Was 2015 The Year Libertarianism Died?
The fall of Rand Paul and the rise of Donald Trump means the Libertarian Moment is dead. Also, I've a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
I've got a column up at The Daily Beast that looks at the flagging presidential fortunes of Rand Paul and quickness with which some observers have moved to declare "the Libertarian Moment" deader than Bill Cosby's showbiz future.
Is this finally the year that belief in "Free Minds and Free Markets" finally came a cropper? No, of course not, and the people most interested in pushing such a line have been making similar predictions for years now.
There's a superficial plausibility to the charge, especially among those who confuse partisan politics with the real America. Among high-profile Democrats and Republicans, the constituency for more-open borders is zero and there's nothing like Islamic terrorism in France and California to rev up the war machine and ignite bipartisan calls for encryption backdoors or a ban on secret communications altogether. After a few years of an unintended pause, our elected officials have even managed to put aside their differences and are once again cranking up spending.
But the main case that libertarianism is finally, finally, finally dead this time is the zombie walkabout that has been Rand Paul's presidential campaign and the juggernaut that is Donald Trump's. I think it's a major category error to equate libertarianism with partisan politics, but for folks who believe the only important political question is who wins the presidency, the divergent fortunes of Trump and Paul tell the whole story.
At the heart of Paul's problems, I argue, is that he has shied away from his libertarian leanings at key moments. The reason that Time (and before that, Reason) anointed him the "most interesting man in politics" was precisely because at his best he scrambles existing categories. Here was a Republican who talked about actually cutting spending in serious, straightforward ways; assailed military interventionism, bloated Defense budgets, and surveillance-state hysteria; and talked seriously about reforming drug policy and criminal justice. Even more than that, he was willing call his own party "stale and moss-covered" while reaching out to new constituencies. Finally, a major-party figure who not only talked a different game but walked a different walk! However, "once he started aiming at the presidency, he's rarely missed an opportunity to jump on every conservative outrage of the day: Sanctuary cities, ebola quarantines, Planned Parenthood, the Iran deal, you name it." Whether his presidential campaign picks up steam, I'm confident that Paul will be a major force in turning the GOP in a more-libertarian direction in the coming years.
Most importantly, though, neither Rand Paul's nor Donald Trump's campaign spells the end of "the Libertarian Moment" which is all about
"comfort with and demand for increasingly individualized and personalized options and experiences in every aspect of our lives." As Matt Welch and I argued in our book, The Declaration of Independents, politics is a lagging indicator of where America is headed. It will be the last area of our lives to be transformed, but you can already see the old order breaking down.
Terrorism is currently freaking people out but confidence and trust in government, law enforcement, and virtually all other societal institutions is are at historic lows, a confluence which bodes well for libertarian ideals of autonomy and DIY community building. The embrace of gay marriage and pot legalization, criminal justice reform (something which, to his immense credit, Rand Paul has been leading on), and school choice are not slackening and the past year has seen the beginning of pushback on all sorts of political correctness.