A term coined by Austrian economist Murray Rothbard to describe people who call themselves libertarians defining liberty as moral license (see libertine). They are former Marxists, contemporary liberals, practicing drug-users, homosexuals, self-appointed members of the avant-garde, haters of tradition, anti-religious (especially anti-Christian) atheists, alienated teens and young adults, politically correct leftists, humanitarians who see the established culture and morality as equally or more threatening than an expansive government. They also reject the classical liberalism that the United States of America is founded upon. In fact, many of these people have not read or do not care to read the writings of the Founders of the United States or the philosophers who influenced them. If they do appeal to the Founders, they cite quotes taken out of context to support their leftist views. They also care little for community, culture, or history.
These "libertarians" have taken on the name to justify a nihilistic view of the world, where restraint of any kind is removed so that they can indulge their appetites. Many modal libertarians have an appreciation of the free market because they realize the market can supply their drugs, pornography, and prostitutes more effectively. They confirm the fears expressed by Daniel Bell of the cultural contradictions of capitalism where increased levels of wealth produced by capitalism undermine the traditional values based on self-restraint that make capitalism successful. The same ethic of self-indulgence explains their support for abortion on demand and unrestricted euthanasia. The logic here is to kill anyone who cannot keep up and is deemed to have an inferior "quality of life."
Former *Reason* magazine editor, Nick Gillespie, personifies this anti-social trend. He praises as "Heroes of Freedom" Madonna, Dennis Rodman, Larry Flynt, and William Burroughs alongside such true heroes as Milton Friedman and Barry Goldwater. Gillespie epitomizes this brand of libertarianism by posing as the angry young man hipster too cool for the rest of us poor unimaginative slobs.
These so-called libertarians are more interested in civil liberties that undercut law enforcement not because of fear of an abuse of power but because of their rejection of the imposition of pain including just punishment. Instead, they unrealistically believe that if all people are treated as equals and given opportunity to get rich in the market, then there would be no crime.
Although more traditional or paleo-libertarians such as Ron Paul are strict constitutionalists, modal libertarians are all in favor of using judicial activism to further their social goals of removing barriers to self-destructive behavior or placing barriers in the way of law enforcement and national security without regard to precedent or the text of the Constitution.
These bits of meliorism go hand in hand with their non-interventionism in foreign policy. Instead of opposing foreign wars to protect the lives and traditions of citizens of their own country, they believe that if wealth and opportunity can be expanded, then people would live harmoniously together in a peaceful cosmopolitan world. The basic assumptions about human nature and the human condition only differs from the leftist internationalist by replacing a super-statist/socialist order with a super market capitalist order that would transcend the nation state and particular local cultures. The same leftist vision is simply implemented by a different strategy. This line of thinking explains their support of mass immigration. It also explains why one does not hear these libertarians defend freedom of association.
Modal libertarians disdain tradition or any sense of social stability. They relish change for the sake of change. They crave novelty and destruction of anything that they have become bored with. Virginia Postrel, now writing for the *New York Times*, is a prime example of this love of frenetic activity. She misquotes Hayek on the nature of change as a thorough-going, radical process that countenances no constancy or commitment.
Modal libertarianism could be called left libertarianism. There is a variation of libertarianism which stresses voluntary collectivist social and economic arrangements that are still respectful of the right to private property and non-intervention by the State. These libertarians argue for people to choose to pool private property and live communally in various frameworks. This is not modal libertarianism. This type of leftist libertarianism is still consistent with the more traditional libertarian framework because each individual in such communities chooses to participate. There is a long history of such communities in the United States. Modal libertarians are more interested in re-shaping the world to fit their mold and defining the results as achieving freedom. Modal libertarians seem to slip on the term, 'liberty,' moving from what Issiah Berlin called "negative liberty" to "positive liberty." John Stuart Mill fell into this confusion in his writing as he tried to blend liberalism with egalitarianism. Mill is the cross-over figure from classical to modern liberalism. Something similar is going on with modal libertarians.
A lot of people calling themselves libertarians on the internet are teen-agers and young adults who are simply stuck in a mindless rebellion against all authority. Modal libertarians tap into this unrelenting, destructive rebellion in many young people who have been neglected or mistreated by self-absorbed parents. Ayn Rand's writings look especially inviting to these folks.
Even though some of the language and the policy positions cohere with those of Locke, Jefferson, Montesquieu, Mises, Hayek, Friedman, et al., the meanings they pour into the terms and phrases used by traditional libertarians and classical liberals are completely different. Unfortunately, the Libertarian Party has departed from their earlier candidates such as John Hospers, Roger MacBride, and Ron Paul and have moved to this liberal/leftist vision. We are now witnessing Bob Barr flip-flopping all over himself to appease these nihilists who have taken over the mantle of libertarianism.
Traditionalist libertarian: "I am looking at the Libertarian Party platform and see mostly a leftist agenda. What is going on here?"
Modal libertarian: "Yes, we modal libertarians have moved away from that rightist repressive model of liberty to true liberty. The real enemy of the people is not the State so much as it is traditional morality, bigotry, Christianity, and nationalism. Conservatives are the real enemy now."
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