It’s been a while since this site talked about Progressive Libertarians but there’s been a bit of a froth lately about this movement — it’s getting noticed — so it’s time to take another look.
Writing at Tech Central Station — a classic free market Libertarian hang-out — Arnold Kling talks about The Long Tail of politics which he believes is illustrated by the fact that “none of the above” is the fastest growing political party in the country. Writing in the New York Review of Books — and taking a nice aim at Tom Friedman — John Gray dusts of the phrase “NeoLiberal” and gives it a whirl to describe folks who believe in Friedman’s view of free-market triumphalism.
Kling goes on to say that his version of “The Long Tail” (a trademarked phrase, by the way so this won’t last long) isn’t a party or a coalition or a third part or a silent majority. Gray is more dismissive.
Well, they’re both wrong. But much of what they say is, indeed, accurate. They are — from their unique and very different perspectives — describing Progressive Libertarians in all their contradictions.
Progressive Libertarians are a 21st Century political movement which means they’re easy to spot (Friedman!) but hard to classify (Schwarzenegger! McCain!). Why? Because political movements are often unfocused and contradictory, involving competing ideas, and very different world views. And there’s lots of vagueness and uncertainty because folks who are — consciously or not adhering to this world view — are often doing so on their own, without a lot of political savvy. Silicon Valley — indeed any part of the country filled with wealthy self-made men and women — is a breeding ground for Progressive Libertarians. They believe in the power of the individual, they have little patience for large organizations, be they political parties, established charities, government agencies, unions or corporations. They believe in the network — in fact, many of them are architects of our new networked society and economy. And they have contempt — a not particularly attractive characteristic — for those who are unable to function the way they do. They don’t believe all men are created equal but they believe that hard work and smart thinking — not innate intelligence — can level the playing field.
Many of them became very wealthy in the past 10 years. And many of them believe their hard work was more important than luck or education or timing. So, it’s only natural that as they turn to politics and national affairs — these folks believe it is incumbent upon them to change the world — they are trying to shape politics to their views. That was true of the turn of the 20th Century Progressive movement, the political trend that developed the philosophy at the heart of the Democratic Party for much of the last century. Today, this beliefs-before-politics attitude is the main reason that Progressive Libertarians say they don’t want to be affiliated with a political party. It is why many of them feel free to borrow economic policies from the Republicans and social policy from the Democrats. And it is why they are a force to be reckoned with.