Libertarian History/Philosophy

Gallup Sees Libertarianism at an All-Time High

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David Boaz at Cato@Liberty points out that since late 2008, the percentage of Americans whose political beliefs could be roughly characterized as "libertarian" (that is, say yes to both "government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses" and "government should not favor any particular set of values") has hit a high of 23 percent.

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie wrote about the "libertarian moment" in the December 2008 issue of Reason magazine.

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  1. “government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses” and “government should not favor any particular set of values”

    Well 100% of me says that, so there. I too am at my all-time libertarian high.

    For once I’m with the “in” crowd. Imagine that.

    1. Oh wait.

      has hit a high of 23 percent.

  2. I blame Glen Beck

  3. Who funded the studies, it’s not clear from Boaz’s article or from the Gallup page itself. It would be reasonable to expect that a liberal-funded study would show that more people want greater involvement from the government — if you pose the questions properly. Polls should be questioned at every turn, particularly if they are cited by parties that exult in their findings.

    1. In a Gallup poll, what you see is what you get. Gallup does its own polls with its own funding and sells the results.

      The questions would be something like ‘Which of these describes your view on government promoting values”

      1. I’ve seen many awful poll questions from Gallup. That goes the same for other polling organizations.

        They do a poor job at objective questioning.

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  5. “government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses”

    OK, so far, so good.

    “government should not favor any particular set of values”

    I have no idea how anyone could get behind this statement. An anarchist, I suppose, but then they don’t believe in government at all, so they couldn’t really give a straight answer. I know some will see my response here as nit-picky, but seriously, there seems to be no way to make sense of that second statement.

    What would a government w/o values look like?

    1. Up to the states…up to the states. Values are different for different people and different regions. Why should one set be favored over another on a national level?

      1. Silentz,

        I still cannot see what a government w/o values would look like… Show me a completely value neutral government, please.

        Saying that we should leave values to states glosses over the fact that to argue for any particular set of government functions is take a value-laden position. For that matter, saying that a national government *shouldn’t* do x, y, or z, is also a value-laden position.

        We fool ourselves if we think that values don’t play an equal role in justifying smaller or larger government, hands on or relatively hands off policy, or local or national control.

        1. I had the same problem with that statement. So Silentz, a state can decide that slavery is OK because that’s just an issue of “values”? Obviously libertarians have values.

          1. “”government should not favor any particular set of values”

            I would like to think the respondents do the 1+1=2 and this means less gov’t but probably not.

            1. Not even the values of the Founders? Wow. Just…wow.

    2. I don’t know, I think the U.S. Government functions pretty well when it is value neutral — i.e., when it is closest to taking no position on what you consume or produce, whom you can fuck or hire, and so on — and pretty poorly when it is value driven — i.e., when it decides that homeownership or healthy living or good citizenship are ideas that need to be encouraged or enforced.

      It’s sort of like why authoritarianism is better than totalitarianism. In an authoritarian government you just have to avoid challenging the dictator’s power. In a totalitarian government you have to actively celebrate the dictator and the rightness of his cause. The difference is that the latter is value driven.

      1. whom you can fuck or hire

        Tautology.

        1. (Like my handle.)

      2. In an authoritarian government you just have to avoid challenging the dictator’s power. In a totalitarian government you have to actively celebrate the dictator and the rightness of his cause. The difference is that the latter is value driven.

        Kinda like the difference between social interactions (including those mediated through blog-comment sections) with somewhat normal people vs. with narcissists, who are, oddly enough, detectable even in libertarian fora.

      3. Tim,

        I don’t believe you have described anything value neutral at all. Again, some will see my point as nit-picky, but I think when you think about it, you’ll realize that in calling a government value-neutral, you’re either,

        a) wrong, (or put more charitably, speaking too loosely),

        or

        b) describing a cynical, nihilistic, and /or amoral government where things like the sexual exploitation of children is considered just fine

        c) really an anarchist who can’t answer the question of government’s appropriate role in good faith, since you see none.

        I suspect it is “a.” And I think it is not helpful to speak as if a minimal state is value neutral. If the idea is that consenting adults should be allowed to engage in relationships that both consent to, fine, but that too is a value. Neither minimal state libertarianism nor big government socialism is value neutral.

    3. I think perhaps this would have been better stated as “government should not promote any particular set of values beyond what is necessary to protect basic rights”

      And Silentz, states are governments too. They are talking about government in general (I hope) and not just the fed.

      1. Zeb, I agree.

        I also think “government should not promote any particular set of values beyond what is necessary to protect basic rights” has a very different meaning from “government should not any particular set of values.”

        I think it’s confusing and misleading (thought probably unintentionally) to talk as if big government ethos is value-driven and your more precise libertarian ethos is value-lite. They’re both substantive value-laden positions.

        So again, I agree.

      2. And what are one’s “basic rights”? I think that’s going to be a pretty value-laden position!

  6. CONTROLLED HYDROGEN FUSION IS ONLY TEN YEARS AWAY!

    That always comes to mind when I hear about the latest libertarian groundswell.

    If you aren’t willing to have your ox gored, you ain’t libertarian.

  7. Libertarianism is, for all the faults I’ve talked about here, a positive good. Liberals like me recognize that the reason why libertarians and liberals share the same base word is that we share many common values.

    Libertarians should, politically, stop focusing so much on purity. There are many issues that affect the average person in painful ways every day or week, like laws keeping effective cold medecine behind the counter, marijuana laws, opposition to war, etc., that sell broadly to the public. If you can keep quiet about the joys of child labor for a while you could totally sell campaigns to the large portions of the population which, like me, agree totally with you guys but find no major party listening…

    1. Liberals like me recognize that the reason why libertarians and liberals share the same base word is that we share many common values.

      No, they share the same base word because modern liberals stole the word away from classical liberals, and used it to describe a philosophy nearly 180 degrees away from classical liberalism, prompting the name change to libertarianism.

      What are these common values you allege we share? I’ve seen precious few indicators of that commonality in the back and forth on H&R between you and libertarians.

      1. +1

        And I’ve never heard any libertarian talk in support of child labor, or child anything (okay, maybe a couple of lunatics on the far fringes of the movement.)

        1. Actually, I’ve seen libs (both kinds) and conservatives supporting ChildLabor, implicitly or explicitly. In fact, the whole corrupt PoliticalEstablishment supported child labor, labor that had a huge cost then and a huge cost now.

          P.S. In case anyone replies to this, their responses will almost assuredly be ad homs, thereby conceding my points and showing the childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians. Dozens of comments here have shown that the phrase “fascist libertarian” isn’t an oxymoron.

          1. Shut the fuck up, Lonewacko, my old stalwart chum.

          2. My 1st time

            STFULW

            Ok. I feel better now

          3. P.S. In case anyone replies to this, their responses will almost assuredly be ad homs, thereby conceding my points and showing the childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians. Dozens of comments here have shown that the phrase “fascist libertarian” isn’t an oxymoron.

            pretty lame that you tag this on every post. Also, did you wear Nike shoes int he 90’s? Well then, you supported child labor, so go fuck yourself.

      2. “I use throughout the term ‘liberal’ in the original, nineteenth-century sense in which it is still current [1956] in Britain. In current American usage it often means very nearly the opposite of this. It has been the camouflage of leftish movements in this country, helped by the muddledheadedness of many who really believe in liberty, that ‘liberal’ has come to mean the advocacy of almost every kind of government control.” — Hayek’s 1956 foreword to The Road to Serfdom

        1. Indeed. Apparently the shift came after the discrediting of the Wilson-era “progressives.” And ironically, after the term “liberals” was discredited in the late ’60s, leftists took up the term “progressives” again.

    2. Actually, we share the same base word only because liberals usurped our own self descriptive term, which forced us to come up with a new one to describe ourselves. I’ve argued here before that American conservatism is much more closely aligned to libertarianism than liberalism. I really can’t see any strong opposing argument, and most liberals usually speak rather derisively of libertarians (usually prefaced with some derisive qualifier such as “right winger”). It’d be interesting to see some numbers on how many self-professed libertarians are reformed conservatives versus liberals.

      I would venture that most average middle-class and working-class “red state” conservatives are not too big on, say, government farm subsidies, but I’d say the opposite is true about most liberals on, say, government healthcare. Most conservatives seem to be against government involvement in individuals’ lives to a large extent, as a general rule, whereas the opposite seems true with most liberals. In my opinion, that is a far bigger shared value between libertarians and conservatives than the relatively few intersecting areas of interest to both liberals and libertarians.

      1. Mort Sahl said it over 40 yrs. ago: there are no liberals any more, only social democrats.

      2. how many self-professed libertarians are reformed conservatives versus liberals

        *raises hand

      3. also raises hand (to the reformed Republican comment)

      4. Um. Do I really need to answer that?

    3. I have to pile on and say that I have seen precious little overlap in that Venn diagram of liberals-libertarians, especially considering what you write.

      BTW, that purity you mention is what we would call principles. Once you jetison those, there isn’t much libertarian left to talk about. You’re just one of the status quo then, whoring yourself out to whomever will give you the freest and farthest ride.

    4. I see you are back on your meds today.
      After yesterday’s health-care libertarians-want-cancer-patients-to-slave-in-the-salt-mines freakout.

    5. Libertarians should, politically, stop focusing so much on purity

      What you call purity, I call intellectual integrity.

      1. Of course you do, but there’s a difference between ideology and politics. Ideology can at least try to be pure and perfectly logically consistent (whether it can be is another question), but politics happens in the human realm, with emotions and compromises and history and irrationality and group identities and all sorts of messy, non-logical stuff. That’s where elections happen, not on some intellectual plane. In short: any ideologue who wants to get anywhere in democratic politics has to compromise.

        1. I don’t see a path forward for libertarianism via electoral politics, and I suspect I’m not alone. To a large degree, libertarianism implies an absence of electoral politics. I’m a little unclear on what the path forward is, but I have to think it will be paved partly by the public losing all trust in politicians.

          1. Deregulation, tax cuts, and actual shrinking of government are not impossible, just difficult.

  8. Here’s what I like about J sub D: the guy has imo never weakened on libertarian positions, but never, ever, sounds extreme to me…What can I say, I’ve consistently had respect for the guy, while not agreeing with many of his positions…

    1. Love is in the air

  9. “government should not favor any particular set of values”

    Huh? This stance is self-refuting: asserting it implies denying it. Jay J, you’re not nitpicking at all, you’ve gotten to the heart of the matter. It’s pretty sad that many people (apparently) can’t recognize that acceptance of everything and being neutral to everything is logically inconsistant and a disasterous policy.

    Man, and I thought I was a libertarian…

  10. Not coincidentally, shredding cavemen are also at an all-time high.

    1. Shit, I didn’t know there was a new(ish) Mastodon album. Not sure I really dig that track, but Leviathan was fucking brilliant.

      1. Yeah, more proggy than early stuff. Takes a few listens. Lyrics aren’t too great though

  11. If it gets much higher, I might have to pick a new political philosophy. 🙂

  12. There’s a typo in the story. It should read

    The number of Americans whose political beliefs could be roughly characterized as “libertarian” has hit a high of 23.

  13. “If you can keep quiet about the joys of child labor”

    I have met a LOT of libertarians, MNG, and I have yet to meet one in favor of child labor.

    This is as old and tired as the “well, if we’re going to get rid of drug laws, let’s just make murder legal” and “if you speak out against manmade global warming, blood will be on your hands”. Utter bullshit.

    1. Children shouldn’t be allowed to get paid for their work?

      1. I’m talking about in the U.S., Robert. We have child-labor laws for a good reason, and I’m not the type to say “there ought to be a law” unless there’s a DAMNED good reason.

        Other countries, that’s their problem.

        1. I disagree. We should have child labor. Children should be able to work on their parent’s farm. They should be able to mow lawns for cash. Be able to run a paper route.

            1. Clearly you haven’t been reading the stories about unlicensed lemonade stands being shut down.

    2. I don’t see many libertarians saying “child labor is great”.

      BUT, in some part of the world, children working in legitimate industries is far better than the alternative – which is often child prostitution or begging.

      i recall Oxfam did a study some years ago about the effect on children in India’s slums of child labor laws. That was effectively the result. The kids didn’t go back to school, they went into begging and prostitution because they were forced out of jobs like carpet weaving and pottery.

      1. For utopians you sure do set your bar low. At least they’re not sex slaves!

        1. It hasn’t crossed your mind yet that we’re not utopians, I see.

          We deal in reality. The incentives people really have. How economies really work. Not you fantasy land where if you just ban children from making carpets they’ll all happily skip off to the little red school house.

          1. Tony’s a lost cause, Hazel. His idea of utopia is an America that finally rids itself of silly, outdated ideas like capitalism and not being told how to live 24/7 by corpulent thugs in polyester suits.

          2. Well you have to do more than ban children from sweat shops. You’ve got to make sure their parents make a living decent enough to provide for their needs.

            But because even the slightest amount of correction to natural market forces makes you guys scream tyranny, you’re stuck with advocating a far-from-perfect community.

            Maybe you’re not utopians–meaning you admit that your quaint economic theories won’t necessarily lead to the best possible world. Fine. So what’s the fucking point? We must all sacrifice for the pleasure of the market god?

            1. Are you a troll, really that stupid, or both?

      2. I wouldn’t mind my 13 year old doing a little paid work to get a better understanding of what her next 60 years are going to look like and why washing dishes on a Sunday at the local greasy spoon is not her highest calling.

        With that said, she can’t learn this do to our current labor laws.

  14. I voted 1,150 times for “libertarian.”

  15. You forgot to mention the private roads, MNG.

  16. Libertarians should seize the moment and get out the business of theorizing a fantasy world. There are real, practical projects like ending subsidies, incentives, and welfare. Why do so many libertarians (like those who edit Reason) insist on complaining about small potatoes like Amtrak and Andrew Sullivan?

    1. Word.

    2. Those are projects that must be undertaken by people with political influence, not libertarians.

      1. Isn’t that convenient! That way, you can still when every argument since everything is in the realm of the theoretical.

    3. Libertarians who edit Reason can successfully criticize Amtrak or Andrew Sullivan. Cause the outcome is Amtrak or Andrew Sullivan being rightly criticized. Ending subsidies, on the other hand, is somewhat more difficult.

      1. lol. you made my day.

    4. What, you can’t do both?

  17. I would venture that most average middle-class and working-class “red state” conservatives are not too big on, say, government farm subsidies, but I’d say the opposite is true about most liberals on, say, government healthcare. Most conservatives seem to be against government involvement in individuals’ lives to a large extent, as a general rule, whereas the opposite seems true with most liberals. In my opinion, that is a far bigger shared value between libertarians and conservatives than the relatively few intersecting areas of interest to both liberals and libertarians.

  18. I have no idea how anyone could get behind this statement. An anarchist, I suppose, but then they don’t believe in government at all, so they couldn’t really give a straight answer. I know some will see my response here as nit-picky, but seriously, there seems to be no way to make sense of that second statement.

  19. I find that most people think they’re libertarian and then they identify the one thing that GOVERNMENT MUST STOP YOU FROM DOING.

    There’s always one thing.

    1. I don’t think that’s true, unless we’re talking common-sense stuff like “kids should NOT be raped by adults”…

      1. Unless they’re great artists.

        1. Not in my view. Nobody should get a pass based on their abilities.

      2. What if the children are not unresponsive? Is it okay then?

  20. JW, according to the big-pants-tenters who have been trolling this site all day, libertarians need to get out of the business of thinking critically about the role of government in the culture and economy; forming principles based on our conclusions, and trying to convince people about the merits of our principles.

    We need to get into the business of compromising our principles to anyone with a vote and an incompatible agenda so that we can get something, anything accomplished. So when we’re riding public trains lit by compact fluorescent bulbs to the only state-approved doctor in the state, we can rest easy knowing that we managed to knock the highest marginal tax rate from 97% down to 96.5%.

  21. “Libertarian for me but not for thee.”

  22. Christ, how could I miss this one:

    “Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. –Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values.– Which comes closer to your own view?”

    Woohoo, go nihilism.

    We’re really running high.

    1. Awful question.

      Yup, no values at all. Just cutting off heads left and right and using them as bowling balls.

  23. This is fairly misleading, because the poll results are complicated.

    What the poll found was that Americans across the board favor less regulation in the economic sphere, but slightly more Americans favor promoting traditional values.

    So that indeed could be read as a movement towards straight conservatism.

    OTOH, they found that fewer Republicans think that government should promote traditional values– 67% vs. 71% in 2008 (perhaps libertarians ID’ing as Reps now) but this was swamped by a 5% rise in Dems (37% to 42%) and a whopping 17% rise in Independents agreeing with that (37% to 54%).

    So one way of putting what they found was the Democrats and Independents became more conservative, and Republicans became more libertarian.

    Still sort of a libertarian gain in a way, in that the number of people who are libertarian-leaning is at a maximum.

    But at the same time, the number of people who are anti-libertarian is also at a maximum.

  24. Libertarianism at an all time high… In related news Libertarianism is going to get 2% of the national vote next year.

    1. Wow, 2% would be a huge leap forward for the LP. It would also represent “balance of power” in quite a few races and make the other parties sit up and take notice.

  25. People can “identify” libertarian all they want, but 99.9% of them will have at least one, possibly several, hobbyhorses where suddenly it’s OK to use the violence of the state to control behavior.

    Very, very few of us actually adhere to true libertarian principles.

    1. True, but at least identifying as libertarians will cause them some cognitive dissonance when they realize that some of their stands are inconsistent with their stated identity.

      Which may cause some of them to rethink those positions over time.

      Seriously, when someone begins to say “I am X”, whatever X is associated with exerts a very powerful effect on them.

      1. I think you underestimate people’s ability to withstand cognitive dissonance, Hazel.

        For instance, people who say “I am liberal” do a lot of illiberal things.

        1. I’ve heard people describe themselves as libertarian, but also say they don’t believe drugs should be legal & government healthcare will improve things. Most people don’t have a clue what libertarianism is about.

    2. I’d be satisfied with mostly libertarian.

  26. It’s a big tent. Hell, they let Bob Barr in.

  27. Fuck you, Frank!

  28. For instance, people who say “I am liberal” do a lot of illiberal things.

    That’s only because they have no idea what the word “liberal” really means. I do appreciate the trend towards self-applying the term “progressive” instead.

  29. The “value free” thing, I think, is interpreted by most as “pragmatic” or “utilitarian”, but, of course, those are value-based world views.

  30. But they don’t carry copies of Ayn Rand books around with them everywhere they go, and they don’t agree that people should be able to own nuclear weapons! That doesn’t make them libertarians, right Reason?

    You guys really need to learn that a movement needs, well, people to be successful. Stop having pointless fights over the implementation. You’re not going to get the average person to agree that we should have public nudity in the street (in your house, of course, is another story, asshole corrupt cops) and people should be able to walk around with rocket launchers, but you can get them to agree that, at very least, the welfare state should be *vastly* curtailed to the point where no one who wasn’t truly down on their luck would rely on it. This might not be true libertarianism, I accept that. I’m no fan of the welfare state, and people being encouraged not to save because of Social Security and not to buy health insurance because of Medicare. But if we keep up this “everything or nothing” mentality, the nation is just going to go straight to a statist nightmare while we pointlessly debate on blogs whether roads should be privatized or not.

  31. How many of these new “libertarians” are actually big government conservatives who need a new name now that theirs is all mined out?

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