Libertarians write their own invitation to the party

Nick Gillespie | Contributor

Forget the G-20, the BP oil spill, the World Cup, forget even S.E. Cupp.

In the wake of l’affaire Weigel, so much is at stake for the things that matter to journalists and their enablers (read: you, gentle reader). What, for instance, is a ratfucker exactly, and is being one a good thing or a bad thing? Can journalism withstand the apparent insistence that reporters not trash-talk sources like former members of N.W.A.? Can the MSM really move into a blog-based commentary space with anything more barbed than Howard Huge or Love Is… cartoons?

And perhaps most important for all of us in the libertarian movement (you know who you are and I’ll pick you all up in my Ford Festiva on the way home): Just what the hell are our membership guidelines? In his public mea culpa (which like all examples of the genre is long on mea and short on culpa), former Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel suggested his long journey upwards began with his being fired from Reason magazine.

Full disclosure: I was editor in chief of Reason from 2000 to 2008 and hired Dave, who was eventually let go by my successor, Matt Welch. Dave suggests that the separation came about because he had strayed too far off what we sometime call the “libtard” reservation:

After the 2008 election, I drove up from Atlanta to D.C. and was greeted by my editor, Matt Welch, with surprising news. It would be better, he said, if I worked somewhere else. I’d voted for the Obama-Biden ticket (having joked, semi-seriously, that I was honor-bound to vote for a ticket with a fellow Delawarean on it) and wasn’t fully on board with the magazine’s upcoming, wonky focus on picking apart the new administration….At Reason, I’d become a little less favorable to Republicans, and I’d never been shy about the fact that I was pro-gay marriage and pro-open borders.

As Matt Welch has written, Dave certainly didn’t earn any supervisory ire by voting for Obama-Biden or even for being from Delaware (though this latter condition has never been a clear plus for anyone except maybe George Thorogood and Cesar Romney). Similarly, the implication that Reason would be bothered by a staffer’s attacks on Republicans or support for gay marriage and open borders makes about as much sense and holds as much value as fiat currency. My memory may be fading, but I’m pretty sure we ran like 50 special issues during the ’00s dedicated precisely to attacking John Boehner’s misguided attempts to ban same-sex illegal immigrant families from getting group discounts at amusement parks. Not only have we been in favor of gay marriage since starting out in 1968, we were ahead of the curve in arguing for gay divorce, too. And oh yeah, that was me calling George W. Bush “a big-government disaster“ in the Wall Street Journal.

Only John Galt knows what the most basic requirements of libertarianism are. Folks ranging from Bill Buckley to Noam Chomsky to Clint Eastwood have described themselves as partly or wholly libertarian, so maybe it has something to do with speech impediments, dumb politics, and the ability to marry younger and younger women as you approach 1,000 years old. Believe it or not, even some girls have called themselves libertarian, including the two ladies who were the top editors at Reason long before The Nation dared top its masthead with a member of the second sex.

First and foremost, libertarians like liberty, the idea that individuals have as much space as possible to make as many choices as possible (there’s a reason that Reason’s most recent anthology is called “Choice“). And unlike conservatives and liberals, who always fetishize some choices and demonize others, we’re pretty consistent. We generally like school choice and reproductive choice, for instance, and think you should have your choice of religion (including none at all) too, and drugs, and partners in life and business.

We recognize, too, that such a scheme is predicated upon tolerance and pluralism. Your right to boss me around should be as limited as my right to tell you what to do. There are legitimate areas where social consensus must be reached (defense, maybe courts, and a few other things) but since reaching that consensus is typically very expensive and ugly, those areas should be squeezed down to an absolute minimum. And if you make a mess, you’re responsible for cleaning it up.

More important, though, is the fact that libertarianism is not as rigid or programmatic as The Nolan Chart or your garden-variety Ayn Rand fan would have you believe. I like to think of it as an adjective rather than a noun. In any given situation, is your default position that people ought to have more freedom rather than less? If so, you just might be a libertarian (especially if you don’t find Rush—the band, not the bloviator—totally awful). Do you believe in decentralized, John Stuart Mill-like “experiments in living“ rather than top-down, command-and-control lifestyles (whether right-wing or left), then you might be a libertarian. Are you incredibly good-looking, witty and learned, the sort of man that women want and men want to be like (and vice versa)? Libertarian.

These are pre-political tendencies and urges and they might inform what party you vote for, how much in taxes you want to pay, and whether or not you think the United States should remake Afghanistan in the image of Chicago or Texas. And if you are nauseated by the fact that come November, one party will win and one party will lose and you will be stuck with the bill no matter what, then you are almost certainly libertarian.

And as such, you are welcome to the club. Even (or maybe especially) if you secretly bad-mouth the followers of one of the very few politicians you admit that you support, as Dave Weigel did in calling Ron Paul followers “Paultards.”

Just remember, though: It’s gas, grass or ass. Nobody rides for free.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.tv and Reason.com.

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