Is Libertarianism Done?   1 comment

I’m a latecomer to conscious libertarianism. I think I probably always had libertarian leanings — I supported Alaska succession in the 80s and I was always questioning my fellow liberal students outrageous claims for the efficacy of socialism. It just didn’t seem to be working for the actual socialists in the USSR, China, etc., and I felt the need to point that out, which always pissed off its defenders. I remain a committed nonpartisan, but I no longer see myself as conservative and now don’t flinch at the idea of calling myself a libertarian. In a way, my journey toward libertarianism mirrors the American journey in the same direction.

Related imageHistorically, libertarianism formed as a distinct ideological movement in postwar America from a set of “radical” ideals vastly disrepected by most American politicians and intellecturals. It was nurtured by small think tanks, struggling publications and a handful of economists who concentrated on keeping the ideas alive among their own group.

 

Libertarians understand they are still largely strangers in a strange land when it comes to the American political scene, struggling for impact in a world they didn’t create. Libertarianism is still a minority idea and libertarians are still embroiled in a difficult and long-term fight to influence political ideology and practice in America. The schizophrenia of the Libertarian Party stems from that difficulty, but most libertarians (small “l” deliberate) understand that we’re not taking over the world next week.

Image result for image growth of libertarianismStill Americans have become much more aware and accepting of the overarching principles of libertarianism since the turn of the 21st century. As government continues to grow and become more intrusive, the choice inherent in the libertarian vision of free minds and free markets has found fertile ground throughout American culture.

How do I know that? Politico recently declared the libertarianism is dead, supposedly because Trump won the 2016 election, and Forbes has started suggesting libertarianism could be more successful if only it would narrow its vision a little and become more like the Republican Party.

Politico makes a good point as far as it goes. It did look like the GOP was headed toward a more libertarian-leaning candidate like Sen. Rand Paul before Donald Trump’s bold political entrepreneurship proved so surprisingly successful, but the swiftness with which the electorate picked up the populist rhetoric suggests GOP voters might not really be small-government at heart.

Except ….

Let me suggest that people were so fed up with the Democratic Party that anything to the right of Hillary looked good and the media worked hard to assure the American voters thought Paul couldn’t possibly win.

Image result for image libertarians take over world leave aloneUltimately, though, libertarianism is an outsider political movement of people who reject both major parties, so their failure to elect a libertarian-like candidate in the GOP shouldn’t be viewed as a long-term failure.  Politico‘s article is merely a snapshot of a moment in time, not the final fate of an ideology. Libertarianism has yet to win the White House. Who cares? Who would really want to win the White House when the treasury is $20 trillion in debt and the foundations of the economy has huge cracks in it? Let the GOP preside of the coming crash. Libertarianism has made greater inroads with a greater number of prominent politicians and more acceptance with Americans. The Libertarian Party, despite nominating a statist for vice president, nearly quadrupled its highest previous vote total. If things go the way I think they will go with current leadership, libertarians are going to come out looking like prophets within the next decade.

If libertarians are right that our government is overtaxing, overspending, overregulating, and overextending its reach both into the lives of its citizens and across the globe in ways that make many people’s lives worse and our future more perilous, then American history will eventually reveal that the ideals of libertarianism are neither dead nor needing extensive pruning, despite what Forbes seems to believe.

The purpose of an organized minority ideological movement such as libertarianism is to do the research, education, advocacy, and storytelling that might help Americans see that its ideas have merit. Consider the success of some libertarian ideas:

A large plurality of Americans now believe:

  • the drug war is wrong and unproductive
  • stealing property from citizens without charging them with a crime is unjust
  • market and price mechanisms need to play a role in a sensible and affordable health care market
  • US foreign interventions frequently sow the seeds for the next “necessary” foreign intervention.

 

Yeah, those were all originally libertarian ideas that are now commonly held by ordinary people.

Libertarianism certainly hasn’t become a mainstream political movement yet, but the fact that Forbes and Politico are writing articles about the movement suggests it is not failing or fading, but achieving its own kind of victory in political culture. Where that leads … we don’t know yet, but growth in awareness suggests people might be waking up from the coma of mainstream politics.

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