Sunday, April 16, 2017

From the Archives: Talking about 'liberaltarianism' at the University of Virginia

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on April 16, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Talking about 'liberaltarianism' at the University of Virginia
April 16, 2010 11:23 PM MST

On April 15, an interdisciplinary group of scholars from two universities and a Washington think tank participated in a panel discussion at the University of Virginia on the topic, “Libertarianism: Left or Right?” The panel was organized by Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at UVA, who explained how it came about to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner.

“I met Brink Lindsey in the course of doing an event at [the Cato Institute] on my book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. I had read his article about “liberaltarianism,” proposing an alliance between liberals and libertarians. I thought it was really interesting, a really creative new way to think about politics in the 21st century.”

Gerard Alexander, Will Wilkinson, Sahar Akhtar, Brink Lindsey liberaltarianism libertarianism UVA Rick Sincere
Lindsey, vice president of research at Cato, had “brought a liberaltarianism discussion to several universities,” Burns said, including Princeton and Stanford, and he “asked if I wanted to do it down at the University of Virginia. So I put together some folks who are interested in engaging these questions.”

The eventual panel was made up of Lindsey and a colleague from Cato, Will Wilkinson, as well as Gerard Alexander and Colin Bird, both associate professors in the UVA Department of Politics; political scientist Steven Teles from Johns Hopkins; Sahar Akhtar, assistant professor of philosophy at UVA; and Burns.

There were some distinguished names in the audience, as well, including UVA English professor Paul Cantor, UVA psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, and UVA philosophy professor Loren Lomasky.

After the free-wheeling panel discussion ended, Lindsey explained the basis of his argument, which was first published in an article in The New Republic called “Liberaltarians” on December 4, 2006:

There is, he said, a “need to rethink the historical alliance between libertarians and social conservatives, that that alliance was born out of unique historical circumstances, specifically, the challenge of socialism at home and totalitarian socialism abroad. That’s gone now. There’s a lot of ideological flux on the right. It’s an appropriate time for libertarians to see the possibilities of engaging people on the left side of the political spectrum.”

Asked why there is an organized libertarian caucus within the Republican Party but no equivalent in the Democratic Party, Lindsey replied:

“Who knows? One reason is that libertarians have not made an effort to present libertarian policy ideas in a way that is calculated in any way to be congenial to the way liberals think.”

He added, “Whether they think of themselves that way or not, libertarians have been part of a right coalition. They have framed their arguments in conservative terms, in terms of preserving the heritage of American liberty and venerating the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, rather than in presenting their case in terms that might find a more receptive audience on the left.”

One of Lindsey’s respondents on the panel, Gerard Alexander of UVA, set out his own point of view of “liberaltarianism” as one that understands “that where libertarians ally themselves is a historically contingent thing. I don’t believe that conditions justify them allying more with people to their left than their right. I think the basic conditions that obtained 40 or 50 years ago still obtain.

“Therefore,” he concluded, “the most logical alliance, however imperfect, for libertarians in modern America is still with people who call themselves conservatives.”

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