Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I take issue with Taranto's stance on libertarianism

Today's issue of Opinion Journal's Best of the Web Today contains a reaction ("The Ugly Side of Libertarianism") to a screed by putative libertarian, Edward Peck, of the Independent Institute. James Taranto, BotWT's principal pundit, takes Peck to task for his support of Harvard's Walt and Mearsheimer, the authors of a notorious article in the London Review of Books. The article claimed that there is an "Israel Lobby" in the United States that materially affects our foreign policy:
[T]he thrust of US policy in the [Middle East] derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Taranto presented an excellent refutation of the article in a recent edition of BotWT. Now comes Peck's defense of Walt and Mearsheimer:
The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby--validating both the lobby's existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name.

All democracies have lobbies. Shrill insistence that no groups promote Israel is ludicrous.

Taranto dismisses Peck's defense, and I have no quarrel with that. What bothered me was that he tarred all of libertarianism using Peck as the brush:
[L]ibertarianism is an ideology. Ideology can lead to fanaticism, and fanaticism to hatred. Check out the Independent Institute's Web site (please note: not to be confused with the Independence Institute) or, even worse, Antiwar.com (sorry, we're not linking [But I will -- SWE]), and you'll find far libertarianism to be pretty much indistinguishable from the far left and the far right.

Taranto attempted to deflect criticism of his statements by noting that he'd been an intern for Reason magazine 20 years ago. I was not to be deflected.

So I wrote to him. Here's my e-mail:
Dear Mr. Taranto,

I don't mean to be tiresome, but the statement you made today in Best of the Web Today was not altogether meaningful:

"But libertarianism is an ideology. Ideology can lead to fanaticism, and fanaticism to hatred."

You did, however, somewhat redeem yourself with:

"...you'll find far libertarianism to be pretty much indistinguishable from the far left and the far right."

But the net effect, the semantic content of that piece of your column is zero. That you chose to focus your gaze on "far" libertarianism today just seemed to mean that you had to fill some space.

I mean, a conclusion one could draw from your column is that conservatism is not an ideology. Clearly, if that were so, then the Encyclopaedia Britannica wouldn't have bothered to include it in its ideology roundup: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9106294 .

You must have a different definition of "ideology" than I do. If it's colored by the fact that conservatism has more adherents than libertarianism, then you would seem to subscribe to some sort of popularity contest for your un-ideology; that is, libertarianism -- or, indeed, any political philosophy-cum-ideology that doesn't have as many devotées as conservatism -- doesn't have anything to offer. I'm sure the good folks at Cato would respectfully disagree.

Suit yourself. I enjoy your columns very much. You're the most trenchant conservative daily pundit there is. It's amazing to me how you manage to write so consistently well and entertainingly every single day.

I find myself scratching my head, though, whenever you find time to criticize libertarians. Was your application for internship at The National Review turned down and Reason was a distant second-best?


Steve Erbach
Neenah, WI
(The least-read, fairly sizeable blog on the GoreNet)

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