Boaz on Leonhardt on Doherty

by Don Boudreaux on April 1, 2007

in Books

New York Times reporter
David Leonhardt reviews, in today’s NY Times Book Review, Brian
Doherty’s new book, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of
the Modern American Libertarian Movement

Leonhardt’s review, alas, is seriously flawed.  The Cato Institute’s David Boaz unveils these flaws. 

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Ray G April 1, 2007 at 11:50 am

“Fringe” will be apt as long as the “flagship” and others continue to make drugs the banner libertarian topic.

Quoting Boaz’s quote of himself: “Libertarianism is often seen as primarily a philosophy of economic freedom, but its real historical roots lie more in the struggle for religious toleration.”

There is in reality a very open antagonism towards religion and Christianity in particular at places like “Reason.” All religion is viewed as “established religion” and subsequently many who would readily embrace libertarian views are turned away.

Did Friedman or Hayek make names for themselves and the libertarian movement by making legalized drugs their priority, and seeing established religion in the shadow of every church building? Of course not. But the flagship, and the movement at large – when viewed from the outside – is about nothing but legalized drugs and a fight against the Religious Right.

Leonhardt is wrong in his review, but Boaz is ignoring the ugly details about the libertarian movement.

And 700 pages full of run-on sentences is a perfectly appropriate homage to "Atlas Shrugged."

Sam Grove April 1, 2007 at 12:26 pm

"Did Friedman or Hayek make names for themselves and the libertarian movement by
making legalized drugs their priority,"

Of course, in the heyday of Hayek, the war on drugs was not the disaster it has become, and Friedman has spoken against the WOD, but his primary focus has always been economics and free markets.

I hadn't noticed the the WOD is the PRIMARY focus, or banner of the libertarian movement, but it is important for the same reason the WOT is important, the expansion of the power of the state and its attack on freedom.

Certainly, as a libretarian since 1980, I've never held the WOD as my prime cause, but rather the size and power (and cost) of the government.

Ray G April 1, 2007 at 12:43 pm

As a libertarian since I've been old enough to think on such things, the WOD has been on my radar and an important subject.

But there are other subjects as well, and many that are more important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we have to use these issues as selling points to an ambivalent public.

"Fringe" elements of any movement tend to think in such absolutes of purity that they are quite literally, on the fringe, and always will be. That's fine, every movement needs it's fringe I suppose to keep the other end of the spectrum honest.

However, we are being defined by our "fringe." We are not ulitmately being defined by Hayek, Friedman, et al, we are being defined by Reason magazine, and pot smoking ne'er do-wells with vague and iffy maladies for which they need their medicine.

Again, that is not to say that the WOD isn't important, it is. But if that's all the public sees in us, then we are indeed doomed to live on the fringe, and only have fringe like influence, on average, over time.

M. Hodak April 1, 2007 at 1:07 pm

It's true that neither Hayek nor Friedman made a name for themselves as critics of the drug war–they made their names as Nobel Prize winning economists. Hayek, of course, preceded the "war on drugs," but Friedman was a vocal opponent of drug prohibition, even if it was not considered a prominent aspect of his reputation.

I'd like to think that libertarians are simply ahead of the people on drug decriminalization. That is not an indictment of a movement, any more than being abolitionist made one unelectable prior to the civil war, or being an opponent of Prohibition was a political non-starter for the decades before FDR finally acceded to its demise.

Ray G April 1, 2007 at 11:49 pm

My whole point is that, in context to Boaz's response, is that he is glossing over the uglier details of why we don't make more headway with mainstream America.

It's comparable to a family touting their famous son, and dignified heritage while ignoring the fact that the rest of the family, you can't hardly take out in public without being embarrassed.

If one was to read the money quotes from Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address – that govt shouldn't take the bread from the mouth of labor or however it went – an overwhelming majority of Americans would agree to that kind of thinking. But we're packaging it in "fringed" attire.

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