I’m interning this summer for Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, who are two of my favorite political thinkers. They both do work on “liberaltarianism”, which is something that I’m especially interested in myself. People often ask me what liberaltarianism is. I’m not sure that there’s one simple answer, but I’ll try to give a sketch of my conception of it. In the realm of political theory, I take it to be some combination of classical and modern welfare liberalism (Rawls is taken seriously, Lockean/Nozickian frameworks of absolute negative rights, which provide the philosophical grounding for traditional libertarian political theories, are de-emphasized).
In terms of everyday politics, liberaltarianism holds that libertarians potentially have more common ground with liberals (and vice versa) than with conservatives (thus moving away from traditional, Goldwater/Reagan era libertarian/conservative fusionism). In the wake of the Bush administration, the Republican party has totally blown its small government credentials and become a cesspool of backward, anti-intellectual nuttiness. While nobody can say with a straight face that the current liberal establishment in any way embodies the ideas of limited government, there are at least some shared foundational commitments.
I find liberaltarianism attractive for a couple of reasons. For one, possibly due to my philosophy training at a very un-libertarian Swarthmore department, I’ve become skeptical of rights-based theories. Therefore, I find unconvincing the traditional libertarian claim that taxation/redistribution is immoral just because it involves state coercion of non-consenting citizens. Also, more practically, it seems to me that libertarian/conservative small government fusionism only really makes sense if one places an inordinate amount of importance on tax policy. Not that tax policy is unimportant, but on a host of other issues that libertarians should care about, liberals tend towards much more libertarian-friendly positions that conservatives: defense policy, abortion, privacy/surveillance issues, gay marriage, and immigration.