Libertarians and liberals (2)
The reasons why I and other liberals don't view libertarianism as a potential ally can be summed up as follows:
A) Libertarianism today puts very little emphasis on fighting for aspects of personal freedom which are important to liberals, such as abortion rights, gay rights, drug decriminalization, workers' rights, etc. It seems mostly interested in opposing taxes and regulation. (Ironically, The Crossed Pond has since put up a new post which serves as a perfect example of this; it brushes off the "social issues", on which libertarians and liberals often agree, as being of no practical importance. I posted a comment explaining how this looks from our perspective, but the response makes it pretty clear that further discussion is pointless.)
B) Libertarians embrace figures such as Ron Paul (anti-abortion), Rand Paul (hostile to the Civil Rights Act and by implication to other government efforts to stop private-sector discrimination), and Ayn Rand (good grief, where do I begin?).
C) Libertarianism seems blind to the fact that many major threats to individual freedom originate from powerful private entities, not from government. Indeed, today libertarians seem more comfor- table defining themselves with the phrase "small government" than in terms of individual freedom.
D) The de facto effect of libertarian policies would be a society with even more gross inequality than we have now, and with less real freedom because the government, in its role as a mitigator of private entities' infringements on individual freedom, would be much weaker. These real-world practical consequences are what matters, not the theoretical underpinnings.
E) Libertarianism is hostile to environmental concerns and often embraces global-warming denialism, probably because most environmental problems can't be solved without large-scale government intervention. I didn't mention this in my earlier responses, but it's important.
F) Libertarianism self-defines as a sub-set of the right. Its heroes and candidates, such as the Pauls, invariably run as Republicans. Whatever disagreements it has with mainstream conservatism are internal debates within the right.
The libertarian response was basically threefold:
1) Yes, disagreements exist, but that's no reason to ignore areas of potential agreement. I would say that these disagreements are so important that they far outweigh the areas of agreement that exist.
2) Even if libertarian candidates won office, their program could only be implemented incrementally; it would not all go into effect at once. I'd say that incremental moves in the wrong direction are still moves in the wrong direction.
3) The picture I painted of libertarianism was inaccurate and full of sweeping generalizations. I would dispute that -- but if it's true, given that this is the common view liberals have of libertarianism, shouldn't libertarians take a closer look at how they present their ideology rather than accuse us of willfully misunderstanding it?
I'm aware that a lot of libertarians support the right to abortion and the right of gays to marry, but do they put as much energy into arguing for those things as they do into arguing against taxes and regulation? (Again, see here.) And I've seen no sign that libertarians support worker protection or anti-discrimination laws, where the threat to individual rights comes from the private sector rather than from government.
There probably are individual libertarians who not only are with us on individual-freedom issues such as those mentioned in (A) above if you ask them, but also recognize those things as a priority and give them due weight in deciding what candidates and which party to support, and those are people I can recognize as being on the same side. There is even a special value in recognizing that individual self-determination, rather than some armchair vision of what an optimal society should look like, is the proper basis for those things. But mainstream libertarianism today has pretty much settled in as a sub-set of the right wing, even if it dissents from the rest of the right on some issues, and we're sensible to recognize it as such.