Liberals & libertarians: birds of a feather?

This would be a very very interesting seminar to attend today. Too bad it's 2,800 miles away, at Stanford.

Liberals and Libertarians: Kissing Cousins or Distant Relatives?: When Jan 13, 2009 3:00 pm (Tuesday). Where: Encina Hall, Philippines Conference Room (C330).

LIBERALS: Joshua Cohen / Political Science, Stanford University. Pamela Karlan / Law, Stanford University. Bradley DeLong / Economics, UC Berkeley

LIBERTARIANS: Brink Lindsay / Cato Institute. Will Wilkinson / Cato Institute, Blogger at FlyBottle. Virginia Postrel / Dynamist

That liberals and libertarians share philosophical origins is clearly implied by the common Latin root for both words, liberalis, meaning open or generous. Both philosophies advocate civil liberties, individual autonomy, limited state interference in private affairs, and a non-bellicose foreign policy. Where the two stances have diverged is with respect to fiscal and regulatory issues. Although liberals generally view markets as the best way of organizing production and distribution, they have been more sympathetic than libertarians to governmental involvement in the management of markets for the public good. Moreover, whereas both liberals and libertarians generally concur that the public sector should avoid excessive spending, the former have been more supportive of government programs to expand opportunity and provide social insurance.

During the 1960s and 1970s, when the public sector was expanding and government spending was rising sharply, libertarians leaned strongly toward a “fusionist” coalition with traditional social conservatives and generally supported the Republican realignment of the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2000, however, the Republican party has succumbed to ideologies that have shifted it steadily away from core libertarian principles by curtailing civil liberties, expanding government intrusions into private affairs, running up huge fiscal deficits, expanding federal control over local institutions such as schools, and launching costly military invasions in the absence of direct threats.

In the wake of these developments, the “fusionist” coalition between libertarians and conservative republicans has substantially frayed and perhaps the time has come to reconsider the historical estrangement between liberals and libertarians. Given shared positions with respect to civil liberties, state involvement in private affairs, fiscal responsibility, and the War in Iraq, it may be fruitful to search for common ground in other areas. Is there room for compromise on contested regulatory and fiscal issues, or are liberals and libertarians destined to be occasional tactical allies with fundamentally conflicting strategic visions? And regardless of possibilities for closer political cooperation, what libertarian insights do liberals need to do a better job of appreciating, and vice versa?

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