Over at the Huffington Post, Tom Mullen makes the case that the libertarian moment—a concept first developed and elaborated on by Matt Welch and me at Reason—is alive and well despite Rand Paul's flagging campaign for the presidency. He writes:
Anyone who believes the presidential election is a barometer of how libertarian America is becoming doesn't understand libertarianism and isn't paying attention to what's happening in the real world.
Mullen is right. As Welch and I have always stressed, the libertarian moment is a fundamentally pre-political phenomenon partly because politics is a lagging indicator of where America is going at any given point in time.
The libertarian moment is a shift in mind-set as well as material conditions. It's about
comfort with and demand for increasingly individualized and personalized options and experiences in every aspect of our lives. More and more choices in everything are busting out all over the place and such change is even coming to those areas still controlled by relatively top-down governmental edicts (education, health care, retirement).
In his HuffPost article, Mullen skims over various trends and developments that augur the libertarian moment: Gay marriage is not legal simply because of a Supreme Court decision but because of a shift to live-and-let-live principles regarding sexuality; a majority of Americans want to end the war on pot; the sharing economy's poster children, Uber and Airbnb, are wildly popular both for the specific services they deliver and the possibilities they represent; increasing numbers of people are OK with gun ownership and skeptical of unchecked police authority; and on and on. Mullen argues:
The future will be even more libertarian than the present. Technology and the marketplace are threatening to render centuries-old government institutions largely irrelevant. What meaning will trade regulations have when 3-D printers disrupt the manufacturing industry? What will the who-will-build-the-roads crowd say to libertarians when hovercraft technology reaches its full market potential? How will the Federal Reserve control the economy when Bitcoin or its successors reaches theirs?
It's not all good, he rightly notes, but the signs are far more encouraging than not. There are miles to go before we sleep, of course, and politics will be the last part of American life to change. Mullen concludes by implying that Rand Paul's early success was not a cause of the libertarian moment but an effect of it.
Rand Paul's campaign may very well rebound. It may not. For the future of libertarianism, it really doesn't matter. The marketplace is leading the libertarian revolution, as it always has. If Rand Paul wants to get back on the train, he should forget trying to sound like a mainstream Republican and dance with the libertarians who brung him. They are the future, with or without him.