A Blueprint For Compassionate Libertarianism
The New Right politics of Reagan and Thatcher is often derided for lack of compassion and fairness — but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Libertarianism is a fringe ideology which supports rolling back the state, the freedom of the individual, and employs supply-side economics to achieve these goals.
Perhaps one of the most notorious libertarian thinkers was Ayn Rand, a Russian-American whose work inspired the New Right revolution of the 1980s.
Rand’s work was put into practice well during this decade, but her work also underlines why libertarianism is seen as an ideology which is backwards and lacks compassion. She believed that self-interest comes above all else, and this has very specific consequences when considering Peter Singer’s thought experiment:
You are walking down the street when you see a small toddler drowning in a shallow pool. You can save the toddler easily, but only if you jump in right now. Doing so will destroy your hard-earned smartphone, costing you $500.
Rand’s response to this would be that one is not only allowed to ignore the child, but in fact morally obliged to, in the absence of a sufficiently high chance of sufficiently high recompensation.
Despite, therefore, the attractive nature of many libertarian ideas when they are stripped of their title, people shy away from entertaining the ideology as a personal philosophy.
This stigma is exacerbated by the reputation of the Libertarian Party in the US as crazy people saying crazy things — however deserved or undeserved this criticism is.
Therefore, libertarian thinkers and politicians must put forward a new brand of libertarianism, which better promotes community through non-state means, such as private charity, volunteering, and shorter prison sentences.
A more compassionate libertarian politics could be the future, as the bulging tax receipts of the state continue to do little to plug the gaps in public spending.
There is an opening to be claimed, a sort of niche in the political-economic market, in which libertarianism could enjoy great successes. If libertarianism can offer voters lower taxes, reduced sentences, and a new ‘big society’ — as former British Prime Minister David Cameron termed it — in place of a big state, it is sure to find greater political success and rise to prominence.
One of the other problems with libertarians of the present day is that, since Thatcher and Reagan, their policies and ideology has swung far to the right, leaving few people willing to vote for them.
More modest tax cuts, complemented by cuts only to unnecessary state funding, could woo voters to whom the fundamental basis of the ideology appeals, but not its present form.
Regulation is an area in which libertarians must compromise too, understanding that businesses must be held to particular safety standards in the modern age, whilst cutting unnecessary taxes on businesses to encourage economic growth.
Criminal justice could prove to be a real vote-winner for libertarians, allowing them to steal from left-leaning parties and candidates who still resist the seemingly insurmountable wave of support for the end of drug prohibition, and also relaxing sentences for those who commit only minor or victimless crimes.
Along with this, doing away with the social authoritarianism and neo-conservatism which tarnished the New Right politicians, libertarians should take up the cause of social liberalism, championing BME, LGBT, and women’s rights, primarily through the relaxation of current laws
And climate change, seemingly an awkward subject for most libertarians, could actually become their greatest campaign point, further boosting their chances of electoral success.
By making the case directly to business, without the need for subsidy or regulation, libertarians could persuade those who matter that oil is the past and renewables are the future: they not only present huge opportunities for economic growth in the present, but those who steal the market now will be big winners long into the future.
Trade deals with other countries, designed to promote climate-friendly resources and services, could help to achieve the libertarian dream of global free trade, boosting the economy and going some way to saving the planet, both domestically and abroad.
By making small compromises, libertarians could once more give themselves a realistic chance of governance, and still be able to fulfil on their basic agenda and goals.
It’s a small price to pay for the national interest, is it not?