The Trouble with Libertarians

May 21, 2008

Eric Alterman is having a good, combative time of it at TPM Cafe, where they’re discussing his new book Why We’re Liberals. In response to a complaint from libertarian Brink Lindsey about the liberal affection for the New Deal — he sees it as a period of “misplaced confidence in central planning and top-down control,” rather than a successful program to rescue America from social and financial disaster — Alterman gets at the reason why libertarianism, for all its attractive qualities, fails to appeal:

I feel that libertarianism, as I understand it, is overly concerned with theoretical liberty at the expense of its actual practice. The freedom to starve, to see one’s labor unfairly exploited, to drink polluted water or breath polluted air, are not freedoms I strongly value. And to battle these and others like them, society requires collective institutional action and in many cases, government (or labor union) protection. I’m no fan of “big government” per se–and neither was Dewey. It’s merely that powerful forces like global corporations require powerful forces to balance them.



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