I decided to take a cursory look at the Koch brothers, and the picture below is from the first article that came up in Google. It’s from the New Yorker, Aug. 30, 2010. Take a close look at the caption.
- Let me begin by saying that I recognize there are libertarians who lean conservative, just as there are “liberaltarians” who lean to the left. Fortunately the latter have a nice subcategory identifying label that all other libertarians seem to lack. (Classification helps us make sense of the world–the lack of identifying labels for sub-classifications is a systemic source of confusion.)
- I also have regularly and publicly noted that libertarians tend to side with liberals on social issues and with conservatives on economic issues, so it would not be surprising at all to find a libertarian giving support to “conservative” issues (i.e., that specific set of issues on which libertarians and conservatives agree), even if the person was not himself conservative. Even if the person was so resolutely libertarian that they staunchly sided with liberals on free speech, gay rights, anti-military adventurism, etc., if they personally were more concerned about economic issues, or thought those were the issues most threatened by government, he might give more to conservative issues. That is, my liberal interlocutors are eager to claim that the target of his donations proves the Kochs are actually conservatives who’ve co-opted and perverted the libertarian label, but if they’re giving to those causes upon which libertarians and conservatives line up, that doesn’t in itself prove which of those he is.
- That is to say, the caption in itself does not say anything that I have any reason to believe is factually false.
- But the caption casually conflates libertarianism and conservatism in a misleading way. This casual conflation is endemic in the media and among liberals. If Koch–or any other libertarian, since it’s not really about him–has given lots of money to economic policy issues, perhaps he is in his view of the world giving to libertarian causes, and it’s conservatives who are supporting his stance on the particular issue.
- There is no doubt that factually true statements can be misleading. If someone was to say I hadn’t beaten my wife in over 18 years, that would be factually true, but would cause many people to infer that at one time in the past I actually had beaten my wife.
- This kind of causal conflation of libertarianism and conservatism is, at best, a result of laziness (in itself not worthy of respect or excuse) and at worst, of relatively purposeful dishonesty. I consider myself a libertarian, and have given occasional time and/or money to causes on which libertarians line up with liberals (because, despite my intense interest in economic issues, those social issues are more important to me personally). Which sounds more likely as a caption for a picture of me? “James Hanley is a libertarian and has given money to liberal issues,” or “James Hanley is a libertarian but has given money to liberal issues.” The difference between “and” and “but” is all important: one conflates the ideologies, the other disaggregates them. As any lawyer can tell you, the choice of conjunction can determine the outcome.