Liberals, Libertarians and “Liberaltarians”

Over two years ago, the Cato Institute’s Vice President Brink Lindsey published the cheekily- titled article “Liberaltarians” in The New Republic. In this much talked-about piece, Mr. Lindsay predicted a political realignment: conservative fusionism had become intellectually exhausted, leaving space for libertarianism to find a new home outside the GOP.

This basic contention—that liberals and libertarians can form a new alliance—was at the center of a January 13th panel in Encina Hall, entitled “Liberals and Libertarians: Kissing Cousins or Distant Relatives?” Representing the liberal side were Professor Joshua Cohen of Stanford Philosophy and Political Science, Professor Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School, and Professor Brian DeLong, UC-Berkeley Economics Department. On the libertarian side was Brink Lindsey of The Cato Institue, Will Wilkinson of Cato and his personal blog, and Virginia Postrel, author of “The Future and Its Enemies.”

The event was sponsored by the Cato Institute and the Stanford Program in Ethics and Society and was moderated by Professor Rob Reich. The panel came together mostly as a result of Professor Cohen’s and Mr. Lindsey’s interactions on Bloggingheads.tv, a website that features experts discussing current events via webcam.

The two sides’ similarities—mostly classic social issues—were glossed over early in the discussion, leaving most of the two hours for discussing philosophical and economic differences.
The panel felt lopsided at times. The libertarians on the panel consisted of bloggers, authors, and researchers—all very talented at the written word, but not especially notable for their lecturing and debating. The liberals, on the other hand, were mostly drawn from academia and clearly felt more comfortable in the art of public verbal gymnastics.

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