Suddenly Libertarianism Is Hip

I used to be a libertarian and active in the Libertarian Party. Now I’m not a libertarian. I advocate free markets and individual rights—but I don’t think those values are the essence of libertarianism. Instead, libertarianism is the belief that political liberty can be advocated with no moral foundation or (what amounts to the same thing) any moral foundation. In practice, libertarianism usually devolves to hostility toward government as such (although sometimes it devolves to Rawlsian welfare statism or some other form). In my view, Craig Biddle offers the single best critique of libertarianism in his “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.” I’ve also written on the subject.

And yet public interest in and discussion of libertarianism is a notable and potentially positive development. Here’s a run-down of some of that discussion.

Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived?
New York Times, Robert Draper, August 7
“[T]oday, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, [as has] the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders. . . . The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington. . . .”

No, America Is Not Turning Libertarian
New York, Jonathan Chait, August 7
“. . . The crucial difference lies in economics, where libertarians veer sharply right and young voters veer sharply left. This can be seen in specific instances, like health care, where young voters are far more likely than older ones to support an expanded government role. Like most Americans, they strongly support the maintenance of specific programs, such as Social Security. Unlike most Americans, they actually favor bigger government in the abstract. . . .”

The ‘Libertarian Moment’ Has Definitely Not Arrived
Federalist, David Harsanyi, August 8
“. . . A libertarian—according to the dictionary, at least—is a person who ‘upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.’ And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government. . . .”

Phosphorus and Freedom
New York Times, Paul Krugman, August 10
“. . . Is libertarian economics at all realistic? The answer is no. . . . Smart libertarians have always realized that there are problems free markets alone can’t solve — but their alternatives to government tend to be implausible. . . .”

Why the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Isn’t Really Happening
Atlantic, David Frum, August 11
“. . . Young voters are not libertarian, nor even trending libertarian. Neither, for that matter, are older voters. The “libertarian moment” is not an event in American culture. It’s a phase in internal Republican Party factionalism. Libertarianism is not pushing Republicans forward to a more electable future. It’s pushing them sideways to the extremist margins. . . .”

Yes, the Libertarian Moment has Arrived
Week, Damon Linker, August 13
“. . . America clearly is becoming more libertarian — it’s just that the transformation is happening in morality and culture, not in economic, tax, and regulatory policy. . . .”

Libertarians Can Be a Significant Force for Good in U.S. Politics
Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, August 14
“. . . Important libertarian victories are happening right now. Consider drug prohibition, which is being challenged in multiple states, as are draconian sentencing rules. Like gay marriage, criminal-justice reform seems poised to sweep the nation within a generation. . . .”

Is Ferguson the Start of a ‘Libertarian Moment’
BBC, Anthony Zurcher, August 14
“. . . . Perhaps the libertarian moment has arrived after all, borne in the ashes and smoke of Missouri riots.”