Strong opinions, weakly held

Are libertarians cultural free riders?

L’Hote accuses of libertarians of holding liberals in contempt even as they revel in the culture that liberals created:

Cosmopolitan libertarians live in liberal urban enclaves, surrounded by liberals, taking advantage of the kind of governmental cultural and transportation infrastructure that liberals created. They consume movies, novels, music, and theater crafted in overwhelming majorities by leftists. They operate in environments where the liberal spirit of tolerance and freedom from conformity underpins everything, yet they will identify again and again the liberal hand as the one of villainy.

It’s not just liberals, either. Plenty of conservatives certainly live in big cities and enjoy the best that blue states have to offer. Here’s his point:

I don’t understand why these people believe that they can express such disdain for cultural liberalism while maintaining the benefits of it. There’s a bizarre faith among this country’s rarefied political class that they can cede every major political battle to the the reactionary fringe and yet maintain their arty bohemian privileged lifestyles.

The modern pluralistic society that we appear to enjoy was built by people whose ideas were seen as radical in their day, and I assume they had plenty of scorned heaped upon them by their beneficiaries back then as well. That said, the next time you see a libertarian gushing about their favorite taco truck, you can feel free to make a rude gesture.


  1. There appears to be an assumption in your post that liberals are the radicals and libertarians are the status quo. I don’t think this is correct. In reality, it is exactly the opposite. (And did liberals really create “governmental cultural and transportation infrastructure”? I think this was created by everyone.)

    The US government is dominated by special interests, from banking to oil to military to welfare to unions, etc. My understanding is that liberals typically want government to solve problems rather than the free market, and that is exactly what we are seeing in the form of special interests. If I have this right, then the government is becoming more and more liberal with time, because they keep trying to solve more problems, and thus get bigger and bigger. The problems they are trying to solve are the problems brought to them by special interests. We are living in an experiment of liberalism.

    Libertarians are the radicals for wanting to remove government from people’s lives. It is liberals that are the status quo, not the libertarians, and that is why government keeps increasing in size, and not decreasing. Libertarians want exactly the opposite of the status quo. And they are losing to the liberals.

    (FWIW, conservatives in government may say they are for small government, but it doesn’t mean much when they never decrease the size of government, but actually increase it instead. Thus they are actually liberals according to my definition, by allowing special interests to influence government to try to solve more problems. There aren’t many genuine libertarians in government. Ron Paul is the only one I know of.)

  2. As a former libertarian (and I take issue with Astrohacker’s notion that Ron Paul is one, he’s come out against freedoms in many circumstances, he’s just against the Federal government having lots of control), I think it’s totally possible to look at a social structure and say “I think this structure can be maintained through different mechanisms”.

    One of the factors that has driven me from libertarianism in general is that I find a distinct lack among Libertarians of actively seeking to build the mechanisms to support that structure differently, rather they seem intent on tearing down the supports that currently exist, but I think that understanding that distinction is important.

    This is the difference between saying “not my problem”, and “how can I help my neighbors build a mechanism to solve this problem that involves enlightened cooperation, and not the threat of violence”. Because, pragmatically, most people don’t care if the cooperation stems from voluntary behaviors or violence, and thus are absolutely fine with the violent solution (as we currently implement it).

    And, frankly, my dropping objectivism and libertarianism was a matter of saying “life’s too short to live ethically, communal violence is pragmatic”, and now I vote Democrat. Mostly.

    What I have found is that now that I’m getting involved in governance at several levels I’m moving back towards the attitude that we need a lot more individual participation in the processes of making our society work, and that outsourcing this work to institutions will never be as effective as individuals taking a personal interesting in making society better. And we need to build those structures so that we can take the process further than the governmental institutions can.

    And I think that’s a libertarian attitude that’s directly in conflict with your view of libertarianism above.

  3. This makes a very strange read because I don’t actually see Will Wilkinson mocking the left, neither in the post that L’Hôte links to (which is simply making a claim about the structure of support that parties enjoy) nor in general. If it’s really so important to rail against these terrible libertarians, surely L’Hôte could have done a better job of identifying them than to pick on a prominent “liberaltarian” such as Wilkinson.

    Also: “Cosmopolitan leftists live in conservative urban enclaves, surrounded by conservatives, taking advantage of the kind of economic infrastructure that conservatives created. They consume food crafted in overwhelming majorities by capitalists…” etc. etc.

    This may be true, but I’m very far from convinced that it’s a helpful attitude to take. And if we follow L’Hôte’s logic, must we forbid atheists from enjoying Bach chorales?

  4. When did the Tea Party become a libertarian movement? I thought it was mostly fiscal conservatism with spinkles of the religious right for flavor?

    I also don’t understand the Taco Truck comment. The whole food truck fight in Raleigh seemed to be big government democrats trying to keep food trucks away from their precious downtown restaurants. As someone that considers themselves a libertarian, I’m all for food trucks even if I don’t frequent them.

  5. I was more referring to immigration than to property rights when it comes to food trucks. I don’t think the fight over food trucks cleaves down party lines. Restaurant owners are usually small business owners, and I would imagine many of them are Republicans. I, of course, am a Democrat and am completely in favor of letting food trucks park anywhere they can set up shop safely. It’s funny, I think both parties are generally geared toward protecting incumbents in their own way. Democrats on behalf of unions and Republicans on behalf of business owners. Entrepreneurs pursuing disruptive business opportunities tend not to have many advocates in government.

  6. Rafe, most libertarians I know of are in favor of more open immigration policies, some even to the point of having open borders. Certainly the guy I’m backing for the Republican nomination (Gary Johnson) is pro-immigration and is in fact a hair away from being pro-amnesty. I’m not sure it’s fair to paint any group with such a wide brush.

    I do agree that neither party really likes disruptive groups/businesses. After all, who wants their power threatened? And there is no doubt the parties are about the power not the people.

  7. Well, politicians want to hang onto their jobs, same as everybody.

  8. A lot of people seem to define ‘free’ to mean ‘unregulated’. It’s this belief that somehow the market will regulate bad behavior by some sort of magic (or invisible hand, what have you) that people cling to in the face of tons of empirical evidence to the contrary, that aggravates me.

    For instance, if you build a molasses storage facility and cut costs, and it leaks, you just paint it brown to hide this fact. When it ruptures and kills 21 people, you argue it was a terrorist attack. http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/historical/a/molasses_flood.htm

    Although not perfect, without a functioning government at least occasionally getting this type of thing right, the wealthy perpetrators would simply use their wealth to make them appear blameless.

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