Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey, two notable “liberaltarian” voices, have just left the Cato Institute. John Quiggin responds, saying it means that Cato will lose any independence from the Republican party. I’m not comfortable to judge that particular claim about Cato, though I’ll note that the two names I’m most familiar with don’t fit the picture: Gene Healy and Julian Sanchez. Of course there’s a selection bias there: the Cato figures I’m most likely to know about are the ones who spend the most time making trenchant critiques of Republicans or the Tea Party.
The point I’d like to make is that there is no logical reason why an ideological shift to doctrinaire libertarianism should move Cato towards the Republican party. Someone like Brink Lindsey reaches out to liberals and thinks that libertarians should focus more on economic freedom than small government. But even a libertarian who has no time for liberals can be a fervent critic of the Republican party.
All it takes is a bit of honesty. Take Radley Balko for instance. When it comes to economic matters, he’s a pure libertarian, complete with constant snark about liberals and the left. Frankly, I find too many of his economic posts to be … But it doesn’t matter, because he’s a libertarian, and so has had ample grounds to criticize Republicans for a decade or more. It helps that Radley’s focus is on civil liberties, police misconduct and human rights, but any honest libertarian naturally have huge problems with the Republican party.
Of course, some people will claim the mantle of libertarianism while turning a blind eye to everything the Republicans do so long as they lower taxes. Perhaps that’s what the Koch brothers are pushing Cato to do (I genuinely don’t know). But that has less to do with ideology, and more to do with powerful people trying to serve their own interests.