Some Supplemental Reason Reading (and Viewing) on 'The Libertarian Moment'
As mentioned earlier, the New York Times Magazine has just published a long and entertaining feature titled "Has the 'Libertarian Moment' Finally Arrived?" Reason and its staffers have been chewing on that subject for several years now. A partial reading list:
* In November 2007, as the Ron Paul rEVOLution was first catching fire, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch were asked by the Washington Post (and after, its readers) to explain what this whole libertarian business was all about. Excerpt from that:
When a fierce Republican foe of the wars on drugs and terrorism is able, without really trying, to pull in a record haul of campaign cash on a day dedicated to an attempted regicide, it's clear that a new and potentially transformative force is growing in American politics.
That force is less about Paul than about the movement that has erupted around him—and the much larger subset of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two major political parties' soft consensus on making government ever more intrusive at all levels, whether it's listening to phone calls without a warrant, imposing fines of half a million dollars for broadcast "obscenities" or jailing grandmothers for buying prescribed marijuana from legal dispensaries.
* In December 2008, as the world was descending into a financial hell replete with statist over-reaction, Gillespie/Welch doubled down with "The Libertarian Moment: Despite all leading indicators to the contrary, America is poised to enter a new age of freedom." Contentious claim:
As in 1971, there is no shortage of reasons to grumble about the state of American liberty at the end of 2008. As this issue went to press, Congress had passed the economic equivalent of the PATRIOT Act, a nearly trillion-dollar bailout of the financial industry, involving whole-scale nationalization of the mortgage lending business [….] Despite (or perhaps because of) eight years of a president who has increased regulatory spending by more than 61 percent in real terms, "deregulation" has become a concept even more panic-inducing than Janet Jackson's nipple. Whether in international security, the financial world, or the cultural arena, the answer to everything seems to be a new clampdown. It is nearly impossible to cross a North American border without showing a passport, revealing biomedical information, and being entered into a database for decades. Every day across this great country some city council is finding a new private activity to ban, whether it's selling food cooked with trans fats, using a cell phone behind the wheel, or smoking a cigarette outdoors. And the two major-party candidates for president are trying to out-populist one another with Oliver Stone–level attacks on Wall Street "greed," while advancing economic plans filled with centralized industrial policy and extravagant promises that would undoubtedly burst the federal government's already near-broken budget.
Yet if 1971 contained a few flickers of light in the authoritarian darkness, 2008 is chock full of halogen-bright beacons shouting "This way!" Turn away from the overhyped prize of the Oval Office and all the dreary, government expanding policies and politics that go with it, and the picture is not merely one of plausible happy endings to our current sob stories of mortgage-finance meltdowns and ever-lengthening war, but something far more radical, more game-changing, than all that we've grown to expect.
* From that essay (which you can watch Gillespie talk about at a February 2009 International Students for Liberty conference) sprang a 2011 book, called The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (Public Affairs). Some contentious claims from that, culled from an August 2011 Reason excerpt:
Where will the next political smart mob, the next online swarm, come from? Look wherever there is too broad a gap between the two major political parties and their bases. One good short-term bet is the issue of rolling back the drug war, which professional Democrats from the president on down openly mock while a growing number of Republicans (such as presidential candidates Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) gain surprising support by uttering the unspeakable. Other swarms will likely be much more hostile to libertarian policy aims…but each new wave will succeed at doing to two-party politics what technology has done to the rest of the economy: undermine the gatekeepers who want to control your life.
Political independence has individual virtues as well. Thinking for yourself requires much more work than setting your compass by the direction of the tribe, but, oh, the liberation. Suddenly the political bully boys look a good deal more ridiculous, tawdry, and intellectually beatable. There are other hyphenated weirdos, just over there, who have genuinely interesting things to say. Voters free from the affiliation of party membership are more inclined to view political claims with the skepticism they richly deserve, to hear the atavistic dog whistle of partisan politics as a deliberate attack on the senses rather than a rousing call to productive action. By refusing to confer legitimacy on the two accepted forms of political organization and discourse, independents (especially of the libertarian flavor) hint strongly that another form—something unpredictable, fantastical, liberating—is gathering to take their place.
* In June 2012, a year after their Dec'l o' Indies-inspired "Ask a Libertarian" YouTube marathon, the Glimmer Glower Twins were made to answer the question, so where's that damned libertarian moment you promised us?
* By August 2013, Gillespie was ready to raise the bar: "Can We Start Talking About the Libertarian *Era* Already?"
* In May of this year, Gillespie updated the manifesto with "Libertarianism 3.0: The Koch Brothers, the GOP, and What Comes Next."
* And in June, Senior Editor Brian Doherty, in the wake of David Brat's upset primary victory over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), explored the question, "Can a 'Libertarian Moment' in Politics Be Very Libertarian?"
Speaking of Doherty, there is simply no understanding of present, future, or past libertarianism without his foundational 2007 book, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. And coming full circle to Ron Paul, Doherty was also author of the 2012 book, Ron Paul's rEVOLution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.