It seems like the debate over where libertarians should make their political home is evergreen, even though I’ve always thought the answer was the rather boringly obvious one: Libertarian individuals and institutions should make whatever tactical alliances on specific issues that best suit their dispositions and concerns. Still, a couple points about Ilya Somin’s response to the Reason debate linked above:
[Brink] Lindsey seems to have stepped back from his much-discussed 2006 argument for a “liberaltarian” coalition between libertarians and liberals.
I realize the original “Liberaltarian” essay does read as a proposal for a near-term political alliance, but I always took the real point to be more about opening a somewhat longer-term dialogue to see what we can learn from each other given the substantial overlap in our higher-order value commitments. That, at least, I’ve found reasonably fruitful.
To the extent that this hasn’t resulted in “an equivalent level” of cooperation with the left as that with the right on economic policy, it may be because few liberals have been willing to reciprocate. It’s striking that Lindsey’s own highly publicized efforts at forging liberaltarian cooperation met with little or no positive response among liberals.
This actually seems wrong to me. Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be much interest on the left in any kind of broad self-conscious “Liberaltarian Alliance”—but practical political coalitions don’t actually spring from New Republic essays, any more than real-world friendships arise from a formal declaration of an intent to be friends.. They’re a function of actually getting out there and doing the work, issue by issue, bill by bill, election by election. Given my own pattern of interests, I end up mostly working on issues where I agree with civil libertarians on the left. And pretty much without exception, they’re happy to work with me on those issues, and for that limited purpose indifferent to whatever disagreements we might have over optimal levels of federal taxation and spending. None of the folks I’ve written for at the Prospect or the Nation have ever expressed the least reservation about running something with a Cato byline. If anything, I think left-leaning civil libertarians are happy to be able to point to us as evidence that opposition to torture or sweeping surveillance authority isn’t some strictly partisan punch up between Democrats and Republicans. There are, to be sure, advantages to broader alliances, but one benefit to keeping both parties (and their associated movements) at arms-length is that I think (or would like to think) that it’s hard to credibly argue I’m going to take a position or write an op-ed on one of my core issues with the primary motive of rooting for or against one team or another. Membership has its privileges, but so does a measure of distance.
Update: In light of Ilya Somin’s response, I realize I’ve muddled together two distinct points here. The first is that I don’t think libertarians—and certainly not the libertarian movement as a whole—need to decide to “throw in” with one side or another in some kind of general coalition, whether traditionally fusionist or “liberaltarian.” That said, if there were going to be some kind of broader “liberaltarian” alliance or collaboration, my point is that while it would obviously entail more than the kind of ad hoc, issue-based collaboration I’m suggesting is enough, that’s how in practice it would have to start anyway. So even if you thought a “liberaltarian alliance” were ultimately the way to go, you’d still begin with more limited collaboration and go from there.