Libertarian History/Philosophy

Atlas Hugged

A new collection, The Politics of Freedom, sells the libertarian message with sizzle

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In The Politics of Freedom: Taking on the Left, the Right and Threats to Our Liberties, David Boaz has come up with a kindergarten-level—yet wise—summation of the libertarian message: "Don't hit other people, don't take their stuff and keep your promises."

As executive vice president of the Cato Institute, Boaz is one of the media's primary go-to guys on libertarian thought and policy. And in his new book, The Politics of Freedom, a collection of his short-form journalism from the past 25 years, Boaz pushes an interesting and counterintuitive belief about American politics. The political spectrum, he argues, contains a lot more libertarians than the two major party's stances would lead you to believe.

Based on his analysis of polling data from Gallup, Pew, the American National Election Studies and Zogby, Boaz insists that a significant percentage of Americans are libertarian based on their stated political beliefs—from 13 to 21 percent. This should matter to politicians, he notes, because the "libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote…and it is subject to swings more than three times as large."

In this election season, though, such a large political influence for libertarians seems unlikely. Both presumptive major party candidates are anathema to most libertarians, given John McCain's record on foreign policy and campaign finance regulation and Barack Obama's belief that we need "government investment" in everything from clean energy to rural small businesses.

Whatever the near-term prospects for libertarian political victories, The Politics of Freedom reminds you of the service libertarians provide to public discourse: They can point out the hypocrisy, power grabs, hubris and counterproductive folly issuing from Washington under either political brand name since they are beholden to neither.

Boaz shows libertarians standing, outside the standard party politics, for traditional constitutional freedom, the benefits of choice and the vital civilization-promoting qualities of private property, from malls and gated communities in America to Soweto townships and the Chinese countryside. Property owners everywhere, he notes, "have a stronger stake, not just in their own property, but in their community and their society."

Boaz offers provocative arguments for why the truly "pro-family" should be concerned not with homosexuality, but with divorce, since kids from homes with only one parent "are nearly twice as likely…to drop out of high school or to receive psychological help."

When it comes to campaign finance law, he notes how government's deep and wide impositions in every aspect of our economy and lives guarantees that people will be forced to invest in manipulating it, hence "too much money in politics." As Boaz wryly notes, "Money isn't corrupting politics; politics is corrupting money."

No major political party has fully embraced the implications of the proper role of government that follow from Boaz's simple limited-government vision. But when expressed that plainly, it's a moral vision many Americans can cheer.

reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty is the author of Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. A version of this review originally appeared in The New York Post.

Buy The Politics of Freedom at Amazon.

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  1. ‘David Boaz has come up with a kindergarten-level-yet wise-summation of the libertarian message: “Don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff and keep your promises.” ‘

    That would be great if Boaz meant it literally, but do I detect a qualifying ‘unless’ after that statement?

  2. As Boaz wryly notes, “Money isn’t corrupting politics; politics is corrupting money.”

    brilliant!

  3. joe will be here any minute now…

  4. They can point out the hypocrisy, power grabs, hubris and counterproductive folly issuing from Washington under either political brand name since they are beholden to neither.

    Whilst being mostly ineffective at getting either party to listen to us.

  5. Boaz insists that a significant percentage of Americans are libertarian based on their stated political beliefs-from 13 to 21 percent. This should matter to politicians

    Politicians might care if it was anywhere near the truth.

    “Libertarian” includes no small number of anarchists, who consistently argue for positions that will never sell on the national stage. Whoever self righteous they may get, it won’t change the fact that most people aren’t anarchists.

    Some libertarians vote Rep for economics. Others (seems like a majority but maybe I’m wrong) vote Dem for civil rights issues. A nice little split. So tell me again why politicians should care?

    Ron Paul is the best libertarian we’ve been able to field and he immediately went down in flames. Because his opening shot — on the Republican stage of all places — was “Stop the Iraq War Now!”.

    You can take whatever angle you want on Iraq (in fact, it’s a tad bit more complex than whether the “surge” is working or isn’t — Iran plays a way huge role in what actually happens over there). But saying that about Iraq for a Republican nominee-hopeful was political suicide, plain and simple. And the next thing people heard out of his mouth was “we gotta get back to the gold standard”. It’s going to make people think he’s weird, at minimum. In sum, it left Paul without a snow ball’s chance.

    There’s no reason for anyone to care about “libertarians”, whatever that word might mean. Because “libertarians” are politically impotent no matter what our percentages may or may not be, regardless of Boaz’ dreamy blabber.

  6. Check our interview tonight Wed. Feb. 27th at 8pm EST with the Vice President of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, David Boaz and author Johnnie B. Garmon II. Feel free to call in and speak with him live on-air. You can listen to it at http://thirdrailradio.com by clicking the listen live banner or the on air lights at various bitrates.

  7. the benefits of choice and the vital civilization-promoting qualities of private property

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