Liberals and the Libertarian "Contagion"


It’s impossible to make this stuff up, folks.

Salon.com columnist Tom Watson, in an article on the upcoming “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, D.C., has excoriated all of his progressive friends for supporting something that libertarians — surprise! — also support.

He writes, “Some of the biggest names in civil liberties and digital freedom of information will be there, including the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreePress and FreedomWorks. […] Yet I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hard-core ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.”

This is like a child on the playground refusing to play with the other kids because “cooties.” Also, isn’t FreedomWorks supposed to be a Tea Party organization?

His main ideological disagreement with the “ickier” sponsors of the Stop Watching Us rally? “…[opposition to] all gun control laws and public healthcare, [support of] the government shutdown, [dismissal of] public education, [opposition to] organized labor, [and] favors the end of Social Security as we know it.”

Remember, this is an anti-surveillance rally we’re talking about here. These other issues, while absolutely argument-worthy in a variety of other contexts, really have nothing to do with the focus of the rally at all. Of course …

@onekade: To my libertarian friends: when we win and demolish the surveillance/police/military state, I will fight you on social welfare SO HARD.

Right back at you. 😉

Anyway, Watson continues:

Going ‘all in’ with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual – and not symbolic, link bait – progress in its fight.

And to whom is he referring?

“I speak of the progressive movement and the Democratic Party, of course.”


Perhaps, in other circles, Watson is currently being lauded for taking a fearless and surely unpopular stance against the evilest of evil Bad Guys in the land (yes, even more evil than the Republican Anarchists that definitely exist). Really, though, it just looks like he’s dueling with windmills.

At one point, Watson writes,

“Political change requires choices and compromise, as well as action. If too many young organizers focus entirely on privacy and security and abandon the front lines on crucial economic issues, civil rights and inequality, the rights of workers, criminal justice reform, environmental regulation, and the pursuit social justice, their gains will be too little and society’s loss too great.

“Or libertarianism itself will rise, and our loss of liberty will be greater still. That’s because libertarianism is a form of authoritarianism disguised in a narrow slice of civil liberties. In trumpeting the all-knowing, ever wise wonders of the totally free and unencumbered market, it bestows all the power on those with access to capital. You may say we’re there already, but under a pure libertarian system, things would get much worse.”

What? “Libertarianism is a form of authoritarianism disguised in a narrow slice of civil liberties?” That’s rich coming from a proud member of a party that aims to break our legs so it can provide the crutches.

What’s sad here is that Watson is so misinformed regarding libertarianism in general (we won’t even get into left- or thick libertarianism here) that he has no idea that there are in fact libertarian writers and thinkers and activists talking about the issues he mentions — people like Radley Balko, Stephan Kinsella, Kevin Carson, Cathy Reisenwitz, Anna Morgenstern and Angela Keaton.

And let’s not forget that many people connected to this event that Watson admires — such as Glenn Greenwald — have written for, say, the oft-maligned Cato Unbound, and have been asked to speak at libertarian events before. Needless to say, their standing in the broader progressive community, and even among the radical left, has not been tarnished. His concern, while touching, is probably pretty unfounded.

Watson is right, though, on at least one thing: The “I’ve got mine,” borderline-nihilist attitude he displays at any prospect of working with people he might dislike for six hours has no place in a burgeoning movement that aims — at the very least — to stop the government from using its power to spy on us.

Trevor Hultner is an independent journalist and Internet content creator. He is the host and producer of Smash Walls Radio, a weekly news and politics podcast, as well as the host of a YouTube series aimed at spreading Absurdist philosophy.

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