Classical Liberals and the LDP

Andrew Norton has started offering some results and analysis from his Australian Political Identity Survey. The prime objective of the survey was to distill what differences, if any, exist between those Australians that self identify as Libertarians and those that identify as Classical Liberals. Well there are a few differences although mostly these are just a matter of degree. On the bulk of the questions the Classical Liberals and the Libertarians are on the same side of the fence. However there is one area where they are quite different that caught my attention and that is their sense of affiliation with the Liberal Democrats (LDP). See the chart reproduced below.

The LDP policy suite takes a moderate Libertarian or what might be called a Classical Liberal position. It does not attempt to be hard core Libertarian in the way that for instance Libertarianz does in New Zealand. There is certainly no advocacy by the LDP for libertarian ideas such as open immigration or income tax abolition. And yet in spite of this positioning the Andrew Norton survey suggests that there is a sharp distinction between the level of appeal that the LDP offers to Libertarians and to Classical Liberals. I don’t know the reason for this however I have a couple of competing theories.

1. Perhaps calling yourself a Libertarians represents in part a strong desire to differentiate from the mainstream. As such Libertarians are those that will most readily support a non-mainstream party. However this is somewhat contradicted by the fact that most Libertarians support the Liberal Party not the LDP.

2. There are LDP policy positions which the LDP manages to divide these groups on. However if this is the case then it must be on policy differences not revealed by the Andrew Norton survey.

3. More Libertarians than Classical Liberals have been exposed to the LDP and it’s policies positions.

I’d be keen to hear other theories or a critique of the theories I’ve offered here. However it is probably best to read Andrew Norton’s full article first.

29 thoughts on “Classical Liberals and the LDP

  1. “Similarly, none of the three options for responding (nothing, carbon trading, carbon tax) received majority support from either group.”

    The LIBERTARIAN SOLUTION wasn’t even offered!

    Where the hell is full property rights?

    Frank Luntz approves of this survey.

  2. Interesting survey but it’s a bit risky to draw conclusions. Respondent numbers were relatively small and self-selected via blogs. I suspect many of the differences between classical liberals and libertarians could be explained by half a dozen libertarians giving hard line responses plus the same number of Liberal Party supporters among the classical liberals.

    As for the low affiliation with the LDP, I think it’s simply due to low awareness and/or political impact. Outside the ACT the party has contested a single federal election so far, and then under a temporary name. A lot of people still haven’t heard of it and even when they do, won’t take it seriously until it wins something or at least goes close.

    Unfortunately that’s also a Catch 22 problem – it won’t win something unless it gains more awareness and affiliation. It’s a marketing problem for sure, but not only.

  3. David,

    If that is the case why do those that self identify as Libertarians not suffer the same impairment when it comes to knowing about and supporting the LDP?

  4. Perhaps you have it the wrong way around… it isn’t that libertarians are more aware of LDP, but that LDP’ers are more exposed to the term, “libertarian”? Or that people who support the Liberal party are more likely to refer to themselves as “classical liberal” simply to distinguish from “lefty liberal”.

    You’re all assuming that people have come up with a label for themselves first, and then decided which party to support… I don’t know that that’s correct.

  5. At the advanced liberty & society seminars (hosted by the CIS) many years ago I met quite a few free-market kiwis. At the time I noticed something interesting, which I think holds in politics.

    The moderate libertarians (or “classical liberals” perhaps) were members of the Nationals (NZ version of “Liberals”). They preferred the policies of ACT (NZ version of “LDP”), but in politics they wanted to be more pragmatic and moderate.

    The more radical libertarians were members of ACT. They preferred the policies of Libertarianz (near anarchist party), but in politics they wanted to be more pragmatic and moderate.

    Perhaps it’s the same thing in Australia. In support of this idea, the LDP was started by radical libertarians who chose to pursue a more pragmatic policy path.

    Anyway — I reject Andrew’s idea that “classical liberal” and “libertarian” are different things. He didn’t allow the option for people to pick multiple titles. That’s like asking people if they are “male” or a “man” and then on the basis of the different answers concluding that male and man are different things.

    To repeat the old evidence, Milton Friedman and Hayek both said that they preferred the word “liberal” (they didn’t say “classical”), but that in modern language they were “libertarian”. And some quite radical libertarians still refer to themselves as libertarian. The distinction is purely cosmetic.

  6. Male and Man are not the same thing as Man generally excludes a certain age range (not to mention a whole swag of species). Man is a subset of Male.

  7. I reject Andrew’s idea that “classical liberal” and “libertarian” are different things.

    I’m not sure he necessarily believes they are – he was curious as to how people identify themselves and what policies they prefer.

    My experience is that most people don’t really like labels… I had a set of ideas, and found these to be broadly supported by LDP. Most LDP’ers seemed to call themselves libertarian, and I adopted the label as a matter of convenience – though I used it sparingly (and seeing the way the libertarian party in the US is going, have begun to favour “classical liberal”)

  8. Man is a subset of Male.

    Since we’re being pedantic, “Man” can also refer to mankind – so it can be a superset including both male and female 🙂

  9. Ah, OK… well, I think they’re the same thing – except that the meaning of words change over time (look at “liberal”) and that we may already be seeing a corruption of the word “libertarian”… I wonder if people will start using the term “classical libertarian”? (*checks google*… seems so, though not many)

    One of the South Park guys came out as a libertarian a while back, but seems to have backtracked – preferring not to use labels… I can understand why.

  10. I really do wonder how crucial a litmus test “gun control” is in distinguishing those who define themselves primarily as libertarian from those who define themselves primarily as classical liberals.

    Other litmus tests that may or may not be useful could include: IP, foreign intervention, insider trading and even faith in the current and recent world governments.

    John- in my opinion you define yourself primarily as a libertarian even if you think you are also a classical liberal. What words do you usually use when talking about yourself, your political beliefs and which groups do you use “we believe” about?

    All this talk about ideology is interesting. But to be honest who holds to ideology 100%? And who would want to? I think it’s far more important to look at individual areas of policy and evaluate them separately finding their merits and faults. What people choose to label themselves as is really irrelevant. If someone doesn’t like the connotations of liberal or libertarian respectively, let them call themselves what they will.

  11. I think I am about the most libertarian person there I know of other than John Humphreys. But I am not going to exclude people if they are moderate on guns, drugs or foreign intervention.

    It is simply great that they are libertarian on almost every other issue.

  12. Since Libertarian is a direction, towards the de-center of the board, lots of people call themselves libertarian! My newest definition is ‘ProLocalist’. I am actually an anticentralist, but it’s better to be for, not against, something, so I’m in favour of local governments, and locals on their own lands.
    At one time, as I remember, the Liberals spoke up a lot about States’ rights, but that fell by the wayside when they got into Federal power, and all the States were Labor strongholds. So Liberals sound good, but revert to political type when in power. Let’s not forget that.

  13. Shem — what I call myself depends on who I’m talking to and what I think they know about political philosophy. For some Americans it is becoming easier to say “I quite liked Ron Paul” because they have heard of Paul but political labels mean nothing to them.

    When talking to radical lefties it disarms them more if I refer to myself as an anarchist… and then accuse them of being too reactionary and conservative because they want to oppress people.

    Other times I use “libertarian” or “radical centrist” or “radical liberal” or “capitalist” or “classical liberal” etc… nearly everything except “neo-liberal” which is ironically how most people would judge me. 🙂

    As for “sticking to ideology”, I think that is a confused idea. I don’t believe in drug legalisation because I’m a libertarian. I’m a libertarian because I believe in drug legalisation (among other things). The ideology doesn’t drive the arguments. The arguments drives the ideology.

    People use “ideology” as a swear word, when what they really mean to say is “you have different ideas to me and they’re scary so I’m going to try and dismiss you without thinking about your arguments”. Another word for these people is “dumb”.

  14. Shem, a personal philosophy or ideology is unavoidable.

    At any one time, I think most adults hold views on epistemology, metaphysics and ethics even if these logically contradict and even if they are not fully aware of their beliefs. Even if you choose not to think about your deeper beliefs you will inevitably adopt those of others or those of your subconsious mind. You may compartmentalise and adopt one set of episemological standards in some areas of your life and other standards in other areas. eg/ Some employers would fire an alcoholic employee (work life), but they may give money to their alcoholic brother in an attempt to help him out (personal life). People even change their standards within the one area of life, based on emotional whims or outside influence.
    Every action you take could be explained by epistemological/metaphysical or ethical beliefs.
    (This is my thinking, I’m not sure if Objectivists agree with this fully or not).

    When you say “I think it’s important … to evaluate … finding merits and faults” – you need epistemological and metaphysical standards to do this evaluation.

    eg/ I might tell a suicide bomber that his action is evil because it kills people (My ethical standard is human life). He will disagree (his ethical standards are verses from the Koran). His metaphysics are different – he believes in another world. I don’t. His epistemology is different – he thinks knowledge is derived from revelation. I don’t. Many people today believe in multiple types of epistemological tools: faith, reason, emotion and intuition, revelation, collectivism etc
    Therefore we could never aggree on the same “merits and faults” and our politics would be totally different.

    Another eg/ I think that something like robbing a bank is ultimately bad for you in the long run because you’d have to watch your back for the rest of your life, you will have to lie to most people about your past and where you got your money, lies grow like Pinnochio and will consume your thoughts instead of other more productive thoughts, you can never have an honest character without giving back the money, you will not achieve happiness because material goods on there own cannot provide long term happiness etc. But try telling that to someone who’s just gotten 1 million dollars into their thieving hands. The fault here is a long term analysis vs short term. And if you are a subjectivist or pragmatist that rejects long range forecasting via use of principles, you are more likely to make this fault. Therefore an epistemological standard is required for the evaluation you are talking about.

    In one sense theory can never fully predict practise because theory always requires limits and context. Knowing reality can be very complicated. However to dismiss theory as inherently flawed is stupid.
    Modern philosophy often assumes both perception and conception are inherently flawed – something I disagree with. (The last 2 paragraphs are the Objectivist view) Objectivism holds that it is possible to make mistakes due to incomplete information and that omniscience is not the standard of knowledge. Objectivist epistemology states things such as: The method to contexually certain knowledge is logic and reason, contradictions are not possible due to the law of identity, and that knowledge is hierarchical (An example of hierarchical knowledge: Newton wasn’t wrong, he was right but there was more to it. Newton was working within narrower measurement limits than Einstein due to the instruments available to him at the time).

    Non contradiction is actually a standard accepted by most scientists. eg/ In all the millions of fossils found around the world, an older fossil has never been found above a younger fossil in the bit of ground. It would only take one genuine case to put serious doubts on evolutionary theory in the minds of good scientists.

  15. The LDP policy suite takes a moderate Libertarian or what might be called a Classical Liberal position. It does not attempt to be hard core Libertarian

    Seriously, there is an almost total lack of self-awareness around here. I suggest you reflect on the fact that only a tiny majority of self-described libertarians (59%) supports core LDP policy such as the abolition of the minimum wage, with large minorities also against the abolition of government-provided healthcare, etc. Imagine if the Greens, or the DSP, were barely able to muster support for core policies among self-described socialists on the grounds that the policies were too socialist. If they then tried to claim they were taking a “moderate socialist” position that was “not hard core”, would you laugh at them?

    It’s not even as if abolishing minimum wage is an extreme example of LDP policy. If self-identifying libertarians are reluctant to abolish the minimum wage, presumably on the grounds that it might cause poor Australians to suffer, how do you think they might react to this?

    Furthermore, while we would all like to assist the poor, we do not wish to encourage over-consumption of scarce health resources by providing blanket subsidies. The poor should be asked to first appeal to the generosity of their local communities.

    This is a position so “hard core” that its advocacy (“Government should not fund healthcare”) was not even an option in the health question in Norton’s survey. And we’re still not even close to the most fringe positions in LDP policy; there’s privatising endangered species, abolishing government control of water supply, concealed carry, and on and on. Wake up guys.

  16. I just noticed this:

    Perhaps calling yourself a Libertarian represents in part a strong desire to differentiate from the mainstream. As such Libertarians are those that will most readily support a non-mainstream party. However this is somewhat contradicted by the fact that most Libertarians support the Liberal Party not the LDP.

    If the LDP is not a “hard core” libertarian party then why is it only supported by roughly a quarter of self-described libertarians? Don’t try “they haven’t heard of us”, if they’re big enough politics wonks to give themselves the name “libertarian” then it would be odd if most of them hadn’t heard of the LDP.

    There’s no mystery in Norton’s results. If 6% or whatever it is of classical liberals supported the LDP and 100% of libertarians supported the LDP, you would have no difficulty in recognising that the correct hypothesis is that most of those calling themselves “classical liberals” do so because the word “libertarian” is associated with too radical an agenda. The low numbers of libertarians supporting the LDP is a reflection of the fact that the LDP is too far from the mainstream even for those willing to refer to themselves as libertarians.

  17. “if they’re big enough politics wonks to give themselves the name “libertarian” then it would be odd if most of them hadn’t heard of the LDP”

    That’s a big assumption.

    The LDP has zero media presence. It’s not on the first Google page for “libertarian”, even for Aussie-only sites. It’s at the bottom of a search of Aussie-only sites for “libertarian party”. It’s run in just one federal election, with minimal activism by the candidates. Why should libertarians have ever heard of the LDP?

  18. The low numbers of libertarians supporting the LDP is a reflection of the fact that the LDP is too far from the mainstream even for those willing to refer to themselves as libertarians.

    I know plenty of Liberal Party people who would be comfortable with 90% of LDP policies, and guns certainly aren’t the most difficult issue. I’d say it’s more of a fear of anarchy if there isn’t a steady government hand on the tiller, whether that’s social decay if you legalise drugs or rioting poor people burning your house down if you reduce welfare. In my opinion there’s two problems 1. The one or two libertarian positions that each person disagrees with varies between people and creates a point of argument that always seems to drive a wedge in. 2. It involves putting your ego on the line to commit to a non-populist value system. You become a target to some extent even if you’re a ‘normal’ person. Most people don’t want this level of discomfort, and a lot are involved in politics as part of their social life and want to be popular as much as anything else.

    The LDP’s policies are sufficiently moderate, just marketed really badly (sometimes really, really badly). It just needs to learn how to market itself as the progressive, sophisticated but not up itself, solution-providing party which delivers political leadership. The two necessary ingredients are 1. great marketing and 2. terrific leaders. If the LDP people cant get those things in a hurry then LDPers should do an active stint in their local Liberal or Labour party branch and learn the ropes before returning to their values and having another shot at it. Also, sometimes a bit of gradualism can make those contentious policies a whole lot more palatable. It’s really the commitment to values that gives the LDP any strength it has; make the policy too wishy-washy and the LDP ceases to have a reason to exist.

  19. “The low numbers of libertarians supporting the LDP is a reflection of the fact that the LDP is too far from the mainstream even for those willing to refer to themselves as libertarians.”

    How? From an outsiders prospective the LDP seems to have made a real effort to tone down most of its policies while still holding libertarian ideals. Not easy to do. The American Libertarian party seems to have lost its way on this.

    What part of the LDP policies can be considered radical from a libertarian prospective? If you mean; “If self-identifying libertarians are reluctant to abolish the minimum wage, presumably on the grounds that it might cause poor Australians to suffer, how do you think they might react to this?” Surely there aren’t really people out there calling themselves libertarians who would not want to abolish the minimum wage?

    I agree with Michael Suttcliffe; it seems more of a marketing/education issue to me. On the education side I doubt that the average Australian has heard of the term “Libertarian” and would recoil in horror at most of the objectives. Big government/welfare has been pumped into the water supply for so long that I doubt that most people are even aware that an alternative could exist.

    On the marketing side the LDP being a small party is probably light on resources. Still it doesn’t cost much to be active and accessible on the internet and try to engage people, especially the youth. Maybe they are doing this already but I haven’t noticed.

  20. Surely there aren’t really people out there calling themselves libertarians who would not want to abolish the minimum wage?

    lol? Did you bother to read Norton’s post before commenting?

    Sutcliffe:

    The LDP’s policies are sufficiently moderate, just marketed really badly (sometimes really, really badly).

    This is a bare assertion, completely unsupported by the evidence. How do you square this with Norton’s finding that scrapping the minimum wage is barely even supported by a majority of those calling themselves libertarians?

    Both the last two comments exhibit the calling cards of fundamentalist parties everywhere: (a) more people would support our positions if only they were better educated on the issues (sometimes true but generally wishful thinking) and (b) it’s impossible for us to moderate our positions because otherwise we will lose our values. This being the refuge of stubborn ideologues who refuse to support incremental change and are therefore condemned to be locked out of policy debates.

    I support the decriminalisation of all drugs, but I would not advocate that becoming part of the LDP’s policy position because I recognise that a lot of people – even those who support the cause of liberty – are uncomfortable with what it might unleash. I support the incremental change of the decriminalisation of marijuana and so – sensibly – does the LDP. Are advocates of strong libertarian policies in other areas willing to grant me the same courtesy? The hell they are. It’s straight into privatising the water supply, scrapping school curriculums, concealed carry, abolishing all government interference in the labour market, etc etc etc. The problem with these policies is not marketing. It doesn’t need a new sales pitch. They are genuinely radical policies, even for those with classical liberal inclinations.

  21. terje.
    I think there are people who think of themselves as libertarian bu are really social libertarians only.

  22. V:

    This being the refuge of stubborn ideologues who refuse to support incremental change and are therefore condemned to be locked out of policy debates.

    I suggested gradualism. I don’t think the LDP should support the scrapping of the minimum wage – just keeping it very low as one part of an overall safety net which encourages people to work even if on welfare. Negative income tax achieves this. I don’t think it should support concealed carry, but legal reform protecting the rights of citizens to defend themselves and reinstating self-defence as a legitimate reason to own a firearm. I don’t think all drugs should be decriminalised, but marijuana decriminalised, medicinal use legalised and decriminalisation of party drugs with reform based around safe consumption. All of this would sit comfortably with a healthy section of the Liberal Party if it was marketed correctly and it all loosely fits current LDP policy last time I looked. It’s the way those policies are presented that damages the image, making it look like an angry reaction to being told what to do rather than much more sensible alternative.

  23. Chris V: a lot of people misrepresented themselves.

    95% of economists want no minimum wage or totally free trade (although not necessarily the same 95% in both cases).

    It is not “fundamentalist” to pursue such a policy when it is an economic policy, made on the advice of qualified people.

    Are people who advocate free trade “extremist” since free trade is unpopular?

  24. All we really need to do is emphasise our strengths. Let’s keep talking about giving back citizens more of their money, or giving them choices in their lives. If it becomes a policy to allow competition to government services, then we won’t be ‘taking something from them’. Medicare might eventually die, but we would not have harmed it- free choice would have.
    And we can justify our guns policies by pointing out how people in the NT and Queensland really do need weapons against Crocodiles- Governments banning all weapons would leave them defenceless!

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