Liberals who fear the libertarian temptation

Every now and then I come across some liberal commentator who is mildly critical of abuses of power under the Obama administration, but warns against making too much of them, because you thereby create distrust of government and play into the hands of libertarians.

The reasoning is that if you make too much of an issue of preventive detention, undeclared wars, assassination lists and warrant-less surveillance, you’ll lead cause people to focus on abuses of power by government and forget about abuses of power by big corporations.  Never mind that corporate power is so closely linked to government power these days that this is a distinction without a difference.

As an example of this kind of thinking, click on Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald and Assange If You Knew What They Really Think? by Sean Wilentz for The New Republic.   He does not rebut anything that Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald or Julian Assange have actually asserted.  Rather he speculates on their underlying philosophy based on thin evidence, and warns against playing into the hands of corporations and libertarians.

For a good response to Wilentz, click on The Liberal Surveillance State by Henry Farrell on the Crooked Timber web log.  For some more examples of strained reasoning,  scroll down through the comments section.

I am not a libertarian.   But I am a civil libertarian, and it is a fact that right now, many self-described libertarians are better defenders of basic civil liberties than pro-Obama liberals.

A recent study shows the pitfalls of thinking that you have to either be on Team Blue or Team Red.  Click The Depressing Psychological Theory That Explains Washington for a report on the study by Ezra Klein for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.  It tells how people were for (or against) a set of proposals when told it was a liberal program, and against (or for) the same set of proposals when told it was a conservative program.

If what somebody says is factually correct and morally right, you shouldn’t worry about whose hands it will “play into.”

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3 Responses to “Liberals who fear the libertarian temptation”

  1. whungerford Says:

    There is another side to this story: the libertarians who approve the Patriot Act or overlook the unlimited detention provision in NDAA. Yes, laws ought to be good or bad independent of who supports or opposes them. But it is idealism to neglect the consequences of focusing on a single issue as if that is all that matters.


  2. philebersole Says:

    I think you’re a bit confused about what libertarians are, perhaps confusing them with the Tea Party Republilcans.

    The merit of libertarians is precisely that they have opposed the USA Patriot Act and unlimited detention provisons in the NDAA. The problem I have with them is that they oppose necessary government regulation and social services.

    I take issue with Sean Wilentz and certain other self-described liberals who say that makes their defense of basic civil liberties invalid. Where do you stand?

    You might read or re-read the two first links in the main post.

    Or the following.


  3. philebersole Says:

    Bill, a majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted in favor of the USA Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act. I am opposed.

    Many Democrats and Republicans favor hunting down Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. I think Assange and Snowden have performed great service to the public understanding.

    Where do you stand?


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