable, a lot of the ancestors of our present population would have had to stay in Europe, due to not having the price of a ticket.

David Friedman - 12/6/2007

It may be hopeless, but I would like to try to point out that both of you are at this point misrepresenting the argument:

David Miller said a number of unkind things about Steve Horowitz but he didn't say he was in favor of the war, as Steve's "I'd be interested to see if you can find anywhere I've said I'm in support of the war" implied

On the other hand, David did say:

"There are a group of “libertarians” such as Steve and his pal Ginny Postrel who would like to convince all of us that war, taxation, etc. are of secondary importance compared to cultural issues,"

That claim, applied to Steve, is inconsistent with what Steve wrote in the essay that set off this discussion--as Steve pointed out in his response.

It seems to me that David raised an interesting set of questions about cultural conservatism, the history of the libertarian movement, and the views of younger people--which promptly got lost as a result of the generally hostile tone of the, mostly his side of the, exchange, and so never got answered.

David Friedman - 12/6/2007

Adam writes:

"I and many Democratic activists (progressives) are populists in the sense that we believe that many of the problems in this country result from the actions of a self-serving elite that combines political and economic power. This is in contrast to the elitist libertarians who believe that most problems result from a greedy and ignorant populace trying to piggyback on the achievements of übermen."

I think both of these views are wrong, for the same reason. Each implicitly assumes that a group can be treated as an individual--that the elite cooperates for its benefit, or the masses for what they think is their benefit.

For a simple counterexample, consider a competitive industry. Each firm is trying to maximize its profit--and the result, in the simple case, is zero economic profit for everyone. For somewhat similar reasons, each member of your "elite" can be using political influence for his own benefit, and they can all end up worse off as a result--not because each is making a mistake but because individual rationality doesn't always add up to group rationality.

All of which is at a tangent from the more general discussion, but I think a point of some importance.

Steven Horwitz - 12/6/2007


I'm happy to leave it there. Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

David Miller - 12/5/2007

Aw, shucks, Steve, now everyone's gonna get the idea that you and I might both be reasonable guys, after all!

Seriously, if you and I and Anthony Gregory and Rod Long and Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell all got together for dinner and hashed out this subject in detail, I'm sure you would find numerous point of agreement and disagreement on social/cultural issues among us. I'm also certain that some of those agreeing on some points would be rather surprising: occasionally, it would happen that you and Lew would agree and I would disagree or that Ron and Anthony agreed on something that I considered too far "left" culturally (who knows? -- Johnny Rotten is a fan of Ron's, maybe Ron actually likes the Sex Pistols!).

The one point I am quite sure no one would unthinkingly reject in the abstract is your statement
>My point, perhaps obscured by buzzwords, was simply that an openness and confidence that results of cultural change will be good is, for me, more true to the spirit of liberalism than is an attitude of fear

provided that the addendum is added “in a free society” and provided that we all reserve the right to judge for ourselves whether any particular cultural change is good or bad. That responsibility to form an individual judgment is really the key.

After all, neither the free market nor a free society in general is truly “a machine that would run of itself.”

I’m under no obligation to blindly buy whatever happens to be on the shelf at WalMart – indeed, the efficiency of the free market is predicated on the assumption that I will use my own judgment to pick and choose among what WalMart offers, and the privately considered decisions of a multitude of shoppers thereby sends WalMart a message as to what they should continue to stock.

The same is true in the social and cultural sphere: I am under no obligation to accept whatever social and cultural “products” are “offered” by a free society, and, indeed, a free society will only “work” if people actually judge for themselves and actively reject and criticize those aspects of society that they find distasteful or morally wrong.

Now, I realize that you and Rod Long will readily endorse that last paragraph. But so will Lew and Ron and Anthony and any libertarian of at least normal intelligence.

And that’s my real point. If you really disagree with Ron Paul enough on the specific issues you mentioned that they are more important to you than the war, then by all means don’t support him. Why would you? Grudging, unhappy support from you would not help Ron anyway.

I disagree with Ron in some respects on the three issues you mentioned also, although, quite frankly, those issues are so muddled in the current political context that I’m not sure exactly what position I would take were I running for President either (I’m pro-choice, but Roe v. Wade was bad legal scholarship; I’m adamantly for free trade, but NAFTA does have some deep flaws; etc.).

But what does seem to me a mistake is to reject Ron because he is not sufficiently “progressive” and “cosmopolitan.” I married into an East Asian immigrant family and am currently, along with my kids, learning Mandarin. That’s a “cosmopolitan” side of me that you just learned about. On the other hand, I still can’t use chopsticks correctly (you can take the boy out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the boy).

Surely, the same is true of Ron Paul (and Lew and Ginny and everyone else whose name has been taken in vain here): neither you nor I know enough about any of these people to know exactly how “cosmopolitan” or “progressive” they really are, and, frankly, I’m not sure that it’s any of our business.

We do know that Ron Paul is quite happy to be supported by a “San Francisco gay guy” like Justin Raimondo or a “Berkeley rock musician” like Anthony Gregory as well as Americans with somewhat less colorful personalities, even a dull physicist turned homeschooling dad like me. I first realized how broad the support for Ron was when, in early October, a pious Seventh-Day Adventist, not knowing that I was already a Paul supporter, started passionately lecturing me on the need to support Ron Paul.

There is a huge amount of openness and tolerance in the Ron Paul campaign, and, indeed, in America in general. I’m old enough to remember the bad old days of racially separated restrooms, of homosexuality seriously treated as a crime, etc. But even then, even culturally conservative Americans had the decency to be ashamed of most of that – which is the reason we have largely moved beyond it. Three of my schoolteachers in the public schools were gay – while almost all the adults who lived in my school district professed to hate homosexuality, nobody hated those actual men, simply because those men were in fact clearly good human beings and great teachers. We students really liked them – a serious, dedicated teacher who really cares about his students is not that common.

And America has come a long way culturally since then.

No doubt you can find some crazies in the Paul campaign (though I have not seen many) as in any campaign, but at least in the Paul campaign the crazy is not the candidate himself, as it is with Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee, et al.

Ron Paul does not think he has the wisdom to design the “culture”: that is the most important form of “progressivism” or “cosmopolitanism” we need in a President: laissez nous faire.

All the best,


Aeon J. Skoble - 12/5/2007

"there's another "market" out there that RP's flavor of libertarianism overlooks"
But no one from that market is running for president this election. Isn't a second-favorite flavor of libertarianism better than no libertarianism at all? What are the alternatives to a RP presidency? Rudy? Hillary? Romney? I'm getting nauseous just thinking about it. RP is more close to having a shot than anyone you would even remotely tolerate has ever been. At least support him in the GOP primary, then see what happens.

Steven Horwitz - 12/5/2007

Thanks David.

I actually agree with a fair amount of what you have to say there, including the interest in and appreciation for evolutionary psych. And I couldn't agree more with your last sentence of course.

Yes, all labels over-simplify, including my own.

I'm also not interested in coming up with "doctrinaire" answers either, and I certainly agree that we cannot know what the future will hold. My point, perhaps obscured by buzzwords, was simply that an openness and confidence that results of cultural change will be good is, for me, more true to the spirit of liberalism than is an attitude of fear. (That was why I though the two Hayek quotes in my comment yesterday morning were worth citing.) And it's fear that I often see coming from, what is in my view, too many libertarians (not to mention non-libertarian supporters of RP).

I'm not trying to weed in or weed out anyone from libertarianism, rather I'm trying to persuade fellow libertarians that there are alternative ways of seeing our ideas that I think are both right and in our long-term political interest. I'm perfectly willing to admit I might be wrong about that.

My last two cents: lots of bad stuff has been done in the name of progress, no question. And that's because people haven't understood that liberty is the well-spring of progress. Progress gets abused because people don't see that connection. My whole argument is that by *making* that argument, there might be a whole lot of people interested in "progress" who could become interested in liberty if only we were interested in making arguments that address their concerns.

Put differently, my criticisms of Paul boil down to saying there's another "market" out there that RP's flavor of libertarianism overlooks and it's the one I'm more sympathetic to and more interested in reaching myself.

David Miller - 12/5/2007

Gee, Steve, sounds like you actually want to hear my opinion! And, if you've read my recent comment over on Rod's blog, you'll notice that, as much as I disagree with you, I'll defend to the death your right to express your opinions.

As I think I may have mentioned somewhere around here, my own socio-cultural views are, roughly speaking, somewhere between Rod’s and Lew Rockwell’s. But more importantly, I reject the whole idea that there is simply a continuum (or a dichotomy) on social and cultural views that can be reasonably thought of as left vs. right or progressive/cosmopolitan vs. whatever the opposite is supposed to be.

For example, I am an atheist, and a fairly outspoken one when appropriately provoked. My primary reason for this is that I simply think religions are not true, and I also think they have done significant harm to human beings.

On the other hand, I like most of the Christians (and Moslems, Buddhists, Jews, etc. for that matter) whom I have met, I appreciate a lot of the cultural products of Christianity (from Handel’s “Messiah” to Chartres Cathedral), and I recognize as a matter of historical fact that most of the great achievements of Western civilization – from Newtonian physics to the theory of natural rights – came from Christians.

So, are my views on religion “left” or “right,” progressive or reactionary?

My response is similar to your question on Rod’s and Charles Johnson’s essay on feminism.

I take seriously the scientific evidence that – on average – men and women tend to think in somewhat different ways. I take seriously the arguments from evolutionary psychology that the differing incentives and risks faced by males and females in human reproduction (females get pregnant and nurse, males don’t; maternity is certain, paternity is not; etc.) explain a substantial amount of the behavioral difference that we all observe between males and females and that this is a consequence of evolution. I am interested in the recent theories of some palaeoanthropologists that the systematic division of labor between the sexes was a key in the evolution of homo sapiens. I think it quite credible (and unobjectionable) that females may tend – on average – to be interested in different subjects than males. And I think it is best for children if at least one parent can be home for the kids.

But the phrase “on average” in the last paragraph matters. I find the general American attitude that math, science, engineering, etc. are not of interest to girls to be despicable. Perhaps, the majority of girls will never be as obsessed with those subjects as some males are (most males aren’t either, of course). But some girls are intensely interested in technical subjects, and to deny their interest is contemptible.

And, as it happens, I am the stay-at-home parent in our family: we’re homeschooling our kids, and I’m the primary homeschooling parent -- it made sense economically in our case and in terms of the differing interests of myself and my wife.

So, does that make me a good “progressive” feminist since I’m “allowing” my wife to go out into the working world? Or am I an anti-feminist because I take seriously scientific evidence that a lot of feminists are not happy with?

In broader terms, I am a good deal more sympathetic to some of Rod’s views on contemporary corporations (due largely to my personal experience in the corporate world) than you are; I am less sympathetic to labor unions than Rod is (though I will concede that managerial arrogance and stupidity may sometimes make unions a necessity).

And I am strongly sympathetic to Ivan Illich’s position on “deschooling (i.e., de-institutionalizing) society” and somewhat sympathetic to Paul Goodman’s “neolithic conservatism”: I am opposed to almost all of the generally accepted large organizational institutions of our society – churches, universities, the government and nation-state (of course!), the various organized professions (law, medicine, psychiatry), the judiciary, the police and military, the mass news and entertainment media, etc.

On the other hand, I support the “traditional” family: I think, given our evolutionary past, that human children are generally best off with a male and female parent who are in a long-term relationship.

Again, does all this make me culturally “left” or “right”?

I hope you see my point and also see one of the reasons I am so critical of your criticisms of Ron Paul as not being “cosmopolitan” and “progressive.” I think that terms of that sort eliminate real thought about the nature of human beings and human society and what would be best for human beings living in society.

Buzz-words don’t cut it.

I have no idea what Ron Paul thinks about all the questions I have raised here, and, I suspect, neither do you. These are complicated issues, and to expect a political movement to come up with a set of doctrinaire answers to these questions seems to me hopelessly naïve.

On the other hand, create a free society and I think humans will come up with half-way decent answers to those questions. I’m not sure what those answers will be: maybe there will end up being a lot more gay parents than I anticipate. Who cares?

And, frankly, I doubt that Ron Paul thinks he has magical answers to those questions, either. I think he does think that people should be left alone to work out the answers for themselves, among themselves.

And that’s why I disagree with your criticism of him and think that your concept of progress is passé. I feel like “Brian” in the old Monty Python movie yelling at the crowd that they have to learn to think for themselves. Neither you nor I nor Rod nor Ron has the wisdom to figure out what “progress’ truly is or to inform our fellow human beings as to the true direction for humanity. Too many people have died for the mirage of “progress.”

Let’s leave people alone and let them work this stuff out for themselves.

All the best,


Steven Horwitz - 12/5/2007

For what it's worth David, I largely agree with pretty much everything Roderick has written on left-libertarianism. I'm somewhat skeptical about some of the stuff on the corporate world, but otherwise I'm fine with his whole world-view.

I don't know what "group" you refer to, as I have never met Postrel and other than exchanging maybe 4 emails with her, have had no contact with her whatsoever. I have no affiliation with Cato either. So where your imagined group comes from, I do not know. I am a member of no such "group." I speak only for myself.

Can I ask what you think of Rod's essay with Johnson on libertarian feminism?

David Miller - 12/4/2007


As usual, I find your comments on your blog eminently sensible.

If you managed to read through the whole long exchange of Steve's and my sniping at each other, you'll notice that I kept saying that I did not want Steve to become an RP supporter. For some reason, Steve seems to think this must be some sort of a sarcastic ad hominem attack, instead of realizing that I meant it literally. I’m not trying to change his mind (or yours or Wendy's or…).

I do think Steve grotesquely misrepresented the history of the libertarian movement by trying to paint it as predominantly “progressive” in the sense that this word is now generally used and, in particular, as that word is generally used by people such as himself and Ginny Postrel.

As you and Wendy McElroy have so ably demonstrated in your writings, there was a culturally “left” segment of the libertarian movement during the nineteenth century. But to suggest, as Steve tried to, that that tendency has been the primary libertarian heritage from the inception of the libertarian movement is, I think, false to history.

On the question of rejecting Ron Paul because of his position on the issues, I have to admit that I do find libertarians who reject Ron on minutiae connected to, say, NAFTA to be, at best, eccentric (though I don’t deny that they are libertarians). We all agree that free trade is in principle correct; we disagree as to whether NAFTA does advance the goal of true free trade. Given the complexities of NAFTA (and the same is true of immigration and abortion), it does seem to me rather silly to use this as a litmus test, especially given that Steve is willing to accept clear advocates of mass murder such as Ginny Postrel as political comrades (I know it offends some people to call aggressive war “mass murder,” but I am unrepentant).

I really don’t think I am being eccentric in thinking that someone who sincerely cares more about the details of NAFTA than about mass murder has a humanly unbalanced perspective.

Incidentally, my own cultural views are probably closer to yours than to Ron Paul’s: as fond as I am of capitalism, I particularly find the hierarchical, supercilious attitude of so many contemporary American business managers to be repulsive. My father, who was in management his whole working life, has a similar perspective: he feels that, as the American managerial class has become less competent, it has become more arrogant. I think a lot of governmental policies (there has for example been a real spill-over into industry of the militarization of American society) have enabled and encouraged this despicable behavior pattern.

Part of what annoys me about Steve is that his attitude does remind me a great deal of most of the managers I have known in the business world: from his perch as a white-collar academic, he looks down his nose at the ordinary working-stiff Americans who try heroically to adhere to traditional values and who actually admire Ron Paul because Ron is a “square.”

Anyway, I will continue to cheer on your own “left-libertarian” efforts while expressing my contempt for the “progressive libertarianism” of Ginny Postrel and her pals like Steve.

For what it’s worth, I think this splintering of libertarianism is an extremely good thing. When everyone views the entire political spectrum as consisting of Objectivists on the far right to Longians on the far left, with Paulistas in the center right, the world will be a better place. (And, if you think I’m annoyed with Stevie, you should see some of the stuff I’ve said about the ARI Objectivists!)

All the best,


David Miller - 12/4/2007

Yong Wen,

Well... personally, I think I went way too easy on Stevie, especially considering that he violated the HNN posting rules in his initial essay! But, I suppose that's a matter of taste.

You will never get Steve to address my real points. The problem is that he is the one who insists on thinking in terms of "left" vs. "right," "progressive" vs. non-progressive, etc. My central point was that those categories are anachronistic, outdated, twen-cen (twentieth-century) modes of thinking.

I take it from your name that you are of East Asian origin? I’m married to the daughter of Chinese immigrants, so I have some exposure to East Asian culture.

In your comments, you suggest what I also have observed: that behavior which people like Steve view as non-progressive, reactionary modes of family organization, lifestyles, and personal values are, to a significant degree, simply natural behaviors of human beings that transcend cultural differences – heterosexuality, two-parent monogamous families, etc. I know of no human society in which those are not the norm. Of course, I favor full legal (and, indeed, social) tolerance for people who choose not to live by those norms, so long as they do not harm children or other innocent people. But, to put it bluntly, the fact that Ron Paul is a “normal” human being and not a “freak” is a real plus in terms of attracting voters, not, as Steve and his cohorts seem to think, a minus.

Unfortunately, government policy and government intervention in family life in the United States during the twentieth century has distorted and perverted that natural human behavior in a horrific way. The most notable example of this is the American public education system which has become intensely anti-intellectual and, indeed, since the early twentieth century has focused on “socialization” to the exclusion of intellectual development (see, e.g., Kliebard’s “Struggle for the American Curriculum” for a balanced, indeed somewhat sympathetic, account of this development).

As Grace Palladino points out in her insightful study, “Teenagers,” what Americans now consider natural “teen-age” behavior (“teen-ager” is a term not widely used in the US until the mid-twentieth century) is the product of the government school system as it developed in the US during the twentieth century. As Palladino puts it, “When a teenage majority spent the better part of their day in high school, they learned to look to one another and not to adults for advice, information, and approval.”

Other governmental policies (inflation, Social Security, etc.) have also had effects of this sort.

I have searched in vain in Steve’s writings (or that of other “progressive” libertarians) for an adequate acknowledgement of these facts. The problem is that he and his pals largely applaud the chaos and disintegration that have occurred during the last century in American society. To admit that government has largely brought about these changes would be to praise government, and, for various reasons, (e.g., government is not real fashionable currently in the States), they are loath to do this.

I’m curious to hear more on how you see this cultural issue from your own geographical and cultural perspective.

By the way, Steve still seems to be fixated on the idea that I would like him to be a Ron Paul supporter. I really wouldn’t. I’m quite sincere in saying that I think he would be a real detriment to the Ron Paul movement.

And I still think that turnabout is eminently fair. If Stevie wants to be snide, snarky, and ad hominem, he deserves to get it back. (I will not, however, return his dishonesty with dishonesty – I try to tell the truth.)

I should also mention that Stevie’s attempt to link himself to Rod Long’s “left” libertarianism is a bit disingenuous. Rod’s “left” libertarianism is a truly radical libertarianism that has no room for advocates of mass murder such as “progressive libertarians” like the execrable Ginny Postrel. I know that Steve does not support the war (and I have never said that he did – contrary to his lies about me), but he is part of a group that accepts as comrades people like Ginny that advocate mass murder. That is why I refuse to be on Steve’s “side,” as much as this seems to pain him.

Steve’s idea of “progress” really is so passé.

All the best,


Roderick T. Long - 12/4/2007

See my post here.

Steven Horwitz - 12/4/2007

And yes, civil society is all about back and forth, which is why I haven't shut off the comments on this thread even though several have been, in fact, against the posting rules for HNN in their use of personal attacks and ad hominems.

Steven Horwitz - 12/4/2007

I just find that rhetoric ironic. They're welcome to it, but it smacks of the very sort of collectivist, you're with us or against us mentality that I though libertarianism generally shunned. I'd expect that from those who favor someone like Giuliani. ;)

Yong Wen Chen - 12/4/2007

Thanks for that Steven, that does complexify and contextualise things a bit. I read those essays you mention.

"so fervently throwing their words and resources behind a career politician, to the point that anyone who raises criticisms of him is somehow dangerous because he should be "on board" with the campaign."

Let me also admit at this point to being a RP fan depite never having lived in the US, and I'm probably too young to be able to work out whether or not I am an anarcho-whatever.

Does it make any difference do you think the fact that RP's support is decentralised, spontaneous and voluntary?

I mean,to the extent that RP fans really are criticising you/labelling you as "dangerous" merely for the fact that they do not agree with your opinion, I agree with you this is hypocritical and unhelpful (RP fans, please read this:

To the extent that they are spontaneously trying to convince you/other readers to change your opinion, that is how civil society works isn't it? I think it is fair for you to disagree with supporting RP, but it doesn't make sense IMO for you to criticise the "collectivist "get behind Ron" rhetoric" when it is completely voluntary. I'm sure you disagree, but that's okay too :).

-Yong Wen

Steven Horwitz - 12/4/2007

Yong Wen,

Yes I do stand by my original point. Classical liberals WERE the progressives of their era. There's a reason why Hayek added his postscript to *The Constitution of Liberty* entitled "Why I am Not a Conservative." He understood, as did Mises I would note, that classical liberalism was not a variant of conservatism and stood opposed to those who would put "the brakes on progress" just as much as to socialists. If you've never read that chapter/essay of Hayek's, you might find it of interest. You should also read Mises's *Liberalism* for much of the same perspective.

In fact, let me quote one section here (although since to many right-libertarians, Hayek is a statist sell-out, it's unlikely to convince them):

"One of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead....In looking forward, [conservatives] lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept change without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about. It is, indeed, part of the liberal attitude to assume that, especially in the economic field, the self-regulating forces of the market will somehow bring about the required adjustments to new conditions..." (COL p. 400) You might also check out his discussion of the nationalistic tendencies of conservatives.

It is only with the advent of socialism, which grabbed the cloak of progressiveness, cosmopolitanism, and "the left", that classical liberal ideas have been wedded to conservatism, and understandably so perhaps in their mutual opposition to the socialist horrors of the 20th century. But that doesn't change the longer history - classical liberalism was the voice of change and progress in the 18th and 19th century.

I think this answers your other question too - I don't know what cultural forms would emerge in the absence of modern state coercion, but I have no a priori reason to believe they would be "conservative" ones. To take one example: eliminating the coercive role of the state in limiting the options facing women in the last 100 years or more has led to significant changes in the cultural institutions of the family and the workplace, and not in a "conservative" direction. (And these secular trends outweigh the effects of other govt interventions into the family - some of which, like tax law, are actually working *in favor* of what you would call "culturally conservative" structures.) Really getting rid of the state will take us places we cannot now define. Free culture, like a free market, is a discovery procedure.

Let me also throw out one more Hayek quote from that same essay:

"In a world where the chief need is once more, as it was at the beginning of the 19th century, to free the process of spontaneous growth from the obstacles and encumbrances that human folly has erected, his hopes must rest on persuading and gaining the support of those who by disposition are 'progressives,' those who, though they may now be seeking change in the wrong direction, are at least willing to examine critically the existing and to change it wherever necessary." (COL 410-11).

Finally, and this is not so much to you personally but to others in this thread:

I find it really interesting that so many who appear to be anarcho-capitalists or close to it are so fervently throwing their words and resources behind a career politician, to the point that anyone who raises criticisms of him is somehow dangerous because he should be "on board" with the campaign.

The irony of (near-)anarchists invoking a collectivist "get behind Ron" rhetoric for a career politician is simply too rich to ignore.

Yong Wen Chen - 12/4/2007

Hi Steven,

Let me be clear first of all that I think that David did go too far, "turnabout" being fair or no. He has nevertheless raised important factual issues that I was hoping you could address.

"["Libertarians"] were born as a progressive... movement and we forget our history at our own peril."

Given David's historical critique, do you still stand by that statement as factually correct?

Actually, what is actually meant by "progressive" anyway? There may be some nuance to the US usage of the word that I have missed (I'm a student for Oz).

I mean, if in the absence of modern state coercion it turns out that communities will tend to spontaneously revert to some forms of "traditional" cultural structures and relationships, there will always be an important role for "cultural progressives" to drive creative change. But it does seem to me like that agitation would have to happen within the context of "natural" cultural forms that find stability in the absence of the coercive state, and that those forms are inherently "culturally conservative".

Does that make sense? Any comments?

Yong Wen.

David Miller - 12/4/2007


Boy, you *really* are thin-skinned. You have constantly made personal remarks about others, accused them of saying things personally about you that were not true that they did not say (for example, I did not say you were pro-war), etc.

Let me again put this simply. You were snarky towards us; I was snarky towards you in response.

Turnabout is always fair.

I also pointed out that some factual historical statements that you made were wrong.

For some reason, this really, really, really seems to bother you.

I am not trying to build any sort of “libertarian tent,” big, little, or in between. Some people I generally agree with, like Ron Paul, so I support them politically: I’m on their side. Some people I happen to disagree with politically: Hillary, Benito, you, Ginny, etc. – so, I’m not on their side.

Why does it bother you so that I happen not to be on your side?

I’m not trying to tell you that you cannot call yourself a libertarian, I’m not urging anyone not to associate with you, etc.

But I won’t be on your side because I disagree with you, just as you won’t endorse Ron Paul.

As I said, I agree that you are a libertarian, just as you agree that Ron Paul is a libertarian. But, just as you choose not to support Ron Paul, I choose not to support you.

Why on earth are you so bothered that I exercise the same option with regard to you, the Postrel woman, etc., that you guys choose to exercise with respect to Ron Paul?

And, similarly, just as you, Ginny, et al. choose to be snide and snarky in referring to us Paulistas, why does it bother you so that I choose to be snide and snarky in referring to you?

You really can’t take a taste of your own medicine! Reminds me of why I stopped subscribing to Reason and Liberty magazine, stopped paying any attention to Cato, etc. Too many whinging little babies.

Keep whinging all you want. I’m not stopping you. You can have your little self-important conferences, write for your little magazines that no one reads, etc. I won’t argue with that.

Some of us have a r3volution to work on.

And, Steve, “progress” really is just so, very, passé.


Steven Horwitz - 12/4/2007

I'm a glutton, so one more time into the breach.

Thanks for making it personal. You've managed to attack me in personal terms in a way I did not remotely do to you. If that's what passes for civilized discussion in your "real" field, it's a shame really. As I said, comments like yours make my case better than I ever could have.

I also think it's interesting that my libertarian tent is big enough for you but yours is not for me, yet the folks over at LRC are calling ME intolerant.

I'll close with one question:

If I'm so silly and irrelevant, why have you wasted so much of your precious time and brain-power on me?

David Miller - 12/4/2007


Rather thin-skinned, aren't you?

I didn't say you supported the war: you seem obsessed with claiming that some of are accusing you of being a war supporter.

And, I didn’t spout “vitriol”: I merely pointed out that you made some factually false statements (and that, like me, you’re old and obviously out of touch with the kids).

If you can’t take the heat…

I am glad to hear that you are separating yourself from some of the Catoites by opposing Benito Giuliani.

It is an unfortunate fact that there has been significant praise for Benito coming from some Catoites: for example, Catoite Stephen Moore (former Cato Policy Director) has been quoted saying of Giuliani “I’m going to have to start calling him Milton Friedman…” To be sure, Cato is not a monolith: to his credit, David Boaz attacked Benito for his obvious thuggishness last spring. And some Catoites (e.g., Mike Tanner) now seem to be leaning towards Fred “Libby-Pardon” Thompson.

Swell folks you hang with.

Let me be blunt: you wrote a snarky column attacking Ron Paul and his supporters for not being sufficiently “cosmopolitan.” I chose to imitate your style and wrote a snarky response suggesting that you and your pals are really over-the-hill, bald, pot-bellied has-beens. You’re a nobody who no one has ever heard of, teaching at a school no one has ever heard of.

Turnabout is always fair.

You were quite good at dishing it out. But you can’t take a taste of your own medicine.

I figured you were that kind of guy – your initial column positively reeked of it.

Your policy reasons for disagreeing with Dr. Paul were obviously frivolous. You mentioned proudly that you worked on the Clark campaign in 1980. I met and talked with Ed during that campaign and tried to get his position on Social Security. Nada. It finally became clear to me that Ed feared that if he personally took a strong position on Social Security, he might actually lose the election! It was quite funny. If you were not bothered by Ed Clark’s many failures to live up to libertarian purity, you are being disingenuous in claiming that you cannot support Ron Paul because of his stance on a handful of issues which all sensible people admit are very complicated and difficult to address.

I have pointed out in detail that you are simply in error about the historical statements you made – neither you nor anyone else has attempted to refute what I said on those factual matters.

You really, really don’t like my having been just as snarky with you as you were with Ron Paul and all of his supporters in your initial column.


Most of the Ron Paul supporters are sweet, kind folks who will turn the other cheek to nasty, little, self-important nobodies like you.

Not me. I really enjoy giving uneducated pompous little know-nothings like you a taste of their own medicine.

Your annoyance has made my day.

You wrote:
>Believe it or not, I'm on your side, even if we prefer different flavors in our mutual libertarianism.

Well, Steve, you may want to be on my side, but, as it happens, I’m not willing to be on your side. We may happen both to use the same word, “libertarianism,” to describe our views, but we mean different things by that word. So, I guess you are just going to have to live with the fact that truly educated people like me (I have a real Ph.D. from a real school in a real subject) are just not going to be on your side.

And, Steve, “progress” really is so passé.


Bill Woolsey - 12/4/2007

Eric Dondero (formerly Rittberg) is not "of Reason magazine."

He used to work for Ron Paul. He was part of Ron Paul's staff in his 1988 Libertarian race.

He has played an important role in the Republican Liberty Caucus.

He has turned against Ron Paul and is supporting Guiliani. That is exactly what was always wrong with the RLC approach. Trying to choose the least bad Republican presidential candidate.

In this situation, I think he has chosen the worst! But then, he has adopted the most absurd neo-conservative line on the Middle East.

Steven Horwitz - 12/3/2007

"Steve is certainly entitled to support whomever he wishes – (personally, I see him as a Benito Giuliani man, along with so many of his friends at Cato)."

I stopped taking you seriously after this.

There is perhaps no Republican candidate worse than Rudy, other than maybe McCain. To even IMAGINE that anything in my published work or life's commitment to liberty would suggest that I would even imagine for A MOMENT supporting RG is to reveal yourself as just out to score rhetorical points rather than being interested in a real discussion.

I'd be interested to see if you can find anywhere I've said I'm in support of the war. Reread my original post for starters: "I agree that ending the Wars in Iraq and on Drugs might be the two most important steps toward a free, prosperous, and peaceful society that we could take." and "let me just say that I'm in strong support of a number of his more controversial positions: getting out of Iraq ASAP, getting the state out of the monetary system (see my post on the relationship between these two positions here), ending the Drug War, and generally de-regulating the US economy."

I guess you're one of those libertarians who can only think in group terms - I have left-libertarian criticisms of Paul, I like Postrel's work, therefore I must support the war. Talk about your fallacious reasoning, both in its logic and its lack of correspondence to the clear empirical evidence about my stance on the war.

So Mr. Miller, thanks for your contributions to this discussion. Like several other contributors here, your vitriol, your dismissiveness of alternative points of view, and your personal attacks on me do much more to illustrate my original point than my long blog post itself ever could.

Here's some unsolicited advice: take your vitriol and apply it to the real enemies, like Rudy and McCain. Believe it or not, I'm on your side, even if we prefer different flavors in our mutual libertarianism.

I continued to be disappointed, but unsurprised, at the speed and vigor with which folks like you will attack other libertarians who deviate from your world view. In my original post, I think I was nothing but polite and respectful to Ron Paul's views, even as I disagreed with them. The response to me, by many, however, has been of a very different and insulting sort.

Steven Horwitz - 12/3/2007

Bill has characterized my views quite correctly.

And I agree the war is really important, but I simply cannot, as it were, pull the trigger on fully supporting RP as I value the other issues highly enough to prevent me from doing so.

As I also said, I wish Ron well. In some sense I'm rooting for him because he is putting some really important ideas on the table, even if they come with some bad ideas and unsavory people that I'd rather the good ideas weren't associated with.

David Miller - 12/3/2007


Steve is certainly entitled to support whomever he wishes – (personally, I see him as a Benito Giuliani man, along with so many of his friends at Cato).

And I disagree with your statement, “Ron Paul is a libertarian. It is time to pull together.” It’s not time for people who dislike Ron to hold their noses and “pull together.” Frankly, it’s clear that Steve would be a net minus to the Ron Paul movement: his attitude to “the young,” as he puts it, would be particularly offputting to potential supporters.

I replied to Steve not because I wish him to become a Ron Paul supporter (Steve don’t – Benito needs you!) but because he did, after all, make some specific claims of a factual nature which I believe are clearly false and which warranted exposing.

Most significant was his statement, “But in the long run, the young will never sign on to a movement rooted in cultural conservatism.” This is extremely condescending and patronizing to people who, unlike Steve, are not more than half-way through their life expectancy. (In America, we politely refer to people of Steve’s – and my – advanced age as “middle-aged.” The accurate term would be “old.”) More importantly, it fails to meet basic tests of logic and evidence, as I pointed out above. Steve is a social scientist: logic and evidence should matter to him. As I pointed out, it is a fallacy going back to my own Boomer generation (the fallacy of course originated earlier) that “the young” are invariably “progressive,” opposed to “cultural conservatism,” etc. That’s just not true. History is the record of changes, and the predominant attitude among the young changes over time: sometimes young people like “cultural conservatism,” sometimes not.

As you say, Steve’s writings seem to suggest that, on the whole, he approves of the changes in family structure, etc. over the last century (curiously, he seems to underplay the role that government – notably the public-education system – has contributed to those changes). The people who have been the primary victims of that “progress,” “the young” in Steve’s words, seem sometimes to have a different perspective.

Perhaps, that is one reason that so many young people are attracted to Ron Paul: he is a reminder of an age when adults acted like grown-ups instead of whining, self-indulgent forty-year-old brats (nothing personal, Steve).

Second, Steve went on and on along the lines of “Libertarianism's progressive spirit is one of cosmopolitanism and openness to cultural change.”

Now, of course, in some sense, libertarians and classical liberals are, by definition, “open” to “change” – i.e., political change.

But, in a contemporary context, “cultural change” has a fairly specific meaning – for example, not disapproving of homosexuality or of marijuana use or of people having children even though the parents are unmarried. I think it is clear that Steve was referring to “cultural change” in this contemporary sense, not in the sense, say, that Impressionism or polyphony were forms of “cultural change.”

And, again, he is here simply making a historical error, as I pointed out in detail above. There have been some strains in the libertarian heritage that approved of this sort of “cultural change” (e.g., the “free love” movement among some nineteenth century libertarian anarchists). But it simply has not been the mainstream of the libertarian movement whether one goes back sixty years, two hundred years, or four hundred years.

There are a group of “libertarians” such as Steve and his pal Ginny Postrel who would like to convince all of us that war, taxation, etc. are of secondary importance compared to cultural issues, “style” (the subject of Ginny’s recent book), etc.

They are certainly free to try to convince the rest of us of this. But it is dishonest for them to pretend that this is the long-time heritage of the libertarian/classical-liberal movement. They are not being truthful, and they deserve to be called out on it.

That’s what I was doing.

My own cultural attitudes are in between Ron Paul’s and Steve’s: I am, as I have said, a child of the ‘60s. At the level of personal style, I’m cool with Ron Paul, with Anthony Gregory, and even with Steve and Ginny. And Ron and Anthony, who certainly have different personal styles, clearly feel as I do – laissez nous faire. It is Steve, Ginny, and their friends who insist on judging people like Ron Paul on their personal style.


But when they go beyond their personal judgments to make historical claims that are false, they deserve to be called out.

Personally, I’m gratified that Steve, Ginny, the Catoites, etc. are not supporting Ron Paul. That means that when the dust has settled, the libertarian movement that the young Paulistas will have been introduced to is the real historical libertarian movement of John Lilburne, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Lysander Spooner, Murray Rothbard, etc. – all those folks who gave not a whit for Steve’s progressive cosmopolitanism but rather for the proposition that all human beings “are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

The kids are with the old fuddy duddies.

The future is ours.

“Progress” is passé. Natural rights are not.

All the best,


Bill Woolsey - 12/3/2007

I don't think that Steve is looking for a politician who seems "hip." Paul's dress or personal life is beside the point.

If one has an interest in building intellectual bridges to the feminist movement, (capitalism is liberating..) then being a supporter of a politician who believes abortion is murder, wants to overturn Rowe vs. Wade, etc, is gong to get in the way. Keeping in mind that Steve doesn't believe abortion should be outlawed and basically supports having the Federal government prohibit states from outlawing it, I think his desire to keep his distance from Paul is natural.

Perhaps I have misunderstood various things Steve has said in the past, but my quick and dirty impression is that he believes capitalism and a free society has caused changes in the traditional familiy, and that these changes should be celebrated.

This ties into the immigration issue. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I think Steve's position is, so what if our culture adopts a lot of hispanic customs, spanish words, etc. While Paul doesn't emphasize that protecting our traditional american ways from such change is important, he does mention it a little. Steve, I think, would prefer a candidate who would argue "where's the threat?" In a free society, culture evolves..progresses... we adopt the best things from different people.

More generally, I think Steve doesn't see his fundamental perspective as "protecting America's libertarian tradition," but rather "working towards a libertarian world."

I am sympathetic to what I understand to be Steve's views. But I think the war is very important. And... Ron Paul is a libertarian. It is time to pull together.

David Miller - 12/3/2007

Well, Steve, I’ll see you and raise you when it comes to knowledge of the cultural origins of libertarianism.

You bring up classical liberalism.

Okay, I’ll go there. The idea that Herbert Spencer or Jeremy Bentham (or, on this side of the pond, William Graham Sumner, Thomas Hart Benton, or Martin van Buren) were cultural leftists is, I’ll be blunt, crazy.

Part of the problem here is, of course, the terms “left” and “right,” which properly apply to one’s hands and feet. The application of those terms to politics is, at best, metaphorical, and has been remarkably protean through the centuries.

But, you were pretty clear that one of your complaints about Ron Paul is that he is not hip, i.e., that he is culturally conservative. And classical liberals were not hip. Indeed, I am one wild and crazy guy compared to most of the classical liberals, and I’m not that hip, either.

There was indeed a strain among libertarians in the nineteenth century, a few of the Tuckerite anarchists, for example, who were cultural radicals. None of us is denying that there has occasionally been such a strand in the libertarian heritage. But it has rarely been dominant.

And then let's go back to the libertarians among America’s founding fathers – those wild and crazy guys like Jefferson, George Mason, Patrick Henry, etc. Obviously, a bunch of cultural progressives? (Hint: Henry and Mason were both pious Christians.)

Or, what really interests me is the seventeenth century founders of the natural rights tradition – John Lilburne, Richard Overton, Roger Williams, the heroic Anne Hutchinson, John Locke, etc. Have you read “Free-Born John”? – a great book and a great guy. He was also drunk on religion – culturally, he was to the right, way to the right, of the late Jerry Falwell.

The founders of libertarianism were British Puritans (a minority of Puritans, of course, the majority were vicious authoritarians).

Rothbard claimed that libertarianism goes even further back to the late Scholastics, again hardly cultural leftists, but that goes beyond my own personal knowledge.

I am, politically, a radical “anarcho-capitalist”: indeed, I think most anarchists have too much faith in government and in contemporary institutions in general. I am sympathetic to Illich's idea of de-institutionalizing society and to Goodman's idea of "neolithic conservatism." But if once one acknowledges a distinction between being “leftist” politically and “leftist” culturally, it just does not turn out that most of the people in the libertarian tradition were cultural leftists.

I understand and agree with Rothbard’s point in “Left and Right: the Prospects for Liberty.” But you need to remember that at the same time Rothbard was arguing that libertarianism should, in a broader historical context, be considered “on the left,” he himself was a self-conscious cultural conservative.

Long before Ginny Postrel came out in favor of the mass murder in Iraq, I had expected that sort of thing from her. She had made quite clear that she cared more for “progress” and “dynamism” than for natural rights. She and her pals (like Brink) merely confirmed that point by supporting the mass murder in Iraq (“war” is too polite a word – let’s call a spade a spade).

Ron Paul is appealing to the kids. Ginny and her friends are not. The obsession with avoiding cultural conservatism is a temporary aberration of the twentieth century, along with smoking of cigarettes, preponderance of smokestack industries, watching the radio, etc. Every period of history has its oddities: “progress” was one of the many deadly quirks of the last century.

We’re moving into a new era now. The “progress” obsession is falling behind us. My kids’ admiration for Tchaikovsky, Jefferson, etc. seems to be the wave of the future, at least if the Ron Paul campaign is any indication.

As Huey Lewis said (see I am a child of the ‘60s! – Huey’s even older than me), “It’s hip to be square.”

Steve, you “progressive” libertarians lack contemporary relevance.

“Progress” is so passé

All the best,


John CCC - 12/3/2007


The more I read you the less I can understand why you don't "endorse" Paul.
Paul is not striving to restrict or derail any directions the culture or economy may head in. Just the opposite. If you are correct -- and you may be -- the culture may evolve in a way Ron Paul and many of his supporters would reject or at least not recognize. But Paul is ready to roll like that. Why aren't you?
If your name was on a ballot, tho I do NOT share many of your assumptions and values, (as I do not share many of Ron Paul's ) I would vote for you. As, I suspect, would Ron Paul.

Steven Horwitz - 12/3/2007

If you think the history of libertarianism begins in the 1930s and 1940s David, it is you who are in need of a history lesson. My point was that *classical liberalism* as one of the great movements of the 18th and 19th century was rooted in ideas of progress and cosmopolitanism. I wasn't referring to "contemporary" libertarianism, but to the much longer history of classical liberalism, which was indeed, historically, of the left.

That contemporary libertarianism finds itself on the "right" is largely a result of the intervening era of socialism and the capture of liberalism by social democracy. But now that we understand well that socialism was, ultimately, a "conservative" movement, in attempting to resist the privilege-smashing of competition, my argument is only that libertarianism, as classical liberalism's contemporary heir, should regain its rightful claim to being the true progressive movement.

Let me add one last point:

I think that, ultimately, a commitment to the market is incompatible with much of what is called cultural conservatism. The open-ended discovery process of the market will always toss up new cultural forms and practices. Often cultural changes are rooted in economic changes driven by the growth produces by markets (I have argued that changes in the family in the last 100 years fit this pattern). To imagine that one can stop cultural change or even reverse it is no less utopian than to imagine one can stop economic change.

Even if our economy became much more free, I don't think we would see our culture change in the direction that many culturally conservative libertarians want. In fact, I think a freer economy would speed the current cultural trends. I'm not afraid of that in and of itself, and I wish that the culturally conservative libertarians would consider a bit more the relationship between free markets and the liberalization of cultural norms.

David Miller - 12/3/2007


Since this is the “history news network,” might I take exception with some of the assumptions you are making about history?

You write:
> But in the long run, the young will never sign on to a movement rooted in cultural conservatism.

Really? How do you know that?

It seems to me that your perspective on history here is rather dated, a typically “twen-cen” (twentieth-century) perspective.

The long-term course of human history, along with theoretical insights from evolutionary psychology, suggest that human beings, especially the young, are naturally “culturally conservative.” After all, since everyone was once young, and since young people have historically been a much larger fraction of the populace than they are in the US today, if the young were always “progressive,” one would expect that all of human history would have been a frenzied hurtling forward in a progressive direction.

It hasn’t been.

I’d suggest as an alternative that you GenXers have been culturally colonized by my generation, the Boomers (I’m about a decade older than you). We Boomers coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” we managed to convince a lot of our elders that we were the vanguard of the future, and we hectored them that they had better go along with our definition of “progress” or be swept into the dustbin of history.

Isn’t it possible that the kids today, decades younger than you or me, view this whole “progress” thing as dreary lecturing by us over-40 types and find themselves more simpatico culturally with Ron Paul than with people who think that Mick Jagger is “hip”?

Don’t get me wrong – I despise wearing a coat and tie, and I walk around the house whistling Paul Simon or Lennon/McCartney songs (I even know the words to “Spanish Flea”). I’m a child of the ‘60s. But my kids think I’m out of it – they like dressing to the nines, and they think cool music means Tchaikovsky.

Anthony Gregory is probably the hippest guy on this board (he’s a rock musician from Berkeley!) and he seems to think Ron Paul is a cooler guy than you or me.

You also wrote:
>Libertarianism's progressive spirit is one of cosmopolitanism and openness to cultural change… We were born as a progressive and cosmopolitan movement…

Again, I think you simply misread history. The roots of the contemporary libertarian movement go back to the “Old Right” --- the anti-war/anti-welfare-state movement of the ‘30s and ‘40s that included such writers as Garet Garrett, Mencken, Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Patterson, Mises and Hayek, Leonard Read, Henry Hazlitt, Isabel Patterson, etc.

None of these people, of course, were Religious Rightists, but, if you actually read their stuff (I’ve read lots of it), I think you’ll agree that their personal style is closer to Ron Paul than to Ginny Postrel.

And, of course, the immediate progenitors of the libertarian movement were Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, etc., none of whom could be accused of being cultural leftists!

Steve, I’m not accusing you of being a bad guy or of failing to be a libertarian. For what it’s worth, you are, in my definition of the term, a “libertarian” (Lindsay and Postrel are not, which is just another way of saying I politically oppose them and their views -- I’d rather vote for Hillary than Ginny).

But it does seem to me that you hold some views on history which are mistaken.

“Progress” is just so passé.

All the best,


David Miller - 12/2/2007


Your proposals for improving the lot of the poor (i.e., "be willing to increase funding" for education to make educational alternatives feasible) all involve increasing government revenues or spending, or both.

I, and anyone I would choose to call a “libertarian,” would fight such proposals firmly and without reservation.

The basic libertarian insight into government is that the government is simply a bunch of guys who get away with doing things in broad daylight (theft, murder, etc.) that ordinary criminals generally have to carry out in secret or under cover of darkness.

No doubt you disagree with that perspective. And perhaps by holding to that perspective and unyieldingly opposing increases in taxes or government spending, we libertarians will fail to win support from you and most of your friends on the left.

That’s unfortunate.

There are of course “libertarians” who disagree with me on this and would be happy to agree with you. I view such “libertarians” just as I view Hillary, Benito Giuliani, or any other pro-government politician.

Most of us who call ourselves libertarians are, in the political sphere, not primarily interested in helping the poor (or the rich), in advancing progress, in achieving equality, or anything of that sort. We are simply in favor of dramatically reducing or completely eliminating the power of the state, i.e., the government, and of ending the crimes in which government everyday engages – war, taxation, etc.

That may unfortunately mean that you and we will be political opponents. I myself prefer being friends with people rather than opponents, but if the price of being political allies is to support proposals which are diametrically opposed to our core principles, I see little point in participating in politics at all.

I would rather lose by supporting what I see is right than “win” by supporting positions which go against my central principles.

All the best,


Steven Horwitz - 12/2/2007

Interesting question Stephan.

I did say unilateral "reductions" in barriers, I did not say "unconditionally" open borders. In the world of the second best in which we operate, I think it's okay for governments to attempt to perform their assumed task of rights protection by minimally ensuring that immigrants have no clear personal record of rights-violating behavior. In other words, it's okay to prevent Mexican serial killers from immigrating, for one rather hyperbolic example.

I would say the same of Israel. The state should not be restricting (or favoring!) immigration or even people who wish to visit on the basis of race/ethnicity or whatever, but could certainly take steps to ensure that those with clear criminal records of the use of force/violence, or the threat thereof could be subject to refusal or other restrictions.

Bottom line: Israel is a state and I would apply the same rules to it that I would apply to any other state, including shrinking it as fast as possible.

Steven Horwitz - 12/2/2007

If you can show me where anything I said was "intolerant" beyond raising criticisms and a different vision of libertarianism, please do.

I offered an analysis of what I thought the problems were with Paul's campaign and where I thought the future of libertarianism lies. I might be wrong about that, but I don't see how I tried to drum anyone out of the movement (as if I could).

It seems to me that Lew and crew are the ones who cannot tolerate a bigger tent libertarianism - they are the ones trying to define who's in and who's out in ways that would exclude me. Read DiLorenzo's smash at me too.

Having a different vision of what I think the libertarian movement should be is hardly "intolerance" of those who have a different vision. When you see me start saying that Ron Paul has no "right" to call himself a libertarian, let me know. Best you're gonna do is my claim that his position on immigration is anti-libertarian. But as you well know, there's plenty of libertarians who take questionable positions on specific issues.

The Rockwell crowd wants to say Barnett's not a libertarian, I'm perfectly fine to say Ron Paul is one.

Who's the intolerant one now?

One last point: what the hell do I gain by trying to be "hip?" Maybe, just maybe, and I know it's hard to believe, I actually BELIEVE the things I said in that post and don't give a damn who thinks I'm "hip" and who thinks I'm a cultural marxist or a PC libertarian.

Steven Horwitz - 12/2/2007

What isn't an unreasonable point? That I'm criticizing Paul because I support the war because I'm Jewish and therefore have "viceral" [sic] support for Israel?

Did you actually read my original post where I *support* Ron Paul's call to get out of Iraq ASAP? Try reading it again and then see if your line of reasoning makes any sense at all.

That's aside, of course, from the assumption that Jews who criticize Ron Paul must ipso facto be supportive of Israel and therefore critical of RP's stance on the war.

I'd hope other RP supporters have better reading and logic skills than that.

Richard Anthony Garner - 12/2/2007

You argue that it would be bad policy to allow open immigration until after the welfare state is abolished, since it will encourage abuse of it. Do you oppose ending the War on Drugs and deregulation of food produce for the same reason? Undoubtably the abolition of the welfare state would encourage people to be more careful when taking risks with their health, so its presence encourages people to be more risky and to rely on welfare to pick them up. Presumably you must oppose most of what libertarians support until the welfare state is abolished - which it is not going to be for a long LONG time.

John CCC - 12/2/2007

What does "strong support", whatever that is (financial? personal armed committment? or just fashionable?), for Israel, have to do with libertarianism or whether Ron Paul is sufficiently so to enable left libertarians to support him for president?
Israel is every bit as illibertarian as the US or UK is. Wouldn't support for a state, ANY state, especially one you don't live in, DISqualify one as a libertarian?
Please, enlighten...

David Goldberg - 12/2/2007

Anyone who has followed the objectivist support of the war knows that viceral support of Israel plays a role in their strong support for the war.

Similarly, Mr Eric Dondero of Reason magazine is clearly motivated by his strong support for Israel.

It is not an unreasonable point.

Stephan Kinsella - 12/2/2007

I just read a quite interesting comment at, pasted below. Steve, do you have any comment on this? --


No one is less tolerant than those demanding tolerance. - Doug Marlette

I'm very glad you linked to that piece; those "progressive libertarian" gripes about RP are exactly what I was talking about the other day when I sent you the article about the Nevada brothel owner. Did you notice how Mr. Horwitz criticizes the Good Doctor for his cultural conservatism, and asserts that he is insufficiently "cosmopolitan"? Another article I came across expressed those very same complaints, and while that hardly constitutes a pattern, I have little doubt that I would encounter much the same kind of thinking among other left-libertarians were I to go farther afield. But as I had said the other day, it isn't enough for them that RP opposes the state interfering where it has no business; no, they accuse him of "inconsistency" because he does not personally embrace certain of their stances.

And why should he? I regard it as both unrealistic and unfair, not to mention presumptuous and arrogant, for someone to demand that you embrace beliefs that are antithetical to your own, particularly when you have demonstrated beyond all doubt that, even if you disapprove of someone else's lifestyle, you are still more than willing to live and let live. And just as you believe that it is not your business or anyone else's to tell others how to live, neither do you advocate state regulation of nonaggressive personal behavior. What, pray tell, could be more libertarian than that?

Nothing, one would think - but it doesn't pass the left-libertarian litmus test, where you must embrace and become a cheerleader for assorted socially liberal causes, or else you're not a "real" libertarian, for all that you adamantly oppose lifestyle regulation on the part of the state. Not only that, the left-libertarians assert that your cultural conservatism and "lack of cosmopolitanism" are "running a huge risk of long-term damage to libertarianism", because "We were born as a progressive and cosmopolitan movement and we forget our history at our own peril." The message is clear: you're just not hip enough to be libertarian; if you don't embrace our ways, you run the risk of being di buttar via (thrown away - because you're old hat, over the hill, or, as the Brits say, past it).

Not exactly the spirit of live-and-let-live, is it? I fully expect that kind of blinkered thinking from the rank and file of both Left and Right, but it positively grates coming from a self-proclaimed libertarian. Rhetoric about freedom and opposition to the state ring pretty hollow when you yourself display a marked intolerance toward others because they do not subscribe to the "right" beliefs, when you would seek to impose upon them what can only be described as your own brand of political correctness. It is that hipper-than-thou sanctimoniousness, I submit, that is the real danger to the libertarian movement, rather than the fact that many of its adherents embrace unreconstructed anti-statist while also remaining stubbornly - and contentedly - bourgeois.

Stephan Kinsella - 12/2/2007

Steve, I'm not sure what the author here is insinuating, but it makes me wonder--do you also agree that Israel should unilaterally and without condition open its borders, as you apparently think the US should?

John CCC - 12/2/2007

And the Tragically Hip is a horrible band, a product of left lib Can(adian) Con(tent) rackets...perhaps yet another "progressive" objective you as a left libertarian can live with? ;-)

John CCC - 12/2/2007

Thank you for your thanks. How bout you explain your Cosmopolitanism complaint, and why it is you are anti-Neo-Confederates...what is it you think they think, then?

Russell Hanneken - 12/2/2007

Or are you saying that I should consider the possibility that no managed trade bill could ever be an improvement on the status quo? That proposition strikes me as obviously false, but I'm willing to hear any arguments you may have for it.

Steven Horwitz - 12/2/2007

Ah yes, the thinly-veiled ad hominem that I must somehow be a closeted Zionist (horror of horrors). I won't dignify your whole bit of bile with a reply other than to say this:

I'm in favor of unilateral reductions in barriers to the movement of both people and goods in and out of the United States, independent of what any other country does. So no, we do not have to wait for ANY other country to change its behavior before we change ours.

I also oppose US foreign aid and intervention in EVERY other country, no matter which country and where it is in the world.

So count me as part of the Zionist world plot if you want, or not. I don't care a whit. I'm interested in serious arguments, not your sort of innuendo.

David Beito asked those of us who were skeptical of Ron Paul to speak up. I did. Sorry if you think it's nit-picky.

Steven Horwitz - 12/2/2007

The Tragically Hip is a great band, one of my favorites. I'm happy to be associated with them.

Neo-confederates, not so much.

But thank you for telling everyone what I supposedly think about Lincoln and people from the South. Suffice it to say that what you think I think is not what I think.

Steven Horwitz - 12/2/2007

David B asked the Ron Paul skeptics to raise their arguments. I did so. I stand by them.

Paul is the most libertarian candidate out there. And yes, no one can ever expect perfection. But each of us has to decide what issues we think are more or less important and whether we choose to support candidates who project an image that we do or do not like.

I cannot endorse Ron Paul, but I wish him well.

And I will continue to provide the intellectual ammunition in the form of academic arguments for freedom that he and his supporters make use of. That my contribution, indirect though it may be, to his campaign.

To expect every libertarian to fall in behind Ron Paul seems.... odd.

Russell Hanneken - 12/2/2007

Are you saying Ron Paul is open to the possibility that a managed trade bill might improve matters, and considers each such bill on its merits? I don't remember him saying anything like that, but maybe I missed it.

As for Ron Paul's opposition to sanctions: it's certainly true that Ron Paul is not the worst imaginable candidate when it comes to trade issues.

John CCC - 12/2/2007

P.S...anti-Southern, pro-Lincoln types typically believe, as per their publik skool educashun, that Southerners were all racist slaveholders and the Yankees were all enlightened altruistic liberals.
Hardly. Lincoln was a fan of Prussia and an inspiration to later Total State fascism in Europe; he wanted to repatriate Blacks to Africa; As a lawyer he defended slave HOLDERS against runaway slaves; he launched a murderous war (the first and only one "required" to end slavery) and assault on civil liberties; The north was the financial beneficiary of the tarriff scam that leveraged teh South's Slave Economy; That slave economy HURT whites whose labour was consequently worth next to nothing; less than TWO PER CENT of southerners owned slaves, and sure as hell were not fighting to defend the plantation/slave owners who exploited them.
And no, I am not from the South.

John CCC - 12/1/2007

Why, if Cosmopolitanism is so crucial to your conception of libertarianism, are you down on association with Neo-Confederates?
As a libertarian surely it cannot be because you support the continued forced preservation of the Union, as did that most illibertarian of presidents, Lincoln?
And is not the unique culture of the American South not deserving of respect and their own, smaller units of Government?
While you make many good points, your over all thrust is one of Cultural Marxism, which is an even LESS likely sell than Paul's cultural Conservatism which already has adherents who need to embrace liberty, and which has succeeded to some degree or other, for centuries.
Stop being so tragically hip, and stop letting YOUR best be the enemy of the good. In other words, with respect, get over yourself.

Anthony Gregory - 12/1/2007

He shouldn't sign it if it leads to more state control and less liberty, which the opponents of such bills argue. But what he could do is veto all tariffs, for example.

It's funny that people attack Ron Paul for being anti-free trade when he's one of the few out there consistently against imposing sanctions on other countries, a truly murderous form of trade restriction.

Jive B Dadson - 12/1/2007

Never in your lifetime will there be a presidential candidate who agrees with you or me on every nuance of every policy. If that's what you insist on, you better run for the office yourself.

I do not agree with Ron Paul on every issue, but I have worked for his nomination every single day for months. If you want to save our liberties, I would strongly suggest that you re-direct your energies. This is probably our last chance. Join the Revolution. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

John Matthews - 12/1/2007

I agree with you that employers should be able to enter voluntary contracts with anyone. I also agree that anyone who wants to come here to work and build a better life for themselves should be free to do so. However, I don't believe you can allow open immigration into a welfare state. Fundamentally this is what Ron Paul is opposed to: the automatic transfer of wealth and privilege to people who have not earned what they receive. This is made possible by the over-reaching over-taxing federal government that has realized it can maintain and expand its power by selectively re-distributing the wealth of the American people.

Anthony Gregory - 12/1/2007

Taxing people to pay for national defense, or killing a single civilian by bomb, is unlibertarian. All wars in the modern sense are unlibertarian.

David Goldberg - 12/1/2007

I hate to say this, but when someone works so hard to find fault with the most successful libertarian candidate to date, I become suspicious.

This is particularly true when the author is Jewish, as we all know support for Israel is a "weak spot" in the minds of otherwise very libertarian thinkers.

Just to be clear, there are legitimate reasons not too support Ron Paul, but true libertarians should be very reluctant to squander this once in a generation opportunity to achieve so many important libertarian goals.

So, when I see someone is trying so hard to NOT support Ron Paul, I suspect an ulterior motive. It might even be unconscious on the part of the author.

The good news is that so many Jews have come in out strongly in support of Ron Paul, which warms my heart. I am now a "religious" reader of Glenn Greenwald, for example.

One last thing, I will agree that America should consider have open borders when Israel does and we get to see the result. You are in agreement, no?

Nick Bradley - 12/1/2007

Steven Horwitz,

per your libertarian urban renewal program, Ron Paul has loudly called for all three of your ideas to be enacted: he has called for an end to the War on Drugs (even in the debates), introduced a bill for a $5,000 per child tax credit, and has opposed the minimum wage since he entered public service.

Grant Beaty - 12/1/2007

If one accepts libertarian values, support of the war is more of a positive debate than a normative one. If one sees a imminent threat which the war is stopping, then one can still be libertarian. All defensive uses of force are of course preemptive in some sense, its just some causal chains of events are a lot more certain than others.

...of course, I think you'd have to be pretty deluded to see such a threat in Iraq, but that raises one's perceptions of reality into question, not one's moral values.

Grant Beaty - 12/1/2007

1) Paul is a 73 year old OB/GYN and Christian. He believes abortion, at least in many stages of pregnancy, is murder. We both disagree, but it would be hypocritical of him, as a libertarian, not to oppose it as a violation of liberty.

2) Paul has actually stated quite a few times that he would prefer open immigration if we had a free economy and no welfare state. But given that we do have a welfare state, he does seem to prefer to stop immigration. At first he seemed to support building a fence as a stop-gap until benefits could be denied to illegals, but he may have gone back on that in favor of simple boarder enforcement.

I believe the GAO indicates that illegal immigrants are a net drain on federal and state budgets, although I of course agree they are likely good for the economy as a whole. I believe Paul mainly objects to the subsidization of illegal immigration by working Americans (due to the fact that they tend to not pay taxes and do get some benefits).

Finally (and this relates to your third point), I think its important to remember that Paul is running for the GOP nomination. He needs to be seen as someone at least semi-republican, and he has done so by appearing to be a member of the old right. To the casual observer, he cannot come out in favor of NAFTA unless he explains to the "they're takin' our jobs" types that NAFTA is the best we can do in the current political climate (and no one wants to hear that from a candidate, see McCain's immigration bill).

Paul cannot come out in favor of immigration for similar reasons. He must present himself as being opposed to what republicans find revolting, and right now republicans see immigration as being subsidized by the state. So he must present his case as being against the current state of immigration in America, even if he comes off as being somewhat more anti-immigrant to the casual observer than he probably is. Anyone who actually wants to read into his positions can of course do so, and will find he liked the open immigration of the 19th century.

What Paul brings to the table is, I think, more valuable to younger people than the "hipness" of being cosmopolitan. People see him and they know he's a relic of a bygone era, and that even libertarianism has, to some extent, passed him by. But they see someone like that sticking to their ideas and their principles and actually succeeding, something that most probably thought impossible in politics. They aren't encouraged by his ideas as much as his unfailing honesty. Its a message that people can be idealistic and make a difference, and thats something the young always like to hear.

Most importantly to me, he represents a way to reconnect the American Dream with its roots in liberty, not statism.

Russell Hanneken - 11/30/2007

Anthony wrote, "A Ron Paul administration might not sign something like NAFTA, but so what? It would mean far more free trade than we've ever had — since, in principle, he opposes protectionism. So we don't need to debate over second-best solutions like managed trade; he promotes true free trade."

Paul may promote true free trade, but that doesn't mean he'll get it. What if true free trade isn't on the table?

Suppose Ron Paul were president, and a "managed trade" bill landed on his desk that would result on freer trade than we currently have. Should he veto it, and pass up the opportunity to eliminate some of the state's meddling in trade, just because he can't eliminate all of it?

It seems obvious to me that, absent other strategic concerns, Paul should sign the bill. I can't help but wonder if Paul's trade stance was adopted as a way of appeasing his libertarian fans while keeping his Texas constituents happy.

Jeff Riggenbach - 11/30/2007

"God forbid anyone say anything. . . positive about a libertarian who supports the war."

There are no libertarians who support the war. There are supporters of the war who unaccountably imagine themselves to be libertarians.


Stephan Kinsella - 11/30/2007

Steve, I have a similar view to Anthony. I see no libertarian problem with opposing Paul--first, I completely understand the refusal of some to compromise by favoring someone who has some significant views they disagree with (abortion, immigration, anarchism); I understand the loathing for the political process or the hope for a messianic political savior.

I am curious--what, in your mind, *is* a "progressive"; what does this even mean? Do you really think this concept is less vague and more meaningful than "liberal" or "leftist" or even "conservative"?

What is a "cosmopolitan", in a rigorous sense, especially in any coherent sense of relevance to libertarianism? Does it mean anything other than being tolerant and secular and living in a Big City with lots of pedestrians?

I won't ask what dynamism is, as I read Postrel's book, and was not persuaded by the relevance or accurateness of this concept. But I will ask--what is the "progress" that you seem to favor? The only coherent sense of "progress" that I can think of that has relevance to libertarianism is progress in terms of peace and prosperity--which are aspects or consequences of respect for libertarian rights.

Adam Ricketson - 11/30/2007

I think it's important to focus on political institutions because a corrupt political institution will make it impossible to push through any other reforms, whether they are cultural or economic.

I and many Democratic activists (progressives) are populists in the sense that we believe that many of the problems in this country result from the actions of a self-serving elite that combines political and economic power. This is in contrast to the elitist libertarians who believe that most problems result from a greedy and ignorant populace trying to piggyback on the achievements of übermen.

Finally, if we really see ourselves aligned with progressives (and want to be taken seriously by them), I think we need to show that we really want political equality. At the least, we can direct them away from their more dangerous ideas about how to achieve political equality.

P.S. I think that making the legal system accessible to regular people is an important part of this political equality. If the legal system is stacked against the little guy, then all this "free market" stuff is BS because the referee is biased. One part of this may be providing adequate public defenders to criminal defendants.

Adam Ricketson - 11/30/2007

Thank you for your response. Sorry for sidetracking this discussion, but I'm a bit obsessed with the problem of reaching out to Democrats (I came here via the Freedom Democrats website).

On your "urban renewal" list, I agree that those would be great reforms. However, I know that Democrats would take issue with each of them on some front or another, but I suspect those issues could be sidetracked by throwing a little money at the problem. So here's what I'd say:
1) Legalize and tax drugs to limit access and provide funding for rehab services
2) Increase school choice and competition (internally or via vouchers), but be willing to increase funding at least to make sure that per capita funding is not diluted by an influx of students that are currently outside of the state school system.
3) Replace Minimum wage with an Earned Income Tax Credit (or some other reform to the tax system to aid low-income workers) and possibly replace licensing with some sort of publicly-funded inspection regime (this is totally of the top of my head).

Basically, while these substitutions may not be ideal, I think that they remove the most harmful aspects of these problems and may convince Democrats that we aren't just trying to gut programs that they think protect workers and consumers.

Steven Horwitz - 11/30/2007

I did Anthony. No worries.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Steven, did you see my comment where I tried explaining that I was not trying to attack you on the war or anything else? I am only disagreeing (even if sometimes a bit firmly) with your assessment of Ron Paul's appeal to young people and others, whom I agree we should reach out to.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007


And let me add that I really like Brink Lindsey's recent book, but I can't accept his complacency about the damage that statism does - precisely for the kinds of reasons you note here. It's hard to say things are just fine and dandy when the prisons are bursting at the seams and mostly with "criminals" who had no victims.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

OK, fair enough. But I think Brink Lindsay's approach (which is not the same exactly as Postrel's, but similar) would allow for a government far bigger than I could ever tolerate.

I agree there has been improvement in many ways. But the prison industrial complex alone makes it hard to say there's been improvement overall. There are a couple million Americans behind bars. It was a tiny fraction of that number only 30 years ago.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007

No, as I think I've been clear about, the state is the overwhelming barrier to liberty and hence to progress. It isn't the only barrier to progress, but it's by far the biggest.

As for the latter point, about whether we are freer today than in the past, I'd say several things:

1. The enormous growth in government over the last, say, 100 years has surely made us less free, not to mention non-US citizens in the case of the current War.

2. At the same time, government has grown overall, it has shrunk in some places. I agree that we are notably more free in our social choices than we were (especially if "we" includes women, persons of color, gays/lesbians etc) 100 years ago. The state's role in policing those choices is both smaller and less effective. Free speech and expression alone is much greater than the past. That is no reason to be complacent about getting the state out of the areas where it has grown and does great damage.

3. I do think it's true that we have more choices/options in life than people did when the state was smaller. I'm being careful to say that that is not necessarily the same as liberty in the political and economic sense. And I'd also argue those increased options are largely the result of the amazing power of markets/capitalism to create the wealth that makes those choices possible, *even when it is being hampered by the state.* Imagine where we'd be if the state were shrunk in those areas too!

For me, this point is best summed up by the question: in what time period of human history would you want your children to be born? For me, the answer is an unambiguous "now." Despite the state's growth and the problems it brings with it, there's never been a better time to be alive. Again, that's doesn't mean we should be complacent. For me, it goes to show just how powerful freedom is in that even when it is restricted, it still generates immense progress and human betterment

If libertarianism ever won the day, just think what we might do.

I guess, Anthony, at the end of the day, I DO see human betterment and progress as the ultimate goal but I also see liberty as the overwhelmingly central means to that end and the state as the largest barrier to it. To emphasize progress does not mean to deemphasize statism if the latter is the barrier to the former.

Stephan Kinsella - 11/29/2007

"It's not the fedgov's role to protect us from all rights violations, otherwise it would have to impose anarchy throughout the land, and such an effort would be incoherent."

That is the most wacky, wild, mind-blowing, almost slippery, elusive, can't-pub-my-finger-on-why-it's-wrong, argument for federalism I've ever seen. Congrats!

Bill Woolsey - 11/29/2007

I wish more libertarians were involved in the RP campaign.

The core of the "movement" are libertarians and "patriots." And, of course, the new people being attacted.

My primary concern is "conspiracy theory." It isn't so much the 9-11 truthers that you hear in the press, but rather, "the secret owners of the Fed are racking in the profits from issuing currency," and the "they are tricking people into paying the unconstituitonal income tax, just stop paying." But there is also the "CFR and Trilateral commmission" are taking over.

Immigration is important among rank and file supportes (at least in SC.) I don't support open borders at this time. But I think there are many supporters who are more nativist that Ron Paul.

I don't want to encourage people to get involved in a campaign to argue against the candidates positions. But there are, unfortunately, people who are involved in the campaign who will add other arguments beyond Paul's.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Hippies and suits? What does this have to do with libertarianism? I wear suits. I also wear tie-dyed shirts and play in a rock band. But I don't see any conflict at all here. Libertarianism is not about lifestyle, but property rights, freedom of association and peace. And strategically, I think it's better to have the suit speaking on behalf of liberty. The youth will still listen. But the suits that make up so much of this country won't listen to you if you don't wear a suit and tie. That perhaps shouldn't be the way it is, but if you're going to bring up strategy, I think conservative dress and radical ideas are the right combination.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Steven, I am not trying to bash you on the war. What have I said that is attacking you? I am disagreeing with you, including in your view that progressive warmongering libertarians are more able to spread the message we want than Ron Paul is. But where did I attack you on the war? Really?

If dynamism doesn't imply antiwar, anti-interventionism, than it is a very weak strain of libertarian thought.

But I want you to point at the invective. I meant no insult of you and don't think I insulted you in anything I wrote. And I myself criticize Ron Paul's positions — including on foreign policy, where he's not as antiwar as I am, and immigration, and abortion (though I'm starting to think his position on this isn't all that statist--third-trimester, partial-birth abortion is not the first thing I'd legalize, though I wouldn't want the state involved), and intellectual property, and the state, and welfare gradualism, and veterans benefits, and a couple other things.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

It seems to me the dynamist argument is to deemphasize the importance of statism and instead emphasize the importance of "progress." Isn't this your emphasis here? It is a similar reasoning that led several libertarians recently to say that big government is not in itself a big problem if we are effectively more free in our life choices.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007

Just a quick reply Stephan:

I'm not at all trying to drum RP out of the libertarian movement, and you are quite right that many of the issues I disagree with him on are legitimate debates among libertarians. My own view is that "my" side of these debates is both a better long-run strategy for building a broad movement for change and truer (note the comparative there, rather than the absolute) to libertarianism's cosmopolitan/progressive past.

There is no doubt that Ron Paul-like libertarianism and Horwitz-like libertarianism have uneasily co-existed for decades (I can remember a Michigan state LP convention in the early 80s with the suits and the hippies barely speaking) and both have a legitimate claim to be libertarianism. I think my version is simply more true to our long history and better strategically.

I also think it's correct.

Stephan Kinsella - 11/29/2007

I agree w/ Anthony. Steve, I don't think Paul is as "culturally conservative" as you imply, in the sense of being some kind of youth-alienating fuddy-duddy. I think you are right in part that he's attracting youth for telling it like it is and being principled and consistent; but also, because he does seem friendly to and even comfortable in the "Internet" age; if you see his answers, say on YouTube, to questions about gay marriage or drug use, he has a very "young" sounding message, with only a hint of conservativism--he says, yes, that approving of someone's right to do drugs etc. is not condoning it, but he forcefully proclaims their right to do what they want with their own lives and bodies, in hyper-libertarian, "progressive" language.

Re your comments about "1) I believe that libertarian policies will better achieve most of the aims of the left than will their own preferred policies and 2) libertarians should be joining forces with the left on cultural issues, e.g. feminism and gender issues." I am not sure I agree, but this is something reasonable libertarians can disagree on.

"Paul may be the most libertarian of the bunch from either party,"

May be? Surely there is no doubt about this? Even if one opposes him on libertarian grounds.

"1) Abortion. I'm strongly pro-choice and I do believe that one can and should find constitutional protection for the right to choose. I agree that Roe was bad constitutional law, but I'd say it got to the right result for the wrong reasons."

This is not an unreasonable libertarian view, but of course many libertarians are not 100% pro-choice. In any event, as you note, he seems not to want to outlaw it on the federal level.

"Granted, Paul's argument to give it back to the states is better than a constitutional amendment banning it, but I think that forcing pregnant women to carry to term is akin to slavery, and in the same way I would not tolerate a state that permitted slavery, I am unwilling to tolerate the banning of abortion at the state level."

This is also a reasonable perspective, but I think what is wrong and unreasonable is to imply that libertarians who hold the opposite view are in favor of the local evils that they don't want to empower a higher, central state to stop.

"I have always found talk of "states' rights" by libertarians to be strange - states have no rights, only individuals do. (The language of federalism is perfectly fine of course.) Not to mention that "states' rights" remains, like it or not, a certain kind of signal to neo-confederates and other folks I'd rather not be associated with."

I actually tend to agree w/ the latter statement, but really, libertarianism has no position on the "right kind of language". And personally, I think it's a bit disingenuous to harp on the term of art used to describe federalism. "States' rights" of course does not imply states have rights--it's a way of describing relative *constitutional* powers in a federal constitutional scheme.

"2) Immigration. I'm very much an open-borders kinda guy. Paul's "build a wall" and denial of automatic citizenship to children born in the US both strike me as not just bad policy (immigrants contribute much more than they "take" - legal or illegal) but also highly anti-libertarian."

I don't see how one can argue it's clearly *unlibertarian* to deny citizenship to immigrants.

Anyway, your position here is a reasonable libertarian one, but you have to grant that probably the majority of libertarians are not 100% open borders--i.e., they want *some* controls, or conditions. So merely favoring *some* limits on immigration is not a clearly unlibertarian position (or at least, not one resolved). In fact, it seems to me Paul's immigration position is more liberal than most libertarians', since really he seems to favor basically no controls as the state is whittled away to its proper size.

"3) Free trade. I understand his concerns about the regional free trade agreements and the ways in which they empower trans-national organizations to settle disputes. I also share his concerns about the special interest components of those agreements. That said, I believe those agreements have been net gains for free trade and for the well-being of much of the world. My problem with Paul's position is that it's too focused on the impact of these agreements on the US, ignoring the fact that they do much good for the rest of the world, whatever the effects at home. I think the effects are positive for us too, and I don't fear any "loss of sovereignty" from them. The inward looking aspect of his stance on free trade (and immigration) is a real problem for me."

I tend to agree with some of this, except that it's not a "real problem" for me, since I think the arguments pro and con NAFTA etc. are not as clear-cut in favor of NAFTA as you seem to think.

"What is so difficult and so wrong about saying racism exists in other forms and that as people committed to equal and individual rights we should work to end it?"

? Does Paul not say this, or imply that he would disagree?

Re your comments "If the true spirit of libertarianism is a cosmopolitan one..." and "Libertarianism's progressive spirit is one of cosmopolitanism and openness to cultural change (perhaps best captured in our own time by Virginia Postrel's work)."

I suppose this is subject to debate, but I don't think this view is shared by all libertarians. I tend to find terms like cosmopolitan, progressive, dynamism to be a bunch of unrigorous claptrap. It may be okay for liberal arts type analysis, for nonrigorous mainstream "opinion" essays, but how it clearly and rigorously factors into libertarianism--which is about individual rights, property rights, justice, peace, prosperity, etc.--is not clear. I would revert to David Gordon's demolition of Postrel's stuff in this essay: . I personally see almost no value, and indeed negative value, to trying to prop up our libertarian principles upon such muzzy-headed terms as "progressive" and "cosmopolitan". They are no more meaningful than "liberal/left" or "conservative/right". The conventional "left/right" spectrum is misleading and we reject it as libertarians (with 2D charts like the Nolan chart, or with an aggression/peace axis etc.), and those who think "conservatism" and "liberalism" are coherent ideas are simply wrong... likewise, with "progressive" and, even worse, "cosmopolitan." Gack. Might as well well call ourselves "progressive, cosmopolitan, spontaneous, polycentric market liberals". Give me a break.

Aeon J. Skoble - 11/29/2007

I disagree with RP on a couple points also. But I can't help but think that the positives greatly outweight the negatives. 1, he's not only against the Iraq War, he's running as a Republican against the Iraq War. That's huge, esp. since, as I've argued before, the Dems are only opposed because it's Bush's war, not on principle. Indeed many of them supported the war and now only oppose it as a campaign strategy. That's nauseating. RP actually has a _principled_ objection, which means that, unlike all the other candidates of both parties, he'd avoid future such adventurism. 2, he's the only candidate of either party who is serious about respecting the constitution. While constitutionalism isn't the same thing as libertarianism, it's true that constitutionalism would produce more checks on ever-expanding government. The GOP rhetoric about small government will remain rhetoric with any of his rivals, but with RP might have some reality.
3. Defederalizing abortion, as someone noted upthread, would be highly unlikely to undermine reproductive freedom. If Roe were repealed tomorrow, that wouldn't "make abortion illegal." Plus, Paul was good on RU-486. If anything this gives him street cred with social conservatives while not threatening liberty in any substantial way - that's all win.
4. Is ANYONE running who is even REMOTELY a more pleasing prospect? No. So the choices are vote RP or stay home. I voted for RP on the LP ticket in 1992, and then, largely influenced by Wendy, switched to stay-home mode until 2004, when Roderick finally persuaded me that voting LP was preferable to staying home. But here I have a chance to vote for a libertarian who's NOT running as a third party candidate, but on a platform designed to co-opt one of the two extant major parties. So, seems to me either Wendy's stay-home argument was right all along, or I should vote for RP, for all the reasons I voted for him in 92 and all the reasons I voted for whoever the LP guy was in 04.

Less Antman - 11/29/2007

First, let me add what I should have put in my first post: thanks for taking up David's challenge. You wrote a very thought-provoking piece on this topic.

Second, I share your sense that Paul's views are too conservative to stick with young people, but that is one reason it is so valuable for us to be engaged actively with this campaign (and not just wish it well), and to participate in the Paul forums (,, a thousand meetup groups) to intelligently and gently add our voice to discussions of the issues. There is one forum on devoted specifically to issues, and that receives an unusually large number of first-time posters looking for guidance on some of the more troublesome aspects of Paul's campaign. It is a great opportunity, and so many of the most intelligent and respectful libertarians I've ever known are on this (HNN) site and could be the catalyst for influencing open minds on those (the various Paul) sites.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007


Why are you, indirectly, bashing me about the war? I don't agree with Postrel and I fully support RP's stance on the war. I simply do not thing VP's views on the war are a necessary consequence of her earlier work. I've yet to see an argument from YOU that such a connection exists.

Chill out. I'm with you and Ron on the war. If you read my last sentence, you'd see that I said that ending the Wars on Iraq and Drugs might be the most important pro-freedom things we could do.

This is exactly why I hesitated about writing this post: God forbid anyone say anything critical of Ron or anything positive about a libertarian who supports the war. You can bet that the Apostles of the Church of the True Believers will make sure you know that you've strayed from the Truth.

Again, I think Ron's the best candidate out there. That doesn't mean he's perfect. And the issues I raised in criticisms also have a long history in the libertarian/classical liberal movement. It IS possible to disagree without the kind of ridiculous invective you're tossing around here.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007

I don't think that's her argument at all Anthony. Change is predicated on liberty - you can't have positive change without it.

I think she's wrong in her apparent belief that the "forces of terror" are a bigger threat to US liberty than is the US government's empire- and nation-building, but I am willing to believe that she thinks it's ultimately about liberty. If I'm wrong about that, so be it, but I've read enough of her stuff to think that's her argument, not that change in and of itself is more important than liberty.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Also, Ron Paul emphasized that while many of his principles are traditional Americanism, he also sees libertarianism as a "new" idea. He is a great spokesman. Young people don't need a tie-dyed moderate or neocon. They are more impressed by the protestant cultural conservative who wants to smash the entire US emprie.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Young people are not going to be won over by "dynamism." It is so 1990s. The youth want principle, radicalism and honesty — including timeless principle. Ron Paul is far more hip than the dynamists are, and most young people recognize it. You'd be surprised how many of my non-libertarian friends, mostly on the left, mostly in their early and mid 20s, respect and admire Ron Paul. They are not excited by some warmongering philosophy of libertine conservatism, that says you can get wasted and wear whatever you want so long as you cheer on the murderous police state. They'd rather follow the 73 year old doctor in the suit and tie than the nationalist, pro-war neocon-lite hipsters. Thank goodness.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Too conservative to stick with young people?? Have you been paying attention? Ron Paul has gained more excitement for unadulterated libertarian ideas among young people than the last 20 years of campaigns and think tanks combined! Look around. The youth movement for liberty is at least ten times as big as I ever before imagined it. Criticize Ron Paul all you want, but he has not made it harder to reach out to the youth. He has, in fact, made it likely that the movement will survive and grow more strongly than we could have expected before.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

He doesn't talk much about abortion or immigration, except when he's asked. He mostly talks about the war, the civil liberties, the torture, the secret prisons, the empire, the general loss of liberty, the massive spending and the Fed. 98% of the time he speaks, he is speaking the gospel. The other 2% of the time, he is saying things I disagree with but which some classical liberals have always held.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007


Ron Paul goes out of his way to make war the big issue. Ask him about taxes and spending? He'll point out the war. During the debates, when he's attacked, he goes on the offensive and says the US should dismantle the empire, that we get attacked because of it. This alone makes him a hero. In the scheme of things, I regard him the same way I'd regard an abolitionist champion in the 1850s who railed against slavery but happened to deviate moderately on local internal improvements.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

On economics for the poor, Ron Paul has been a hero. By talking about the Fed hurting the poor and helping Wall Street, he has undone a lot of the stereotype that libertarians only care for the rich. And he's a gradualist on welfare, which shows that he has the right priorities. (Though I'm not a gradualist.)

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Libertarianism is about liberty, not cultural change. I embrace cultural change, but not as an end in and of itself. Postrel's dynamism puts change above liberty and principle, which is why she is so bad on war.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

No one has a right to be an American citizen. But I disagree with Ron Paul about immigration. Though I think his immigration policy would be the least unlibertarian of any candidates running.

A Ron Paul administration might not sign something like NAFTA, but so what? It would mean far more free trade than we've ever had — since, in principle, he opposes protectionism. So we don't need to debate over second-best solutions like managed trade; he promotes true free trade.

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2007

Even if states have no rights to ban abortion (and Paul thinks that only doctors should get in trouble for extreme cases, like third trimester), they also have no right to tax, to arrest non-violent people, to implement criminal justice in any way that violates rights (through forced testimony and juries). But should the federal government forcibly stop states from violating such rights? No. It's not the fedgov's role to protect us from all rights violations, otherwise it would have to impose anarchy throughout the land, and such an effort would be incoherent.

John Kunze - 11/29/2007

I've been a libertarian since about 1970 and am struck by how far we've come since then. Libertarians are now part of the debate among U.S. intellectuals and policy makers.

This did not happen because we controlled every reference to libertarianism or vetted every spokesperson. Nor is it the result of any one person, faction, or process.

So I don't worry so much now that Ron Paul will be viewed as "the" libertarian voice.

I don't think Ron Paul's philosophy will stick with many young people either, but if thru the campaign they are exposed to other libertarian influences, a few will become libertarians. No one serious expects a tidal wave.

But we could look back in 20 years and see that this was one thing that led to broader public knowledge about and enthusiasm for libertarian ideas.

(See also my comment on the Obama post preceeding this.)

David T. Beito - 11/29/2007


My own experience that most pro-Paul activists do not share his views on abortion (and probably immigration) but also regard him, as I do, as light years ahead of the other candidates.

At the last Paul meet-up here, for example, someone asked the thirty or so folks who attended (the majority were students) if anyone was pro-life. Not a single person raised their hands and one volunteered that she disagreed with Paul. We are talking about Alabama here!

Like you, I am pro-choice on abortion but would be perfectly okay devolving the issue to the states. Especially today, it is so inexpensive to travel (and so many people would be willing to form groups to pay the transportation costs of poor women) that federalism do little harm to the rights of women to have abortions.

Devolution would have the added benefit of getting the federal government out of the picture which, in the current context, is generally a good thing.

My preference would be to devolve abortion even lower to counties or cities but, unfortunately, that is not remotely possible.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007

And I disagree with VP on the war, vigorously. However, the dynamist vision that she articulated (pre 9/11) is one that I think we *should* sign on to, and one that I think, properly understood, should put her on the "anti" side of the war. I think Randy Barnett's wrong about the war too, but that doesn't undermine his constitutional legal scholarship.

My cite to VP was about the "spirit" of libertarianism, not specific policy issues.

Jeff Riggenbach - 11/29/2007

"For me, the reigning issues this election cycle are the Iraq occupation and the Neocon influence in politics generally and Paul is spot on - yet you are posing Virginia Postrel as an alternative? I'm going on vague impressions here, but isn't she a dupe for the bogus war on terror and a lukewarm opponent of the Iraq adventure? Surely a better figurehead for us left libertarians can be found."

One would hope so.


Scott Semans - 11/29/2007

I agree with the author's observations on RP's deficiencies as a libertarian - after all he's a Constitutionalist, not a Minarchist - but the important point is that he is running as a Republican conservative, not an LP candidate. As such he is poking a finger in the eye of the religious bigots, Neocon dupes, warmongers and big-government types who have disgraced that party, and is diverting a portion of its base. Monkeywrenching the Republicans is reason enough to enthusiastically support Paul, and I'm much more enthusiastic about him as a Republican than when he ran as the LP candidate. What you refer to as a lack of cosmopolitanism within the liberty movement is a deep problem of long standing, so it's not as though RP's galvanizing efforts are causing net harm. For me, the reigning issues this election cycle are the Iraq occupation and the Neocon influence in politics generally and Paul is spot on - yet you are posing Virginia Postrel as an alternative? I'm going on vague impressions here, but isn't she a dupe for the bogus war on terror and a lukewarm opponent of the Iraq adventure? Surely a better figurehead for us left libertarians can be found.

Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007

Two quick notes:

1. I can't find it right now, but somewhere on his site, Roderick Long recently said something like "given several of his positions, I can't endorse Ron Paul, but I wish his campaign well." That's just about my own view.

2. I remained concerned, however, that the libertarianism that Paul is peddling is simply too conservative to really stick with young people. I am also concerned that, on issues like trade and immigration, it's not very libertarian. And I do worry that people will take RP's specific positions as being "what all libertarians think" even though candidates from other ideologies disagree on particular issues.

The Paul campaign is very likely to be a short-term benefit to libertarianism (esp to the extent that young folks see it as part of the anti-war movement). I'm not at all convinced it will last over time. I'd be happy to be wrong, esp. if the longer term benefits include a casting off of the less-than-savory elements of his support.

John Kunze - 11/29/2007

I agree with most of the post but also the responses. The post offers misgivings about Paul's positions and how he runs his campaign, but it doesn't say we would be better off without Ron Paul -- would anyone argue that?

The responders generally feel the campaign is having a positive impact. I think it is a great (but far from perfect) opportunity to get some libertarian ideas into the public debate.

Paul in his best momements gives a clear, principled defense of non-intervenionism, the rule of law, limited government, and the Constitution as a binding document on the government. He even comes off as a compassionate and thoughtful guy. This is priceless.

But could we get him to talk more about the loss of liberty under the Patriot Act, and less on abortion, trade pacts, immigration, and state's rights?

Daniel J. D'Amico - 11/29/2007

Professor Horowitz,

I share the same concerns over Paul's stance on abortion but get solace from the fact that he admits it is not a top priority. Second I shared the same concern over his immigration policy. Though I have never heard him specifically claim to want to "build a wall." I was put somewhat at ease after hearing that he would never support criminal consequences imposed on American employers who hired illegal immigrants. I was also under the impression that his formal immigration policy would be on net more liberal, i.e. easier to gain legitimate citizenship (I could be wrong here). I'm not sure if this solves all of the issues concerning immigration but it does draw attention to the difference between Paul's apparently de jure "anti-immigrationism" and the de-facto more liberal reality.


Steven Horwitz - 11/29/2007

Thanks Adam.

I didn't address the issues of economic and political equality because they weren't central to my specific concerns about Ron Paul. Were I to write a piece on "progressive libertarianism" in general, I would address them. For now, I'll just say this:

1. I completely agree with this point. I cannot understand why, for example, libertarians don't consistently and loudly say more about how deregulation and markets can better serve the needs of the poor, especially the urban poor of color. Just as a quick example, were I running for office, here would be my "urban renewal" program planks:

a. End the War on Drugs
b. Make enormous steps toward offering parents private alternatives to public schools
c. Abolish minimum wage and occupational licensing laws

I would do those before I even began to tackle the welfare state, for example. Those three alone would, I think, have dramatic positive effects on the educational and employment opportunities for, especially, young African-American males. They would also reduce the crime rate and the incarceration rate significantly. Then I would work on the ways in which welfare, taxation, and related policies are distorting the incentives to marry. I want the state to be neutral toward marriage, but there are ways right now that it is actively penalized by the incentives created by policy. And we know pretty clearly that marriage has real and positive effects on a variety of other social outcomes.

One could certainly come up with other examples, but why would we not at least try to make this kind of argument to urban communities, as well as in conversation with folks on the left?

2. I have long been intrigued by the "anti-corporate" libertarian literature. To the extent that current organizational forms are products of the state, we need to look at them critically. To the extent that particular understandings of property rights (e.g., IP stuff) can be seen as locking in privileges, we should look at that too. I'm not a Kevin Carson type, but I think there are issues there to explore and ways to connect with the left.

3. I'm much less interested in reforming the political process mostly because I think the best way to improve it is indeed by taking the money out of it. But the way you do that is not by regulating political speech, but by shrinking the state. When the prize is much much smaller, the resources spent to obtain it will shrink as well.

Just a few quick thoughts.

Less Antman - 11/29/2007

I agree with Bill that Paul's pro-life position shouldn't be a big cause of concern, because it is an area of legitimate debate in libertarian circles, because the LP has nominated a pro-life candidate on several previous occasions, and because of Paul's consistent federalism on this topic:

(1) He opposed FDA restrictions on RU-486 (the morning after pill)
(2) He voted against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act that made it a federal crime to transport a minor across state boundaries to get an abortion, and
(3) He voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act that made it a federal crime to harm a fetus during the commission of a violent crime against a pregnant woman.

I think Paul's opposition to recent so-called "free trade" agreements is also acceptable, since he does make clear he supports free trade, and I think left-libertarians ought to look closely at the intellectual property claims that are being asserted in these agreements that make them weapons of mercantilism.

I won't defend Paul's views on immigration. I was disgusted in 1980 when Ed Clark said we couldn't have free immigration until the country achieved "full employment," and Paul offers no libertarian or even constitutional support for immigration quotas or time-restricted visas. This is also the source of his support among white supremacists. I also think this is the one issue on which his answers make him sound like a typical politician, as he is incredibly vague about the measures he supports. I don't accept his opposition to "amnesty" on grounds of the "rule of law" as this would justify letting peaceful drug users and violators of other victimless crime laws rot in prison.

But I'm an enthusiastic supporter of the Paul campaign, and feel it has the potential for an explosion of interest among college students in libertarianism that will long outlive it, and won't involve the cultural conservativism that Steve rightfully laments as an obstacle to a broad movement (ultimately, it is one reason I don't see Paul winning election under virtually any plausible scenario).

Just as most anti-political action libertarians of today were once members of the LP, many future hard core libertarians will trace their first attraction to the movement to the Paul campaign, and I want as much libertarian participation as possible to help that along.

Personally, I spend much time on Paul web sites discussing tough issues, and trying to influence other members of these forums on the topics of immigration, prostitution, global warming, drug laws, and other subjects, and recognize (not by name but by arguments) other radical libertarians on these forums who also realize that participating in the Paul campaign is a crucial form of outreach to people who now see themselves as allies of libertarians but who are clearly not libertarians at this point. Young people, especially, respect consistency: bringing a young Paul supporter all the way to anarcho-capitalism is a project with a high chance of success.

If War is the Health of the State, I can't imagine NOT supporting Paul enthusiastically, especially when he takes so many body blows in debates and open hostility in the media and the blogosphere to stand up for peace. And this is a man who has consistently offered the hand of friendship to libertarians, even when he has had disagreements. He wrote the Foreword to Harry Browne's LIBERTY A-Z (and eulogized him on the floor of Congress last year), and provided an enthusiastic review that is on the back cover of Mary Ruwart's anarcho-capitalist HEALING OUR WORLD If he can overlook some disagreements, so can we: this is an alliance and not a blanket endorsement of everything Paul believes, and there are a LOT of culturally tolerant people in this campaign who are open to further influence if we engage them actively.

Bill Woolsey - 11/29/2007

I more or less agree with Steve on
the three issues he mentions.

Yet I strongly support Ron Paul.

The war in Iraq, and staying out of
a war with Iran is a very important issue.

I believe this is the defining issue of the Paul campaign. That is, the media sees this as what is important about Paul, mostly because this is where he differs from the other Repubican candidates.

Paul is the anti-war Republican. And then maybe a short mention that he is a libertarian who wants to close down a bunch of government agencies.

I have no problem with that message.

I am pro-choice, but consider it a grey area. I am not concerned that Ron Paul will create the impression that all libertarians are pro-life. When he was at the College of Charleston yesterday, he got the question about how his pro-life position is contrary to libertarian ideas.

Perhaps because I consider abortion a grey area, I am more open to the ideae of settling the issue state-by-state. There seem to me to be many other issues that are more plausibly setting by the Federal courts. I don't mind running as a pro-choice politician in South Carolina.

On immigration, I don't hear Paul ever worry about our "american" culture being overcome by foreigners. Simiarly, he doesn't talk about them "stealing" our jobs.

He instead focuses on the burden on public services. I think this is a very libertarian concern.

He also argues that the principle of "rule of law" is inconsistent with amnesty and illegal immigration in general. It is "illegal." All I really can say about this rationale is that it isn't bad as some of the others.

Ron Paul calls for free trade. I don't share his worries about NAFTA or the WTO. I don't have any problem with him running on the program of unilateral free trade.

Ron Paul has been insisting that he isn't an isolationist, but rather a noninterventionist. Regadless of what you think of the usage of terms, he always explains that he favors trade, friendship, travel, etc. He just doesn't favor nation building, etc.

Adam Ricketson - 11/29/2007

Thanks for this piece, I think this is a great presentation of the cultural differences between "right" and "left" libertarianism, but it seems to ignore the issues of economic and political equality, which are a core part of progressive politics.

Do you have any suggestions on those issues? I have a few suggestions...

For economic issues, I see two ways of framing progressive libertarian ideas:
1) Focus on the process of economic liberalization, and explicitly prioritize economic reforms that primarily and directly help the least-well off members of society.
2) Seek to reform core aspects of our property system which place the poor at a disadvantage (in the manner of the more radical left-libertarian figures such as Henry George and Benjamin Tucker).

For politics, I think we need to provide alternatives to campaign finance restrictions and seek libertarian reforms that would equalize citizen participation in government. Personally, I favor greater competition/choice in elections (, and possibly a bottom-up referendum system.