I’ve been reluctant to get into the silly food fight between Jonah Goldberg and the various flavors of libertarians, because I have little confidence that I can make a useful contribution.
But, what the hey–if I let that stop me, I’d probably never post anything.
It seems to me that everyone is arguing past one another, and that Jonah in particular is kicking the stuffing out of strawmen. Jonah seems to think that being libertarian means never having to say, “I judge.” He also thinks that all libertarians are supposed to be of like mind, and that they claim to have a simple philosophy, and then feigns shock to discover that they come in various flavors, some of which he finds less distasteful than others, but all of which put the lie to the (straw) notion–(his)–that libertarianism is a single, coherent ideology. Also, like many conservatives, who confuse libertarians with libertines, he suspects that the libertarian position is not a valid intellectual one, but rather, that all of this talk about freedom and liberty is just a thinly-veiled cover for people who like sex, drugs, and rock and/or roll.
As to the first point, few libertarians are non-judgmental. They can be, and often are, quite intolerant, perhaps even more so than Jonah Goldberg. The point that Jonah seems to miss is that libertarianism isn’t about making judgments per se, it’s about whether or not such moralizing should become encoded into actual law. I can think that lots of things are morally wrong without necessarily thinking that they should therefore be illegal. At the risk of making the mistake of attempting to speak for most libertarians, I suspect that what most people who call themselves libertarian object to is the notion that, if someone finds something objectionable, that “there oughtta be a law” (though to be consistent, they don’t think that there should actually be a law against people saying that).
With regard to the second point, it just shows how silly and useless labels are (even though Jonah seems to think that anyone who objects to labels is a “leftie”). Is conservatism really that much more coherent than libertarianism? Most people would (correctly or not) call both Pat Buchanan and William Buckley a conservative. Yet I think that one could find them farther apart on many individual issues than most libertarians. Any single issue of National Review itself will reveal a broad spectrum of thinking–on drug legalization, on foreign engagement, etc., yet it is considered a “conservative” magazine. I think that Jonah is kicking an empty pillow here.
And finally, it is just as insulting to accuse a libertarian (or conservative, for that matter) who wants to end the War on (Some) Drugs of being a drug user as it is to accuse someone who is opposed to affirmative action of being a racist. In both cases, the accuser refuses to recognize the possibility that someone might take a position on principle–he thinks that they can only be doing it out of some amoral need to indulge themselves.