March 18, 2004

Libertarian Purity is Pretty Ugly

Most of my end of the blogosphere was taking and discussing the so-called "Libertarian Purity Test" a few days ago. Xrlq took the test, scored a 57, as compared to my 31, and still raised the same objections which I have. He even put "purity" in quotes, which suggests that he shares my believe that libertarian purity is an oxymoron. Suman Palit, who identifies himself as a lbertarian, scored a 55 and raises similar objections to the test's approach.

The first interesting thing about the test is how non-linear the scoring is. My 31 out of 160 is supposed to put me solidly in their camp; I just need to guzzle more of the Kool-Aid. This is a standard Libertarian tactic, and I believe that it does them more harm than good. The majority of the US population, if asked in vague generalities, believes we would be better off with less government. Despite this, the Libertarian Party rarely draws five percent of the vote in major elections, and was lucky to get ten percent in the last Wisconsin gubernatorial election, with a candidate with great name recognition running against mediocre candidates from both major parties. As far as I can tell, they still foresee eventual victory if they continue doing what they have been.

Separation of school and state is a tenet of pure libertarian doctrine. School vouchers still mean the government is collecting and distributing money for education and cannot be seen as an improvement. To the impure libertarian vouchers are seen as loosening the grip of the government/union school monopoly, and to many parents who never considered libertarianism, they are an opportunity to perhaps improve their children's chance of a good education. My own position is that the existing school boards might as well continue running the schools they do, but that every parent should get vouchers, which they can use to send their children where they see fit, and if the government schools need more money per student than the competition it is up to them to justify it. Parents who educate at home would get special limited vouchers for curriculum materials, and would get access to structured schools for such facilities as laboratories, workshops, gymnasia and shooting ranges.

There is a Libertarian bumper sticker which says "Drugs are bad but the Drug War is worse" and most people tend to agree. Majorities have voted for laws giving regulated access to medical marijuana to those who can benefit from it, and reduced penalties or decriminalization of recreational use of the same herb does not horrify most people. Elimination of all drug laws, as the pure libertarians advocate, does. Even I, now in my 35th year of youthful experimentation (and, at the moment, my 30th year of abstaining during Lent) understand what a mistake that would be, at least until we can work our way to establishing a culture of moderation.

One introduction to libertarianism which I read (I regret that I have been able to identify the book even after searching my memory, the web, and the library's online catalog) contained a series of graphs purporting to show that government action did not effect such trends as increased integration and increased industrial safety. This is embarrassingly naïve. Trends do not remain linear. Anyone who watched either process knows beyond a doubt that regardless of the flaws of Affirmative Action or the stupidity of having factories inspected by people with no factory experience, both Civil Rights legislation and OSHA served to overcome resistance to further change.

I don't want to get into the whole "anti-interventionist" thing, other than to point out that "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins" ought not mean "you have a perfect right to go around beating people up as long as you leave me alone".

In my opinion, and the results of the Purity Test I have seen posted seem to support this, impure libertarianism, also known as pragmatic libertarianism, has a broader following than Libertarianism. We could, perhaps, take over the Libertarian Party, but I think it would be more effective, even tho it will take several election cycles, to take over the Republican Party. I will leave development of a strategy for doing one or the other to everyone else who scored in the 30s thru the 60s.

Posted by triticale at March 18, 2004 10:03 PM
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