I'm unfashionably late to the party on this one, but Christopher Beam's piece on Libertarianism ("The Trouble with Liberty" from New York magazine) continues to draw fire from various corners of the blogosphere. Beam writes:
For all the talk about casting off government shackles, libertarianism is still considered the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged. [...] The traditional libertarian line is that government should be responsible for a standing army, local security, and a courts system, and that's it--a system called minarchy. [see the Wikipedia article]
"There's always tension between freedom and fairness," writes Beam:
We want less government regulation, but not when it means firms can hire cheap child labor. We want a free market, but not so bankers can deceive investors. Libertarianism, in promoting freedom above all else, pretends the tension doesn't exist. [...]
The result [of a Libertarian utopia] wouldn't be a city on a hill. It would be a port town in Somalia. In a world of scarce resources, everyone pursuing their own self-interest would yield not Atlas Shrugged but Lord of the Flies. And even if you did somehow achieve Libertopia, you'd be surrounded by assholes.
FrumForum's John Vecchione demolishes a central conceit of Libertarians by noting that "The Founders were no Libertarians. They were constitutionalists:"
The Founders believed in carefully delineated federal powers either broad (Hamilton) or limited (Jefferson, sometimes) but all believed in a more powerful state than libertarians purport to believe in. If ever there was a libertarian document it was the Articles of Confederation. There was no national power. The federal government could not tax. Its laws were not supreme over state laws. It was in fact, the hot mess that critics of libertarians believe their dream state would be... and it was recognized as such by the majority of the country and was why the Constitution was ratified. The Articles of Confederation is the true libertarian founding document and this explains the failure of libertarianism.
Beam's article reads like a confirmation or a summary of all the things liberals tend to complain about when they talk about libertarians rather than any grand new insights.
Speaking of aggrieved Libertarians, Reason writers commented here and here, with Radley Balko writing that Beam's piece was "a thrashing disguised as a primer." Perhaps, however, the umbrella under which some of those nutty ideas reside (eliminate the Federal Reserve, return to the gold standard, privatize our national infrastructure) needs to be thrashed a bit.
I got into a discussion of Libertarianism today, and (surprise!) disagreed with the positive assessment put forth of Libertarians' "consistent stance on the issues." Their ideological consistency is very reminiscent of a broken clock--their predictable response is sometimes precisely correct but generally irrelevant to real-world problems.
Mindlessly cutting taxes and shrinking government would, in all likelihood, entrench corporatism more deeply and enrich the plutocracy more obscenely; how it would expand liberty for the rest of us is an issue never truly addressed by Libertopian dreamers.