Posted on


Eh? Color me somewhat unimpressed by this intellectual project, though see Julian Sanchez for a good rundown of ideas in the air and Will Wilkinson for some high theoretical backdrop. In large part, I just don’t think the idea of forging an “alliance” between “liberals” and “libertarians” makes a ton of conceptual sense — I’m not sure who’s supposed to be doing the allying or what, really, an alliance would mean in this context. There are sound libertarian or libertarianish policy ideas and lines of argument out there in the realm of economics and it’s always a good thing to try to keep these in mind and co-opt what it seems reasonable to co-opt. Certainly I would hope on the merits to see Democrats continue to evolve in a more libertarian direction on gun control and the efficacy of certain types of economic regulation, especially at the state and local level where I think a lot of zoning and licensing policies have gone badly awry.

I would hope that moving in such a direction would, among other things, win Democrats some additional votes from people with some libertarian instincts, but I don’t think it makes sense to think of that as part of a deliberate “fusionist” enterprise. Contemporary American liberalism is committed to an effort to at least trying to find pragmatic ways to promote the common good, which will entail some overlap with libertarian policy ideas but it’s a limited degree of overlap and it’s not really at all the same approach to these questions.

In a lot of ways, I see more promise in trying to fuse elements of the progressive agenda with some elements of the much-derided cultural conservatism. At the moment, the cultural right is pretty heavily invested in an anti-gay agenda (or, perhaps, in opposition to the “homosexual agenda”) in a way that makes bridges hard to find. Cohort analysis indicates, however, that that will almost certainly pass. You’d be left then — and to some extent already have today — the prospect that a liberalism willing to concede that there are positive virtues to child-rearing in the context of a stable family life could garner support for the proposition that a progressive approach to economics can bring a lot more to the table in terms of supporting such activities than can legal restrictions on homosexuality and complaints about Hollywood.

Meanwhile, lurking in the background of American politics post-Bush and post-Iraq will be some disagreements about inequality. I know of plenty of soi disant progressives who don’t really think we have a serious problem here, or else who think it’s a problem that can and should be solved almost entirely through the levers of education policy. At the same time, I know of some conservative critics of that approach, and I can’t imagine any libertarians worrying about growing inequality.

At the same time, the notion that we are, in one way or another, working toward the goal of some kind of universal health care system is, though little articulated by Democratic Party politicians, really the lowest common denominator of progressive policy analysis at this point in time. There’s much disagreement about the modalities here, but it’s genuinely fundamental. Libertarians willing to swallow this in at least some form (note that I’m pretty hostile to the universal mandate model, but many liberals in good standing disagree with me about that) might find themselves reasonably happy with the Democratic Party going forward (not thrilled with it, but very few liberals are thrilled either) but almost certainly not otherwise.