paleoliberalism

Anthony Gregory posted to a discussion group recently on the differences between neolibertarianism, paleolibertarianism, paleoconservatism, and the “new” kid on the block (who is, in fact, centuries old): paleoliberalism.

I quote him here with his permission:

[...] Let me clarify for everyone what I mean by “paleoliberal.”

I am a classic, old liberal, not in the Rooseveltian sense, but further back. I am a liberal the way FDR’s arguably misnamed Old Right opponents were liberals, the way Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine were liberals, and the way that everyone who is a libertarian is a liberal.

I like the term “paleoliberal” because it puts “paleoconservatism” in some context. Paleoconservatives, though they have some libertarian leanings here and there, are not nearly as clearly libertarian as a paleoliberal would be, since conservatives in the old days were never as libertarian as the classical liberals were.

The paleoliberal tradition is one of individual liberty, free markets, freedom from state persecution and privilege, cultural tolerance, private property, freedom of association, and peace. This is my political program, my ideology summed up in bullet points, my agenda.

Now, to answer [the question of] whether I am a “paleolibertarian,” which I imagine was not only based on a misreading of what I wrote, but on a general perception of my politics, probably at least in part due to my writing for LRC. My answer? No, not really. I am just a libertarian. However, I do have some paleolibertarian sympathies, insofar as:

  • I believe the paleolibertarian emphasis on a foreign policy of nonintervention and peace and free trade with all nations is absolutely the correct libertarian position, and the most practical, moral and respectful policy as it concerns the lives and freedoms of Americans and foreigners; and I consider the neolibertarian position on foreign policy to be absolutely wrong, dangerous, statist and evil.
  • I believe strongly in political decentralization, unlike the neolibertarians. I do not think the central state is the proper protector of our rights against local governments. I am as much a fan of the Tenth Amendment, from a structural viewpoint, as the rest of the Bill of Rights. It is here that I disagree with many libertarians with whom I otherwise have nearly no other arguments.
  • I happen to agree with paleolibertarians on the incredible importance of issues like central banking and Civil Rights egalitarianism, both of which have done more to expand and empower government in the 20th century than perhaps any policy other than war.
  • I am a fan of the historical tradition of revision, and consider it important to understand the workings of the state, its interest groups, and its collusive ties with the quasi-private sector. I think there’s more to being an effective libertarian proselytizer than being a “fiscal conservative” and “social liberal.” I have a fondness for American history that most paleolibertarians seem to share and that many libertarians seem to care little about.
  • I believe more in advancing libertarianism through a long term approach of educating people of ideas, rather than of trying to trick the public into voting for a constitutionalist, or working within the system in hopes that the politicos will throw us a voucher bone or meager tax cut. I do not think our winning strategy will mainly be electoral.
  • I am very interested in economics, take a hardcore Austrian approach to almost all economic issues, and don’t think economic freedom means increasing government spending but diverting some of it to “free-market” reform gimmicks. I don’t worship big business, knowing that a lot of it relies on corporatism and soft fascism and not free markets.
  • I do not believe, like many neolibertarians appear to, that being a libertarian is all about being a hedonist, being pro-prostitution or pro-Howard Stern, or hating religion. This is not to say I am opposed to people who like orgies, whores, and athiesm living their lives as they see fit. I am tremendously socially tolerant, but do not think that libertarianism is a lifestyle attitude. I think it is a political and ethical philosophy concerned with force and especially political force.
  • I am not as “PC” as the neolibertarians on a whole range of distracting issues in the “culture war.” Nor am I really a [social conservative] on any of this. I am agnostic, ambivalent or simply apathetic on such ridiculous questions as whether there should be prayer in those concentration camps known as public schools. I do not particularly consider it more a threat to my liberty to have my money stolen to “teach” about the Bible in public schools than when it’s stolen to teach Keynesian economics and promulgate dangerous mythology about Lincoln, the New Deal, etc. Theocracy isn’t the problem. The problem is the state. For questions of whether you should be able to walk nude on public property, I revert to my decentralism. What might make some sense for Berkeley, where I live, might not make sense for Red-State America.
  • Unlike many neolibertarians, I am skeptical, rather than always optimistic, about cultural change.

Now, some ways in which I am not particularly paleolibertarian, many of which relate more to personal opinion than political conviction:

  • I am pro-open borders as a matter of policy, and pro-immigration as an economic and cultural consideration, and, in general, pro-immigrant as well.
  • I am much more culturally liberal in my personal views than many paleolibertarians, though they are not uniform in this.
  • I am, unlike some (but again not all) paleolibertarians, firmly against state laws restricting abortion, and indeed think women who have abortions should not be disrespected and slighted. I consider abortion very wrong, more so than most neolibertarians, probably. But I also have a sense of tolerance for those who do it. (Once again, many paleolibertarians actually do look at this the same way, but some don’t.)
  • I am not particularly sold on the particular religious views of many paleolibertarians. I do have a sense of spirituality, though, that might irk the more Randian types.
  • I am not all that into hierarchy. There are many ways in which I am indeed a “left-libertarian” in that I think free markets would liberate workers and allow them to have much more control over the means of production, and that a libertarian society would probably have more praiseworthy decadence (to paraphrase the title of Jeff’s terrific book) than the paleolibertarians might want to expect or celebrate if it came to be. I don’t have quite the enthusiasm for the more peaceful big businesses and Red-State lifestyles that some of the paleolibertarians do. I am not too incredibly “pro-Wal-Mart.” Or “pro-SUV.” Or “anti-vegan.” I am, unlike the neo- and paleolibertarians, a conscientious objector on most culture war issues. So while I disagree with many on the radical left that the nuclear family must be abolished, I also disagree with many on the right that it’s the only way to go.
  • Unlike many paleolibertarians, I am skeptical, rather than always pessimistic, about cultural change.
  • I really enjoy living in Berkeley, CA, and wish that more people in our society were a lot more permissive and open towards certain “alternative lifestyles” (as well as truly tolerant of those who wanted to hold high their banners of tradition).

As you can see, I am simply a classical paleoliberal, a libertarian. Since the neolibertarians are far less libertarian than the paleolibertarians, I might be a lot more politically at home with the latter. But that’s not my fault. If the neolibertarians had opposed this monstrous war from the beginning, my perceived paleolibertarianism might not be as stark.


bk note #1: As far as I know, the term ‘paleoliberal’ was coined by Ludwig von Mises at a time when the American Right was embracing the term ‘conservative’ (which had perviously been a smear term from the Left) and the Mont Pelerin Society was embracing neoliberalism — a policy position that explicitly rejected “laissez faire” and allowed far more power for the State than had been acceptable to the Manchestermen of classical liberalism.

bk note #2: I am the proud holder of the domain name paleoliberal.com. The first time I use the word in this blog is here.

bk note #3: My favorite line from Gregory’s post is “I am, unlike the neo- and paleolibertarians, a conscientious objector on most culture war issues.”

bk note #4: My favorite single word in Gregory’s post is ‘agnostic‘ as in “I am agnostic, ambivalent or simply apathetic on such ridiculous questions as whether there should be prayer in those concentration camps known as public schools. I do not particularly consider it more a threat to my liberty to have my money stolen to “teach” about the Bible in public schools than when it’s stolen to teach Keynesian economics and promulgate dangerous mythology about Lincoln, the New Deal, etc. Theocracy isn’t the problem. The problem is the state.” [link added]

bk note #5: I find a real connection between Gregory’s list post and my blog post on liberal anarchism.

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