The Libertarian Future, Today


The Cato Unbound roundtable launched by my essay is continuing apace, with contributions from Brink Lindsey and Tyler Cowen.

I'll be finishing off the roundtable, after Virginia Postrel and Tom Palmer have weighed in, so I won't go on about them here, but herewith some samples that might be of interest to Hit and Run assembled, and spark some interesting conversation.

From Lindsey, whose essay is called "Libertarians in an Unlibertarian World":

To be effectively idealistic, we must first be realistic. This means recognizing that libertarian ideals as we understand them are not widely shared by our fellow citizens. Sometimes we like to imagine that under the skin of every American is a libertarian yearning to breathe free. In fact, though, the most we will find are some libertarian instincts, competing with egalitarian instincts, nationalist instincts, moralistic instincts, and various narrow conceptions of self-interest.

Lindsey ends with a call, the thinking behind which is buttressed by his excellent forthcoming book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed American Politics and Culture, for libertarians to rethink their traditional sense of alliance (for some of them, by no means all) with the Republican Party and the right, and be willing to forge a usuable political movement around the people who, while not accepting all the radicalism inherent in movement libertarianism as its story is told in my new book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, do fall roughly into the "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" category.

Tyler Cowen has an analysis that is alternately positive and negative for the committed libertarian–and ties in nicely with the discussion Jonah Goldberg started about libertarians and positive and negative liberty.

From Cowen's "The Paradox of Libertarianism":

Those developments [in a libertarian direction] have brought us much greater wealth and much greater liberty, at least in the positive sense of greater life opportunities. They've also brought much bigger government. The more wealth we have, the more government we can afford. Furthermore, the better government operates, the more government people will demand. That is the fundamental paradox of libertarianism. Many initial victories bring later defeats.

I am not so worried about this paradox of libertarianism. Overall libertarians should embrace these developments. We should embrace a world with growing wealth, growing positive liberty, and yes, growing government. We don't have to favor the growth in government per se, but we do need to recognize that sometimes it is a package deal.