Libertarians are Generally Not Moderate

Today, as linked by Hit and Run, the Washingtonian lists a number of blogs that are popular with journalists.  I have no particular problem with the list -- I read many of the same blogs myself.  However, this description of the libertarian blog at Reasons's Hit and Run struck me as odd (emphasis added):

The libertarians behind Reason magazine strike back with
moderate commentary on a variety of topics ranging from public
television to Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl."

I am not sure that many Republicans or Democrats would consider Reason to be moderate.  Its hard to believe that any of us anarcho-capitalist make-government-and-taxes-go-away libertarians would ever be confused with moderates.  Reason has in the last month taken stands against the drug war, against any government intervention into property rights, against the Patriot act, in defense of steroid use, and favoring legalization of prostitution and continued legality of pornography.  Not many red-staters or blue-staters would call that moderate.  It may be consistent, in that it is against statism and for the primacy of individual decision-making, but libertarianism tends to be extreme and uncompromising in these views.  And, while most libertarians are not moderate, most moderates are not libertarians -- those who generally call themselves moderate tend to do so because they pick and choose bits of statism from both political parties. 

But there is an explanation for the word "moderate", and it goes back to the crappy civics lessons we all have gotten.  As I wrote before, those civics lessons were the statist's wet-dream, portraying the range of political thought on a linear scale from socialism on the left to fascism on the right.  In other words, our political choices are defined as running from statist control to... statist control.  In this framework, anyone who is not a commie or a Nazi are put somewhere in the middle, which has been shorthanded "moderates".

This is obviously a stupid framework, and breaks down when libertarians come into the picture.  More modern self-assessment frameworks use grids of at least two dimensions, with at least one dimension being the degree (from none to total) that one accepts state authority over the individual.

Update:  Oops, I missed the fact that some of the Reason writers themselves had much the same reaction


  1. Jack Benway:

    When you graph political views on a single axis, then libertarians do appear moderate. Of course, this is as valid as plotting a curve with two points of data, but it's exactly the sort of oversimplification that enforces the two party system in this country. Those libertarians, they aren't Republicans, they aren't Democrats, they aren't Socialists or Birchers, so they must fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps libertarians are caught in the middle, but we certainly are not moderate.

  2. Glen Raphael:

    Reason /is/ moderate, both in the views it espouses and (probably more important) in the way it expresses those views. There do exist libertarian magazines that are "extreme" (say, Liberty), but Reason isn't one of them.

    The proper comparison is with political magazines read by serious partisans of the other parties. Compare with: Mother Jones, The Nation, and The New Republic. All the views you list have been expressed in one of those magazines at various times and wouldn't look out of place there now. With the possible exception of legalized steroid use in sports, but the other mags have their own odd views that are just as wacky and unique to them as that one is to Reason.

  3. Eric:

    Calling Reason moderate is about as silly as these folks who call themselves radical centrists. It's like military intelligence, the marxist state "withering away" ........ I could go on and on, you get my drift I hope.

  4. Scott:

    Any place where both "Repub" and "Dem" viewpoints co-exist today comes out to these silly Washington folks as moderate. Though after Kelo and the marijuana SCOTUS cases, there's an awful lot less to agree with the left about now.

  5. Brad Warbiany:

    Yeah, I've often said that I'm a radical extremist.

    Radical, because the state that I envision is so different from our current one that it's almost unrecognizable.

    Extreme, because my view is that personal liberty and responsibility should be almost at the end of the scale, or one of the "extremes".

    So when people call me an "extremist", I don't take it as an insult. It really pisses them off that way :-)

  6. Matt:

    To denizens of mainstream Washington, anyone who, upon the conclusion of the 2004 election, was not seriously contemplating either having Karl Rove's love child or committing suicide in despair, must necessarily be a moderate. The fact that very very few people in American politics hold views more radically divergent from the political mainstream than the writing staff of Reason magazine (not that I think that's a _bad_ thing...quite the contrary, actually) holds no interest for them...indeed, like most words, "moderate" no longer actually means anything to such people, except what meaning their use gives it.

    This is, after all, a class of people who've convinced themselves that, even in America, "liberal" and "conservative" are opposites. No reasonably knowledgeable person takes their language-use choices seriously.