Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Are the Lib Dems libertarian enough?

Having scored a miserable 67 points on the libertarian purity test, perhaps I am not the best man to fight the redoubtable Brian Micklethwait over whether the Liberal Democrats have it in them to be a libertarian party or not.

However, Tristan has been highlighting Brian Micklethwait's constant attacks on the Liberal Democrats for some time, and I felt the need to reply to Mr. Micklethwait's most recent criticism; I couldn't resist! My reply is reproduced below (now, with hotlinks!):


In we all pile, fists flailing!

I think your suggestion that the Liberal Democrats are somehow more diverse and less disciplined or harmonious than the other parties is ludicrous, as is the belief (which I infer) that the Tories somehow embody (at least economic) liberalism.

All parties are coalitions - John Major described his Government as "a coalition of one", and Gordon Tullock's theory of logrolling demonstrates that all politics is compromise (he might also have something to say about your suggestion that only Lib Dems are interested primarily in re-election!).

Labour is torn between New Labour and old socialists, the Conservatives between Thatcherites and new-Butskellites, and the Lib Dems have their Social Democratic and their Liberal wings. I cannot believe that you can claim with a straight face that David Cameron's acceptance of Labour's tax-and-spend rate or newfound fondness for the prattlings of Polly Toynbee are consistent with the work of Lord's Tebbit and Howe.

In fact, which party is now closer to a libertarian ideal? Which is the party that believes in open borders for economic migrants? Which would devolve power to local authorities? Which is the most likely to remove the last vestiges of legal discrimination against homosexuals? Which mooted reconsidering prohibition of cannabis for consenting adults? Which has just announced a raft of income tax cuts? Which is closest to land value taxation, beloved of classical economists? I could go on (you might think I already have ;o)

You are right that the Lib Dems need to be more careful to ensure that their message is more consistent. The easiest way of achieving that without a command-and-control style central office (such as the one that sacked Howard Flyte for going off message) is a strong philosophical basis. I hope that that philosophy will be liberalism in its most classic form.

If you want to discuss this further, perhaps we can have a chat over some of John Blundell's free wine.

8 comments:

Norfolk Blogger said...

I did the test and scored 11.

Tristan said...

The LibDems (or Liberals) have never been and never will be a libertarian party. There will be varying degrees of libertarian, but its probably good we're tempered by others (in political terms anyway...)

As for your score, that's pretty libertarian. I find anarcho-capitalism intruiging, but am far from convinced. I think my score on that also depends on how charitable I'm feeling towards government or people, and how contrary I'm feeling ;)

Barrie Parker said...

..a score of 47! - with less 'zees' in the question, I'm sure I would have come in with a higher score!?

..great blog Tom!

Barry Stocker said...

I'm rather horrified by the attention given to Micklethwaite in todays blogs. I haven't followed Brit libertarianism as closely as US libertarianism which ahs a varied and strong inteleectual tradition, including the great political philosopher Robert Nozick. I've been in Turkey for 9 years and I seem to have missed out the emergence of a Lib Dem libertarian current. My previous inspection of Libertarian Alliance stuff suggests a group devoted to social and cultural conservatism and authoritarian regimes or right wing paramilitaries so long as they are anti-socialist. From a brief inspection of Micklethwaite's blog he is full of muddled Islamophobic rantings which could not stand up to any attempt at objective comparison of the intertwined Chritian and Muslim traditions. I'm delighted to see Lib Dem liberatians emerge, they were little known when I was in Lib Dem politics between 90 and 97, but let's distinguish between 'Libertarians' who hate those from a different religious tradition, and those who are consistely following minimum state liberal principles phillosophies which preclude hatred of religious groups. I only count as a a 'soft' libertarian in the test mentioned and others on the web, that still makes me far more libertarian on economic and social issues than most people in the UK or USA. The featured test appears to make Murray Rothbard the epitome of Libertarianism. Rothbard's 'Libertarianism' involves Confederate nostalgia and hatred of Lincoln on the grounds that free trade was a more important issue than slavery, and is intertiwmed with all kinds of paleoconservatism and neo-confederate Gone with the Wind rubbish about happy slaves, by conservatives who contribute to Mises.org where Rothbard is the leading light. Let's try and connect discussions of libertarianism with politics as it is, and certainly with equal treatment of all religious and non-religious traditions (the latter is where I belong) and with admiration for Lincoln in resisting the spread of slavery at the beginning fo the civil war, condemning it as a moral evil, to be grudgingly tolerated in the South, and then abolishing it completely during the Civil War. Libertarians who go down the Rothbard route should think very carefully about what kind of company they may be keeping.

Cicero said...

Well, 53 for me. A fairly moderate Libertarian.

I guess a lot of this comes from my appearance on 18 Doughty Street with Brian Micklethwait. I don't hold a great torch for Libertarianism, per se, but I do think that we have got to be a lot more crunchy about being Liberal- and applying liberal principles to our policy mix.

I think therefore that we need to talk about Liberal ideology a whole lot more than we do. This would help us avoid promoting the producer interest in state education, for example, and start looking at the question of choice and diversity as sources of higher educational standards.

Once we start talking about the principles that inform our policies- the question of inconsistency will go away.

John Locke's Ghost said...

Please notice, that to get a full score in the Bryan Caplan's "libertarian purity test" you need to be an anarcho-capitalist. Caplan assumes, that anarcho-capitalists are the purest libertarians! Not even libertarian philosophers such as Robert Nozick, mentioned by Barry Stocker, would get the full score in this test.

You could try the original "World's Smallest Political Quiz", "World's Enhanced Precision Political Quiz", "Politopia Quiz" or for instance SelectSmart's "European Political Ideologies selector" to get a more reliable result.

Tom Papworth said...

It rather depends on one’s definition of libertarian. The late Mr. Locke is right to point out that Caplan's libertarian is an anarcho-capitalist who wishes to abolish the state. I do not know how Mickletwait defines one. I tend to use it (perhaps as loosely as Caplan) to refer to those liberals who want a Nightwatchman State that restricts itself to protecting life, liberty and property. That’s pinko woolliness to the likes of Rothbard and Caplan!

I guess that kind of explains Tristan’s comment too that “The LibDems (or Liberals) have never been and never will be a libertarian party.” I think the Whigs (among whom Hayek classed himself) were close to my definition of libertarianism, but they would have recoiled at some of the extreme positions that some incorporate under that rubric.

Cicero (and Tristan in a comment to the sequel article) have hit the nail on the head with our need to focus more on and talk more about our philosophy so as to ensure a more coherent message in future. As we grow and become more prominent we need to have clear, articulated core beliefs. Our best hope lies in classical liberalism.

Ryan Morrison said...

I got 105 on the test you've linked to but It's very American centric, I didn't understand half the questions and found myself wanting for a halfway house answer on some of the others.