Libertarian ideas are on target for 21st century society -- the problem lies with libertarians. It's amazing how few libertarians are able to give a full-throated account of libertarianism. We have those still leaning to the right and those staggering compassionately drunk to the left -- I suppose to make sure they have some friends to hang out with, or they are hoping to get married.
Even the libertarian candidate for president was a goofy compromise -- Bob Barr? It's troubling that as more and more people find libertarian ideas appealing in the Age of Obama, fence-straddling libertarians are looking for ways to capitulate to political pressures. Where's the fire in the belly that young people understand and older people medicate?
Capitulation - yes, that's the problem. But, why? Well, there's a lot of pressure from both conservatives and new liberals to conform to statist inevitability. I mean, don't libertarians understand that harping on civil liberties is simply a form of appeasement and milquetoast under-reaction to very dangerous terrorist threats? We're told that some freedoms may need to be sacrificed in order to deal with the threats in a world where enemies lurk and listen, and plot our demise. We're also told that freedom is fine, but smut and drugs and kinky sex are moral acids corroding the spiritual structure of a decent and civil society.
Then, what about the children, the old people, the unemployed and the poor? How can we ever reflect our compassion in action if we don't have a strong welfare state that weaves a strong safety net and promotes positive "rights"? Libertarians are framed as self-centered freedom-freaks who have no concern for the collective issues of our times. How can a limited government provide the public goods and regulate capitalism which would surely become tyranny of the rich over the poor, the white man over all minorities?
The pressure is relentless and the libertarian is lonely, questioning beliefs he once thought crystal clear. Perhaps they are right, thinks the libertarian, then he begins to look for ways to compromise, to make allowances for the tough issues that no one will accept have a libertarian answer.
I can understand the weariness of explaining something that most people cannot imagine because of their investment in their political party. A union worker attempting to imagine a free market with no protective regulations would shudder at the thought, then slip back into a comfortable denial which tells him freedom is sometimes enabled by government restrictions on free enterprise -- it's still freedom, you just have to look at it from the perspective of the worker. A pastor of a church would praise freedom with the qualification that a decent society has to sacrifice some freedoms for the moral good of society -- he would say freedom is protected by government regulation against profligates who would destroy freedom with filth and rowdiness if certain retrictions aren't placed on certain behaviors. There are so many people with a stake in government, it's impossible to imagine a society without a strong interventionist state.
Most people think that in America our representatives know the bounds and will keep their regulatory powers within in the limits of our historical acknowledgement of freedom and distrust of socialism. So, libertarians are laughed at and called alarmists, paranoid, atomistic individuals who have no common sense of society's greater needs. It's tiresome and lonely -- in blog-world you're called naive and ideological, and we all know that being an ideologouge is like being a rightwing nutcase. The left thinks you're right and right thinks you're left, and all you are saying is "Yes, but what if...".
A libertarian who has no stake in government, except as an entity to protect rights, can look at alternatives and see possibilities, so naturally the libertarian is going to suggest privatization of this or that, but this is seen as backward thinking, a conservative reaction to progess. No one wants to be backwards, so, less stalwart libertarians feel as if they're being framed as simpletons or dinosaurs, yet libertarianism is probably the most progressive of all political philosophies, because it's about applying freedom and innovation to broken welfare systems and over-regulated markets -- it's about the abolition of corporate welfare and the promotion of competition which could create economic growth and prosperity. It's about non-intervention in foreign affairs and this can raise the hackles of hawks who see non-intervention as a national death sentence. In WWII, we were forced into intervention after an unusal series of events in Europe, but since then what has interventionism wrought? The weak libertarian doesn't want to be seen as lily-livered, so she capitulates in crisis, but libertarianism contains some good ideas about foreign relations and strong national defense.
Undoubtedly, libertarianism suffering from weak libertarians will be deemed an impossible theory, but strength is possible, if not probable, and the defeatist route is a poor choice of direction. For those who want a full understanding of libertarian thought through the years -- David Boaz's Libertarian Reader is a good place to start -- the collected essays, or excerpts from books, cover the gamut of societal concerns.
There are so many people in America who have grown dependent on government, the resistance to libertarianism is overwhelming to someone who hasn't made a full committment, yet, ironically, there is an undercurrent, now, of libertarianism infusing the political realm -- this mixed movement either signals a paradigm change (I promised myself in the 80s I'd never use the word "paradigm" again, but it seems appropriate) or the last gasps of anti-statism. I chose libertarianism years ago and have no intention of watering it down with statist compromises, and I've been accused of being a one-dimensional ideologouge -- to me this is ludicrous -- there are many progressive dimensions in the public sphere which party faithfuls refuse to consider, much more than in the realm of government, and this, to my way of thinking, makes libertarianism anything but conservative and places in doubt what is now called "liberal". Paradoxically, government is conservative -- libertarianism is progressive.