Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The sibling rivalry between libertarians and conservatives added another chapter last week in a debate sponsored by America’s Future Foundation.

Jonah Goldberg of National Review and Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine renewed a five-year-old debate that had since become somewhat legendary. The 2001 debate pitted Mr. Goldberg against former Reason magazine columnist Mike Lynch over whether libertarians should be considered part of the conservative right.

AFF decided to revisit the topic as part of its 10th anniversary celebration, with Mr. Goldberg again defending the conservative movement, and Mr. Gillespie speaking for the libertarian cause at the Heritage Foundation July 18.

“We always hear people talking about that first debate. I think the reason is that we usually address policy that we all basically agree on,” said Jerry Brito, director of operations for AFF, a District-based nonprofit that works to develop young libertarian and conservative leaders. “These type of debates address differences in our group, and that has energized people.”

Mr. Goldberg admitted that his views have become more sympathetic to certain aspects of the libertarian cause since 2001, but he accused libertarians in recent years of evolving into an “ACLU cultural libertarianism.”

“I think the problem with many libertarians nowadays is this idea of culture libertarianism,” Mr. Goldberg said during the debate. “This idea that we can all be our own priests, that we can all define our own selves, that not just the state, but tradition and authority of any kind somehow should have no real sway over our lives. Those type of libertarians aren’t part of the right at all.”

Mr. Gillespie drew applause from the crowd by countering, “If not following in lock step some kind of … tradition makes me not a member of the right, I’d rather be wrong.”

In a postdebate interview, Mr. Gillespie said, “One of the marks of libertarianism is that we recognize that people can choose among past traditions for whichever one works best. Different people value things differently, and the sign of a good society is one that allows as many people as possible to pursue the good life.”

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