What do entrepreneurs think of libertarianism?
The great hour of libertarianism
DW-WORLD.DE: What exactly does 'libertarianism' mean?
Patrick Keller: First and foremost, the American libertarians stand for a state that takes a back seat and gives the individual the greatest possible degree of freedom and responsibility. They represent the original American concept of freedom in extreme forms: Libertarians, for example, demand the drastic reduction or abolition of taxes and dramatic cuts in government spending on defense, foreign policy, development aid and state leadership. They believe that these matters are the responsibility of individuals and state governments.
You have just used the term 'Ur-American', and it is indeed difficult to imagine a comparable political ideology in Europe. How and why did this trend arise in the USA?
Libertarianism can only be understood in terms of American history. It has a lot to do with the American exception - that is, with the idea that the United States is not a nation like any other. In Europe this is often misunderstood as arrogance.
Historians, however, only use the term to refer to the fact that the United States was founded by European refugees who formed a new society.
Of course there were Native Americans, and we mustn't forget the massacres of them - on the other hand, the American people were initially a "state of nature" society in the sense of John Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers. There were no established traditions, no strong church supported by state structures, and no nobility. This freedom is unique in America, and it was the starting point for the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Americans have chosen to base their society on inalienable rights inherent in the person - not the state, God, or the nobility. And this notion is also the starting point of libertarianism.
How does libertarianism differentiate itself from the younger tea party movement, which is repeatedly described as conservative and committed to civil liberties?
Patrick Keller is an America expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin
The grass roots "Tea Party" movement has many facets. It is made up of perfectly normal, average American citizens. Comparable movements have tried again and again since the American Revolution.
It can be understood as a reaction to Barack Obama's success, especially to political decisions in favor of a strong state - such as financing the financial crisis with higher national debt or reforming the health system.
From a libertarian perspective, this means creating a European-inspired social democracy in the United States. And the "Tea Party" fights against this in two ways: On the one hand, through libertarianism, as just explained. On the other hand, there is still a conservative answer - and this is also the difference between Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann, for example. The conservatives rely more on Christianity. They say they want a lean state, but at the same time they argue for enormous expenditures in security policy in order to maintain America's position of strength vis-à-vis other countries. It has nothing to do with libertarianism - it is conservative. And here are the reasons for tension with the "Tea Party".
It is not easy to place the libertarians in the usual American left-right party scheme.
That's true. Libertarianism is difficult to locate in the classical political spectrum. In their concept of the state and in their economic-political ideas, the libertarians are on the far right because they sharply reject the left-wing idea of a strong welfare state that supports the weakest in society. On the other hand, they are also ultra-liberal because they reject any intervention by the state in the personal sphere, regardless of whether it is about possession of weapons or drug use. The usual right-left scheme therefore does not fit.
Let's talk about the demographic makeup of the grouping. According to this, the typical libertarian is above average educated, wealthy, male and white. Is that right?
The "Tea Party" is a bit more heterogeneous, but this is absolutely true of the libertarians. One reason for this is that libertarianism is intellectually very attractive. In order to counter the libertarian idea of American tradition, one has to offer philosophical arguments. And of course, educated people like to think about such general questions. On the other hand, libertarianism is impractical and detached from any American tradition of the last fifty years. On the surface, the libertarians could seem a bit crazy.
How is Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul a typical libertarian? At the moment he has more of the image of Jefferson Smith from the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", that is, that of an honest, almost clumsy outsider who makes his way through the corrupt world of politics. Is there something to it?
I always find it fascinating that there are people in America like Ron Paul and his congressional team who have been in Washington for years and are still marketed as political outsiders.
He plays that role really well. Since he is a bit older, he comes across as a grizzled statesman who has seen everything and nothing to lose, and who can therefore fully stand up for the libertarian principles.
He sells his messages with a lot of esprit and rhetorical dexterity, and thus distinguishes himself from the speakers of the "Tea Party", who are often poorer public speakers. His demeanor is that of a charming uncle, and younger Republican voters especially appreciate him because they see him as a real alternative - much like the Democrats and Barack Obama four years ago.
Now that works for Paul too, because he actually represents a type of politician that we have not encountered in Washington in the last 60 years. Whether he could implement his visions in Congress is another matter entirely. But as a person he has the allure of an outsider with completely new ideas that he represents.
Still, and despite his doing well in Iowa, it's hard to believe that the Republicans will actually nominate him. Can you imagine him running as a third party candidate? What does he stand for?
Paul has already stood up for the libertarian party once (1988, editor's note), but was hardly noticed at the time. He's much better known now. So if he decides to run as a third party candidate, he would probably be able to raise campaign funds and get a few votes.
I don't think that's high on Ron Paul's political agenda, though. I think his main aim is to spread the libertarian ideas, and he has already achieved tremendous success in this area - even before the Republican primary campaign, which was characterized by very weak candidates. Ron Paul was one of the very few who clearly stood for a clear position. He got others to clarify their positions as well. In this way alone he has contributed greatly to a change in the political mood in America
The Republican discourse is no longer the same as it was four years ago, when the legacy of George W. Bush was still felt. Now all of the Republican candidates are talking about reducing the public deficit, lowering the influence of the state, and cutting spending, including the military. Paul stands for all of these ideas, albeit in their radical form. I think he has already achieved one of his main political goals in influencing the debate in that direction.
Patrick Keller is USA expert and coordinator for foreign and security policy at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Berlin.
Jefferson Chase asked the questions
Editing: Michael Knigge / Johanna Schmeller
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