Opinion

Why Ann Coulter doesn’t understand libertarianism

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Alexander McCobin
President, Students For Liberty
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      Alexander McCobin

      Alexander McCobin is co-founder and president of Students For Liberty. Under his leadership, Students For Liberty has grown into the largest libertarian student organization in the world, which includes over 400 leaders that support over 1300 student groups representing over 50,000 students. Previously, Alexander worked at the Cato Institute and ran another nonprofit organization that introduced high school debate programs to underserved youth in the greater Philadelphia area. Alexander also serves on the Board of Advisors of The Atlas Society and is an honorary board member of the Our America Initiative. Alexander received his B.A. in philosophy and economics at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008 and received his M.A. in philosophy at Georgetown University in 2014.

It seems Ann Coulter is upset that students laughed and booed at her remarks during the 2013 International SFL Conference. She is now trying to deflect the libertarian critique of her social conservatism by claiming we were acting purely upon “groupthink.” Unfortunately for Ann, her latest message reveals her misunderstanding of libertarianism almost as much as her comments during our conference revealed her misunderstanding of the basic principles of justice and reasonable discourse.

I can think of no more thoughtful and debate-prone group than the young libertarians in Students For Liberty. If Coulter had taken the time to attend one of the 92 diverse sessions we ran at the conference, she might have heard students debating the relationship between libertarianism and abolitionism, the proper limits of open immigration, standards for intervention in foreign affairs, and much more. If she had looked at Students For Liberty’s table when walking out, she would have seen one of the 175,000 copies of our latest book, After the Welfare State, that we have distributed for free to students around the world to educate them on the dangers of bloated entitlement societies.

Indeed, SFL debates are typically far more substantive than the performances Coulter puts on for the cameras. But here’s the thing: the debates and the divergence in approaches to libertarianism taken by SFL’ers make us stronger in our defense of liberty because we actually learn the nuances of the principles of freedom. What’s more, they make us stronger in opposition to the positions advocated by Coulter that drew libertarian critique (e.g., her opposition to gay marriage and marijuana legalization), which we know are wrong from our study of these issues. We know what’s up for debate, and so we also know what’s not. The justifications for and limits on intellectual property? Up for debate. Racism? Not up for debate. Deciding which government agencies should be abolished, privatized, reformed, or maintained? Up for debate. State-sponsored discrimination against individuals based on their sexuality? Not up for debate. Austrian versus Chicago economics and their responses to Keynesianism? Up for debate. Ann’s claim that liberals are out to destroy the family? That’s so clearly absurd that it’s in stand-up comedy territory.

In an ideal academic world, there are no costs associated with ideas because there’s infinite time: all ideas are up for debate. In the real world, some ideas must be cast aside so we can deal with more pressing matters. And those who get such basic positions wrong are rightly questioned on other opinions that they hold. Ann: Your government-imposed social conservatism is a threat to economic freedom because when you say such obviously wrong things about social policy (in both factual and moral terms), people have good reason to question what you say about economic policy. (What’s more, while you seem to know the names of some famous libertarians, you don’t seem to know what policies they actually support, like Richard Epstein’s position on the Civil Rights Act.)

We young libertarians recognize the connection between social and economic freedom and won’t stand down on either. If Coulter actually cared most about resolving our economic woes, she would offer to make concessions on social issues in exchange for wins on economic issues. Ann: If you care so much about our national debt, why not push for a deal with Democrats on DOMA in exchange for a balanced budget? You and other conservatives would get the economic reforms you claim you want. Liberals would get the social reforms they say they want. And we libertarians would support both sides so all Americans would get a more limited government that respects individual liberty and has a more sustainable economic future. Seems like a win, win, win to me.