Editor's Note: Reasons for Optimism


Let me state the obvious: In today's political climate, it isn't easy being libertarian–to be dedicated to "free minds and free markets," to minimal government and maximal liberty, to individual rights and the rule of law. Sure, in these pages, we can–and do–point to all sorts of fantastic developments in science, culture, and technology that allow us to live increasingly richer, more interesting, and longer lives. But given the nearly unchecked growth in government at all levels, an ever-multiplying number of literal and figurative wars fought here and abroad, and the torrent of counterproductive regulations that spew forth like water over a New Orleans levee, it sometimes seems as if the promise of living an extra 20, 50, or 100 years is as much a burden as a blessing.

So I'm glad to tell you that this issue points to reasons for political optimism, some big and some small. In "Property Seizures and the New London Tea Party" (page 24), Web editor Tim Cavanaugh interviews Scott Bullock, the attorney who argued the recently decided eminent domain case Kelo v. New London in front of the Supreme Court. The Court handed down a horrible decision, basically saying, as Bullock puts it, "church property can be taken for a Costco, a farm can be turned into a factory, and a neighborhood can be leveled for a shopping mall." But the popular and legislative response to Kelo has been as heartening as the ruling was dispiriting: Citizens voiced their outrage, and at last count some 30 state legislatures have introduced or promised legislation to curb eminent domain abuse.

Similar good news comes in David Weigel's "When Patriots Dissent" (page 32), which details how an increasing number of lawmakers have not only stood up against the most extreme provisions of the PATRIOT Act but have been rewarded at the ballot box for doing so. While the law's defenders have "successfully resisted the most serious efforts to roll back the government's PATRIOT Act powers," writes Weigel, "politicians who have attacked the act are getting re-elected or seeking higher offices." And Senior Editor Jacob Sullum's "Freedom Riders" (page 40) explores how motorcycle enthusiasts have managed to repeal or stymie mandatory helmet laws in many states–a small victory, perhaps, but a heartening one too.

Elsewhere in this issue, we recapture centuries-old alternative visions for America. "Remembering Roger Williams" (page 53) analyzes the legacy of the colonial religious dissenter and advocate of fair treatment of Native Americans. "Exile Without an End" (page 54) remembers the victims of "the first ethnic cleansing in American history," the 18th-century Acadians, and their emphasis on voluntary association, commerce, and tolerance. That Williams is largely forgotten and the Acadians were subjected to brutal expulsion and worse is nothing short of tragic. Yet the fact that we might still learn something from them is another cause for optimism.