Libertarians and “libertarians” (Australian version)

Regular readers will know that one of my occasional themes is the strange state of the libertarian (or “libertarian”) movement, which in many quarters seems to have been taken over by Trumpism. (For example, see this post from 2016.)

Even many libertarians who are not themselves Trumpists seem remarkably unconcerned at where some in the movement are going.

So I can’t let pass without comment a poll on the Facebook forum page of the Australian Libertarian Society. The question is, “Excluding the Liberal Democrats, which political party in Australia do you think is the least-bad?”

Here are the results, exactly as they appear this afternoon (I’ve calculated the percentages myself):

Conservatives 52 40.6%
Reason (formerly Sex) 20 15.6%
Shooters, Fishers & Farmers 17 13.3%
Liberals 10 7.8%
Pirate Party 8 6.3%
Science Party 5 3.9%
Australian Liberty Alliance 5 3.9%
Katter’s Australian Party 4 3.1%
One Nation 3 2.3%
Other 1 0.8%
Greens 1 0.8%
United Australia (formerly Palmer) 1 0.8%
Labor 1 0.8%
Nationals 0
Christian Democrats / Christians 0
Centre Alliance 0
Hinch’s Justice Party 0

Some notes for non-Australians and political non-junkies. The Liberal Democrats are something like an “official” libertarian party (perhaps best described as a fusion of libertarians and gun nuts); the Australian Conservatives are what Americans would call “theocons” – religiously inspired hard right; Reason (formerly the Sex Party) is left-libertarian; One Nation is the mainstream neo-fascist party; Australian Liberty Alliance is a more extreme version of the same thing; Katter’s Australian Party and the Shooters are both rural-based right-wing groups but falling short of serious neo-fascism. The Liberals are the mainstream centre-right and Labor centre-left.

So even if we don’t count Katter and the Shooters under that description, almost half of “libertarians” (46.9%) feel closest to a far-right party. Only a little over a third (35.9%) line up with anything that could even generously be described as sharing in our Enlightenment heritage.

Readers can draw their own conclusions, but I’ll mention two things that I think are going on here. One is a general cultural issue, that people who identify as libertarians see themselves primarily as “anti-left”, so they work on a principle of “no enemies on the right.” Anyone who attacks the left is an ally; the more unhinged the attack, the better.

The second thing is specific to the runaway winner of the poll, the Australian Conservatives. Unlike most far-right parties, it proclaims its support for the free market. So despite the fact that in every other respect it fairly breathes hatred of freedom, it attracts many “libertarians” who are unable to see beyond economics. More generally, it has borrowed a lot of the platform of the American “tea party”, in a way that’s quite unusual for Australia – as I tried to explain last year.

But whatever these “libertarians” might think, all the evidence is that economics is losing its salience as a driver of political allegiance across most of the democratic world. The new dividing line seems to run pretty much down the middle, between libertarians and “libertarians” – or as Jeffrey Tucker puts it, between humanitarians and brutalists.


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