James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Irrelevant Differences

Update: I should clarify that my position still is that a) the "cosmopolitan" libertarian position of promoting individual rights and freedoms, and b) the "paleo" position of decentralizing power, are mutually re-enforcing agendas. I am more comfortable in "cosmopolitan" surroundings, provided "cosmopolitan" means "anything that's peaceful," (as opposed to granting voting rights to militant foreign nationalists and foreign religious fundamentalists). But I can't help but agree with the paleo interpretation of the Constitution, and believe adherence to the plain text of the Constitution is still the best practical path to liberty. In other words, in this dispute my tastes lean cosmpolitan, my head still leans paleo.

Two segments of our society agree that the federal government is the cause of many of our problems, and the main hindrance to finding solutions to many other problems. In short, they believe the Federal Government is the Enemy. One of these segments is individualist with a moral and political commitment to individual rights and freedoms. The other is communitarian with a commitment to a strong culture and social bonds. The first is angry with the federal government's attacks on individual rights. The second is angry with the federal government for undermining state and local government. They are known respectively by the names libertarian and paleoconservative.

They are divided by a common platform, in that principle is more important to them than power. Progressives and various identity groups cobble together a platform in the Democratic Party. Neoconservatives and the Religious Right manage to do the same in the Republican Party. The libertarian/paleo goals, in comparison, are pretty clear-cut and consistent:

- end the occupation in Iraq and dismantle the de facto Empire;
- dismantle the unconstitutional federal Police State, and end violations of the Bill of Rights from the War on Terror and War on Drugs
- restore honest money, dismantle the Federal Reserve
- cut federal taxes and federal spending
- federal deregulation
- protect gun rights
- abolish Dept. of Education, protect freedom of homeschoolers
- protect private property and freedom of association from federal interference

Some paleoconservative endorse these goals, but then rip libertarians for being libertine and naive worshippers of the almighty Market. And some libertarians allege that paleoconservatives hold their positions only because they are motivated by superstition (i.e., religion) and bigotry. They don't like paleoconservatives because they think paleoconservatives agree with these points for all the wrong reasons. They suspect paleoconservatives oppose federal tyranny only so that they can impose tyranny on their own terms at the state level, targeting minorities, gays, women, and non-Christians. In short, they've caricatured paleoconservatives as closet Ku Kluxers.

There are also disagreements among libertarians: on anarchy vs. limited government, on abortion, on immigration. Some will use these disagreements as excuses to ignore the many points of agreement above and abandon an alliance with paleoconservatives. Moreover, there is a "cosmopolitan libertarian" vs. "paleolibertarian" split; the former embracing not just toleration, but also acceptance, of lifestyles different from one's own, while the latter believe that maximum individual freedom will actually create stronger social bonds among people of similar beliefs and cultures, so that individualism creates stronger communities. They agree with cosmopolitans on matters of law, and with paleoconservatives on culture.

Anyway, these differences among libertarians, and between libertarians and paleoconservatives, have led to nasty statements back and forth on the web, as they try to discredit each other. And this has been going on long before the Ron Paul newsletter "scandal." For some, getting one's way all down the line is more important than actually making progress in downsizing the federal government; not only must we have common goals, but we must have common goals for the same reasons.

Well, I have news for both sides (or all three sides): most of us don't care. Most of us in the movement will find useful information and enlightening opinions at LewRockwell.com AND Reason AND The American Conservative. We find both the Mises Institute AND the Cato Institute very useful resources.

It seems to me that when Democrats smell success, they forget their differences and take advantage. Republicans do the same. But when the small-government wave starts to build momentum, something always comes up to serve as an excuse to divide and weaken it. And they're frequently petty personal issues or irrelevant ideological differences among leaders of the movement that the rank-and-file care nothing about.

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