Liberals and Libertarians: Common Ground?

I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.              -Doctrine and Covenants 38:27

Agree with thine adversary quickly.                -3 Nephi 12:25 

As a libertarian, I have thought about the many differences between myself and the establishment (liberal and conservative).  I would like to focus on common ground between a 21st Century liberal and a 21st Century libertarian (classical liberal).

Common ground?  Perhaps you do not believe me.  It is true that I have a very difficult time with compulsory state interventionism in nearly any of its forms, be they economic, personal, social, educational, or foreign.  And I do believe that liberals, for the most part, have strong confidence in the ability of the state, through various forms of interventionism, to remedy many ills.

But there are commonalities.  Let me list a few that if I were in, say, Congress, I could work with left-leaning Democrats to accomplish:

1. Greater government transparency.  Too many conservatives have no problem with an opaque government, in matters both foreign and domestic.  Secret CIA activities?  I don’t want to know about it.  Warrantless searches?  Just get the bad guys.  It seems like there’s a lot of shoulder-shrugging or apathy when it comes to many secretive activities.  Liberals, I think, prefer more transparency, at least in larger numbers than conservatives do.  For instance, I consider de-classification of historical documents, including those related to the CIA, Richard Nixon, and the JFK assassination, (largely led by Democrats) to be a victory in government transparency.  An opaque government is no friend of liberty.

2. Investigation of government regulations.  I suppose this could be considered a subset of the first point.  It’s true that most left-leaning liberals are much more optimistic about government regulation than I am.  But I think that there are many who would like to investigate government regulations, past and present, for effectiveness.  What really worked most effectively?  What didn’t?  What unintended consequences resulted?  From a liberal perspective, this type of investigation may show what type of regulations to push forward and which to avoid.  From a libertarian perspective, it’s another piece of quantitative data to show the futility of government regulation.  I could see independent investigations being helpful for both parties.

3. Bring the troops home.  Do I support the troops?  Of course I do.  I want to bring them home and out of harm’s way, especially in conflicts we have no place in.  I think I would have more sympathizers with this perspective from the left than from the right.

4. End corporate welfare.  Government business alliances are getting ridiculously out of hand.  The last thing big businesses need is more government handouts which go largely to the wealthy.  Trickle-down economics needs to stop.  I think there are many liberals that would agree with me here.  Let’s shut down (at least roll back) funding for the corporate state.

5. Oppose military-industrial complex growth.  In general, I think modern-day liberals are more wary of the military-industrial complex than conservatives.  Of course, this could be considered a subset of our corporatism.  I certainly consider it as such.  But it is admittedly a special case.

6. End federal flood insurance.  This may be harder going for me, as there are low-income individuals that live in waterfront areas (i.e. New Orleans).  But considering the huge number of the uber-wealthy which benefit from having their seaside homes with subisidized government flood insurance, I think at least a trim-down would be in order.

7. Balance the budget.  I’d like to think that there are some Democrats who seriously believe in a balanced budget, and have issue with the deficit spending culture we now have, borrowing billions from the Chinese, printing money, etc.

8. Defend civil liberties.  I’d also like to think that the opposition from the left to warrantless searches and renditions and torture is more than just political rhetoric, and that there is sincerity of conviction.  I hate to say it, but rarely from the establishment right do I hear concern about such things as “civil liberties,” and with a government that has never been bigger, and never more watchful over its citizens, this disturbs me. 

9. Push diplomacy over war.  The Democrats, I think, are at least slightly more willing to engage in dialogue and at least slightly more reluctant to pre-emptively attack than the establishment Republicans.  Some, admittedly, are much more willing to engage in dialogue and much more reluctant to engage in pre-emptive conflict.

Of course, under government transparency, there are a whole host of secretive activities that could be less secretive, but the CIA and the Federal Reserve come quickly to mind as two of the more significantly shadowy operations.  The government is so large that there are many different possible ways to increase transparency.  I could come up with dozens or possibly hundreds of proposals both liberals and libertarians could agree on.

There are many other common concerns, like the environment, poverty, the domination of special interests, and nuclear weapons proliferation.  Perhaps some common ground can be reached in these areas as well.

In conclusion, despite a relatively large philosophical disparity between liberals and libertarians, there is quite a bit of common ground that each could build on.  For me, I find it refreshing to build on the common beliefs.



Filed under foreign policy, Libertarian, Personal, politics, role of government

10 responses to “Liberals and Libertarians: Common Ground?

  1. Good stuff. Now I want to read a post where you elaborate on the common ground you share with conservatives.

  2. ed42

    “Bring the troops home. Do I support the troops? ” Is there a middle ground – if so, please teach me as I currently only see black and white:

    1) Troops violate “Thou shalt not kill”

    2) Troops are doing the “In defense of our wives, children, etc.”

    If 1) is true, why does one support murders (attempted murders, accomplice to murder, etc.)? If 2) is true, why does one desire to bring them home?

  3. Ed42, I support your desire to bring the troops home, but I don’t think it’s so simple as you make it.

    The commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, was given shortly after Moses killed an Egyptian and buried him in the sand, and shortly before Joshua annihilated the city of Jericho. I’m suggesting it is a little more complex than you suggest.

  4. plato04

    Is it possible that the troops are acting with the noble intent of defense, (which God would recognize), while a corrupt or negligent policy (which God would also recognize) defines the ultimate reason for their being there? Thus, we can support the ideals they believe they are fighting more (many sincerely, I believe) while opposing the (at best) flawed policy which has resulted in their deployment to a hostile environment.

    Not sure this is a middle ground, but it supposes the responsibility for the conflict’s justification rests with those that initiated the conflict, and not those that, in following orders consistent with the military rank and service, execute the policy.

  5. ed42

    Who is responsible for the death of a rival, the don that ordered the hit or the thug (believing he is defending his turf) who carries it out?

  6. I’d say both, but the don is probably more culpable. If the thug doesn’t believe in the don, he needs to become a “conscientious objector”, though this is obviously much easier said than done.

  7. socialist brother-in-law

    You state that the environment is among the the concerns you share with traditional liberals, but in numerous other posts you mention your distaste for almost any sort of regulation. I don’t have time to track down a reference right now, but I think you may have written negatively about environmental regulations specifically. As someone who lives near Lake Erie, perhaps you could comment on the environmental history of that body of water and how market forces and the “invisible hand” cleaned it up?

    My impression was that the “tragedy of the commons” and a lack of regulation lead to severe pollution in Lake Erie and especially in the Cuyahoga River (which empties into the lake). The Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 caught the nation’s attention, and a relatively short time later, congress passed a number of regulations called the Clean Water Act of 1972. Since then, water quality in the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie has improved dramatically. Am I wrong to think that in this case regulations may have helped?

  8. plato04

    Socialist brother-in-law,

    I have written negatively about regulations. This is an opportunity to perhaps clarify my perspective.

    First, let me say I do believe in the “tragedy of the commons,” but I do not see government regulation as the optimum response. Granted, government regulations have improved environmental conditions since the passage of legislation. But this, to me, is a consequence of government land ownership.

    I am opposed to government land ownership, except in rare instances (i.e. some military bases; even this I am cautious about). This is my take on “Free Market Environmentalism:”

    The premise is that no individual has the authority to pollute someone else’s land, air, or water. (This could be a criminal or a civil matter.) We see the opposite with publicly-owned land, especially that owned by the federal government. How many decades of polluting Lake Erie did it take for the government to respond? How many decades would it have taken if Lake Erie was privately-owned, and depended on clean water for revenue from fishing boats, recreational boaters, charter boats, scuba divers, etc.? The idea is that the market, if properly set-up as a free market, is self-regulating. Not only are the funds used for regulation in the market given voluntarily (as part of the operating costs) but they would be more effective and efficient than state-mandated regulations.

    Once again, I acknowledge the same sorts of problems a liberal might (many conservatives, in contrast, put effort into ignoring or explaining away environmental problems), but I see government policies as more related to the cause of the problem rather than the solution. Thus, the importance to understand political and economic history. What laws and regulations have already been put in place? What have been their effect? This puts faith in individuals acting freely in a market environment over a monopolistic, often slow-moving government entity. It is admittedly iconoclastic for today’s society, but is merely a reflection of classical liberal philosophies many believe this country was founded on (myself included).

  9. plato04


    Your views to me seem to reflect an anarchic mindset. Not sure if you would agree or not.

    I admit I am more of a minarchist. I see the state as a more legitimate, credible moral authority than, say, the mafia.

  10. ed42

    If I don’t pay city/county/state/federal taxes then a city/county/state/federal thug will take away my property, if I resist they will put me in a cage, if I attempt to defend myself with force they will execute me.

    If I don’t pay protection money to a private thug, I’ll become injured and/or dead.

    What’s the difference?

    What makes a group of people (the state) have moral authority, while an individual doesn’t?

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