Ross Kaminsky holds that the popular appellation “libertarian populist” (see Ross Douthat’s recent column) is a contradiction in terms.Â In short, because ‘libertarian’ is about freedom, and populism has “nothing to do with freedom”.Â Now, first, that’s not yet a contradiction.Â So when I say that Bill has a brown dog, it’s not an oxymoron, even though being a dog doesn’t have anything to do with being brown.
But Kaminsky’s argument is more for contradiction than for irrelevance.Â First, he opens by defining ‘populist’ from the dictionary.
A standard definition of â€œpopulistâ€ includes supporting ordinary people over the elites.
So far, that’s perfectly consistent with libertarianism.Â In fact, very much consistent with the commitments of libertarians – these elites think they know better than the average Joe, and coerce him this way or that.Â So Kaminsky shouldn’t have a problem with the populist brand of libertarian, right?Â Wrong.Â That’s because Kaminsky means something different by ‘populist’:
Getting away from the dictionary, I have always understood â€œpopulistâ€ to mean â€œdemagogueâ€ or to be a synonym for various adjectives modifying the word itâ€™s connected to. Adjectives such as â€œersatzâ€ or â€œ-liteâ€ or â€œbut not fully adhering to its principlesâ€ or â€œshrill.â€
Whuh? Look, I’m no great fan of the dictionary for definitions of controversial terms, but the more controversial term is ‘libertarian,’ not ‘populist.’Â Not respecting common usage is the first sign of Humpty-Dumpty Semantics.Â Moreover, I still don’t yet see why this new stipulated defintion is inconsistent with libertarianism, either.Â How is demagoguery inconsistent with the exercise of freedom?Â Isn’t that exactly what demagogues invoke when they talk to folks (especially here in the States)… how we love our freedom? Moreover, why is being an ‘ersatz’ X inconsistent with being an X?Â Or how is ‘ersatz X’ an oxymoron?Â And, by the way, does he really mean ‘popularizer’?Â Seriously, it’s pretty sad when you can’t even stipulate your way to a contradiction.