Libertarianism, Current Events

Libertarian Populism and Libertarian Cosmopolitanism

Paul Krugman thinks libertarian populism is bunk. So bunk, in fact, that he didn’t feel the need to actually tell his readers what it is. Presumably, associating it with the likes of Paul Ryan was enough to discredit the idea in the minds of most of his readers. And discrediting, rather than explaining (or understanding) “right-wing” ideas is what Paul Krugman does best.

So what is libertarian populism? And is Paul Ryan really the best exemplar of it? For those who want to know more, Jesse Walker has assembled a nice little reading list. I’ll follow his lead in endorsing the definition originally put forward by Ross Douthat:

a strain of thought that moves from the standard grassroots conservative view of Washington as an inherently corrupt realm of special interests and self-dealing elites to a broader skepticism of ‘bigness’ in all its forms (corporate as well as governmental), that regards the Bush era as an object lesson in everything that can go wrong (at home and abroad) when conservatives set aside this skepticism, and that sees the cause of limited government as a means not only to safeguarding liberty, but to unwinding webs of privilege and rent-seeking and enabling true equality of opportunity as well.

Libertarian populists are distrustful of big government, but they are also distrustful of big corporations and big banks, especially when the latter benefit from special protections and subsidies from the former. They are therefore opposed to “crony capitalism” in all its various manifestations – corporate welfare, bailouts, the Federal Reserve system, and so on.

Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner has been one of the most thoughtful and articulate proponents of libertarian populism, and his agenda for that movement is worth a close look. In practical politics, the movement has a much closer affinity to Ron Paul than to Paul Ryan. Among those currently in office, Rand Paul is a better match than Paul Ryan, though perhaps not quite as populist or as libertarian as his father.

Insofar as libertarian populists are fighting the good fight against cronyism, there’s a lot in their movement for Bleeding Heart Libertarians to admire. Whether it’s a promising path as a practical political strategy to win free-market votes from the working masses is an issue about which I have no particular expertise. But the idea that crony capitalism is a serious threat and a grave injustice is one that libertarians of all stripes – populist, bleeding heart, and left – can agree.

But what about the other elements of libertarian populism? It’s worth noting, I think, what we tend not to see on the libertarian populist agenda.

  • There’s not much talk about among libertarian populists about the war on drugs, the devastation of which has been disproportionately concentrated in black, urban neighborhoods.
  • There’s almost no talk of immigration liberalization, let alone open borders.
  • There’s very little talk of the moral and economic case for free trade, except insofar as protectionist policies constitute another form of corporate welfare for domestic producers.
  • There’s little discussion of the injustice of war. The expense of war to domestic taxpayers, maybe. But, of course, libertarians don’t think killing civilians abroad is wrong only (or even primarily) because it costs us a lot of money.

The common theme here, and the worry I have about libertarian populism, is the marginalization or abandonment of one of libertarianism’s most attractive and distinctive elements – its thoroughgoing cosmopolitanism. Libertarians stand out among other political groups for their rejection of nationalism, and for their commitment to the idea that all human beings, no matter where they live or what state claims authority over them, have the same basic moral rights. We believe that it’s wrong for our government to kill an innocent Iraqi just as much (and for just the same reason) as it’s wrong to kill an innocent American. We believe that it’s wrong to coercively prevent A and B from engaging in voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange, regardless of whether A and B live on the same side of a border or on different sides. Libertarian cosmopolitanism is thus the moral foundation for the longstanding libertarian commitment to the (near-sacred) trinity of free trade, free migration, and peace.

Libertarian populists have occasionally come down explicitly on the wrong side of some of these issues. Take, for instance, the “libertarian” argument that immigration restrictions are justifiable because immigrants can receive welfare and otherwise contribute to the violation of the libertarian rights of native citizens. And populist movements more generally have been famously hostile to free trade. Remember Pat Buchanan? But while cosmopolitan ideas are sometimes actively shunned, more often than not they are simply pushed to the side – ignored, rather than actively argued against. If, like me, you think those ideas are central to the libertarian vision, you will find this marginalization troubling. Will Wilkinson might be overstating things when he says that right-wing populism in America “has always amounted to white identity politics.” But if the connection isn’t entirely necessary, it isn’t entirely accidental, either. And it is one that libertarians, especially given our recent and recurring troubles on this matter, should take special care to avoid in ourselves, and confront in our comrades.

While I’m on the topic, I should say that it seems to me that there’s a good case to be made for identifying William Graham Sumner as the grandfather of libertarian populism. Sumner’s most famous essay, “The Forgotten Man,” which I recently summarized here, is a celebration and defense of the ordinary working American against the threat of big government. Sumner was a fierce critic of socialism, of course, but he viewed rent-seeking and crony capitalism (he used the terms “jobbery” and “plutocracy”) as an even greater threat to honest working men and women. And, like contemporary libertarian populists, he was a fierce critic of the banking system, of ungrounded paper currency, and the evil of inflation.

Moreover, Sumner provides an especially good model for contemporary libertarian populists insofar as he unambiguously avoids the pitfall of nationalism into which populists so often fall. Some of Sumner’s greatest essays are those in which he attacked protectionism, or forcefully critiqued American militarism and imperialism. He thus managed to remember the “Forgotten Man” of American politics without simultaneously forgetting everyone else who didn’t fit the populist mold of white, male, and American. In this respect, at least, contemporary libertarian populists would do well to emulate him.

Published on:
Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • Theresa Klein

    I’m curious as to who you would consider a thinker characteristic of “libertarian populism”. Aside from Tim Carney, all of the writers on Jesse Walker’s list are either critics of, or responding to, “libertarian populism” in some way. Is “libertarian populism” an actual movement with actual leaders and followers or is it just an idea for a movement in Tim Carney’s head? Is everyone just arguing against a thing that doesn’t really actually exist except in some imaginary conceptual form?

    I could imagine a libertarian populism that I could subscribe to, but it might look somewhat different. I don’t think opposition to “biggness in all it’s forms” would be a defining element. Definitely, opposition to rent-seeking would feature heavily, but so would the war on drugs.

    My version of libertarian populism would revolve around the ways in which a complex tax and regulatory code produces inequality of opportunity, by biasing the market against legitimate participants. That would include an expansive definition of regulation that would include the prohibition of drugs. It would be all about the basic fairness of a free market, with simple, minimal, uniform rules and the institutions to enforce them fairly, versus a big, complex government run system that rewards the politically connected and tramples upon the weak.

    Maybe a more interesting (and useful!) discussion would be what YOU think a libertarian populism would actually look like, even if it doesn’t quite match everything you think a comprehensive libertarianism ought to be.

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  • Justin Raimondo

    Zwollinski identifies libertarian populists with Ron Paul, among others, and avers that libertarian populists don’t talk about the war on drugs, and its horrific effects on the African American community. Perhaps he missed this:

    and this:

    and this:

    Perhaps he just wasn’t paying attention during the election campaign.

    Zwollinski also writes there is little talk among libertarian populists about the injustice of war: in the case of Ron Paul, this is laughable. I won’t bother googling the appropriate links: why should I do Zwollinski’s work for him, when he refuses to do it himself? Suffice to say that no one could miss the moral outrage in Paul’s voice — and in the content of his words — when denounced the Iraq war, the Afghan war, and all the potential wars our rulers are planning for us. No one, apparently, except for Zwollinski.

    Here is Ron on the necessity of free trade:
    Opposition to NAFTA half measures isn’t “free tradek” as both Paul and Murray Rothbard pointed out.
    On immigration: in a libertarian world, open borders would be the rule — but as long as our government insists on bombing the Muslim world back to the Stone Age, and pushing its weight around all across the globe, preventing people like the Tsarnaev brothers from entering the country is simply a rational proposition. Funny that people like Zwollinski are critical of this “gradualist” approach when it comes to immigration — a subject dear to the hearts of multi-culti leftists, who want a permanent electoral majority for the Democratic party — but curiously open to such gradualism when it comes to free trade.

    • Zwolinski wrote that the movement has an affinity to Ron Paul, not that the movement is Ron Paul. So, what Ron Paul said on this or that subject may not be relevant. What matters is what the populist libertarian movement says on this or that subject.

      • Justin Raimondo

        Except that Ron Paul and his movement *are* the Really Existing Libertarian “populist” movement. Perhaps you’ve been too focused on Catalonia to notice what’s going in this country.

        • Theresa Klein

          Right. Whatever this libertarian populist movement is, if Ron Paul and Rand Paul aren’t right at the heart of it, then it doesn’t exist. Have you noticed any OTHER libertarian movements lately?

      • Exactly.

    • Fallon

      You beat me to it and then some, Justin. Thanks.

    • I don’t suppose you’d let a little matter like that fact that we *agree* stop you from trying to start a fight, but I don’t actually have any problem with Ron Paul’s positions on drug prohibition, militarism, and free trade. In fact, especially on the first two, I admire both his position and his courage and eloquence in articulating it. I don’t think he was as good on immigration. Of course I think it’s eminently reasonable to prohibit the immigration of known criminals and terrorists, but that’s hardly what the debate between open and closed-border libertarians is about.

      So Ron Paul’s positions are largely fine. For better or for worse, though, they’re also largely irrelevant. Whatever role he played in the past, he’s not playing much of one in this current conversation about libertarian populism. Look at the links on Jesse Walker’s reading list. Almost none of them even mention his name. So I wasn’t attempting to slight him in any way in my post. I wasn’t trying to critique his position. By and large, I just wasn’t talking about him at all.

      • Justin Raimondo

        “Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner has been one of the most thoughtful and articulate proponents of libertarian populism, and his agenda for that movement is worth a close look. In practical politics, the movement has a much closer affinity to Ron Paul than to Paul Ryan. Among those currently in office, Rand Paul is a better match than Paul Ryan, though perhaps not quite as populist or as libertarian as his father.”
        After holding up the Pauls, both of them, as exemplars of libertarian populism, you make a series of complaints (see above), all of which are answered with the links I provided. Rand may not be as “populist” as his father — whose campaign you attacked as irrelevant even while it was being waged — but that remains to be seen, as his campaign hasn’t even started yet. So you _were_ indeed talking about Ron (and Rand) but now (inexplicably) you’re denying it. Which seems foolish, since your words are there for everyone to read.

        • I said that the movement has an *affinity* to Ron Paul. I then talked about what people in that movement are talking about. And then you go on Twitter saying that I’m making claims about what Ron Paul himself was or wasn’t talking about. Do you see your mistake there?

          • Justin Raimondo

            Libertarian populism was undoubtedly inspired by Ron, and he and Rand are the only political figures you specified. And in fact you and the Bleeders have been very critical of the “rightwing populist” strategy advocated by Rothbard, and implemented by the Pauls: so who do you think you’re kidding?

          • I don’t doubt your claim about “inspiration.” But that doesn’t really address the point I made above, does it?

            I’m not trying to “kid” anyone, Justin. But I honestly don’t understand why you insist on attributing a position to me that I have *repeatedly* and *explicitly* disavowed. I’ll say it again – you and I *agree* about the correctness and courage of Ron Paul’s position on issues of militarism, drug prohibition, and free trade. Why are you trying to invent a fight out of nothing?

  • It’s interesting that you mention cosmopolitanism as one of libertarianism’s great strengths. [This comment is longer than I wanted it to be, so just to assuage any concerns: I have a point.] Close to a year ago, I wrote a literature review on the Catalán independence movement, and one of the most interesting things I found in my research is that what makes Cataluña unique is its society’s degree of cosmopolitanism. I don’t remember the exact figures, but while the amount of people who felt “distinctly Spanish” has been falling since the 1970s, the growing group is made up of people who feel both Spanish and Catalán (vs. “distinctly Catalán,” which has been stagnating). This double identity, in turn, has made Catalán society comparably cosmopolitan — unfortunately, I don’t remember how they measure, or derive, that.

    I don’t want to say that Catalán people are comparably less dependent on government, but Spain’s political decentralization allows for a dialectic between the autonomous government of Cataluña and the federal government in Madrid. Basically, it allows for a degree of Tiebout competition, since these two governments have to compete against each other for influence. My thought is that this can produced a disintegration of traditionally defined borders, where governments can service people throughout overlapping jurisdictions. (This idea is compatible with the postmodernist (I think) research on the welfare state and the declining importance of physical borders.)

    This seems pretty libertarian to me. It might not be limited government, in the sense that some libertarians want, and it may not be anarchy, but it may be an institutional improvement that improves the quality of governance and maybe secures greater pluralism — these are certainly libertarian goals.

  • Fallon

    Ron Paul is the key libertarian populist figure. Funny how the neos here at BHL will do anything to downplay that. If you are going to overtake the Rockwell ambit, at least start with an honest appraisal. Further, within the pop camp there is a debate about immigration. Anthony Gregory v. Hans Hoppe, if you will.

    Here is Scott Horton, a man with impeccable libertarian populist Ron Paul credentials, famed host of Anti-War Radio (hint hint) and The Scott Horton Show, informally answering a critic recently:


    Actually, the Kochs split with the anarcho-capitalists and became conservative Republicans back about 30 years ago.

    The anarcho-capitalists are all anti-privilege, anti-cronyism, anti-war, anti-empire, anti-bubble, anti-bailout, anti-MIC, anti-cop, anti-Prison-IC, anti-drug war, anti-Ayn Rand, anti-pretty much everything you think they’re for.

    It’s just classical liberalism to the Nth degree is all: individualist
    anarchism. You don’t have to agree with it to understand how different
    it is and always has been from conservatism.

    Put it like this: if you were a mean bald fat greedy billionaire, you think
    you’d really want to get rid of the congress that keeps paying you
    other people’s money? No, Mark, you wouldn’t. You’d be a conservative on
    the dole just like the rest of ’em.

    That’s why the anarcho-capitalists are a bunch of nobodies you’ve never heard
    of before while the Kochs are bankrolling Cato, Reason, IHS and other
    groups that support the warfare and regulatory states, just not quite as
    much as Heritage. Billionaires don’t support our movement. Nor even very
    many millionaires. There’s nothing in it for them.

    Dylan Ratigan’s list of Who Rules America’s government: the MIC, Banks,
    Agribusiness, pharma, energy, telecoms: All of these, as you already
    well know, are fascist combines of the federal police power and the
    means of production.

    It may be as lawless as hell is hot, but it sure ain’t anarchy.”

    Scott Horton”

    • Fallon

      That’s for you too, Steve Horwitz.

      • Justin Raimondo

        Right *on*!

    • j r


      That’s satire, right?

      • Fallon

        Do you make comments before or after you stick your head in a glue bag? Or is it paint thinner for you?

        • j r

          You’re accusing the people at BHL of being neocons and yet you accuse me of sniffing glue. Interesting.

          • Fallon


          • j r

            I stand corrected; although the term neolibertarian is even more interesting. I always thought the idea of libertarian purity tests was mostly a metaphor, but I guess not.

          • Fallon

            We must protect our precious bodily fluids.

    • martinbrock

      With the exception of immigration, Ron Paul is also a very cosmopolitan libertarian in my experience.

      • Fallon

        I believe the original cosmo-pop demarcation was Cato/Reason v. Mises Institute/Rockwell, first defined by Koch types. Mr. Black Leather Jacket Hip Cool, Nick Gillespie v. traditional Christian Ron Paul.

        The lines do not work so easily, as you provide support for. The original thrust was a hyperbolic smear, based on some truths no doubt, aimed at LvMI et al.. “Populist” often denotes racism and unsophisticated folkish views in political science. But Paul has attracted not just chem trailers, constitutionalists and cultural/race separatists; but Bitcoin nerds, computer geeks, and Austrians….

        • j-Lib

          There was a racist strand that took over the name “populism” but the original term need not connote racism at all. The original Populists encompassed both racists (ie, normal Americans of the day, to some extent) as well as anti-racists. Populist simply means “for/of the people.” it’s a broad stance, an attitude, and an opposition to big, powerful, remote interests — the specific contents of which are subject to debate.

      • Fallon

        Paul does have a nationalist streak but still scores extremely high on anti-war. So it is not the same as the nationalism of the Kochs, who some, not earth shattering, millions off of military-industrial-complex contracts. (To be fair, I do not think these contracts were/are core to their empire.) At any rate, I am sure Paul is very much aware of the contradictions in his own public stance. He knows Mises and Rothbard. You can’t really be a constitutionalist and for a freed market at the same time.

        Well, if Mises clung to his minarchism in spite of Rose Wilder Lane et al.’s pleading….

        • Fallon

          who *made* some millions

      • J-Lib

        mb: i have a lot of reverence for the Constitution while still recognizing its flaws. I guess it’s the fact that adhering to the Constitution(s) would be a hell of a lot better than our current practice. Better yet, the AOC wherein we would have continued the same process of federalism and local self-determination down into the several States. I’m not even that much attached to the current States. I see the Constitution is a sort of convenient rallying point, but not an end point.

  • MichaelDrew

    I’m still unclear what or whom populist libertarians distinguish themselves from among libertarians that is new from what has always been going on within libertarianism.

    From what I saw, long before Tim Carney (above all just a talented marketer of ideas from what I can tell) ever started talking about libertarian populism, he was pretty clear that he was basically just a conservative and a libertarian. How novel! And it seems to me that what this post I guess unwittingly does is unambiguously describe libertarian populism as conservative libertarianism, perhaps with a slightly anti-Wall Street inflection (but how anti-Wall Street is Tim Carney, really? I think he would say that the problem with crony capitalism comes where government involves itself in big business.). It seems like that’s pretty much what libertarian populism is as a practical matter.

    I don’t think libertarian populism is really a new thing, it’s just a new name, and one not being used particularly correctly: if the group it’s currently being applied to tends to be tough on immigration and easy on war, I run into plenty of libertarian-thinking regular people who are for open borders and less war, and they seem just about as populist as those this post describes. But they’re also, like, just regular libertarians. They don’t need a special name. What’s going on is a slight upswell in adherence to the basic thrust of libertarianism (not enough that;s really going to change anything, but it’s there), with the typical kind of variation in particular views among those new adherents that is seen in any such upswell. if you want to call that populist, great, that’s a fair description – it’s happening out in the populace! – but that doesn’t mean it’s some upstart new breed of libertarianism. That’s just a marketing slogan being peddled by a slick conservative-media figure who’s paid to do exactly those kinds of things.

  • Graham Shevlin

    I remain unconvinced that any movement that describes itself as “populist” can ever be positively aligned with what I understand to be the fundamental principles of libertarianism. My view of political movements and parties that self-identify as populist or which are described and discussed as populist is that those movements tend to be dominated by what I would define as nativist sentiments. Nativism is generally inward and backward-looking, dominated by narrow nationalism tipping over in many instances into overt racism. Nativists also seem in many cases to be trapped in “golden age” thinking and aspirations.
    I am not convinced by people pointing to Ron and Rand Paul as exemplars of libertarian populism. Both men seem to me to be what I would term co-incidental libertarians; on some issues their views happen to coincide with libertarian principles, on other issues they do not. Ron Paul’s supposed libertarian credentials also seem to me to be undermined by the fact that he has self-identified on several occasions in the past as a constitutional conservative, and both men eliminated their appeal to me some time ago by choosing to sail under a political flag of convenience.

  • Florence Cline

    Thank you, Mr. Zwolinski, for your thoughtful refutation of poor, or should I say rich, Mr. Kugman’s sorry excuse of an article in which he attempts to discredit an set of social and political and moral principles about which he knows nothing. Your point about the cosmopolitan nature of Libertarianism is very well taken and an observation that is useful in broadening the perspective for those of us exploring and applying the concepts in our everyday lives.

    I must, however, agree with others, especially Mr. Raimondo, whose articles I have read and appreciated for some time, that Dr. Ron Paul is the creator and leader of the Libertarian populist movement and that he did and does address all of the issues you raised in his two very readable books, Liberty Defined and The Revolution: A Manifesto, and in innumerable speeches, debates and addresses to the House of Representatives throughout his years in Congress and through two presidential election cycles. I have met him and heard him speak several times and a kinder, more humble, wiser man is to imagine. He deserves all the credit we can give him for a courageous and lonely stand against the powers of Washington and especially against its empire building warfare mentality.

    The obvious reason Mr. Krugman would wish to discredit the movement and try to associate it with Paul Ryan is to keep as many young and thoughtful liberals in the Democratic camp for if they actually began to explore the ideas of Libertarianism, along with Austrian economics, which fit naturally together, they might come to see the opportunities these philosophies offer to create a more just and peaceful world!

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  • In my opinion, there is no such thing as “libertarian populism.”

    For one thing, just 20 years ago they were teaching in high school civics courses that the word “populism” literally meant the opposite of libertarianism. The old “political compass,” 4-directional political theory measurement used to consist of “liberal vs conservative” horizontal poles and “libertarian vs populist” vertical poles. At some point, someone decided to change “populism” to “authoritarian,” and I don’t really object to that, but it’s an important fact to keep in mind whenever you see anyone 30 years of age or older using the word “populism.”

    For a second thing, I don’t know one single person who self-identifies as a “libertarian populist,” which is not something that can be said for any other alleged political affiliation.

    For a third thing, the only people who seem to want to talk about “libertarian populism” are people who want to discredit it. I consider the term to be essentially analogous to the phrase “internet Austrian” or Jason Brennan’s “cartoon libertarianism.” It’s basically a term cooked-up by other libertarians on the one hand who want to differentiate themselves from a less academic/intellectual libertarianism. And, at the same time, it is a term deployed by liberal and conservative pundits who want to paint the growing libertarian movement as a bunch of raucous and uneducated hicks. Anything that fits that caricature becomes useful, hence if Sarah Palin calls herself a Tea Partier, then she’s a “libertarian populist,” if Paul Ryan makes an ass of himself while waving an Ayn Rand book in the air, he’s a “libertarian populist,” and so on.

    This whole issue speaks to the fundamental problem libertarians have: The complete and utter refusal to build coalitions with each other for the sake of achieving the goal of reducing the size and scope of government. You’ve got the BHLs basically calling other libertarians meanies. You’ve got the Rothbardians calling the BHLs statists. You’ve got the Objectivists calling both groups “sundry libertarians who accept Objectivisms conclusions but reject its metaphysics.”

    And so on, and so forth. Sorry to rant here, but this kind of crap really irritates me. When is the libertarian movement going to grow the f–k up and stop fighting with and disparaging each other like children? I would like to live to see my government shrink a little. Can we all stop trying to capitalize on the spread of libertarian ideas and join forces long enough to repeal JUST… ONE… LAW…?

    I mean, seriously.

    • Graham Shevlin

      It is an enduring characteristic of immature political movements that they spend more time in-fighting than out-fighting. I saw this at first hand in the 1970’s in college in the UK, where the various strands of marxism hated each other more than they hated capitalism. They spent most of their energy fighting each other, and insufficient energy on external campaigning.
      Libertarians alternate between two extremes. At one extreme they apply detailed ideological purity tests to would-be recruits, declaring “You Pass” or “You Fail”. At the other extreme they associate with people or groups who turn out to be undesirable (in some cases highly undesirable), seemingly adopting the principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Both approaches are ineffective. The first is exclusionary, the second speaks to a lack of confidence.

    • j r

      People generally don’t call themselves populists, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of them. I don’t know any libertarians who call themselves populists, but I know plenty who post rather populist sounding things on Facebook. Take that anecdote for what it’s worth.

      As for the libertarian movement, I’m inclined to go the other way. I’ve never really seen the point to libertarianism as a political movement. It’s almost antithetical. Rather, libertarianism best functions as a sort of ideological virus that infects people with liberal ideas that they take back and spread among other movements.

      It is worth noting that when all is said and done, Hayek and Friedman will likely have done much more for the spread and adoption of classically liberal ideas that Ron and Rand Paul will have. The principal contribution of the Pauls seems to be a dedicated cadre of folks who will take to the internet at the slightest provocation to shout down anyone saying insignificantly praiseworthy things about Ron or Rand Paul.

      • Your anecdote speaks perfectly to my point: The populists are always them and never us. It is never a good thing to be a populist, hence it’s always something that those other folks are, over there, the dumb ones, see them? They’re the populists…

        The fundamental question you need to ask yourself is why are you a libertarian? Are you a libertarian because you like to voice philosophical opinions about big questions, or are you a libertarian because you actually want to enjoy more tangible liberty in your life?

        If the former, then the libertarian “movement” (stagnation, really) gives you everything you could ever hope for. If the latter, then libertarianism is a complete and utter failure.

        I don’t want to self-identify with an in-group. That’s not why I got interested in libertarianism. What I want is liberty. Freedom. Tangible change. I like philosophy as much as the next lib-nerd, but there is a reason why I like it – because I want stuff from it. At the end of the day, a political affiliation that offers me nothing but the warm-fuzzies of collectivist group affiliation is a waste of my time. I have other hobbies that produce actual, tangible results.

      • martinbrock

        Ron Paul is not an academic, and some academics think that academics ultimately contribute everything, but Paul’s contribution was his confrontation with Giuliani in the ’07 Presidential debate and other courageous positions he has taken in the political arena, something that Hayek and Friedman never did. Paul is not a particularly original thinker, but he stands his ground.

        Associating Ron Paul with a populist “tea party”, as this term came to be known, is revisionist. Paul supporters were the germ of a “tea party” movement, but know nothings of many stripes quickly infiltrated it, and it ended up with little loyalty to Paul’s platform on key issues like the warfare state, the issues that actually galvanized Paul’s followers in his Presidential campaigns.

        I never much cared what Ron Paul said about the gold standard or monetary policy more generally, because the POTUS, in theory, is not the commander in chief of money or banking or the economy generally, but he is commander in chief of the armed forces, and in that capacity, Paul is the only major party candidate for the office in my lifetime who even remotely reflects my thinking.

        Rand Paul hasn’t contributed similarly at this point, and I don’t think much of hereditary titles in general.

        • j r

          I don’t have a strong desire to associate the Paul’s with anyone. I’m just asking have either of them done anything that has either directly or indirectly led to a tangible or measurable increase in individual freedom?

          You can talk about building awareness or raising an agenda, but unless you can actually translate that into real changes in law or policy, I’m not sure I see the point in giving them too much credit. There was a point when I was excited about having Ron Paul on the national stage and then I heard him speak. I remember him going on Meet the Press and leading with a point about ending the Department of Education. That sort of thing plays great to people who are already libertarians or have latent libertarian feelings. What about everyone else?

          • martinbrock

            Ending the Dept. of Education seems a wonderful idea to me, so Paul advocating it also seems wonderful. Calling 9/11 “blow back” didn’t win friends or influence people in many circles either, but I never expected Paul to win. He expanded the circle of people who will at least listen to these ideas without dismissing the spokesman as a whacko, and that’s all he could possibly have done.

            I don’t ever expect libertarians to “win” the battle for control of the United State. We’ll never create libertopia or anything approaching it by winning political contests. That horse left the gate a long time ago, catching it is not remotely possible. If you want political victories within the U.S. system, if you want to change law or state policy, you should join one of the two vaguely pro-state factions, the “liberals” or the “conservatives”. Paul, to his credit, though he finally decided to play the game as a Republican, never really surrendered to the two-party state.

            Maybe it’s too early to tell, but Rand Paul possibly has surrendered. We’ll see. Either way, he’ll never substantially alter the progress of the United State toward ever greater size and scope from within the state. Halting this progress is a lost cause. At best, he can use the media access that office affords to broadcast libertarian ideas and interest more people in them, as his father did, and that’s no small accomplishment.

            The only hope for a freer society, organized by free association rather than a battle to dominate a state, is something like the Free State Project. If the FSP fails, then I’ll pin my hopes on other attempts by libertarians to create intentional communities, until I have no more hopes to pin.


      I’m with you, my man, but calling other libertarians names is, you know, so much FUN. More seriously, Matt Z. has voiced similar feelings on at least a couple of occasions.

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    Without endorsing “libertarian populism” generally, or even accepting that it is a coherent concept, I do believe that there is at least one respectable libertarian argument against open borders, which I present here:

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  • David Johnson

    I think using “cosmopolitanism” is the wrong choice. Not only does it bring to mind the unfortunate “cosmotarian” moniker, it’s not at all required for libertarian political policies. One doesn’t have to think a certain way, believe certain things, or have a certain moral foundation, in order to be libertarian. It is a political ideology not a life philosophy! Both libertarian populists and cosmopolitans are in favor of free tree, it doesn’t much matter that they disagree on the why. As a young man I was very populist, now that I am older I am much more cosmopolitan, but at no time did any of my libertarian political stances change (other than softening a bit around the edges).

  • Fallon

    As good as Carney is at pointing out much of the rent seeking, mercantilism and protectionism plaguing America, his recommendations come up anemic. Carney is still a Republican Party ass-kisser holding out for legislative amelioration. Carney believes that if only Republicans engage in a ‘populist libertarian’ appeal to the working man, the ‘forgotten man’ in the Sumner sense, Republicans will win the White House again. Indeed, this strategy may result in Republican victory. But only fools would think other good would come from it. Is Carney a fool or an operative? The answer is not primary. It is more important to recognize that the fascist foxes of both parties will never turn vegetarian– it’s against the fundamental nature of the state: predatory. It is a shame that Carney appropriates the libertarian label. It is exactly this half-wayism, strong empirical case followed by empty more-of-the-same advocacy, that makes Carney very attractive to the neocons at AEI– an organization with no real intentions of diminishing state power. Quite the opposite, really. e.g. Who are Bush’s biggest cheerleaders for the wars in Iraq and the Middle East?

  • Where are the libertarian populists on two of the central liberty issues of the day, gay marriage and reproductive liberty?

  • J-Lib

    For me, “cosmopolitan” is not self-evidently a quality to aspire to –especially not in the connotation that it is a superior way of being; that it’s usually invoked by liberal elitists in Manhattan, sneering down at the regular folk. Being a citizen of the world in the sense of open-mindedness and welcoming all, is one thing. Despising one’s own home, or those with strong ties to a place and to a culture, is another thing — as is calling for totally open borders. We have always been a melting pot/salad bowl of culture and (imperfectly free) trade. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to have distinct geographic and political boundaries in place by which to protect the distinctive liberties we’ve managed to win.

  • J-Lib

    Being black American in Chicago,having grown up among white and Asian neighbors, a creative, with art/music school creds, having family in Europe, I guess it has never occurred to me that I needed to pat myself on the back about being “cosmopolitan,” nor that I should feel ashamed should half of me also be attached to neighborhoods, towns, the country — even the suburbs, where I have settled again. I can talk about just about anything with any one, i’ve done the bohemian thing, but sometimes I just want away from all the pretension and the trying-too-hard-ness of the urbane “sophisticates.” that might earn me a demerit on my “cosmopolitanism” report card. I adhere to Christianity, the original cosmopolitan religion, and I’ve counted myself as a Christian anarchist for some time. Yet I kind of realize, instantly dissolving the borders is not the be-all and end-all of anarchism, and in fact, seems to me to be a backasswards way of achieving that goal — one at moreover plays into global statism and probably does not advance the decentralist anarchist goal at all. So, I guess my point is, there are higher priorities than being accounted sufficiently cosmopolitan.

    • J-Lib

      Plus, I don’t have any problem whatsoever with white people as long as they have no problem with me, and I’m not a Southernophobe, which makes me especially un-cosmo.