"The unmourned end of libertarian politics"


Writing in the Financial Times, ideological gas giant Michael Lind, a.k.a. the "Ed Wood of American politics," describes "the unmourned end of libertarian politics":

The most epochal event in world politics since the cold war has occurred–and few people have noticed. I am not referring to the conflict in Iraq or Lebanon or the campaign against terrorism.

It is the utter and final defeat of the movement that has shaped the politics of the US and other western democracies for several decades: the libertarian counter-revolution….

The limitation of options on the horizontal left-right spectrum is accompanied, however, by a growing vertical, top-bottom divide between an elite committed to globalisation and mass immigration and a populist, nationalist majority. If this replaces the older horizontal left-right divide, then we may see a third, "third way"–one which positions itself between the crudest forms of populism and utopian forms of transnationalism.

The libertarian moment has passed. It will not come again, and its defeat as a force in US politics will change the definitions of right, left and centre–not just in the US but also, the world.

Whole thing here.

Hat tip to Piotr Brzezinski, who writes, "A bit over the top, but unfortunately broadly correct. It misses, however, the success of broader libertarian ethos in the country at large, outside the reach of meddling politicians. Perhaps merits a 'rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated' response? (or, 'I'm not dead yet!')."

Special Update: Tim Cavanaugh reminds me that back in the late 1990s, the last goddman great good time if there ever was one, Lind, the former "pennyboy to slack-jawed Im-Ho-Tep William F. Buckley," took home one of Suck's "Evil Genius Grants." Better still, he shared the award with David Horowitz, who was then, as now, busy "compiling enemies lists that feature such luminaries as Mario Van Peebles and 'liberal cartoonist Cathy Guisewite.'" Read on here.

NEXT: That Dog Don't Bark

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  1. To summarize, since the republicans love big government and are not libertarians, libertarianism is dead.

    I especially liked how “Social Security Privatization” wherein the government instead of taking your money and consuming it, uses it to buy shares (and eventually a controlling interest) in publicly traded companies was described as libertarian. Who would have thought fascism was libertarian? (For those of you who don’t understand, the economic model of fascism is precisely state control of nominally privately owned industry). The Cato institute supporting something does not necessarily make it libertarian.

    What a crock. I can’t believe I wasted two minutes of my life reading it.

  2. I think I agree with Tarran. What’s far more important than declaring/admitting that “all libertarianism is dead” is the far more proximate and urgent admission that “Republican libertarianism is dead.”

  3. John-

    I think that, for once, I might almost agree with you. The point about trans-nationalist vs. nationalist is a plausible one. It’s a damn good point.

    I’m not positive that I agree, but it’s a damn good observation.

    The thing that keeps me from agreeing, even though it makes so much sense, is that I’m skeptical of any effort to reduce ideological differences to a particular rule or concept. joe says that the divide is between traditional power structures vs. knocking down traditions. Shannon Love says the divide is between those who view information as cheap vs. those who see systems as complex and information as precious.

    All of these analyses have some sort of insight to offer, but I’m reluctant to jump on board with any of them because there’s too much temptation to over-extend the concept and apply it to anything and everything under the sun.

    Still, I think that the divide you propose might explain a lot of the differences on this forum, even if it doesn’t explain all of the differences out there in society.

  4. Thank you Thoreau,

    I said he was broadly correct. I am sure there will be fifty people who will now get on here and say that they love the patriot act, support the war and want open borders. That said, there is some general truth to it, but people don’t fit neatly into the transnational versus national catagory anymore than they fit into the left versus right catagory.

  5. thoreau,
    The divide is between those who love freedom and those who love power. The rest is just dickering over whose turn to do the dishes.

  6. Warren-

    If you want to apply that paradigm then virtually anybody who falls off the libertarian bandwagon on even a single issue is in the same category. Which is fine, but that paradigm doesn’t give any insight into the other 99.9%. If you want to analyze the other 99.9% and see how they break down, you need another paradigm.

    We could just point to the left and right and say that they’re all statists and that’s that, but if we are curious to find out why they’re fighting, well, we need to be willing to consider the possibility that they disagree over something. And if we want to understand the differences among those who (mostly) take libertarian stances, we have to be willing to examine what it is that motivates them. Of course, if we don’t want to understand the differences, we can always just exile them from the tribe and say that’s that.

  7. Libertarianism is dead.
    Long live anarchy.

  8. John,

    Show me someone on here who thinks that the threat from terrorism is overblown and objects to the government’s efforts to stop it and I will bet that ninety percent or more of the time that person will also object to any restrictions on immigration.

    That just doesn’t fly. I have as yet to meet any libertarian who claimed that there should be no limitations on immigration. Indeed, the whole point of open immigration is that it will allow us to better to control the influx of undesirables (e.g., criminals, terrorists, etc.).

    Show me someone who thinks terrorism is a real threat and nine times out of ten they will affirm the right to control the border.

    I’m for open immigration and for the power of government (governments don’t have rights!) to control the border.

  9. Warren and thoreau,
    Everyone loves freedom (for themselves) and power over others, so where’s the divide?

  10. John-

    To be fair, I would say that a lot of us who want more liberal immigration don’t want a totally open border, and I wish you would stop accusing us of that. We tend to favor immigration for anybody who passes a criminal and terrorist background check, possibly a medical exam, and perhaps pays a fee. We favor strict enforcement of the border, and believe that it would be easier if the smugglers have fewer paying customers, and that the economy would benefit if non-violent people could travel with ease across borders to work for willing employers.

    Still, I see the point: There are different views of the nation-state and its moral/political status here. We all agree that the state should be liberal toward its citizens, but when it comes to controlling admission to the state we disagree over whether that admission process should be fairly minimal (standard night watchman state stuff like criminal background checks) or something more expansive. We all agree that the state should go after terrorists, but we disagree over whether we are facing an existential threat.

    It comes down to how we perceive outsiders: Are they something that must be very strictly controlled, and possibly an existential threat, or are they by and large people who would make a positive contribution here, and all we need is a little police work to keep out the worst?

  11. thoreau,
    I don’t see how it follows that a single sin requires excommunication. Seems to me, that any paradigm will fall victim to that analysis.

    I am perfectly happy to throw both the left and the right into the statist category and leave it at that. As to what they’re fighting over, I’d say it’s obvious. They’re fighting over who gets to wield the power (they both believe that when it’s themselves, there are no limitations on that power). To be more analytical, they’re fighting over whether the spoils of oppression should be funneled to lawyers or corporations. To be less cynical, perhaps they’re fighting over doing right by God vs doing right by the disadvantaged (though I find both contentions laughable).

    As for infighting amongst libertarians, I don’t think that lends itself to a paradigm divide. Perhaps it might be fruitful to examine the “I’m more libertarian than thou” divide. For instance, I’m not sure if John is correct in asserting that there is a link between immigration and the WOT. However, I do believe that both issues have a libertarian position. If you are not in favor of open immigration, or if you are not critical of government encroachments on personal freedom, then you are not libertarian on that issue. So, how many transgressions will we allow someone before we drive them from the village?

    Also, I tune out all cries of “you guys will never amount to a hill of beans as long as you [insert personal deviation]”. Libertarianism is an ideology based on principals of individual autonomy and authority. Policy on any particular issue is constructed on those principals. The fact that a policy may be unpopular is a challenge, but when appeals to practicality amount to abandoning principals, then what’s the point.

    So the issue to my mind is one of priority. What are the core principals? Where is compromise acceptable? What issues must be addressed first?

  12. Everyone loves freedom (for themselves) and power over others, so where’s the divide?

    The divide is whether power should be divested amongst the people or invested in the hands of the elite.

  13. Libertarian politics are at a low tide, but public sentiments (American) are slowly turning against big government. After 9/11, “first responders” were given demi-god status. Now, the bloom is starting to fade from that rose. While there have been a flurry of “defense of marriage” ballot initiatives, the American people are increasingly tolerant of gay and lesbian lifestyles. Can you imagine “Bravo” doing well 20 years ago? I doubt the American public will ever embrace libertarian policies… at least not under the old “crazy as a shithouse rat” brand name. The whole “Fortress America” war on terrorism schtick will grow old and eventually people will get pissed off enough to push back. So it goes.

  14. “The whole “Fortress America” war on terrorism schtick will grow old and eventually people will get pissed off enough to push back.”

    Until there is another terrorist attack. Ultimately most people are not willing to die or even risk death for their privacy or civil rights. If the government can’t provide for the safety of citizens, its citizens will provide it for themselves by getting a new government. That may not be a good thing, but it is reality. That is why terrorism is such a threat to liberty. It is not a threat because these clowns are going to take over the country and enforce the shiria. It is a threat because if you have enough terrorism you can make living in a free and open society intolerable for most people. You have already seen this happen in Israel. Israelis tolerate invasions into their privacy that Americans would never tolerate. Of course Israelis were experiencing proportionally about a 9-11 a month for a while during the Intifada. If that ever happened here, we could kiss our civil liberties and privacy goodbye.

  15. I doubt the American public will ever embrace libertarian policies… at least not under the old “crazy as a shithouse rat” brand name.

    Absolutely right, Jose. Libertarian ideas are at a low ebb right now as you said, but I think people will eventually adopt some libertarian ideas, though in a piecemeal fashion. A little tax cut here, a little decriminalization of drugs there, and so on.

    Libertarians have a bad image in the public’s eye because they seem so crazy and outside the mainstream. They’re the proverbial “wild-eyed radicals”, a term used to describe the communists of yore. In the future, libertarians (both with a small and big ‘L’) need to present their ideas and policy initiatives in a palatable manner to the public as I have grown quite tired of explaining complex economic and social theories upon which we base our political philosophy.

    Libertarianism isn’t dead, necessarily. It just needs a makeover.

  16. but if we are curious to find out why they’re fighting, well, we need to be willing to consider the possibility that they disagree over something.

    I’ve considered that for years and the conclusion I came to was that they fight for the mere sport of it.

  17. Everyone loves freedom (for themselves) and power over others, so where’s the divide?

    “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.” – Lazarus Long

  18. I don’t know about you guys but Libertarian ideas seem to be growing every year. Do they translate into votes? No. Not yet. But when I first became a Libertarian these ideas were rarely spoken of. The fact that G.W. even hoisted the idea of “privitizing” social security says there’s progress. What would have happened ten, twenty years ago if you would have posted these ideas? Libertarian thinkers are on t.v. shows everyday, think tanks are being developed etc, that some knukle head even thought to think we were a power says something.

  19. the last goddman great good time if there ever was one

    Is a goddman somebody who godd-modes or something?

    Seriously, I think you need to feed the spellchecker squirrels as well.

  20. Libertarianism is dead?

    Damn, I missed the time when it was alive!

  21. Lind really did write a book called, Up From Conservatism ? I thought that was supposed to be a joke . . .

  22. Now that the squirrels have had their richly deserved siesta:
    Obviously the elite should have all the power, but which comes first: the power or the eliteness? I mean, if I were powerful, I’m pretty sure I’d think I was as elite as all get-out.

  23. This Lind piece is great news. I mean, considering the water-retaining golden boy’s track record of being 100 percent wrong about everything always, this must mean Badnarik’s going to win in 2008.

  24. Cavanaugh,
    You got some ‘splainin’ to do ’bout your slackin’ squirrels.
    I’m surprised you had the audacity to show your face/comment.

  25. The libertarian moment has passed. It will not come again, and its defeat as a force in US politics will change the definitions of right, left and centre–not just in the US but also, the world.

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