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A pretty great post by Megan McArdle on open-mindedness, spite and political polarization.

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Here’s a great article by Tunku Varadarajan on the tea-party movement.

On right and left, “educated” people have given vent to their contempt for the Tea Party crowd, leading me to conclude that there must, surely, be considerable significance in a movement that has had scorn poured on it by such varied names […]

On the left, they are afraid that it will initiate a tidal wave that causes the loss of numerous House seats. On the right, the fear is that it will mount its own candidates and simply be a spoiler.

This fear would explain the sneering toward the Tea Partiers, the smugness with which they are looked down upon. As many in the movement note, you need only change the protesters ideologically and demographically, and you have merely another cool example of “community organizing.” […]

What bothers me, however, is that although ideological differences are at the bottom of the Tea Party assaults, the critique is almost purely aesthetic: The Tea Partiers, it is said, are crude, sloganeering, lemming-like, heartland Bible-Beltists who don’t understand policy or David Brooks’ subtleties. […]

It is hardly surprising that in times like these there should be a large, angry, populist movement. But populism does not conform to the standard left/right divide, and in different circumstances it can go either way. […]

Yes, the populists fear and hate the big businesses and Wall Street; but—and this is the heartening thing—they have not let this turn them against capitalism and the free market. They seem truly to have taken in the point, long emphasized by libertarians and others, that big business is not the same thing as capitalism or the free market, that it is in fact often their enemy. […]

[This video] makes me emotional, because this woman represents an America that Tocqueville would have lauded. I will take her any day over the “educated class,” the bureaucratic mollusks and the defeatist sad sacks in Washington. I do think the Tea Partiers are political amateurs, but the content of their politics is deadly serious. The professional politicians will dismiss them at their peril.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I doubt if I’d ever attend a tea party even if I were in the States. Do their most frequently expressed sentiments reflect my political philosophy? No. Are they filled with a lot of nuts and weirdos? Yes. Do I think that the tea-part movement represents a positive change for America? Most certainly.

Let me be clear. The tea-party people are a hodgepotch bunch, a diverse mix of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, angry reactionaries, populists and social conservatives united by little else than anger at the state of the nation and contempt for those with power and influence. Yes, most of them are not primarily devoted to the cause of individual liberty, or any ideology in particular. But no populist movement can ever be truly for libertarianism, history has taught us that much. And the tea-party comes closer to the spirit of liberty than either of the two major parties.

It is true that some of their anger is misdirected, much of their political ideas naive; yet in their essentially grassroots opposition to the forces in power and their disdain for big government, they have created an environment which might lead to good things in the not too distant future. America today suffers from a near total political domination by the two main parties. And sadly, both parties represent entrenched interests and a desire to control you, in one way or the other.  A recent poll, however, found that the tea-party brand is today regarded more highly than either the Democrats or the Republicans. The spirit of this movement is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. And maybe, just maybe, that candidate will be someone who will actually be able to affect some real changes in a positive direction.

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The latest issue of Reason magazine has a long op-ed titled “The Libertarian moment.” Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie make the case that we are at the threshold of a new age of freedom. They cite as evidence relaxing social norms, increased permissiveness and the `soft libertarianism’ that the internet age has spawned.

I would be happy to be proved wrong but I cannot help feel that this is just a puff piece designed to fit in with Reason’s 40th anniversary. Most of the examples they cite could as easily apply to liberalism. Homosexuality may be getting more acceptable but so is the idea that offending speech ought to be regulated. Marijuana may be easier to find but smoking is much harder. Anti-discrimination laws are becoming wider in scope every day; political correctness more pervasive.  The nanny-state is getting more obscene, government more bloated, the deficit is a monster.

Even the word libertarianism is under attempted hijack from some who call themselves libertarian, yet fail to see the fundamental difference between negative and positive liberty, and between social pressure and state coercion.

These are tough times to be a libertarian. Perhaps Welch and Gillespie are right and change is on the way. After all, they say that the darkest hour comes before dawn. Till I see the sun though, I see little reason to believe that things are going to really change anytime soon.

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That was the topic addressed by a panel of scholars gathered at Princeton University two weeks ago. Reason has the report. Excerpts:

Hayes said he thinks more ideologues of all stripes are beginning to notice that real-world government tends toward neither a social-democratic nor libertarian ideal. “The problem of the U.S. economy in the past eight years has been a kind of corporate socialism…[a] hydra-headed monster of corruption and malfeasance.” He added, “In the current financial crisis, the two groups who come out looking good are the Marxists and the Austrians,” since both schools of economists predicted that government will tend to come to the aid of the already-wealthy amidst cyclical booms and busts.

[…] Paul Starr, on the other hand, sounded more willing to defend modern, welfare-statist liberalism on philosophical grounds. “What do liberals and libertarians have in common? The fundamental value of liberty. What do liberals and libertarians disagree about? What liberty means.” Liberals, he argued, see threats to liberty from concentrations of private power and will continue to defend government as a means of combating those threats: “The value of these programs,” such as Social Security, he said, “isn’t just security but liberty itself.”

[…] Lindsey coined the term “liberaltarians” for an imagined alliance meant to replace the decades-long, arduously-constructed “fusionist” alliance between libertarians and the right. He voted for conservative Ronald Reagan as a young libertarian (calling himself a “con-symp”) but voted for Democrats in 2006. He said he can no longer stomach the pretense by the two near-identical major political parties that, as he put it, “a 35% top marginal tax rate is Social Darwinism but a 39% rate is socialism.”

[…] Indeed, he echoed Massey’s call for open empirical discussion of how large a welfare state would be effective, saying that countries like Sweden suggest that once nations are wealthy enough, they can “afford” welfare states. “That just doesn’t seem like a matter of great importance,” he argued. Instead of an all-or-nothing, “yes or no” argument about whether to have a welfare state at all, Lindsey envisioned a collegial conversation about the size of the government safety net. “Bottom line: I’d rather hang out with the liberals and argue about economics than hang out with the Republicans and argue about Darwin and stem cells.”

[…] Brown University political science professor John Tomasi offered a plan for bringing together such feuding factions. Theatrically arranging three cups in front of himself on the podium, Tomasi encouraged libertarians (and liberals) to drink three metaphorical cups of potentially strange-tasting philosophical ideas: (1) Accept that there is a real distinction between classical liberals (who share a somewhat flexible bundle of ideas such as democracy, constitutionalism, and individual rights) and libertarians, adherents of a strict version of property rights that “not many people believe;” (2) accept that some version of “social justice” will seem intuitively appealing to most political thinkers and must be part of our agenda; and (3) recognize that once 1 and 2 are accepted, a friendly empirical conversation about economic policies can proceed.

On a related note, I highly recommend the liberal-libertarian blog “The Art of the Possible”.

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An interesting article about the relationship between science fiction (the hard variety) and libertarianism.

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