Libertarian Moment

Nick Gillespie: Libertarians Have Won the Culture Wars, Even Though Universities Are "Constipated, Stultified"

Interesting discussion from Australia's Friedman conference with Claire Lehmann of


Have libertarians—and the broader right and/or classical-liberal movement—really lost the "culture wars"? Why are universities in the United States and other advanced nations so "constipated, stultified" when it comes not just to free speech but open inquiry and academic freedom?

While I was in Sydney, Australia a couple of weeks ago to speak at the 5th Annual Friedman Conference (organized by the Australian Libertarian Society), I was interviewed by Claire Lehmann, the founder of the great and essential site, about these topics.

The interview, which appears on Rebel Media, is below.

Spoiler alert: I think libertarians have already won the culture war in the most important ways possible. Whether it's businesses like Whole Foods, Overstock, and Amazon; the massive and ongoing proliferation of platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, and Twitter; or gig-economy titans such as Uber and Airbnb, capitalism and entrepreneurship has been recast as an innovative, disruptive, liberatory system that allows us all to produce and consume whatever we want under increasingly personalized and individualized circumstances. What we need to do next to nail down what Matt Welch and I have dubbed The Libertarian Moment is to articulate the ways in which our society's cultural, economic, and even political operating system has already bought into the idea that decentralization, individualism, innovation, and freedom to experiment.

If the medium is the message (all props to Marshall McLuhan)—if an operating system is more important than any specific content generated within that system—what has been abjured as "late capitalism" for decades has effectively ended all debates about how libertarian policies and mind-sets have freed us from bland top-downism in all parts of our lives. This isn't to suggest that we are in any way living a utopian dream. It's simply to point out that even after 15 years of drowsy economic growth and a massive expansion of state (and in many ways, corporate) power, our living standards continue to rise. Add to that huge advances in tolerance and change when it comes to racial, ethnic, and gender disparities and transformative shifts on topics as varied as drug policy, sexual orientation, criminal-justice reform, and gun rights too.

Cultural and political pessimism isn't just a losing strategy, it's a misimpression. Again, that's not to say that massive problems don't exist and need to be confronted. Will we ever see an actual federal budget again, much less that cuts government spending? U.S. foreign policy remains a shameful, disastrous, and destructive hodgepodge of hubris and stupidity. Speech and expression are under attacks from the right and the left, and the bipartisan turn against free trade and the easy movement of people across borders needs to be beaten back. As the late, great Arthur Ekirch explained in his neglected masterpiece The Decline of American Liberalism, forces of decentralization and centralization—of liberation and authoritarianism, of individualism and collectivism, of choice and coercion—have been slugging out in the United States since before there was a United States. The question is whether we are moving generally in a direction of more autonomy and less restriction on how we live our lives.

But…well, watch the interview already.

NEXT: The Disappearing Sixth Amendment

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  1. Crony capitalism. Militarized law enforcement. And, yes, illiberal policies in higher education. These are some of the things that must be brought to heel before you can come even think about declaring culture war victory. So long as entrepreneurship battles regulatory capture and people are fine with that, so long as speech rights are abridged at universities and people are okay with that, so long as we cheer the drug war, there is no libertarian moment.

    But more importantly, could they even understand your accent, Gillespie? And not very chivalrous, by the way, making her hold the mic for you.

    1. It’s a typical Gillespie article, which basically amounts to “move the goal posts, declare victory, and hit the enter key”.

      1. Enter key, or escape key?

      2. Which would you prefer? Pollyanna or Chicken Little?

        1. Most people who comment here complain and bitch about everything.

          They love being victims of something.

  2. There’s no such thing as “Classical liberalism”. There is only Liberalism, and everywhere it’s ever been implemented it’s followed exactly the same trajectory. Every. Fucking. Time. There is not a single exception on earth where it hasn’t wound up evolving into some variant of social democracy/progtardianism. What you’re referring to might be more aptly called “Larval Stage Liberalism”.

    As far as the claim that libertarianism has won anything, given the criteria, you might as well claim The Libertarian Moment occurred when Sears published their first catalogue, as it would appear you’ve redefined libertarianism to be the building of more and better shopping malls. I somehow doubt that’s what most libertarians signed up for.

    1. what’s been implemented is not and has not been liberalism. That the left calls it such is the sort of verbal misdirection in which the left traffics. That Nick’s claim is overheated is also true.

      1. As I pointed out, what the left has implemented is always the end point of so-called “Classical liberalism”. That is why I refer to it as “Larval Stage Liberalism”. They’re simply two different life-stages of the same beast. Caterpillars become butterflies, but butterflies never become caterpillars.

        1. If you can’t understand that differences between the principles of (‘classical’) liberalism and socialism then you don’t really belong in grown up conversations.

          I guess you actually weren’t joking when you posted that link to the blog about how the difference between capitalism and socialism is a ‘minor tax code adjustment’ and all that stuff about subhuman arabs? Yeah… lay of the paint chips, pal.

          1. Are you trying to prove his thesis?

            1. Are you trying to make a point?

          2. Unless I’m missing something, you’re the one suggesting there is only classical liberalism and socialism.

            There is the (I think quintessentially libertarian) argument that liberalism has such a shaky ideological foundation that it inevitably morphs into justifying increased regulation and redistribution.

            1. I was referring to a blog post he linked elsewhere approvingly that made that precise characterization.

              And I’m arguing no such thing. His spiel appears to be that there’s right wing and left wing, and anything else just plays into one of the two, and that classical liberalism is just leftism in disguise or some bullshit.

              1. I saw his link, and I couldn’t tell if he was linking to it approvingly or to mock.

                Here, at least, he hasn’t said there are only two sides, just that classical liberalism leads to modern liberalism.

                1. Maybe it does. But it also led to amazing, unprecedented prosperity and freedom for a large chunk of the world’s population. I don’t know that there is any alternative to liberalism that would have had similar effects.

                  I suspect, and I’m purely speculating here, that progressive left-liberalism, sort of socialism stuff that has been so popular is something that people are likely to gravitate towards in a society that has reached a decent level of prosperity.

                2. “I saw his link, and I couldn’t tell if he was linking to it approvingly or to mock.”
                  Well, my impression at least was the former.

          3. What’s the world coming to when even a guy named Dick Puller doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

        2. That is fallacious reasoning. Most of the currently socialist/social democratic countries in the world never had classical liberalism, so to claim that classical liberalism is to blame is unjustifiable.

          Socialism is just a common temptation in the modern era, regardless of what previous forms they had. Especially for countries that are protected from invasion without having to pay a penny for defense (ahem EU ahem)

  3. Are you freer now than you were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, to pursue your own interests, live your own life as you see fit? How much of the crap going on the world now is actually new and how much is crap that’s always been going on but now – thanks to the internet – people are aware of it? And how much of the crap actually has anything whatsoever to do with your daily life?

    1. WRT gun rights and pot legalization, we’re freer now than 20 years ago.

      But 20 years ago the Federal Government was smaller, the National Debt was less, we didn’t have the Department of Homeland Security or the “we must destroy our freedoms in order to save them” war on terrorism, we had fewer regulations on businesses, we didn’t have the rabid attacks of freedom of speech by the Left as well as the Right…

      So while a case can be made that we’re more free now than in 1997, I think the stronger case is that we were more free in 1997 than we are now. (We may be better off now, but “better off” isn’t the same thing as “more free.”)

      As for 10 years ago, it’s a closer call. But even that is consistent with “we are losing the overall battle for freedom.”

      1. We are definitely less free from government meddling in our lives and business. I think Nick does have a point about technology and social change enabling other kinds of freedom. But “libertarian moment” oversells it quite a bit.

  4. Claire is pretty cute. Also, as others have pointed out, being able to buy more stuff easier does not outweigh the ever growing ability of the government to meddle in every aspect of life, to constantly surveil all of us, and to basically say FYTW.

    1. Economic abundance fools us into thinking we’re freer.

    2. My thesis is that we have big government because we can afford big government. The richer we get as a society the more government we get. Almost as if there is a universal law that government abhors a vacuum.

      We have big government because the overwhelming majority (90%+) of people want big government. Government provides a service that is in demand. We libertarians are the odd ones out.

  5. I’m surprised Nick isn’t signaling how “hip” he is by boomersplaining to Claire how great Radio Birdman and The Saints were.

  6. The butthurt #Resistance is now talking about expatriating after Macron’s victory. Trolling these twats on Twatter is my favorite vice.

    1. Isn’t Macron basically a (by French standards) a classical liberal? Granted that still probably puts him barely to the right of Bernie Sanders, but there’s still a slight irony in people who complain about the Koch brothers moving to France because of Macron; the shift from Hollande to Macron is definitely a rightward shift (in the sense of sway from socialism toward capitalism).

      1. Yes. Macron is more pro free market than Le Pen.

      2. Sanders is nothing like a classical liberal. And no, Macron isn’t either.

        1. I didn’t imply he was.

      3. Watching these imbecile progressives cheer on the election of an investment banker is amusing, indeed. Mentioning that is almost always met with “BUT HES NOT LITERALLY HITLER!!1!”

        1. Most progtards have raging boners for investment banks/ers and capitalism in general. When you think about it, they would not be able to sit around all day pouting and blogging if there were true equality in this world. Nor would they be able to go on vacations to eco resorts in Myanmar or Costa Rica, buy the latest Tesla, or send their kids to a new agey day care if they had to bear the true (according to them) cost of these things.

    2. All the evening news shows were touting Macron’s victory over “far right” LePen. LePen strikes me as a national socialist. Rand Paul and Amash are also reported as “far right” Republicans. They are free market/capitalists.
      How can “far right” define two diametrically different ideologies? Smear or what?

      1. Anyone not of the left is, by the left’s definition, far right. Or extreme. Usually both.

        1. …and stupid and racist and xenophobic and islamophobic and LITERALLY HITLER!

          1. I have mostly avoided Derpbook since the election for this very reason. I only go on to wish happy birthday to a few. Otherwise, I don’t want to see the latest postings about retarded marches, or how Republicans are more evil than National Socialists.

      2. See, there’s this wormhole in the political spectrum… it’s scientifically proven, don’t ask questions!

      3. I especially like how they refer to the various anti-immigration parties in Europe as “far right”, then in the same sentence mention the Greens without suggesting any direction on the spectrum.

      4. “Right wing” means different things in Europe and the US. In Europe, pretty much everyone is some kind of socialist. And the traditionalist view is more towards monarchist in many cases (or half-assed commie revolutionary crap in France). The traditionalist view in the US, on the other hand, is a lot more about minimal government and economic freedom.

        1. This is why we need more white European immigration, obviously. Gots to keep out those Hispanics and their socialism/authoritarianism. White Europeans don’t have that problem.


      5. It’s highly convenient for the left to conflate libertarianism with racist fascist retards.

        Sadly too many libertarians seem to be more than willing to help them. (Yes, I mean you, alt-right trolls).

        1. If only more libertarians were like HazelMeade and make us look like delusional and obsessive screaming fools instead.

  7. Add to that huge advances in tolerance and change when it comes to racial, ethnic, and gender disparities…

    Is this from a proggie speech generator?

  8. A lot of tolerance is not really tolerance, it’s accept this new social standard or be ostracized, lose your job, or in some cases, be fined by the government

    Never mind that 10 years ago holding that same position would be perfectly normal

    And it’s reached a point where if don’t want to have sex with a “woman” with a penis, you are a transphobe. I think a lot of straight men are drawing a line, but as the pressure mounts, it will be the new normal once people starting losing their jobs over it..

    1. if don’t want to have sex with a “woman” with a penis

      More of her to love.

    2. And it’s reached a point where if don’t want to have sex with a “woman” with a penis, you are a transphobe.

      That’s kind of an odd claim to make. Yes, some people would say that, but it’s hardly a new social norm.

      1. Today, maybe, what about tomorrow?

        The people advocating this are using the same demonizing language against people who think sexual attraction has something to do with the object of desire’s sex as those that dissent on sex segregated spaces.

    3. I accuse women who (aren’t fat or ugly) don’t want to sleep with me of being Markophobic; this bigotry can’t be tolerated. Who’s marching with me?!

  9. And it’s reached a point where if don’t want to have sex with a “woman” with a penis, you are a transphobe.

    It is sad indeed that you have been forced to have such sex.

    1. Looks like you missed the point by a mile or two.

  10. Gillespie is nothing is not consistently wrong.

    Libertarians longed to have college show trials over “rape”? Libertarians longed to have people who didn’t agree with pop culture lose their livelihoods? Longed to have science bastardized to pursue progressive goals?


  11. If Facebook is any barometer, then yes I think we have lost the culture wars. I try to avoid getting bubble-ized on Facebook, so I have a ton of right leaning friends, a ton of left leaning friends, and a handful of libertarian friends.

    The right is all about sticking it to anyone that smells of immigration or free trade, demanding that government provide them jobs, while keeping their gub’ment pork untouched.

    The left is all about government providing anything that anyone on the left might want. Free contraceptives, free healthcare, free abortions, free sex change operations, free bathrooms for fifty two different genders, etc. Plus SJW-ism run amok.

    And sadly, the libertarians are mostly batshit crazy. Some good guys out there, but still way way too many conspiratards and cranks infesting the space. A lot of the militia types did leave to rejoin the right after Trump won, but the libertarian Facebook bubble is still largely crazy town determined to make libertarianism unpalatable for ordinary folk.

  12. Nick Gillespie, the epitome of out-of-touch navel gazing libertarian cultural gatekeeper, is surely right this time.

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