Michael Brown Shooting

The Libertarian Moment in Ferguson: Birth of New Politics?


My latest Daily Beast column argues that one of the key reasons events in Ferguson have started a tragically delayed discussion on militarized policing is because "minority outrage at police mistreatment has intersected with the libertarian critique of state power in a way that has brought the concerns of both groups to a national audience." Snippets: 

What has helped the story to go fully national, however, is that the events surrounding it exemplify the concerns that libertarians have been raising for decades about the militarization of police, which has its roots both in the drug war and the post-9/11 terror-industrial complex. As my former colleague Radley Balko, now at The Washington Post, has documented for years (first at The Cato Institute, then at Reason, and most fully in last year's Rise of the Warrior Cop), "The buzz phrase in policing today is officer safety. You'll also hear lots of references to preserving order, and fighting wars, be it on crime, drugs, or terrorism. Those are all concepts that emphasize confrontation. It's a view that pits the officers as the enforcer, and the public as the entity upon which laws and policies and procedures are to be enforced."

Balko is just one of many libertarians who worked to highlight these issues long before Ferguson erupted. "Dress like a soldier and you think you're at war," Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at University of Tennessee and the proprietor of the massively influential libertarian aggregator site Instapundit, wrote  in 2006. "And, in wartime, civil liberties—or possible innocence—of the people on 'the other side' don't come up much. But the police aren't at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they're not supposed to be."…

What Ferguson demonstrates is how tightly related abstract concerns libertarians have about the government's power and the very real-life fears of police harassment that many African Americans have really are. So too are other issues of interest to both groups, ranging from school choice to sentencing reform to occupational licensing. As these sorts of newly recognized common causes filter through the culture, all sorts of new coalitions and possibilities can come to fruition. Glimpses of this are already visible in actions such as the nearly successful effort by Republican Rep. Justin Amash and Democratic Rep. John Conyers to defund National Security Agency surveillance programs last summer.

Read the whole article.


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  1. Wow man sounds like some crazy stuff dude.


  2. I could be wrong, but it seemed Big News didn’t jump on the obviously outrageous militarization of police until Rand Paul went off on Ferguson.

    1. When did they get interested in militarization, all I’m seeing is race relation arguments and cop fellating on the news.

      1. ^THIS^

        The debate on whether Brown was a martyr, sanctus et innocentius, or whether he was a rage-filled ape-man bent on rape and mayhem has nothing to do with the police’s decision to first approach the protesters (not the looters, the protesters) as if they were storming the beaches at Normandy.

        1. I will here applaud myself for having called this angle several days ago.

          Whether or not Brown’s shooting was justified, in no way justifies the cops coming out in full battle dress to break up a candle-light vigil with tear gas and flash-bang grenades.

    2. I could be wrong,…

      The protests were so far along that the liberal media were already taunting libertarians for being silent. I don’t know the news cycle of all the sources I follow, but I saw the Amash and Rand headlines at the same time.




    1. Is that from an INXS song?

  4. And the few lefties that are actually talking militarization instead of the easier to digest ‘race relations’ arguments, are claiming that libertarians are silent on the issue of militarization and it’s in fact the left who’ve been so concerned with this issue all along.

    1. Well to be fair, the are in charge of the news and write all the history books so if they say it’s true than in all practicality it is.

      1. That was my recollection of public school.

    2. are claiming that libertarians are silent on the issue of militarization

      Most were taunting libertarians because we “claim” to be concerned about militarization, but SAID nothing for 5 freaking days. “Lefties” aren’t always wrong, ya know. Just mostly, but never assume anyhow.

      Rand Paul’s first press release was August 14th, five days AFTER the shooting. (I searched VERY hard for an earlier one, but his language was clearly a “first release”


      Not sure why, but any activist will tell you this has long been typical of the movement. Last week we claimed credit for the popularity of school choice, which we had nothing at all to do with — other than news and opinion stories to other libertarians — which ain’t doin’ nothin’ to advance liberty, and never will.

      Many of this are looking for causes that the libertarian label is rejected byb 85% of libertarians. (Cato 2006 Zogby Pool)

  5. I know this is unlikely to get a response being that this has fallen off the front page, but what is up with that cops arm?

    1. His palm is toward the crowd, and his forearm is more parallel to his chest, rather than perpendicular.

  6. Libertarian?
    Most people talking about Ferguson are thinking the best countermeasure is full-time video/audio on every police officer. All without ever talking about how such video/audio is inappropriate seizure as defined by the 4th Amendment.

    1. All without ever talking about how such video/audio is inappropriate seizure as defined by the 4th Amendment.

      It doesn’t apply and it’s done to protect the people from a potential gestapo. Many cops(millions?) are already recording street actions, and have been recording out the windshield on traffic cops, probably for decades. Data is only recent I believe, but police shootings are WAY down in all or most of the cities that have adopted.

  7. Aw Geeez. Reason’s Propaganda Minister claims ANOTHER libertarian moment … that we had nothing to do with.

    Yeah, Reason’s been reporting this stuff all along …. to us hardcore libertarians. The WSPQ shows a ,majority of”generic” libertarians for 35 years, both fiscally and socially. We’ve ignored our own majority, and NOW we’re chasing independents, 30% of which are collectivists!. HELLO?

    It’s not Reason’s fault , except for the lib moment bullshit, but we’ve never had a “retail” voice.

    Last week it was school choice. Yeah, libertarian parents, among MANY others, have helped school choice grow. I worked 30 years on it. School choice is just one of many issues the libertarian establishment had NOTHING to with developing or nurturing. But once it’s going, we jump in and claim credit, to our own loyal tribe. Proof? Next.

    10,000 parents recently marched on Albany to defend NYC charters — the largest school choice demonstration EVER. Where in HELL were we? Likely debating positive vs negative rights in the same ivory tower ? with the drapes drawn. We didn’t even REPORT the damn thing (I couldn’t find it on Google, can you?)

    If our establishment is always jumping in late, are we leaders or followers? And we CONTINUE claiming credit for things we never did ?. how long before the REAL founders and leaders get pissed off at us? Is that a smart way to build coalitions?

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