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A Short Lesson On Libertarianism For The New York Times

One of the country’s leading newspapers has no idea what libertarians believe. And that’s a shame.


There are numerous factions within the libertarian movement, and I don’t claim to speak for any of them. But let’s just say, as a courtesy to political science and accuracy, that a person writing about this topic should concede there are unifying ideals that help define the philosophy. This is something The New York Times might contemplate before tackling the topic in the future.

In a piece titled “Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House,” readers learn that Democrats still hold out hope for common ground with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. This libertarian-liberal alliance has been talked about for a long time and, no doubt, there are those occasions when the two ideologies happen to intersect. But in attempting to demonstrate how the coalition is growing, author Jonathan Weisman goes off the rails. “From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases,” he writes, “a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House…”

Strange indeed. Also, imagined.

Weisman soon uses the House’s passage of an amendment banning federal contracts for companies that set up “sham headquarters” in offshore tax havens like Bermuda as one of the examples of this budding political partnership.


Here are some clues for those struggling with the “libertarian” thing: Bills aiming to inhibit the free movement of people and trade are not often libertarian in nature. Laws that involve giving out “federal contracts” are also not generally thought of as “libertarian.” Laws that help facilitate the collection of more taxes and grow government are also not typically deemed libertarian. Finally, and the most obvious clue for people who aren’t familiar with classical liberal concepts, is that the few legitimately libertarian-leaning Republicans in Congress, people like Justin Amash or Thomas Massie, voted against the amendment.

This doesn’t stop the Times, which goes on to say: “The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases.”

Does that sound libertarian to you? Because it’s probably not, although Amash and Massie, and almost anyone considered even faintly libertarian, voted nay, on this one as well. Libertarians are not especially keen on federal background checks for gun purchases for a whole bunch of reasons. One clue that might tip you off, though, is that some libertarians support your right to own a Bazooka and a tank.

And, though journalists will never concede this for some reason, abortion is also a complicated issue without any definitive libertarian position. Just ask Ron Paul. Or Mollie Hemingway.

Massie tells The New York Times that he’s “working very hard to forge these coalitions.”  And there is unquestionably a growing number of conservatives who are attempting to be more consistent on issues concerning individual liberty. (Liberals in Congress end up in the same place for very different reasons.) So, yes, many Republicans “crossed the aisle” to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries and limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.  And, increasingly, GOPers support changing laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing. Those libertarian-minded positions aren’t exactly new among conservatives, of course. But if you’re a reporter looking to build a narrative about this liberal-libertarian alliance, you might want to check that all that bi-partisan legislation you’re throwing in the mix to make it seem real has an even tenuous connection to libertarianism.

 Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.