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Was the 'Libertarian Moment' Wishful Thinking? Cato Debates This Wednesday

Come see Matt Welch, David Boaz, Conor Friedersdorf, and Ramesh Ponnuru March 16 at 6 p.m. ET

More like minor lift, amirite? ||| New York Times MagazineNew York Times MagazineSince a fall 2008 Nick Gillespie/Matt Welch essay under that headline, you've heard a lot around these parts about "The Libertarian Moment"; lately along the lines of rumors of its death are premature. With the early presidential exit of Rand Paul, the pre-written obituaries for libertarianism have been pouring forth from a gleeful commentariat. Are the naysayers right?

That's the backdrop to a debate this Wednesday night at the Cato Institute, titled "Was the 'Libertarian Moment' Wishful Thinking?" Starting at 6 p.m. ET, in Cato's Hayek Auditorium (1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW; Washington, D.C., 20001-5403), the debate features me, Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz, National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru, and staff writer Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic. From the promotional materials:

Less than 18 months ago, a cover story for the New York Times Magazine asked, "Has the 'libertarian moment' finally arrived?" From public suspicion of the surveillance state, to increasing tolerance for marijuana legalization, to marriage equality, to weariness with war—the article argued that after years of intellectual work, "for perhaps the first time," libertarianism has "genuine political momentum on its side." However, the Rand Paul presidential campaign failed to catch fire. The two breakout candidates of the presidential campaign have been a socialist and an authoritarian. The idea of tolerance seems increasingly quaint, as Mexicans and Muslims have become the target of public frustrations. And the public seems to have forgotten its weariness with war, as the Islamic State continues its brutal terrorism. Was all this talk of the libertarian moment simply wishful thinking? Or was the libertarian moment never about politics in the first place? […]

If you can't make it to the event, you can watch it live online at www.cato.org/live and join the conversation on Twitter using #CatoDebate

If you would like to attend in person, please register at this link by 6 p.m. ET tomorrow.

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  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Sorry, Matt. We're just a minor threat.

  • The Last American Hero||

    You know who else was considered the JV team not that long ago...

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    The Golden State Warriors?

  • Citizen X||

    Canadians?

  • WTF||

    Of course, they don't have a pesky NAP to get in their way.

  • sarcasmic||

    Mighty Ducks?

  • straffinrun||

    Jim Valvano?

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    ODIN?

  • Heedless||

    Yes.

    Next question?

  • Cyto||

    Ya beat me to it. That was an easy one.

    When Rand began moving toward the conservatives and tossing red meat in their direction, I knew the whole thing was overblown. The voters have spoken.... and they don't get libertarian. They probably are libertarian, by and large, but they don't get it. Authoritarian feels much safer.

  • WTF||

    What good is controlling the levers of power if you can't use them to force other people to do what you want?

  • JFree||

    I disagree. I think a lot of people get libertarian and are libertarian and would vote libertarian - if the bigger names who proclaim themselves to be libertarian or dog-whistle libertarian memes weren't such hypocritical blind tools.

  • WTF||

    Yeah, is it even debateable at this point?

  • The Last American Hero||

    *clicks to slide showing current slate of Presidential front runners.

    *clicks to slide of Rand Paul's fundraising and vote totals.

    "Yes. Pastries and coffee are in the hallway, if you signed up for lunch, it will be chicken with vegetable medley, or quinoa salad if you selected the vegetarian/gluten free meal choice. I will be available to sign copies of my book after lunch."

    Shortest "debate" ever.

  • ||

    /stops chopping green onion.

    I think we've made our thoughts clear on the matter.

    /continues chopping green onion.

  • Hugh Akston||

    These masturbation euphemisms are getting kind of abstract.

  • commodious spittoon||

    Cutting onions... masturbation... sobbing uncontrollably... connect the dots, man.

  • Mrs. Premise||

    Mee: And Harry, what are your hobbies outside summarizing?
    Harry: Well, strangling animals, golf and masturbating.

  • ||

    Ok.

    I laughed.

  • jester||

    The Libertarian Moment arrived like the Rapture. All of us unworthies were left behind.

  • Cyto||

    Oh... that's where that Scotsman went....

  • Hugh Akston||

    There was never a libertarian moment. I know because something happened this week where a politician said something bad and there's literally nothing beyond the political sphere.

  • Swiss Servator||

    Pfft. If a politician had something bad, Hugh, I think it might have been mentioned on Hit & Run. I haven't seen anything to that effect in...months.

    *sits down at desk, opens drawer and pulls out fifth of Scotch*

  • sarcasmic||

  • commodious spittoon||

    *slow clap*

  • Yuge Greatness, Jr.||

  • Hank Phillips||

    We're barely started having conventions and already the DemoGOP is tearing each other's throats out. The strategy on both handles of the entrenched soft machine is clearly to make the other into an Orwellian totalerkrieg hobgoblin with which to frighten voters. The US Constitution says the Dems ain't gonna take yer gun any more than the GO-Pee is gonna force your daughter to bear a rapefugee baby. America is already becoming more and more libertarian, and THAT has the looters--and the Nixon-subsidized media--upset. So what?
    Steady as she goes, Mr. Sulu, and give me Warp 3 for those 3rd-party spoiler votes!

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    The US Constitution says the Dems ain't gonna take yer gun any more than the GO-Pee is gonna force your daughter to bear a rapefugee baby.

    I think the chance that the Dems will eventually (say, in the next 50 years) succeed in totally banning private gun ownership is much greater than the chance the Repubs will totally ban abortion.

    (That's not a "vote Trump because of the Supreme Court" endorsement, by the way.)

  • Cyto||

    Yes, they are much closer to that goal. They are encroaching on the second amendment from all angles... including closing down the banking system for gun retailers, distributors and manufacturers. With a supreme court that is very committed to "judicial deference" and soon to be a solid majority for team democrat politicians, there isn't much of a defense against any of it left.

  • thom||

    The pro choice/leftist Alliance will die off soon enough. The Democrats just keep it up to pander to an aging group of feminist voters who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. That group becomes less relevant each and every day. Eventually they'll realize that they would prefer people stop aborting future state dependents (and probably Democratic voters as well).

    Guns, on the other hand, are toast. To someone in power, disarming your subjects is a no brainer.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    I can't agree with this.

    If you believe 2012 exit polling, non-married women supported Obama over Romney 67% to 31%. Do you think this was because of the candidates' positions on climate change? If Obama were pro-life and Romney pro-choice, would Obama still have crushed Romney in this demographic?

    Abortion is the defining issue of today's Democratic party, and if they keep winning the Presidency I don't see why they'd change that.

  • thom||

    Democrats dominate Republicans on feel good, hard to define issues like "social justice" and "fairness", which resonate with millennial and Gen x females. If Democrats dropped abortion as a defining issue it wouldn't matter, you're not going to have a Sanders like figure emerge around the issue of abortion.

  • Zeb||

    Abortion is still an issue that gets people to vote for the shitty candidate that Democrats put up. There are plenty of people who will always vote for the D just to keep the supreme court majority pro-abortion, and not just aging Boomer feminists.

  • Foo_dd||

    among the few people i know who admitted to voting for Obama, at least one said she did so because of "women's rights." no other reason, no research, no real thought. abortion will remain a rally call for them, because, not only is it relevant to people.. it is an issue that people will use as a single reason for their voting decision..... people don't want to do any homework, but those guys hate women. GOP does the same with guns. both sides fail to recognize that it only remains an issue, because the other side won't drop it. (people are voting against the negative, more than for the positive)

  • ace_m82||

    I think the chance that the Dems will eventually (say, in the next 50 years) succeed in totally banning private gun ownership is much greater than the chance the Repubs will totally ban abortion.

    They may be more likely to get the law passed, true, but it would cause an all out shooting war. I'm not sure I'd call that "success".

  • Zeb||

    I don't think either is terribly likely. They've been trying hard with the gun thing lately and it is going nowhere. I think an overturn of Roe Vs. Wade is more likely than a gun ban, but that wouldn't mean a total ban on abortion.

  • ||

    to weariness with war

    It wasn't weariness, it was a refractory period!

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    The idea of tolerance seems increasingly quaint, as Mexicans and Muslims have become the target of public frustrations.

    It's un-libertarian to have a problem with Islam?

  • WTF||

    Yes, libertarianism is now all about Mexicans, pot, ass-sex, and Muslims.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    At least there's no obvious contradiction between supporting Mexicans, pot, and ass-sex. Supporting ass-sex and Muslims, on the other hand, is hard to reconcile.

    According to PolitiFact, "As for same-sex marriage, it is not legal in any majority-Muslim nation."

    If opposition to same-sex marriage is bigotry, then we're forced to conclude the Muslim world is full of bigots.

  • Eric Bana||

    I don't think being against Islam as a religion would be un-libertarian per se, but it's rather un-libertarian to bar all immigrants who identify as (or are suspected to be) Muslim and to deport all immigrants currently residing in the U.S. who identify (or are suspected to be) Muslim.

    But that's just an issue of being libertarian or un-libertarian.

  • Glide||

    Yeah, I think that's the best way to see it, at least without going into a treatise on the fine details.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Oh, come now. As the next president oversteps his or her bounds, the public will look ever so briefly to the next Rand Paul to filibuster his way into our thoughts - yes, only to be discarded as a dangerous notion the next terror attack or financial collapse or visit to the voting booth. But the cycle will start anew. So the moment of which you speak is not singular. It is at the end of a pendulum's rod, ever threatening to lock in place at the apex of its trajectory.

  • commodious spittoon||

    It is at the end of a pendulum's rod, ever threatening to lock in place at the apex of its trajectory.

    These masturbation euphemisms are getting kind of abstract.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What is libertarianism if not a not so massive circle jerk?

  • Rasilio||

    In a word, yes.

    There never was a "libertarian moment".

    Public suspicion of the surveillance state, sorry it never existed, at least not anywhere near to the extent that Matt and Nick think it did. Sure in libertarian circles and with some big name online pundits there was suspicion of it but more people were ticked off that Snowden betrayed us than were incensed about what he revealed.

    Tolerance for Marijuana legislation? Sure it is there but it isn't rooted in any libertarian thought that people should be free to do what they want with their bodies rather it was very much more simply that everyone knew enough people who were getting high that they finally saw through the lies about that specific drug and a whole lot of people wanted to be able to smoke it themselves.

    Tolerance of marriage equality? Again yeah it is there but there really isn't anything libertarian about that. In fact a large part of that support was very very anti libertarian in nature.

    So yeah there are a couple of issues where the mainstream happens to agree with general libertarian philosophy on what should be done but the reasons why people happen to agree have nothing to do with libertarianism and as Trump and Sanders show far far more than 50% of the public are very strongly on "Team: Be Ruled", just searching for the right strongman to lead them to the promised land.

  • Eric Bana||

    From public suspicion of the surveillance state, to increasing tolerance for marijuana legalization, to marriage equality, to weariness with war

    And notice there's nothing directly about the size and scope of government where it's the largest--spending on entitlements, welfare, and "defense". Maybe the weariness with war relates to defense spending, but I don't know how much of the population wants to decrease it.

    goes to check

    OK. It seems about a third think the government spends too little on defense, a third say about right, and a third think it's too much. That's not too discouraging, but it's also not very encouraging.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/181.....nding.aspx

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    When is the Libertarian Moment happening?

    Now.

    What happened to then?

    We passed it.

    When?

    Just now.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    When will then be now?

  • Millennial Hipster Vanguard||

    Soon.

  • Citizen X||

    How soon is now?

  • SugarFree||

    Yes, it was wishful thinking. Aspirational thinking. Optimism. So lets all bitch and moan and whine for the rest of human history about Reason being briefly optimistic. We must mock them forever for the temerity of not being cynical.

  • commodious spittoon||

    If you can't laugh at yourself, how can you sob uncontrollably laugh at the thought of a country going 60%+ for one or another flavor of authoritarian rule?

  • SugarFree||

    Some of it is laughing at yourself, but a lot of it seems to be people overjoyed that the country is getting less free. "Hurr durr, you libertardians are all wrong. Vote GOP."

  • commodious spittoon||

    In fairness, it's a bit like pissing on your house to put out the fire. It would be comical watching the GOP immolate if it weren't for the fact that they're immolating over Donald fucking Trump. The Democrats are suffering an embarrassment of ideological riches in their race, an actual philosophical debate on the direction of their party, while the GOP is smitten with a rodeo clown.

  • SugarFree||

    Yee-Haw!

    As an aside: I was trying to explain the existence of Hee-Haw to an undergrad the other day. I had to YouTube an episode before they believed that such a thing ever existed...

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    I only know of that show through Hee-Haw: The Next Generation.

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    This. I'm not gonna give up, particularly in the task of swaying those around me, but a little self-indulgent whining/mocking is sometimes necessary for sanity.

    Don't deny me my small pleasures, SF.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Don't deny me my small pleasures, SF.

    SugarFree is Reason's Chastity Belt-In-Residence.

  • SugarFree||

    I left you a hole to pee through. Don't make me regret that small mercy.

  • DenverJ||

    These masturbation euphemisms are getting kind of abstract.

  • commodious spittoon||

    La petite mort I believe it's called, or as Sugarfree calls it, inspiration.

  • Nativist, Racist & Xenophobe||

    I don't think the public at large is ideological enough to give a shit about the libertarian/authoritarian axis. What they care about is seeing the outcomes they want, and not much about how they're accomplished.

  • Mickey Rat||

    How about pollyannish?
    It starts to pay on a bit thick when the primary election success of Trump and Sanders is a harbinger of a "libertarian moment" because it shows the creakyness of the major parties, apparently on the theory that if they collapse the replacement system must be more libertarian...somehow.

  • SugarFree||

    It starts to pay on a bit thick when the primary election success of Trump and Sanders is a harbinger of a "libertarian moment" because it shows the creakyness of the major parties, apparently on the theory that if they collapse the replacement system must be more libertarian...somehow.

    I agree with you here. There is no evidence that Trump and Sanders will lead to anything good from a libertarian point of view.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    B-b-but the system will fall apart! Which is really what all of Trump's supporters truly want. You don't support the establishment system, do you?

  • SugarFree||

    Trump the Secret Anarchist is my favorite of the Bullshit Memes in this election.

  • CE||

    Still holding out hope for Hillary as a closet Goldwater small government anti-commie....

  • ||

    They may break the system. Not sure what comes next will be much fun.

  • Millennial Hipster Vanguard||

    I'm not too worried. I think they might break the GOP-Dem system, not necessarily the US Gov system and I highly doubt it will affect the private sector.

  • nofold||

    will all the stupid people magically find some depth?

    ---alternate headline

  • Swiss Servator||

    the pre-written obituaries for libertarianism have been pouring forth from a gleeful commentariat.

    That seems a bit....snippy?

  • Citizen X||

    These masturbation euphemisms are getting kind of abstract.

  • Swiss Servator||

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  • ||

    I am not sure we have been gleeful about it, but we have certainly made our skepticism known. If they wanted lemmings in their commentariat they shouldn't have chosen a libertarian audience.

  • EMD||

    Libertarians need better propaganda.

  • jester||

    Our propaganda is subversion.

  • Jerryskids||

    If you used to be tied to a eight-foot chain in the yard but now are locked in a 20x20 cage in the dungeon, are you less free or more free? If you compare the options you had 20, 30, 40 years ago it looks like your world has gotten much bigger, but is government more intrusive or less intrusive than it was before? The key thing to me is that it seems like in the past the government had to defend its expansions of authority whereas now the burden of proof is on the defenders of liberty. "Where in the Constitution does it say government can do that?" has become "where in the Constitution does it say they can't?" The Court that once said government has no authority to prevent you from saying "Fuck The Draft" is presumed by too many people to be the natural tool to use to prevent mean people from saying hurtful things. Where the hell did this idea come from if not that goverment has become so omnipresent that it's just become an accepted part of life like gravity or a need for oxygen?

  • CE||

    The last "libertarian moment" was when Thomas Jefferson cut federal spending by 50 percent, balanced the budget and ended all internal taxation. It's been all downhill since then, except maybe when Andrew Jackson shut down the Bank of the US and was the last president to balance the budget.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The problem of course is defining what the moment is.

    Those that are skeptical of The Moment agree on many points: more consumer choice or freedom, better communication, more economic options, greater opportunity, more diverse employment and generally better lives in regards to our relation to crushing poverty, health, wealth and income.

    On the other hand, it's the sheer number of things that wouldn't have gotten a head-turn 25 years ago that can now get you ticketed, fined, jailed or killed, plus the obvious degradations of our constitutional rights that makes those that are skeptical, skeptical.

  • Brian||

    If you don't define "libertarian moment" does anyone really give a shit?

    Find out Wednesday!

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