As organizer of a few Atheists groups in the DC area, I frequently get Libertarians into the group. After finding most of them unrealistic, I did some research to try and understand why. What I found was not very pretty. How can a group, on one hand, support the Separation of Church and State and on the other have a problem with the Feds (IRS) keeping religious organizations in line with their nonprofit status? I also discovered that many don't believe in Global Warming. Like Evolution, Global Warming is based on facts....not something that you believe or don't believe. Am I missing something here....or are they having trouble with reality?

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He was asking an honest question and deserves an honest answer. You may not have noticed, but being libertarian in this bunch makes you feel like a Jew in deep Muslim territory. Your post can only serve to make that worse. If you call them on straw man, explain why. I completely understand your agitation, though. I just don't think the response was helpful.
I am a Libertarian. I ran for state house last year, as a matter of fact. I started attending meet-ups here a couple years ago; never quite went regularly, and now I've stopped completely. Half of us are complete raving lunatics. I could only handle so much 9/11 truth, crazy monetary ideas and the guy that looks like Albert Einstein and can't stop talking shit on Jews and Mexicans. Generally the people at the top are awesome. If you don't know who Ayn Rand is, hit google. Most atheist libertarians will start with Ayn Rand.

Church and State bit is easy. Keeping them in line with taxes = mixing church and state. I don't see how you can look at that any other way. I don't think nonprofits should be badgered as they are in general.

Global warming. We noted the crazies earlier: don't forget how many are genuinely crazy. The biggest thing is that global warming is being used to control us. Look at ethanol. Complete train wreck. Waste of money, waste of lives and more emissions. The government shouldn't have the power to do things like that, because they generally just fuck it up. I think they have accepted the idea that if global warming is true then drastic measures have to be taken. So better off thinking it's false. If the models are right, it doesn't matter anyway. We're plain fucked.
Eesh. Ayn Rand. That's pretty much where I part company with libertarianism. I struggled to get through the first third of Atlas Shrugged before giving up. She had a flair for describing scenery, but a pretty poor understanding of human nature. At least, I've never met anybody like the characters in that book. Well, that, and the book was way, way longer than it needed to be. I pretty much got the point after a hundred pages or so. Communism is bad. People should benefit from their own labor and ingenuity. OK, got it. Not that controversial, really. Even in the 1950s in the US. Maybe especially in the 1950s in the US.

But the worst problem is that Rand seems to have completely missed that much of the most roguish human behavior is perpetrated by businesses--business people are not the saints she seemed to think (and I realize she had some bad guy business leaders in the book, but she really didn't seem to allow for the breathtaking malfeasance that businesses were capable of, even before and in her day). Pick however small a government you choose to, and you will find that businesspeople will get up to no good. Mind you, I don't actually think that human nature is inherently evil, just that temptation is pretty powerful, and the bigger the cookie jar, the bigger the temptation. Let's just move that fence line when nobody's looking and hire a better lawyer if somebody squawks. Let's just dump some toxic waste in this stream because that will lower my costs of production.

People cut corners unless there's a government to keep them in line. Why? Because other people, particularly other live-and-let-live people (which I think fairly describes most libertarians), don't want to take it on themselves to correct the bad behavior of others, particularly if they're armed and powerful. That's why people say (and I tend to agree) that libertarianism taken to its logical conclusion would inevitably devolve into feudalism. It's fine to posit a minimalist government chartered with keeping the peace and providing a check on the worst behavior, but then you're just talking about how much government is too much. And then how is that any different from what we have now?

I won't argue with you about commodity subsidies. They should be avoided except in emergencies, and then they should never be enacted without grandfathering. Unfortunately, global warming is a problem of the commons, which libertarianism is particularly ill-suited to deal with. The government really does need to tilt the playing field in a different direction in this case. I don't agree with the idea of just throwing our hands up in the air. There are things we can do to prevent the worst of it, and only government has the reach to make the necessary changes. Individual actors simply won't do it if their competition doesn't take on the same costs.
I agree with much of what you said here, particularly the first half. The problem with trying to use government to keep business in line is, as you said, "the bigger the cookie jar, the bigger the temptation." The more powerful the government, the more areas of our lives we accept it controlling, the more money there is to be made in influencing it. This remains a problem when regulating pollution and attempting to protect the environment. Pollution rights would be just ludicrous from a common-law standpoint.

Any problem you want to name may or may not require government interference, but we're faced with a larger problem now that we have a government the founding document of which does not authorize it to control those areas of our life, and yet it is doing so anyway. So we have government that is essentially unlimited, except perhaps temporarily by the memory of rights each generation has. Yet like any corporation it is immortal and has no mind to reason with or body to incarcerate. It just does what benefits its temporary constituents.
Fair enough. Perhaps it just comes down to which form of corrupt giant organizational form is the lesser of two evils (or that you're more comfortable with). Although I still believe that government is not beyond repair, and is, in fact, easier to keep an eye on than big business, owing to the multitude of layers that keep an eye on each other. Businesses, despite all the complaints about overregulation, are not nearly as closely monitored, particularly if they're not publicly traded. They are much more able to tell the average citizen "it's none of your business". Governments at all levels in the US are required to be much more transparent and accountable. Of course, that's one reason why government is as large as it is, which people tend to forget.
Sadly for libertarians, their ideas seem to attract a good deal of nuts. Although, libertarianism itself isn't completely a crazy political ideology, what it is is an extreme. Hence, it attracts extremists. Hate to say it, but atheism has a similar problem, that it's, at least in the minds of 80% of Americans, an extreme position.
Well, I can't claim to be the best defender of libertarian ideas, but the idea that libertarianism is ridiculous or that all the ones you've heard about are crazies just isn't going to fly rationally. Ad hominem saves time, but it is still a fallacy. There is no cause so right you will not find a fool following it. You know you can find a foolish atheist, a foolish liberal of any variety, foolish feminists, etc. Some of these viewpoints seem to have more liars than a random distribution would suggest, but they need to be countered by responding to their best arguments.

In an effort to impose some order on this discussion I'll introduce some distinctions I find useful.

I use the capital L in Libertarian to refer to the US Libertarian party. It is a political minority party that has published a very respectable platform in the past, publications from this party were fundamental in helping me come to terms with my view of politics.

I use the small l libertarian to refer to any allied people, philosophy or movement. In Tom Baker's first season as Dr. Who his character was described as having a long record of supporting libertarian causes, and my heart swelled. Bill Mahr considers or used to consider himself a libertarian. Playboy Magazine's main editorial viewpoint is sometimes described as libertarian, I was even shocked once to see William F. Buckley describe himself as a libertarian commentator in one of his books. Who wants to be against liberty? The long form is used because some people who consider liberty very important today feel that the short form is tainted by modern writers who call themselves "liberal."

The libertarian party and many allied people may be called constitutionalists, or more broadly minarchists. That is, people for small government. Though some people go farther, finding that even compulsion by a democratically elected government is contrary to the idea of liberty, and they may even be convinced it is unnecessary. These are voluntaryists, anarchists or anarcho-capitalists. Some readers may be surprised to find that George H. Smith the author of "Atheism, The Case Against God," is in this camp. I would hope that this would be enough to get your attention and begin to hammer home the idea that this is something intelligent and well-informed people can subscribe to.

The Libertarian party originated with former Goldwater supporters who were unhappy with the direction the Republican party was taking due to the cold war. The party founders were also influenced by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. But many libertarian philosophers also draw on the classical liberal tradition. Anarchist libertarians (anarcho-capitalists) also find a good deal of common ground with left anarchists.

Why are there so many nuts in libertarian circles? I'll try to answer. First, I'm not sure that there are. After all, some of the positions you think of as nutty have a good chance of being right. Second, it could well be that a majority of the members of mainstream parties believe something that is actually much nuttier than what the libertarians believe. Theism is a majority belief, is it not?

But if there are, well, in having libertarians show up for your atheist meetings you're learning something about one of the fundamental things that persuades people to become libertarians, they have a kind of independent personality. I recall hearing of a survey that found that an independent personality as one of the main things that led a person to identify as atheist. So the people who identify as libertarians might be less likely to care what other people think of them, or to go along just to get along. They are willing to question both the common religious views of their culture, and its dominant political views. If you are not a libertarian, maybe it would do you some good to be a bit more skeptical of prevailing notions about government, and the market.

I've alluded to reasons why we might expect many libertarians to be atheists or vice-versa. So what about the question of why there are not more atheists who are libertarians? Well one person wrote an interesting observation on a forum I used to frequent, that it seems that people are usually divided into those who can grasp spontaneous order in nature and those who can grasp spontaneous order in the market, but there is unfortunately not much overlap. From another angle, atheists tend to be a kind of rationalist who wants to know everything. They tend to be outsiders who don't trust the intelligence of the common people. (Democracy must be a hard sell, eh?) So they want to think of the world as bound by laws that anticipate every eventuality, and allowing people more freedom is a bit scary.

If you want to learn more about libertarianism, I would recommend a few books, but I would not necessarily recommend Ayn Rand. Though her views have value, they are neither necessary nor likely to be appreciated by general audiences.

"The Death of Common Sense, How Law is Suffocating America" by Phillip K. Howard, would probably be a good place to start. It isn't a libertarian book, Howard is obviously a liberal who believes that we can sit down and talk this all out, but it shows the excesses of government and the problems with a rationalist approach to law. You may also want to read about the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Information Act, it is as if he added a new chapter just yesterday:

You might follow up with any number of books, what you go for in moral theory will depend a lot on your tastes and prejudices, but there are very solid arguments on economic and historical grounds. You might try F. A. Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom."
Hayek also wrote an interesting essay called "Why I am not a Conservative," in which he mentions thinking that some kind of welfare would be a good thing. Many of today's libertarians are much more rugged individualist than that, and this may show Ayn Rand's influence, but maybe it will help you to know that libertarianism does have a liberal pedigree.

I also enjoy some of the views of Karl Popper, though his "The Open Society and its Enemies" is somewhat difficult reading for me. And since Samizdata pairs it with Virginia Postrel's "The Future and its Enemies" I can't resist recommending it too.

The same forces of spontaneous order that give us ideas about the wisdom of crowds, that enable democracy and Wikipedia to function are also at work in the market, which in the old division between the left wing and the right, was championed by the left, as opposed to the church and social hierarchy. What libertarians advocate are solutions to social problems that are based preferentially in civil society, as opposed to government, that are rooted in diverse institutions and systems of support as opposed to a single governing entity that does everything for people. There are a lot of small variations on the theme of limited government that can be debated from within the libertarian camp.
I was once attracted to the Libertarian Party. The decriminalisation of drugs the doing away with ALL victimless crimes, and so on. But couldn't get around the isolationist foreign policy views.
I think but have no proof that some of the more radical elements of the Republican party thought about jumping ship to the Lib. party when McCain was chosen as the candidate. They had been led to despise him by the titular heads of the party, Rush, and Beck.
Beck is an interesting duck. He is starting to call himself a libertarian but is meeting a lot of internal resistance. If he's honest about his motives for going toward libertarianism the resistance will die and it will start making sense. Otherwise, no true Scotsman.

We're not all isolationist, but it depends on how you define it. I tend to think we should treat nations the way I think we should treat people. Playing international politics isn't much better than isolationism. Today Obama said something about respecting Iran's sovereignty and blah blah and faith. Way to go, let's respect abuse of pretty much every female in the country.
How can you justify even Barack Obama's foreign policy? Are you worried that we won't need so many soldiers if we stop setting up puppet regimes around the world?
It might be useful to define the difference between the US Libertarian Party-type-libertarianism, and libertarianism in the rest of the world.
Libertarianism in Europe is called liberalism. You will sometimes hear libertarians refer to themselves as classical liberals as well. That's the short of it, at least. Wikipedia has a lengthy article on it.



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