I’m fascinated by the liberaltarian conversations here and elsewhere and, as an outsider, more than a little bit jealous. Whether or not the potential movement will be realized in the short term is still to be determined (although I tend to think based on demographics, it’s probably a good bet). What I find so interesting is that it’s a political philosophy so far along that it can already be traced back historically, measured against established ideas, compared to movements in other countries, and can almost break through the elected official barrier (yes, the fact that all major libertarian electeds are social conservatives is a point, but we’re already starting to see the de-emphasis of social issues on the libertarian Right, Beck-ites and Islamaphobes excepted.)
My point is, liberaltarianism is ready to take off given the right political moment. For someone like myself – economically Left and more socially conservative – there really is no organized counter-ideology. If the political moment ever arrived and liberaltarianism actually got a foothold in American government, the only opposition would come from the Left on economic issues and the Right on social issues. Getting hit by “both sides,” liberaltarianism would come to be seen as centrist (don’t worry, I don’t consider it High Broderism). Sad, considering liberaltarianism is much more philosophically cohesive than the hodgepodge of ideas that make up modern liberalism and conservatism.
The kind of counter-ideology I would support is actually in the opposite stage as liberaltarianism; that is, while there is a lack of public discussion about the ideology, there are a couple of electeds who would loosely fit the bill (Bob Casey, Jim Webb to name a couple). Unfortunately, they’re usually just considered conservative Democrats – as though the only difference between them and the Lieberman/Nelson crowd is a matter of degree. Realistically, even my two examples – Casey and Webb – come at policy from different angles; Casey being a pro-life, pro-government New Deal throwback, and Webb being more of a 19th century Jackson throwback – certainly a class warrior, but ambivalent about government generally. So to lump them together in some sort of liberaltarian opposition ideology might be accurate, but also requires thinking in the broadest of broad strokes.
As for historical traditions and comparisons to other movements or governments, only the Red Tories could be categorized as somewhat Left traditionalist. Unfortunately the Red Tories are also a bit more paternalistic than populist, and in that way, I don’t think the model translates as well on this side of the Atlantic. I’m not suggesting there are no good lessons to be learned from the Red Tories, just that it’s not directly applicable.
Anyway, I don’t mean to go into all of this just to bemoan the fact that the coalition/realignment I would like to see isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I just mention it as a point of comparison to show, setbacks aside, how far along liberaltarianism actually is in this country. It begins with a set of values (the “progress and freedom” duo that Erik listed certainly sums that up); it has a desired outcome (the open-market, classical liberalism with safety net policies in place practiced in Sweden and Denmark); it has an easily traceable American lineage, and a growing amount of interest from average citizens. This is an ascendant ideology, not a dying one. And yes, I agree that liberaltarian is a pretty poor label and left-libertarian isn’t quite right either. But it’s not a bad luxury to be at the stage when what it’s called can be debated.
Frankly, I’m not sure how any of those questions can be answered on the other side in any way that actually draws mainstream support. What would be the values of the opposing side? Progress and freedom sound pretty darn appealing, and I’m guessing they attract a lot more adherents than something like tradition and justice or stability and peace or any of the completely dull (not to mention counter to the way this country likes to imagine itself) set of values that would naturally mark liberaltarianisms opposite. Second, you’d have to get beyond the assumption that whatever is counter to any kind of libertarianism (left or right) is a reliance on The State – as though the obvious counter to more freedom for the people from government is more restraint of the people by government.
But even if the divide were less about Big Government vs. Small Government, and more about absolute independence vs. affiliation, I’m afraid absolute independence has a much more positive public image than affiliation, regardless of the role of government. Unions aren’t exactly popular right now, familial ties have arguably weakened, and the belief in self-invention has become more and more accepted (now even to the point where there are serious predictions that a young person will soon be “entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood.”)
So on the values front, liberaltarianism has a head start. On the vision of a society putting the policies of the respective ideologies in place, well – where the liberaltarians can claim Sweden, a model of efficiency, modernism, free markets, free people, opportunity and optimism about the future – what kind of vision can the anti-liberaltarians put forth? The question is not rhetorical; believe me, I know that any description of an alternative to libertarianism (again, left or right) is a dud in terms of political marketability, more likely in language and sentiment to appeal to conservatives and in policy implications to appeal to the Left. Unlike liberaltarianism, in which there has been a gradual embrace or at least open-mindedness of the Left to accept libertarian tenets, there is nothing that suggests the Left is open to conservative philosophy or that conservatives are open to Left-leaning economic policies (not to mention left-leaning views on democracy and, in a modern context, left-leaning views on peace).
To add to all of this, both social liberalism and economic conservatism – plus the tendency toward political independence – increases with education, so as education rates rise, so will the pool of potential liberaltarian backers. In Carney’s Examiner piece that questioned the liberal – libertarian alliance, he easily brushes away the notion that the Cato departures are “inside baseball.” He shouldn’t. That’s exactly what they are. They’re just a response to the current political moment, specifically, the presidency of Barack Obama. Just because it can be safely stated that Obama is not a liberaltarian (something I’m quite thankful for), doesn’t mean that there never will be liberaltarian politicians and a sizable constituency to vote for them. What party they end up in is undetermined and even more up in the air since Obama is clearly not the person to nurture the alliance, but as an ideology, their future is rosy.