Perhaps readers will excuse me for taking a year to respond to Ron Elving’s description of libertarianism in $2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill Presents A Reckoning For Libertarians (3.28.20). It wasn’t worthy of a prompt reply, but it’s also unworthy of taking space yet longer in my task queue.
Let us all have a moment of sympathy – and perhaps even understanding — for Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky.
Massie was the guy who caught hell from all sides Friday when he tried to force a roll call vote on the coronavirus relief bill in the House of Representatives. He said he wanted every individual member to record his or her vote on the gargantuan $2 trillion package, which he called the biggest relief bill in the history of mankind.
That Elving picks Republican Thomas Massie as a fair representative of libertarianism is as much a straw man as contending that Joe Manchin is a fair representative of the Democratic Party. Massie is one, Manchin is another, but neither is typical within his respective political party. (In Massie’s case, he’s a Republican who claims libertarian leanings in a party whose autocratic and nativist positions are detestable to traditional libertarianism.)
A political position that favors the free movement of people, capital, and goods does not restrict immigration, cage migrant children, begin trade wars, or ceaselessly demonize people for their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. It does not use federal force on the streets against protesters, and it does not incite a fanatical horde’s insurrection.
Libertarianism is broad, but bounded by core principles. We are men and women who believe in voluntary cooperation and through unfettered markets. (In my own case, libertarianism is bleeding-heart libertarianism, a fusion of free markets and social justice.)
There is nothing of libertarianism in Trumpism. Nothing. Differences between these political views are large & irreconcilable. That some Trumpists cloak themselves in ill-fitting libertarian garments doesn’t make them libertarians. They have stolen what they wear.
(It’s either through ignorance or deception that Elving holds out Reason magazine in 2020 as remaining libertarian, when anyone knowledgeable knew by then that the magazine was under the sway of pro-Trump conservative donors. By the end of the year these accounts were being published in general interest websites. See Anti-‘Cancel Culture’ Reason Magazine Accused of Canceling Columnist for Being Too Anti-Trump.)
Smaller, less expensive government is a worthy goal, as a powerful government (in what it has and what it takes from others) is a powerful threat. Trump, who for four years was the most powerful man on this continent, should have forever settled the question of how deadly – literally – federal policy can be.
Trillions are of great concern, but libertarianism is a political view that addresses more than purse strings (yet not so much of life as intrusive and invasive political alternatives).
Finally, it’s worth noting that libertarianism is to crisis action as holistic medicine is to emergency surgery: the former is suited to maintaining the one’s healthy life day by day, the latter is occasionally and regrettably necessary.
Those of us who have stayed true to our political tradition (having come from older, ‘movement’ families) owe that movement a defense from challenges of all sorts, whether autocratic, deceptive, or simply ignorant.