Cathy Young: "libertarian ideas are an essential corrective to the authoritarian tendencies of both right and left"


Not just for John Hospers anymore!

Writing in the Boston Globe, Reason Contributing Editor Cathy Young chews on whether we're living on the cusp of a "libertarian moment." Excerpt:

At a time when Americans are increasingly fed up with politics as usual, does libertarianism — which champions freedom from government control in both economic and social spheres — present an appealing alternative to conservatism and liberalism? […]

Does all this add up to a coming libertarian triumph? Maybe not quite. […]

The Tea Party, for all its libertarian rhetoric, is driven more by populist anger at cultural elites than by the quest for individual freedom. In polls, Tea Party supporters tend to be strongly conservative on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, and to support security measures that expand government powers of spying on terror suspects. The truth is, many Americans' views on freedom and government are complex and sometimes confused. In the Reason poll, 54 percent felt that "regulation of businesses does more harm than good" while only 38 percent supported more government regulation; yet 48 percent favored a strong government capable of handling complex economic problems while 46 percent preferred a free market with less government involvement.

Libertarianism articulates important truths. Power corrupts. Government bureaucracies have a tendency to become self-serving and self-perpetuating, and to stifle productivity and creativity. State efforts to promote "values" have a tendency to infantilize adults and impose one group's beliefs on others.

And yet reality is never so simple. Overreach notwithstanding, government has made indispensable contributions to American life, from building the infrastructure to reducing racial discrimination to promoting scientific research with no short-term payoff. Such challenges as protecting the environment or ensuring health care for everyone may not have a free-market solution. Likewise, social tolerance is not always the answer to pressing questions.

Pure libertarianism has a whiff of utopia, like all ideologies that disregard the messy paradoxes of life. But libertarian ideas are an essential corrective to the authoritarian tendencies of both right and left. Libertarianism starts with the presumption that freedom of choice is a vitally important good. There may be sound reasons to abridge that freedom more often than most libertarians would allow; but the burden of proof should be on those who would abridge it. Without the libertarian voice, no exchange of ideas in American politics is complete.

Whole thing here. The aforementioned Reason-Rupe polling operation can be accessed here, and here is your link to the also-referenced Nick Gillespie/Matt Welch joint The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.