'Has the "Libertarian Moment" Finally Arrived?'

An excerpt from Robert Draper's August 7 cover story in The New York Times Magazine about the ascendance of libertarianism.


New York Times

Robert Draper's August 7 cover story in The New York Times Magazine about the ascendance of libertarianism in American political life featured a report from reason's "posh" Washington, D.C,. office, numerous interviews with reason staffers, and a glimpse at how libertarian thinking is changing American politics.

Below, some excerpts from the article:

"Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, 'The Independents'). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side."

"The age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in large part because of its libertarian leanings…Emily Ekins, a pollster for the Reason Foundation, says: 'Unlike with previous generations, we're seeing a newer dimension emerge where they agree with Democrats on social issues, and on economic issues lean more to the right. It's possible that Democrats will have to shift to the right on economic issues. But the Republicans will definitely have to move to the left on social issues. They just don't have the numbers otherwise.'"

"By cable TV standards, [The Independents], which is shown four times a week, is jarringly nonpartisan, for the simple reason that [Kennedy] and her co-hosts-the Reason magazine editor in chief Matt Welch and the entrepreneur Kmele Foster-are openly contemptuous of both parties…She, Welch and Foster take turns on the show bashing not only 'Obamacare' but also the N.S.A., neoconservatives and social scolds. It's not a hospitable forum for G.O.P. talking points."

"Nick Gillespie is to libertarianism what Lou Reed is to rock 'n' roll, the quintessence of its outlaw spirit. He is 50, a former writer for teen and heavy-metal magazines, habitually garbed in black from head to toe, wry and mournful in expression, a tormented romantic who quotes Jack Kerouac. For the past 20 years, Gillespie has been a writer, editor and intellectual godfather for Reason, the movement's leading journal since its founding in 1968 (and which today has a circulation of about 50,000, while its website receives 3.3 million visits a month). "

"'I was never conservative,' [Gillespie] told me as we sipped our gin. 'Republicans always saw libertarians as nice to have around in case they wanted to score some weed, and we always knew where there was a party. And for a while it made sense to bunk up with them. But after a while, it would be like, "So if we agree on limited government, how about opening the borders?" No, that's crazy. "How about legalizing drugs? How about giving gays equal rights?" No, come on, be serious. And so I thought, There's nothing in this for me.'"

"Gillespie likes to point out that unlike the words 'Democrat' and 'Republican,' 'libertarian' should be seen as a modifier rather than a noun-an attitude, not a fixed object. A cynic might assert that this is exactly the kind of semantic cop-out that relegates Gillespie's too-cool-for-school sect to the margins. Not surprisingly, he begged to differ. 'It's wedded to an epistemological humility,' he told me, 'that proceeds from the assumption that we don't know as much as we think we do, and so you have to be really cautious about policies that seek to completely reshape the world. It's better to run trials and experiments, as John Stuart Mill talked about. The whole point of America-and this is an admixture of Saul Bellow and Heidegger and Jim Morrison lyrics-is that it's in a constant state of becoming, constantly changing and mongrelizing. We're doing exactly what free minds and free markets allow you to do. Part of why I'm a libertarian is that if you restrict people less, interesting stuff happens.'"