Just at the right time, E.J. Dionne has stirred up a debate over the topic of libertarianism. Over at the Washington Post, he quotes author and scholar Michael Lind, who asks, “If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world?”
Dionne and I probably agree that libertarianism isn’t always a terrific governing philosophy. But here’s something that should be obvious to everyone today: We benefit from having lots of libertarians around. I want them on that wall, serving as a sort of guard dog — keeping an eye on government’s natural tendency to abuse power.
This debate is especially relevant in the wake of the NSA phone revelations, because some conservatives seem to be just fine with the concept of violating fundamental civil liberties in the name of security. This has not required contortions. These conservatives have no partisan interest in protecting Obama. Instead, they have a sincere belief that freedom must be sacrificed in the interest of security.
By all means, if the government has probable cause, they ought to go through the proper channels, and exploit every tactic available to keep us safe. This is altogether different from what I consider to be “suspicionless searches.”
I am reminded of a letter George Orwell sent after the publication of his classic book, 1984. “I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive,” he said, “but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive.”
Defending freedom requires vigilance.