Libertarians fall into two distinct groups: strict libertarians like Rand Paul and classical liberals such as myself. “Classical liberal” is not a term that rolls off of the tongue. Consequently, “libertarian” is the choice term in popular discourse when discussing policies that favor limited government. Libertarians of all stripes oppose President Obama’s endless attacks on market institutions and the rich. The umbrella term comfortably embraces both strands of libertarian theory vis-à-vis a common intellectual foe.
If somebody opens up a chin-puller with a massive blooper like “Rand Paul is a strict libertarian, I tend to lose interest in reading further.
You see, arguments of this sort are based on assumptions, and the honest proponent lays out his assumptions right up front, so the observer has a chance at figuring out whether the argument itself is grounded in anything they recognize as the real world.
There is no real world I am aware of in which Rand Paul is a strict libertarian. Hence, any argument based on the notion that his is such is quite likely to be filled with as much hooey as if the speaker had instead described Paul as being a purple people eater.
Nonetheless I pressed on, and found that my worst fears were justified:
A more accurate rendition of the various strands of libertarian thought would hearken back to such great thinkers as Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, and Madison. Their incisive contributions concerned the relationship between individual liberty and the social order.
Which is pretty much the same heritage possessed by “classical liberalism,” wouldn’t you say?
The author attempts to pigeon-hole what he variously calls “strict libertarianism,” “strong libertarianism,” and “hard-line libertarianism” without ever actually making a credible case that Rand Paul espouses much of the examples of it he cites.
He is similarly shifty when it comes to characterizing his view of the classical liberal position (which, by the way, he never describes as being “strict, strong, or hard-core”). He cherry picks some areas – primarily the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons – as well as issues involving relative state powers used to remedy social defects – but essentially comes down to the notion that government needs a much greater ability to use force to “provide for the common good” than “hard-line libertarianism” is willing to cede to the state.
Now, leaving aside for the moment the straw-man aspects to both sides of his descriptors, there is an argument to be made concerning the actual applicability of true “Big Libertarian” ideology to the real world, and it is the same argument often applied to Communism – neither will work as soon as you add human nature to the mix.
Libertarianism traditionally offers the solution of “natural order” as a remedy, while Communism offers the remedy of massive use of top down state aggressive power to enforce Communist precepts against an unwilling human nature.
It is generally concede that the most influential gathering of “classical liberals” ever to convene was in Philadelphia during the pre-and-post Revolutionary period, when those men produced the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederacy, and the United States Constitution. Their influence was further demonstrated in the various constitutions of the states which many of them helped to write.
These documents can legitimately be considered the “bible” of classical liberalism in action. And you know what? We’ve seen what happened.
The door that the classical liberals left open for the use of state force in the provision of the common good has led to a tyranny far more pervasive than anything the Founders and Framers could have imagined, or would ever have tolerated. They would have considered the current state of America as a failure of classical liberalism and, likely, a failure caused by inherent flaws in the structure of “strict, strong, or hard-line” classical liberalism. Maybe classical liberalism just won’t work in the real world as a protector and guarantor of individual liberty against the encroachments state power, because it cannot survive the pressures of human nature?
And maybe, just maybe, if they had it all to do over again, with the luxury of 250 years of hindsight, the Framers might move more in the direction of libertarianism today than they did the first time around.
Sort of like Rand Paul, in fact.