Libertarians: Rich White Males of the Republican Party

“You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

~ Ludwig von Mises writing to Ayn Rand

In the above videos (I think he mentions it in the first one), brainpolice2 mentioned the data of libertarians being mostly white males from the upper middle class. The point being they’re supposedly out of touch with the average person and particularly out of touch with demographics that have in the past lacked political power and representation (minorities, immigrants, women, etc).

I thought I’d seen this data before, but I decided I should verify it. I found some data from the Cato Institute (which certaintly represents wealthy libertarians). Indeed, libertarians are 82% white (80% for all demographics) and 7% black (12% for all demographics). So, that isn’t all that extremely off the average and in fact is the same as what Cato labels as liberal (both groups being below the 83% white and 10% black of conservatives). This is a bit confusing as I’d have to look at their definitions more closely, but one comparison stood out. Cato’s diagram of ideologies puts populism opposite of libertarianism and populism has the highest percentage of minorities at 15% black (and 80% white). The Democratic party tends to draw both liberals and populists which is why there is higher representation of minorities among Democrats.

I suspect, however, that with the Tea Party there has been an increase of populism among whites which oddly has combined forces (at least in part) with the opposing ideology of libertarianism. I think this is because conservatism stands between the two and conservative nationalism bleeds over into libertarianism and populism. Anyway, at least in 2006 when this data was taken, white libertarians were the demographic most opposed to black populism (opposed both in terms of ideology and minority representation).

Some other demographic details:

Libertarians – second most well educated (after liberals), second most secular and least church attending (after liberals), highest percentage of males of any demographic, youngest demographic (youthful idealism?), wealthiest demographic (idealism supported by a comfortable lifestyle?), below average percentage in all regions except for the west where they have the highest representation of all demographics (I’m not sure why that is), mostly identified as Republican.

And let me compare to their opposite ideology:

Populists – least well educated, one of the most religiously identified and church attending (only slightly below conservatives), majority female, oldest demographic, poorest demogrpahic, most southern demographic, Cato doesn’t have the political identification data for this demographic (going by Pew data in “Beyond Red vs Blue”, I’d assume that this demographic would mostly Democrat).

According to Cato definitions, libertarians are socially liberal and fiscally conservative and populists are socially conservative and fiscally liberal. Since I brought up the Pew data, my guess is that these two ideologies would correlate to the Pew Demographics in the following way. Libertarians seem to be a perfect fit for what Pew labels as Enterprisers (which are basically the rich, white, males who vote almost entirely Republican and are the most loyal viewers of Fox News). Populists are probably mostly what Pew labels as Conservative Democrats and Disadvantaged Democrats (which have higher percentages of minorities, females, and the poor), although populists might also be found among the demographic Pew labels as Pro-Government Conservatives (the poor, female minorities who are almost evenly split between Republican and Indpendent).

In conclusion, it would seem that libertarians in the US are simply the rich, white, male demographic of the conservative movement who mostly identify as Republican. If I’m reading the data correctly (from the two above sources), libertarians seem less prone towards identifying as Independent than many other demographics (such as liberals or else conservatives who are some combination of poor, minority and female). Rupert Murdoch, the self-identified libertarian and former board member of the libertarian Cato Institute, is the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the owner of Fox News Channel. Murdoch seems the perfect representative of this libertarian demographic and he seems to have intentionally conflated libertarianism with the Republican party.

Ron Paul is another libertarian who fits the description of rich, white, male Republican. He might be a bit different than Murdoch in emphasizing civil libertarianism slightly more, but I doubt they’d disagree on much. Ron Paul did show his true libertarian colors recently.

Compared to many conservatives, I like how Ron Paul comes off as well-intentioned in his values. I get the sense that he is the complete opposite of the cynical neo-conservative who will use anything, including libertarian rhetoric, to win votes. In the comment section of the above video, there was a mocking portrayal of libertarianism which was on target. Despite good intentions, even someone like Ron Paul often comes off as a bit detached from the average American’s experience.

clownporn1 wrote (see comments here):

One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is “Libertarian.” People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it’s just one more bullshit political philosophy.

– George Carlin

Libertarianism is a fad political ideology for 13 year old boys, first year college students, and white business owners who use the “private property” argument so they don’t have to serve blacks.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy.I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Then, after spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, I drive back to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and the fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log onto the Internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post on freerepublic and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.

self pwnage you say

39 thoughts on “Libertarians: Rich White Males of the Republican Party

  1. Self pwnage? Not really.

    You assume that Libertarians are for eliminating all government institutions ever created. That is not so. Most Libertarians are quite realistic and understand we do need taxes and the government to take care of some things. Libertarians feel that there’s just too much government involvement right now. The government is constantly doing things that do not make sense financially. (Iraq War, anyone?)

    Also, I hate it when people assume that Libertarian, Tea Party, and Fox News are all the same thing. Let me speak for Libertarians when I say, we cannot stand the Tea Party (basically much more rabid, hypocritical Republicans) and we do not like Fox News.

    Almost all of the jokes on Libertarians are pretty stupid because they’re basically all straw-man arguments. Hope this helps. Go on to see what the Libertarian party is really about….

  2. The Tea Party started as a grass roots organization on excessive taxation, nothing more. Started with local protests on the steps of State capitals. The Republicans saw this movement and started salivating. They saw the masses and created a plan to highjack the movement. The Republicans started to expand on the movement by incorporating other conservative social issues into it, thus diluting the true nature of the movement. So when a Libertarian says they hate the Tea Party, they really mean it.

    Also, with any political ideology, each has a “conservative” and “liberal” wing to it. This became very apparent when Ron Paul came to the forefront. He’s a conservative Libertarian, because he is anti abortion. Nowhere in the Libertarian cause, does it state any position on abortion. David Koch would probably describe the other end of the spectrum of Libertarianism. Hell the true nature of Libertarianism is freedom of individual choice.

    • I agree with you to an extent, at least on the first part of your comment.

      There was an original grassroots movement behind the Tea Party. I see it as related to the anti-war movement during Bush’s adminstration which wasn’t a partisan movement as it included libertarians, liberals, anarchists, independents, and pacifists of different types. Yes, most if not all genuine libertarians would hate the Tea Party, but there are many people claiming to be libertarian.

      Your example of David Koch demonstrates the failing of the libertarian movement. The libertarian movement is so far right that a corporatist neo-liberal (which has absolutely nothing to do with liberalism) can be seen as leftwing libertarian. Give me a fucking break. A real leftwing libertarian is Noam Chomsky or Henry David Thoreau.

      That is the problem. Rightwing libertarians see a libertarian who is slightly less rightwing and call him a leftwinger. Rightwing libertarians don’t even acknowledge the fact that libertarianism began as a socialist workers’ movement.

      Anyway, I don’t know if it is even valid to call David Koch a genuine libertarian of any variety. He is one of those who co-opted the Tea Party for the purposes of promoting corporatism. David Koch is just the other side of the coin of Glenn Beck. Rupert Murdoch also identifies as a libertarian (including having been on the board of directors of the Cato Institute), despite operating a propaganda operation for the the furthest rightwing of the Republican party. Murdoch and the Koch brothers are corporatists who have hijacked the libertarian movement to defend their wealth and power. They don’t care about libertarian ideals of freedom and equal rights. They for damned sure ain’t civil libertarians.

  3. What you have accomplished in both your original post and comments is to specify the names of some libertarians who are, indeed, acting in self-interest and that neither you nor many others understand what a contemporary libertarian identifies him- or herself as. No self-described or self-respecting libertarian I know align themselves with any of the figureheads you mentions. I could say all liberals suffer groupthink influenced by arch-progressives like Pelosi, Reid, Emmanuel or Villaraigosa, but that wouldn’t be any more accurate. Corpratists very much infest the leadership of both parties, so to suggest the modern libertarian movement espouses such views or individuals is utter nonsense.

    “Libertarians will criticize the government and yet with lobbyists they have some of the most influence over the policies the government implements.”

    Utter fallacy of the utmost absurdity. If this doesn’t illustrate that you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, nothing will.

    • What the fuck are you talking about, fuckface?

      “What you have accomplished in both your original post and comments is to specify the names of some libertarians who are, indeed, acting in self-interest and that neither you nor many others understand what a contemporary libertarian identifies him- or herself as.”

      These aren’t just some libertarians. The Koch brothers and Murdoch have funded and been on the boards of libertarian think tanks, have been involved with the Libertarian Party including as I recall one of the Koch brothers running as a libertarian candidate, and Murdoch with his media empire decides how libertarianism is understood in politics and in society as a whole.

      Libertarianism today wouldn’t be what it is without these particular libertarians and others like them. It’s because of wealth and powerful rightwing libertarians such as these that most people, including many right-libertarians, are completely ignorant of the existence of left-libertarians and completely ignorant that libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement.

      “No self-described or self-respecting libertarian I know align themselves with any of the figureheads you mentions.”

      These ‘figureheads’ are the leaders, architects, and funders of the contemporary movement of (right-)libertarianism. There would be no libertarian think tanks to influence politics without them. There would be no rightwing media to give libertarianism a mainstream voice. There would be no well known Libertarian Party to help shift the political narrative far to the right.

      “I could say all liberals suffer groupthink influenced by arch-progressives like Pelosi, Reid, Emmanuel or Villaraigosa, but that wouldn’t be any more accurate.”

      You could say all kinds of bullshit. Most Democrats identify as either conservatives or moderates and about half of liberals identify as independents. Obviously, it can’t be rationally claimed that liberals suffer groupthink influenced by arch-corporatist Democratic politicians, especially considering that data shows liberals as a demographic are the most intelligent, most highly educated, and most well informed of any demographic in the entire country.

      “Corpratists very much infest the leadership of both parties, so to suggest the modern libertarian movement espouses such views or individuals is utter nonsense.”

      Yes, corporatists very much infest the leadership of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the Libertarian Party. Those are the three parties of the corporatists and a liberal majority exists in none of them, not even the so-called ‘liberal’ Democrats. If you want to find a majority liberal party, you have to look to third parties such as the Green Party.

      “Utter fallacy of the utmost absurdity. If this doesn’t illustrate that you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, nothing will”

      Project much?

      A fact is a fact. Do self-identified libertarians criticize the government? Yes. Do self-identified libertarians use lobbyists to influence government policies? It can’t be doubted. The Koch brothers and Murdoch (combined together with the think tanks like the Cato Institute and astroturf like the Tea Party) have massive influence.

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  5. You do not seem to understand (among other things) that there are 2 major schools of Libertarianism, the Rothbarian (represented mainly at and, and the beltway (represented mainly by Cato, Reason, and Koch. Most of us Rothbardians hate Cato, Koch, Reason, Fox News, and every Republican except Ron Paul.

    • I know that I know more about libertarianism than you do. I’ve come to realize that left-libertarians know a lot about right-libertarians. However, right-libertarians no very little if anything about left-libertarians, often right-libertarians are ignorant about the very existence of left-libertarianism and the historical roots of libertarianism in general.

      Yes, I know there are two major schools of right-libertarianism. Your statement that there are only two major schools of libertarianism demonstrates you are one of those ignorant right-libertarians. There are many schools of libertarianism.

      As for the two you do acknowledge, I also acknowledge them. I wasn’t equating all libertarians as being the same. In fact, I acknowledge more diversity in libertarianism than you do.

      Yes, there is a difference between Rothbardian libertarians (along with other more independent libertarians, left and right) and Establishment libertarians. I never said otherwise, despite your making that assumption. Even so, on a practical level of politics (such as the Libertarian Party), there are many close connections, collaborations and mergings between these two schools of right-libertarianism. If not for the Establishment libertarians, the Rothbardian libertarians would be as unknown as the left-libertarians. It’s this association with Establishment libertarians that distinguishes right-libertarians from left-libertarians.

      Thanks for playing. Please try again.

  6. Did you know that Libertarianism began as a socialist workers’ movement in Europe? I bet you didn’t know that.
    Wow thanks for making my bullshit meter explode. Libertarianism traces its roots as a political movement back to 18th and 19th century classical liberalism. Depending the philosophers one considers as founding the movement you could go back to the 17th century or even further however one is then bending more of the facts to fit ideology. The term liberal used to mean the opposite of what it does today. However it was hijacked in the late 1800’s in the United States to replace the term socialism. And classical liberals morphed to be closer to Republicans of Old, not modern neo-cons or conservatives. If you really want an introduction on the roots of Libertarianism and all three parties I suggest you read “Why I am not a Conservative” by F.A. Hayek.

    • Ignorance isn’t a flattering trait to possess.

      I suggest you read “History” by people who aren’t right-wing partisans, propagandists and rhetoricians.

      “The United States is sort of out of the world on this topic. Britain is to a limited extent, but the United States is like on Mars. So here, the term “libertarian” means the opposite of what it always meant in history. Libertarian throughout modern European history meant socialist anarchist. It meant the anti-state element of the Workers Movement and the Socialist Movement. It sort of broke into two branches, roughly, one statist, one anti-statist. The statist branch led to Bolshevism and Lenin and Trotsky, and so on. The anti-statist branch, which included Marxists, Left Marxists — Rosa Luxemburg and others — kind of merged, more or less, into an amalgam with a big strain of anarchism into what was called “libertarian socialism.” So libertarian in Europe always meant socialist. Here it means ultra-conservative — Ayn Rand or Cato Institute or something like that. But that’s a special U.S. usage. There are a lot of things quite special about the way the United States developed, and this is part of it. There [in Europe] it meant, and always meant to me, socialist and anti-state, an anti-state branch of socialism, which meant a highly organized society, completely organized and nothing to do with chaos, but based on democracy all the way through. That means democratic control of communities, of workplaces, of federal structures, built on systems of voluntary association, spreading internationally. That’s traditional anarchism. You know, anybody can have the word if they like, but that’s the mainstream of traditional anarchism.”

      In educating yourself out of ignorance, I’d also suggest learning more about the historical origins of classical liberalism and socialism in the US:

      • Lol @ I suggest you read “History” by people who aren’t right-wing partisans, propagandists and rhetoricians.
        So much better to quote “History” from a leftist partisan, propagandist and rhetorician. Not to mention the sources used in your required previous blog writing. What you are referring to is social liberalism which came after initial classical liberal ideas had long been brewing on both the European continent and in Great Britain.

        “Classical liberalism is often contrasted with a new social liberalism, which is supposed to have developed out of the classical variety around 1900. But social liberalism deviates fundamentally from its namesake at its theoretical root in that it denies the self-regulatory capacity of society: the state is called on to redress social imbalance in increasingly ramified ways. The plea that it intends to preserve the end of individual freedom, modifying only the means, is to classical liberals hardly to the point — as much could be claimed for most varieties of socialism. In fact, social liberalism can scarcely be distinguished, theoretically and practically, from revisionist socialism. Furthermore, it can be argued that this school of thought did not develop out of classical liberalism around the turn of the century — when, for instance, the alleged fraudulence of freedom of contract in the labor market is supposed to have been discovered. Social liberalism existed full-blown at least from the time of Sismondi, and elements of it (welfarism) can be found even in great classical-liberal writers such as Condorcet and Thomas Paine.”
        The fact that he is a European historian and disagrees with you must mean he is an overt right-wing, hack, propagandist etc. Oh wait he must be ignorant too.
        Again if you would like to learn more about libertarianism/liberalism and Hayek I suggest you take a listen to the above.

        Overt hostility and childish name calling to any criticism quickly betrays ones ignorance and in this case a seeming lack of self-esteem.

        • “Overt hostility and childish name calling to any criticism quickly betrays ones ignorance and in this case a seeming lack of self-esteem.”

          I admit it. I am hostile to ignorance. The anti-intellectualism among American right-wingers is frustrating. I don’t hide my strong criticisms of those who willfully embrace ignorance… nor should I. It’s not name-calling. Saying an ignorant person is ignorant is simply stating a fact.

          I’m genuinely sorry that the truth hurts your feelings.

          With that said, now let me deal with the specific issues of ignorance that I’m faced with in dealing with people like you. In my following comments, I’ll share some comments and quotes from other posts I’ve written.


          Thoreau was a liberal libertarian who argued for egalitarianism and later inspired civil rights leaders such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King jr. Also, I’ve never seen any example of Thoreau defending property rights as do conservative libertarians. When he moved to Walden, he lived on someone elses property (Emerson’s property as I remember which Emerson had inherited from his wife). He did his own work as he was very industrious and knowledgeable, but he was perfectly fine with receiving gifts of goods he needed and borrowing tools.

          “Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it.”

          Thoreau had some anti-statist tendencies for sure, but this wasn’t based on his feeling territorial about the home he built or protective of his private property. He apparently wasn’t even bothered by minor acts of theft.

          “I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or the curious, by opening my closet door, see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time.”

          Watching this video helped me to articulate the difference between the two wings of libertarianism. A conservative libertarian tends to argue for rights in terms of capitalist terminology (e.g., property rights and contractual rights). And a liberal libertarian tends to define capitalism in terms of civil rights. This shows a difference of priority. Conservative libertarians are more accepting of hierarchical power and liberal libertarians prefer egalitarianism (liberalism being the common thread between libertarianism and anarchism).

          “I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.”

        • I recommend reading this book by Kaye. Here are two posts, among others, where I discuss and quote Kaye’s analysis of Paine. Below the second link are some passages from his book.

          Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye:

          In words that would forever delight libertarians and anarchists, he distinguished between society and government and maintained that “society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” Yet Paine was neither a libertarian nor an anarchist or for that matter a Lockean liberal. He was a revolutionary democrat, and contrary to the commonly accepted view, his tale was rendered not so much as a diatribe against government, at least not all forms of government, as a narrative of democratic beginnings and commitments.

          – – –

          Republicanism to Paine, as he would later explain, meant not a “particular form of government” but a government constituted for “respublica … or the public good,” as opposed to one that served “despotic” ends. And he understood the particular form of government he advanced as representative democracy: “By ingrafting representation upon democracy, we arrive at a system of government capable of embracing and confederating all the various interests and every extent of territory and population.”24

          The America Paine portrayed was not thirteen separate entities but a single nation-state. Deeply concerned that the tenuous colonial alliance might fall apart, he was the first to propose the idea of convening a conference to frame a “Continental Charter.” And—making it all the more original—his democratic commitments and sensibilities led him to insist that the conference be “impowered by the people.”

          – – –

          “in all countries where the freedom of the poor has been taken away, in whole or in part, that the freedom of the rich lost its defence,” he insisted that “freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally.”61 Paine was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that “if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.” Dismissing neither possibility, he suggested ways of addressing them. To prevent ignorance he recommended education. And to prevent political corruption he again demanded democracy: “numerous electors, composed as they naturally will be, of men of all conditions, from rich to poor.”

          – – –

          Conceding the danger of “mobs,” Paine attributed their actions to the brutality of aristocratic societies, especially their cruel forms of punishment. Rejecting Burke’s thesis that generations were obliged to defer to their ancestors, he upheld the “rights of the living” and insisted that generations cannot “bind” future generations: “Every age and generation must be free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it.” And countering Burke’s propositions about the “ancient” origins of rights, he retorted that Burke did “not go far enough into antiquity,” for the “natural rights of man” went all the way back to “creation” and remained in every generation “equal” and “universal” among men. Divinely ordained, natural rights might be suppressed, but they could not be forfeited or alienated.16

          Paine expressed tremendous confidence in the “genius and talents” of common people, if only governments would engage them: “There is existing in man, a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him … to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.”

          – – –

          Paine did more than censure Britain’s political order. Reviving the plan he had begun to formulate years earlier but had set aside in his encounter with America, he extended his radical-democratic thinking by outlining a series of welfare programs that a revolutionary change in government would afford. Along with suggesting a progressive estate tax to limit accumulation of property, he recommended raising the incomes of the poor by remitting their taxes and augmenting the sums, distributing special relief for families with children, creating a system of social security for the elderly, instituting public funding of education through a voucher system, providing financial support for newly married couples and new mothers, and establishing employment centers for the jobless. He also rendered a most appealing image of the good society:

          When it shall be said in any country in the world, “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of happiness”: when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.27

          Even as Paine pushed radicalism in a social-democratic direction, he proclaimed, “I have been an advocate for commerce, because I am a friend to its effects.” It may seem odd to many of us today, but like many eighteenth-century radicals confronting the legacies of absolutism, Paine comprehended “political liberty and economic liberty” as mutually interdependent and imagined that economic freedom served to assure equality of opportunity and results. Witnessing monarchical regimes taxing the productive classes, transferring wealth to parasitic royals and aristocrats, and punishing working people and the poor, he personally had come to view nondemocratic governments, not markets, as the fundamental cause of social inequality and oppression. Consequently, he proposed the liberation of the market and expansion of commercial activity.28

          Commerce was, for Paine, “a pacific system, operating to unite mankind by rendering nations, as well as individuals, useful to each other … If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable of, it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments.” As much as he appreciated the manifold potential of free markets, however, he did not hold that equality and democracy must necessarily defer to the imperatives of commerce and trade. And as his revolutionary proposal for welfare-state policies attests, he increasingly realized that the democratic governments for which he fought would have to politically address inequality and poverty.

          – – –

          In July 1795 Paine published Dissertation on First Principles of Government, fervently reaffirming his commitment to republican democracy. While he granted that “property will ever be unequal,” he argued against the right of any regime to divide the citizenry into civil or political ranks by wealth and rejected the notion that owning property afforded any entitlements. Furthermore, he demanded the establishment of universal manhood suffrage. And laying down that “the only ground upon which exclusion from the right of voting is consistent with justice would be to inflict it as a punishment for a certain time upon those who should propose to take away that right from others,” he proclaimed. “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which others are protected.”49

          When, regardless of his complaints, the government proceeded with its constitutional plans, Paine withdrew from the Convention and went to work on finishing the second part of The Age of Reason. That autumn he again fell seriously ill, and rumors flew around the Atlantic that he had passed away. But Mrs. Monroe nursed him back to health.

          Back on his feet, Paine immediately set himself to writing a series of new pieces, including the highly original Agrarian Justice. He had come to see all the more clearly that inequality and poverty were the consequences not simply of exploitative systems of taxation and government expenditure but also of economic power and the payment of inadequate wages. “Civilization,” he wrote, “has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state … [T]he accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.”50

          Paine refused to blame the poor for the economic circumstances to which they were reduced, for “poverty is a thing created by … civilized life,” which, he believed, did not exist “in the natural state.” In the face of increasing disparities, he grew increasingly impatient: “The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust. It is absolutely the opposite of what it should be, and … a revolution should be made in it.” And even more strenuously than he had in Rights of Man, Paine propounded that society had an obligation to address material inequality and poverty through a system of public welfare. This “ought to be considered as one of the first objects of reformed legislation,” he insisted, and its aim should be to “preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced.”51

          Paine had been led to write Agrarian Justice by Bishop Richard Watson’s sermon “The Wisdom and Goodness of God, in having made both rich and poor,” which Watson had included in his reply to The Age of Reason. “It is wrong to say God made both rich and poor,” Paine responded. “He made only male and female; and He gave them the earth for their inheritance.” Paine then held that since God had provided the land as a collective endowment for humanity, those who had come to possess the land as private property owed those who had been dispossessed of it—“on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization”—an annual ground rent. Specifically, he delineated a limited redistribution of income by way of a tax on landed wealth and property:

          To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property: And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.

          And notably, Paine did not limit the initial stake or later payments to men.52

          Paine also made it clear that he was not proposing a charity but rather was advocating the “right” of the dispossessed to “compensation.” And he then enunciated an important democratic principle and practice, namely that “the payments [are to] be made to every person, rich or poor. It is best to make it so, to prevent invidious distinctions.” Those who “do not choose to receive it,” he added, “can throw it into the common fund.”53

          While Paine called for a “revolution in the state of civilization,” he was not a socialist. He did not suggest redistributing or recollectivizing the land. He did not contest the right of the propertied to hold their property. Nor did he long to restore some lost “golden age.” The progress of “civilization” had created inequality and poverty, yet it had also materially improved life. Not only was the natural state clearly “without those advantages which flow from agriculture, art, science and manufactures,” but “it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state.” There was no turning back the historical clock.


          The contest of ideologies in American society hasn’t been between traditional conservatism and radical liberalism. Rather, it’s been a contest between John Locke’s self-oriented liberalism and Thomas Paine’s social-oriented liberalism, the former often defending class divisions (in defense of the ownership rights of the ownership class) and the latter challenging them.

          – – –

          It should be clearly noted that this progressive direction isn’t anything new. I’d argue that the continuing progressive revolution is the central story of America and of post-Enlightenment Western civilization in general.

          People seem to have short memories when it comes to history. The labor movement and the creation of the first unions preceded the American revolution. In fact, all of the working class riotings and organizing in Britain and Europe at that time were behind much of the revolutionary fervor in America. It was Paine who first described the progressive vision of a “Free and independent States of America” (i.e., the unified vision of liberty and equality, of individual freedom and collective betterment), and it was Paine who was first inspired by the working class movement in England. The ideal of progress wasn’t just discovered in the 20th century. If the founding generation didn’t care about progressivism (i.e., social progress), they wouldn’t have fought a revolution to create a new kind of democratic republic.

          No one should be surprised that America’s progressivism, which began before America was even a country and which inspired the American Revolution, still continues to this day and will continue for as long as the American Dream continues. America was founded on and remains defined by the seeking of improvement, individual and collective. To oppose progressivism is to oppose America and all that America stands for.


          “Yet Nichols distorts history by dragooning reformist liberals into his socialist tradition. For example, Tom Paine is posthumously drafted as a socialist hero because he favoured a version of a welfare state and progressive taxation, even though these are compatible with an economy based primarily on private property. Nichols does not mention Paine’s belief in minimal government or his support of an armed citizenry, which are cited today by American libertarians and opponents of gun control.”

          There is no inherent conflict between libertarianism and socialism, between valuing both liberty and fairness, both negative and positive freedom, between valuing both individual and collective good, both private and public good. I can’t stand this ideological mindset of either/or absolutism and win/lose scenarios.

          Socialism can’t co-exist with capitalism, but it can co-exist with a free market (a criticism even made by some libertarians such as John C. Medaille). And why is this reviewer so simpleminded as to think someone can’t simultaneously support socialism, minimal government and gun rights. The reviewer asks why Nichols doesn’t mention Paine’s belief in minimal government. If the reviewer is demanding fairness, then why didn’t he mention Paine’s belief in a government that is strong enough and central enough to enforce regulation of ownership rights and to constrain the problems caused by private ownership?


          Yet another confusion, especially among conservatives, is that libertarianism and classical liberalism is true conservatism. Now, that is a confusion of labels worthy of a propagandist. The original libertarians and classical liberals were radically liberal and not conservative in any sense. Some of them thought free markets were potentially beneficial, but they were also very wary of capitalism not constrained by the morality of public good. The first libertarians were labor movement socialists (which makes it all the more ironic that most self-identified libertarians today are mostly from the privileged upper class). The godfather of American libertarianism, Henry David Thoreau, criticized the capitalism of his day which is the very same 19th century capitalism that right-libertarians today like to romanticize. The original vision of America was described by Thomas Paine who was a classical liberal of the bleeding heart liberal variety. Even so, left-libertarians like Thoreau and radical liberals like Paine are today so far to the left that they are no longer even included on the political spectrum.

          – – –

          Here is what I see as the source of the confusion about classical liberalism. I’ve noticed two diverging tendencies within the founding generation of America. Both were liberal relative to the monarchy they were collectively opposing, but one was more liberal than the other. Some of the founders wanted a ruling elite based class, education and property. These founders were successful in implementing this vision to varying degrees in federal and state laws. Opposing them, were those who agreed with Paine which largely included those not a part of the ruling elite (Paine himself was born into the working class). Paine’s vision inspired the American Revolution, but was shoved to the side once the American ruling elite was freed from the British ruling elite. Paine was a radical liberal in the tradition of social democracy and so that meant that Paine was a classical liberal who didn’t hate government. He realized that a democratic government was the only protection from a new ruling elite. And many of the other founders feared democracy because they realized it limited their own power as the ruling elite while empowering the average person (i.e., the ‘mob’).

          So, the right-winger today who self-identifies as a classical liberal tends to be in the American tradition of a capitalist ruling elite (plutocracy) that opposes other ruling elites (such as monarchies and often government in general) while simultaneously opposing the vast majority of citizens who potentially could oppose their own position of ruling elite. They see themselves as part of a meritocracy and so believe that they, unlike others, have earned their position as the ruling elite. However, it’s a bit misguided to call this classical liberalism. Classical just generally refers to the liberalism prior to the 20th century. Paine absolutely was a classical liberal. He was definitely liberal for politics of his day and his vision is still radically liberal by today’s standards. The right-wing founders were liberal in wanting to replace a monarchy with a republic, but they were conservative in wanting to maintain a ruling elite. I find it almost disingenous to call people classical liberals who feared giving people basic freedom and human rights. Paine wanted everyone to be absolutely and equally free, but many of the founders didn’t want to end slavery or give voting rights to all citizens because they believed maintaining their own freedom necessitated limiting the freedom of others. That is a very distorted and uninspiring notion of classical liberalism.

          Many right-wing libertarians to this day find themselves in this conundrum of simultaneously praising and fearing freedom. Many right-wing libertarians and minarchists are fine with any constraints on freedom that help maintain their position of power and the social order that upholds it (e.g., strong border control and military). They like capitalism (or rather their version of big business corporatism) even if it means (or because it means) undermining democracy and disempowering those of the lower classes (e.g., union busting, Citizens United). This attitude may have elements of classical liberalism in terms of rhetoric, but it is also a response of wanting to deny the unadulterated and unrestrained vision of classical liberalism as proposed by Paine. Even though it seemed relatively liberal a couple centuries ago, this right-wing ‘classical liberalism’ is extremely conservative compared to the present leftwing ideologies that seek to free and empower all people of all classes and races. I prefer my classical liberalism taken straight and not watered down.

          Unlike most of the founders, Paine was a genuine progressive.


          In reality, democracy is very simple. It’s as American as applie pie. Related to this, socialism is also a very American tradition. The socialists in early America were fighting for the same rights that many in the American Revolution were fighting for. It was no accident that many early socialists were inspired by Paine. It was Paine who inspired not only the American Revolution but revolutions in many other countries as well.

          As Benjamin Franklin said:

          You, Thomas Paine, are more responsible than any other living person on this continent for the creation of what are called the United States of America.

          And as John Adams said:

          Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.

          It was Thomas Paine who first wrote about the ideal of the states unified through a single government and through universal suffrage. Later on, it was Paine-inspired President Abraham Lincoln who defended what Paine had helped to create and who had tried to further what Paine had hoped it would become.

          It was Thomas Paine who first addressed social security by proposing land taxes that would prevent the concentration of wealth and hence power and that would promote economic equality and hence social justice. Later on, it was Paine-inspired President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who would use Paine’s Agrarian Justice as a model for developing our present social security.

          A 19th century social reformer had no reason to see a conflict between Thomas Paine and Karl Marx. So conservatives, although incorrect in conflating socialism and democracy, aren’t wrong in seeing an alliance between socialists and small ‘d’ democrats in that both are unified against a common enemy: social injustice promoted by theocratic and plutocratic oligarchy.

          – – –

          Most Americans today don’t know the origins of the Republican Party. It was founded as the party of progressivism and social reform. Those who started the party were the radical liberals of their day: agrarian reformists, abolitionists, and socialists. Many of these people, like Lincoln, read writers such as Thomas Paine and Karl Marx. The modern person must understand that Paine was about as popular among the ruling elites in the early 19th century as Marx is today. Paine was considered by many to have caused more harm than good. Those who were inspired by Paine’s vision were criticized by conservatives as “Red Republicanism” (it’s funny that the color red, the color used to represent communism, is now used to represent the Republican Party). It also must be understood that, in relation to Marx’s influence on early American politics, the issue of slavery was often directly connected to the issue of labor rights. Even Lincoln, the first Republican president, made this connection in his speeches. Lincoln went so far as to use Marxist language in describing the relationship between labor and capital.


          However, Paine is more central to my argument, especially considering he was the first to refer to America as a united country and the first to formulate a version of Bill of Rights. Paine didn’t deny we are born with various inequalities, but he observed that most of the major inequalities in modern civilization are created by modern civilization. I’d suggest you read Paine in more detail to understand this position. He describes it in great detail in ‘Agrarian Justice’.

          I’d go so far as to argue that the ideas and policies of the Populist and Progressive Eras were rooted in the thinking of the founding fathers.

          For example, in ‘Agrarian Justice’, Paine formulated an early version of social security among other proposals of a what right-wingers would call a “welfare state”. Or take the Civil War as another example. Lincoln admired Paine and was inspired by Paine’s advocation of universal suffrage. Paine wanted literal freedom for all to be written into the constitution. Having failed that, it was left to Lincoln to finish the American Revolution that Paine originally inspired. In the terms of our disccusion, I think it’s hard to argue that the federal government enforcing equal rights (beginning with the Civil War and being furthered with the Civil Rights movement) is merely establishing equal opportunity. The government was, in fact, demanding basic results of equality in the real world. The government didn’t just offer slaves the opportunity to work themselves out of slavery.

        • Let me simplify all that I’ve shared in response to your comment.

          The most broad definition of ‘classical liberalism’ is all liberalism prior to the 20th century. You acknowledge that there had been many types of liberalism prior to the 20th century, but you use 20th century right-wing labels to separate them. Such distinctions weren’t seen as clearly, if at all, in the 18th and 19th centuries. There was much cross-over between what you distinguish as classical liberals and social liberals. Even socialism was part of the mix back then, the early Republican Party partly having been inspired by and having included socialists.

          What happened in the 20th century is that conservatism fell out of favor. This left a void. So, the earlier liberalism was split into two broad categories. The more individualistic-oriented liberalism was anointed as the new conservatism and the more community-oriented liberalism was made the sole inheritor of the title of ‘liberal’. As such, 20th century politics has mostly been a competition between varieties of liberalism, although conservatism mid-century sought to re-assert itself in a new radicalized (i.e., liberalized) version.

          As I quoted in one post:

          “America is conservative in fundamental principles…
          But the principles conserved are liberal
          and some, indeed, are radical.”
          ~ Gunnar Myrdal

          “Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals”
          ~ Mark Twain

          In The Liberal Tradition in America, Louis Hartz wrote:

          “But how then are we to describe these baffling Americans? Were they rationalists or were they traditionalists? The truth is, they were neither, which is perhaps another way of saying that they were both. [ . . . ] the past became a continuous future, and the God of the traditionalists sanctioned the very arrogance of the men who defied Him. [ . . . ] one of the enduring secrets of the American character: a capacity to combine rock-ribbed traditionalism with high inventiveness, ancestor worship with ardent optimism. Most critics have seized upon one or the other of these aspects of the American mind, finding it impossible to conceive how both can go together. That is why the insight of Gunnar Myrdal is a very distinguished one when he writes: “America is … conservative… . But the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical.” Radicalism and conservatism have been twisted entirely out of shape by the liberal flow of American history. [ . . . ] The ironic flaw in American liberalism lies in the fact that we have never had a real conservative tradition.”

        • Let me point out the obvious. I get frustrated with these kinds of discussions, and I am sorry about expressing my frustrations as I do (if I were only a better man…). I’ll try to explain the reasons for my frustration.

          In my experience: Left-libertarians at least know the basic position of most right-libertarians and the varieties of right-libertarianism. But right-libertarians commonly know little if anything about left-libertarianism. Some right-libertarians only acknowledge left-libertarianism in order to dismiss it, some even claiming there is no such thing as left-libertarianism. Many of these right-libertarians don’t even seem interested in learning what left-libertarianism is.

          I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Right-libertarians have their own shows in the mainstream media (such as Adam Kokesh on Russia Today and Judge Napolitano on Fox News). Right-libertarians get mainstream attention because the Establishment right-libertarians are very wealthy and powerful (such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murcoch, all who are closely involved with the Rand corporation, the former heavily involved in the LIbertarian Party and the latter owning a media empire). Right-libertarians like to pretend to be victims of mainstream politics, but they are closer to mainstream politics than left-libertarians could ever hope of achieving anytime in the near future.

          Left-libertarians are very familiar with right-libertarians because right-libertarians are in the media all the time. The same can’t be said of left-libertarians. For example, Ron Paul is mentioned thousands of times in the mainstream media for every single time Noam Chomsky is mentioned. Unsurprisingly, most right-libertarians are oblivious that they aren’t the only kind of libertarians.

          It reminds me of the research showing the average atheist knows more about the Bible than the average Christian. Being an atheist is frustrating in a similar way to being a left-libertarian.

          Worse of all, left-wingers get blamed for supposedly supporting statism. I’ve met few socialists who support communism of the Leninist or Maoist varieties. Many socialists are libertarians and most are either anarchists or minarchists. An example of a socialist left-libertarian is Noam Chomsky. Despite being the most well known left-winger, few Americans (especially right-wingers) know much about Chomsky’s views of almost anything.

          It’s even more frustrating to hear right-wingers trying to make 18th and 19th century liberalism into a conservative movement. That is just straight up bullshit. Liberals, of course, interpret the liberalism of the past more broadly (i.e., more liberally). Liberalism is never a single ideology. Liberalism embraces change. Only a conservative would try to grasp onto the liberalism of the past in order to turn it into a dogmatic unchanging ideology.

          This was explained well with something I quoted (by Alan Wolfe) in one of the blogs I’ve already referenced:

          [E]verywhere I go, the moment I tell people that I have written a book about liberalism, I am invariably asked which of the two I mean. Classical liberalism, my interlocutors patiently explain to me, is that wonderful notion of the free market elucidated by Adam Smith that worships the idea of freedom. The modern version, by contrast, is committed to expansion of the state and, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to slavery. One must choose one or the other. There really is no such thing, therefore, as modern liberalism. If you opt for the market, you are a libertarian. If you choose government, you are a socialist or, in more recent times, a fascist.

          I try to explain to people that in my book I reject any such distinction and argue instead for the existence of a continuous liberal understanding that includes both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. But so foreign is this idea to them that they stare at me in utter disbelief. How could I have possibly written a book on liberalism, I can almost hear them thinking, when this guy doesn’t know a thing about it?

          [ . . . ] I think of the whole question of governmental intervention as a matter of technique. Sometimes the market does pretty well and it pays to rely on it. Sometimes it runs into very rough patches and then you need government to regulate it and correct its course. No matters of deep philosophy or religious meaning are at stake when we discuss such matters. A society simply does what it has to do.

          When instead we do discuss human purpose and the meaning of life, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes are on the same side. Both of them possessed an expansive sense of what we are put on this earth to accomplish. Both were on the side of enlightenment. Both were optimists who believed in progress but were dubious about grand schemes that claimed to know all the answers. For Smith, mercantilism was the enemy of human liberty. For Keynes, monopolies were. It makes perfect sense for an eighteenth century thinker to conclude that humanity would flourish under the market. For a twentieth century thinker committed to the same ideal, government was an essential tool to the same end.

          • Lol @ hurts my feelings!!!! You call people fucktards and I am the childish ignorant one LMAO. God I’m sorry the city of Iowa City doesn’t give you more to do so that you could do something productive rather than spend hours repeating meaningless regurgitated dribble full of half truths and misunderstandings. But in reality all you really did was copy and paste but, wow, copy and paste you did! Good lord man thank god you are not in graduate school -or an undergraduate- you would be laughed right out of any classroom. Then again you did go to school in the south so I guess it is understandable. Good luck I hope you get back on your meds soon. Though the lack of them does appear to make you at least funny.

          • That is rather pathetic. Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror? You went to all that time and effort in research about me so that you could personally attack me like a little boy throwing taunts on a playground. And that is supposed to show how mature you are? Am I supposed to have a pissing match with you or something? LOL

            Have you considered I openly state personal facts like that because I don’t give a shit about pathetic losers like you? Anyone who would make such personal attacks probably is projecting their own personal problems. If you had any depth of knowledge or if you had a rational argument, you probably would have offered it by now. Your attacks are just distractions from your unwillingness or inability to debate intelligently.

            Anyway, how is telling me things I already know an insult? In particular, how is my living in Iowa City an insult? Are you really that shallow and desperate? Apparently, I really did hurt your feelings.

            By the way, Iowa City has one of the highest rates of highly educated people in the entire country. It used to, in fact, have the highest per capita of college graduates of any city in the US. That was true a few years ago, but I don’t know more recent statistics. Also, Iowa City has one of the oldest writer workshops in the world and is the only UNESCO city of literature in North America. Some of America’s greatest writers have taught or been taught in Iowa City. I’m surrounded by people far more intelligent and well educated than you, and you think that is a criticism against me in some bizarre way. Could you explain your thought processes behind this supposed insult?

            So you think I’d get laughed out of any classroom for making intelligent comments, huh? Most of what I copied and pasted was my own thoughts and writings based on years of reading. There is no reason to be jealous. You too could educate yourself if you wanted to.

            By the way, I love your self-enclosed ‘logic’. If I spend years coming up with original thoughts and commentary as I have, then I am somehow “repeating meaningless regurgitated dribble full of half truths and misunderstandings”. If I carefully quote and cite books written by experts in relevant fields, then all I did was “copy and paste”. So, if you don’t respect either original thought or expert opinions, then what do you respect? Are you just one of those anti-intellectuals who attacks other people for being intellectual because you are incapable of intellectual thought yourself?

            Yes, I went to some schools in the South. And I went to some schools in the Midwest. What is your fucking point? My God, you are beyond pathetic. I was also raised by two intelligent and highly educated parents, one who was a college professor. Also, since graduating from high school, I’ve read thousands of academic books. If you ever come close to having learned half as much as I have in my life, then come back and we will an intelligent discussion.

            I call fucktarded people fucktards. So? A fucktard just generally means someone who is a ‘fucker’ (i.e., someone who is an asshole and/or is generally rude) and a ‘retard’ (i.e., someone who is low IQ and/or willfully ignorant). If someone comes on my blog and rudely makes an ignorant comment, then it’s perfectly rational for me to call them a ‘fucktard’.

            Here is a simple rule of life. If you go to someone’s house or blog and act rudely, you will probably be treated rudely. If you go to someone’s house or blog and act respectfully, you will probably be treated respectfully. If you go to someone’s house or blog and challenge someone’s opinions with ignorant statements, you will probably have those ignorant statements challenged. If you go to someone’s house or blog and start an intelligent discussion, you will probably be joined in with intelligent discussion. You get what you give in life.

    • Don’t be a fucktard. I realize it may be fun pretending to be stupid, but you must not forget that people often become what they pretend to be.

      Any non-fucktarded person knows that “third party” is a general category. In general use, it refers to all parties outside of the two-party system.

      I realize you can’t actually be as stupid as you are pretending. I only ask you to act like an adult while commenting in my blog. All future fucktarded comments by you will be deleted.

  7. Each party has certain common threads. It is just that the more visible, such as politicians, Ron Paul, Paul Rand “seem to” represent the vast majority of that particular party to those who know little about the party. I am amused that Libertarians such as Ron and Rand Paul are condescending toward government. They think any form of government that competes with the Republican Party is inferior and not real. That the only real election is the one they, the Republicans win. Ron and Rand Paul run for office under the theme, “government is bad.” They then get elected and prove it.

    • It’s nice to get a respectful response from someone on this post, whether or not a person agrees with me.

      I do like that you point out the issue of “seem to” represent. When looking at polls, right-libertarianism doesn’t represent the average Republican and certainly doesn’t represent the average conservative. Did you know around 1/3 of Democrats identify as conservatives?

      As for your last remark, I’ve said the same thing myself so many times that I’ve lost count. Sadly, no matter how many times they prove it, their base apparently believes that it will magically work the next time.

  8. I think you hit it spot on. The Koch brothers appear to promote libertarianism, but then seek to selectively advocate for a policy or the repeal of a policy if it personally favors them. I don’t think this necessarily makes their methods for data aggregation, analysis, and synthesis inherently flawed or biased, but there certainly appears to be a conflict of interest. When referencing The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, how can we possibly determine whether or not they have invalidated the data that favors certain criteria, data mining, etc. that may or may not be favorable to the Koch brothers or any other funder in some way? I feel like the data itself has become invalidated as a result. What do you think? I guess if other institutions who were independent of each other corroborated the data then I would feel a little bit better about it.

    • You bring up a good point.

      With the Index of Economic Freedom, it’s quite possible that they created their criteria after rather than before looking at the data and so designed the criteria to mine the data. Even if they didn’t look at the data first, it’s obvious that they are hyper-ideological and so their conception of freedom is no doubt far from neutral and probably far from being egalitarian and fair. The question is whose freedom are they measuring: the freedom of the typical rich white male libertarian?

      I’ve studied enough about political conceptions of freedom to know the entire field is almost impossible to discuss because of the entrenched biases. I specifically know the libertarian view of freedom and I know that a libertarian wouldn’t include positve liberty as part of their measure of freedom. This means those who already have positive freedom (i.e., inherited privilege and wealth) use negative liberty to defend against other groups from gaining positive freedom. For damn sure, those with inherited privilege and wealth didn’t gain it through mere negative liberty.

      The only thing negative liberty can do is defend the liberty you already have, but it can’t give you freedom if you lack it. So, the demographics in America that have experienced centuries of oppression and disadvantage have a less romantic notion of negative freedom, especially since it was this conception of freedom that was originally used to disenfranchise them of power (such as Lockean land rights being used to justify stealing Native American land or classical liberal free market ideals being used to justify slavery).

    • First, let me point out that wealth in and of itself wasn’t the central point of my post. I was pointing out wealth disparities, but also other things as well. I still see no wealth data that contradicts this particular point.

      More importantly, I was trying to get at the issue of how well groups match the average American and so, by implication, how well they might represent the average American. I was also making a point about stereotypes and how well certain political groups fit their respective stereotypes. Libertarians seem to fit the stereotype most people hold of Libertarians. However, as I’ve explained in other posts, Liberals often don’t fit the Liberal stereotype:

      Anyway, I’ll now analyze some of the data about wealth.

      From the Cato link, there is a diversity of income among both libertarians and liberals. Libertarians have a higher percentage at the highest income bracket (31% at $75,000+ compared to 29% for liberals; within that 31%, 6% of libertarians are $105,000 +). However, liberals have slightly more at the middle class range (16% at $50,000–$74,999 compared to 10% for libertarians). As for the poor end, the percentage difference between libertarians and liberals is very small.

      That does support the claim made in my post. The wealthiest Americans are disproportionately represented among libertarians (as per capita of the libertarian demographic). It is true, though, that liberals don’t tend to be poor. Liberalism is more middle class values for liberals include the highest percentage of well-educated professionals.

      Out of curiosity, I thought I’d do a comparison with data from Pew’s Beyond Red Vs. Blue.

      It isn’t a perfect comparison because Pew organizes their data differently. They organize people into groups according to their actual beliefs rather than their self-identified label. If anything, the Pew data should tell us more about actual libertarians and liberals than the Cato data. Also, the Pew data is more recent from 2011 whereas the Cato data is from 2006. The Cato report actually is using data from a diversity of sources rather than a single source. The problem with this is that I’m thinking they are mixing data of self-reported political labels and data like Pew which organizes people according to their actual positions. The Cato wealth data comes from a 2006 Pew report:

      So, it ends up being a comparison between Pew data from 2006 and Pew data from 2011. Plus, I’m not sure those two Pew sets of data were looking at the same thing and certainly not dividing the demographics up in the same way. I think the 2011 data might have been a larger survey and so used a larger sampling.

      The Pew data of Solid Liberals is basically all consistent liberals in that they are liberal across the board, socially and economically. However, this doesn’t necessarily include all people identifying as liberal. Also, oddly, a significant number of Solid Liberals don’t even identify as liberal.

      Pew description of Libertarians:

      “Libertarians are relatively comfortable financially– nearly half (46%) say they are professional or business class, among the highest of the typology groups.”

      “Most (85%) are non-Hispanic white and two-thirds (67%) are male. Well educated (71% have attended college) and affluent (39% have incomes of $75,000 or more).”

      “36% trade stocks.”

      Pew description of Solid Liberals:

      “Compared with the general public, more live in the Northeast (25%) and the West (28%). About half (49%) are college graduates , including 27% with post-graduate experience, the most of any group. 57% are female.”

      Take the gender angle. The American population is about 51% Female. Solid Liberals are only slightly above average at 57%. Libertarians are way below average 33%.

      There is interesting data on more specific economic issues.

      Libertarians and Solid Liberals express about the same average financial stress in terms of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with financial situation. However, 42% of Libertarians and 48% of Liberals have had a member of the household unemployed in the past year (2011 or so).

      This would seem to imply Solid Liberals were hit harder by the recession, but there is a complicating factor. Solid Liberals are almost equally divided between, in relation to the recession, those who have had a “Major effect and not recovered”, those who have had a “Major effect but mostly recovered”, and those who “Didn’t have a major effect”. On the other hand, Libertarians have a lower percentage in the middle category and a higher percentage at each extreme end. I’m not sure why that is or what it means other than some Libertarians being very well off and others not so much.

      However, that doesn’t seem entirely correct as Solid Liberals have a higher percentage (22%) than Libertarians (16%) of those with a family income <$30k. There is an obvious subjective self-assessment aspect for some of these questions. When asked "Do you now, or will you, have enough income to lead the kind of life you want? ", 25% of Libertarians and 18% of Solid Liberals state that they "Won’t have enough in the future". It would appear that Libertarians are less satisfied with having a lower income, even though fewer of them have a lower income.

      This dissatisfaction maybe makes sense as Libertarians have the highest percentage that believe that "Most people can get ahead it if they're willing to work hard". This implies that the social reality of our economy isn't conforming to the belief of many Libertarians. Solid Liberals have the lowest percentage that believe this. Solid Liberals are also a successful group, one of the wealthier and highest achieving of any demographic. Yet Solid Liberals don't seem to expect that our society is a true meritocracy and so they are less dissatisfied with the social reality of our economy.

      Libertarians have the highest employment rate and the lowest unemployment rate compared to every other demographic group. Solid Liberals closer to the national average.

      Libertarians are mostly white non-hispanic males with a disproportionate number of the wealthy. However, there is a significant number of Libertarians across the income spectrum. More oddly, libertarians aren't particularly well educated with the majority lacking a college degree.

      Liberals are closer to being representative of the average demographics of the country in terms of gender and race. However, they tend to be more middle class professionals and have the highest education levels of all Americans. Education, however, only partly correlates to wealth as much wealth is inherited, especially among the wealthiest.

      So, it depends on what data you're looking at and how the demographics are divided. However, no matter which data set, my original claim remains true. Libertarians have the highest percentage of the wealthiest Americans.

  9. I wanted to quickly respond to “The Why of Libertarianism” from the Ask A Libertarian blog. This post was linked in that post:

    Let me be clear. I tend toward libertarianism. Of course, I prefer the original meaning of libertarianism that always meant left-wing in Europe. I’m just tired of the bullshit spouted by right-wingers.

    This is made clear by the quote used in the post at that ‘libertarian’ blog. It’s by Henry David Thoreau: “That government is best which governs least.” The thing is that Thoreau was a left-wing libertarian. as I previously explained:

    That is the problem I have with right-wingers. There is a total lack of larger context, historical and ideological. It becomes yet another form of groupthink, the complete opposite of what libertarianism should be about.

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