What is Libertarian Populism?

Nick Gillespie and a panel of journalists discuss what it means to be a libertarian populist.


What is "libertarian populism" and why is it so controversial?

The concept has been discussed widely in the pages of The New York Times, RealClearPolitics, Reason, and elsewhere, but its specifics—and political potential—remain elusive to many in the "Free Minds and Free Markets" movement.

On Tuesday, July 30, Reason's Nick Gillespie moderated a fast-paced discussion with two of the architects of libertarian populism: Ben Domenech of The Transom and Real Clear Politics, and Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, as well as Jesse Walker of Reason (and author of the forthcoming The United States of Paranoia).

About 1 hour.

Camera by Todd Krainin and Amanda Winkler. Edited by Winkler. 

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  1. …as well as Jesse Walker of Reason (and author of the forthcoming The United States of Paranoia).

    Wait – Walker’s got a book coming out? I thought The Jacket and M. Lee Welch were pushing a book?

    I haz a confuse…

    1. reason, like any good capitalist magazine pays in publicity, they have to write their pay-for-money copy on the side.

  2. What is Libertarian Populism?

    Not nearly as much fun as neoreaction!

      1. The Carlyle Club is an ancient, secret organization founded in late 2012 for the sole purpose of overthrowing democracy everywhere in the world ? an objective we hope to accomplish sometime in the next couple of months. In any case, Radish is our free newsletter, published most Fridays.

        What is this I don’t even

        1. stupid close quote fail

        2. Ancient and founded in 2012?

      2. Don’t they overlap heavily? At least of the Mencius Moldbug variety?

        1. Yes, they seem to be mostly ex-libertarians.

      3. That website’s a joke, right?

  3. Tim Carney is right about appealing to poor and working class people. Someone linked to a story about a guy operating an illegal bar in his garage. That guy should be a libertarian populist. He’s a business man trying to make a living and government is preventing that. But, likely he’s not voting Republican because they’re not interested in – if not supporting at least being sympathetic to – his situation. Many people are prevented from making a decent living because regulation strangles opportunity. Republicans should be emphasizing this point repeatedly.

    1. While I agree with you, the fact is that the establishment Republicans don’t want *those people* in their neighborhood anymore than establishment Democrats do. In fact, it’s pretty much the same neighborhood.

      1. I agree and this is where Republicans need to put up or shut up. You don’t believe in free markets and personal responsibility unless you’re willing to actually allow free markets and personal responsibility.

      2. A couple I know who are supposedly solidly liberal Dems are going on the warpath to fight a block of section 8 housing going up near their neighborhood. So, yeah.

        (I told them I hereby withdraw their liberal cards).

        1. Leftists want the poor to be helped … way over there, with other people’s money in other people’s backyards.

      3. Yeah, I think Republicans would have a hard time convincing their Christian conservative base to be pro-underground-bar.

    2. The trouble is guys operating illegal bars in garages are really hard to organize, having very little class consciousness. That’s why populists have had a much easier time organizing along lines of something more obvious like race or ruralness or type (not mode) of occupation.

    3. Americans might be turned off by red tape and regulations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll warm up to the idea that government has to be small or “hands free” by default. The GOP could actively strike down laws that limit the number of food trucks or even agree to amnesty, but that won’t endear them to most immigrants for obvious reasons.

      More importantly, people who dislike regulations or red tape will just ignore them. And there’s nothing the government can do about it, for all of their overreach. I know several Asian bars in LA where you can smoke and drink like it was in Tokyo. Indoor BBQ is technically illegal in some places, but most Koreans do it anyways. The shadow economy that runs on cash is self explanatory.

  4. Excellent discussion. Thanks for this Nick and Jesse.

  5. Besides the rhetorical and political benefits of a bit of populism (this is a democracy, it’s pretty much necessary to be popular in order to win elections), there is also the issue that the growing discontent and populist anger aren’t going anywhere until their issues are addressed. It will only build. Sooner or later the populists will get their wish, one way or another. Populism will never really have it’s own leaders or it’s own agenda due to the nature of it, but it will eventually allow itself to be co-opted by someone.

    So if you don’t like Libertarian Populism, you better come up with something else to keep the Populists busy so you don’t end up with Fascist Populism instead. Better the Libertarians should be trying to work with and temper those currents.

    1. I’m afraid that in the USA (and likely elsewhere) it’ll be along the lines of race, or something very close to race like “La Raza”. And then for a long time afterward, everything will be judged by which race (or coalition of races) you sided with.

  6. In an effort to better understand those with whom he disagrees but also writes about, P. Krugman was in attendance.

  7. What is Libertarian Populism?

    In a word, it’s an oxymoron.

    1. This. Given populism is based on tribal identity (and how everything bad that happens to our tribe is the fault that other tribe that supposedly controls everything), it’s inherently collectivist.

      Even if it starts out libertarian, eventually it’s going to start demanding that THEM be punished.

      1. If “them” is Team Red and Team Blue, then I’m happy with that.

      2. Yup. The very phrase “libertarian populism” turns my stomach. There’s nothing libertarian about populism. I’m kind of appalled that it’s being embraced by some libertarians. Populism is a dangerous animal.

      3. We’ve reached the portion of our programming day where Stormy makes shit up. Hooray.

      4. Libertarians should have been calling for THEM to be punished for a long time. THEM being all the government miscreants who deprived productive citizens of their lives, freedom, livelihood and happiness.

  8. For anyone living in San Diego, Nick Gillespie is the spitting image of the old “This Man Wants to Clean Your Clothes” sign in Pacific Beach (Velvet Touch was the name of the shop, I believe).

  9. Basically it’s populism without the TOP. MEN., Envy, racism and anti-Semitism?

    1. But if it’s libertarian, isn’t it inherently racist and anti-Semitic?

  10. Libertarian populism is a made up movement invented by a couple of talking heads.

    The only actually existing popular libertarian movement is the Ron/Rand Paul contingent.

    1. True. But it’s an attempt to identify and label a growing feeling in the larger population that could become something like a movement. It’s not limited to those who would readily label themselves as libertarian.

      Rand Paul’s poll numbers in my state (Jersey) are pretty respectable even though the number of individual who identify as libertarian are miniscule. The growing discontent in the Republican party is an opportunity to be seized.

      Carney and Domenech are simply pointing out the dynamics.

      1. What Domenech and Carney are doing is the classic Republican maneuver of co-opting a libertarian insurgency and turning it into something that the R’s can *use* to win elections, not something that is genuinely libertarian in nature. They want to take the most popular bits of libertarianism, and deteach them from all the things the Republican base can’t get behind, such as marijuana legalization, civil liberties, and non-interventionism. They’re trying to invent a new right-libertarian coalition, so that the same old establishment elements of the R’s – such as defense and police forces, can maintain control.

        1. Hmmm, I might agree with you if I saw any sign within the Repub establishment that felt/showed anything but hostility toward Paul or libertarianism. Right now, via Christy and his type, they’re trying to completely discredit Paul, not co-opt him.

          1. @Lady Bertrum

            Yes, that’s the point. There is no “libertarian populist” movement other than Ron Paul, and yet Carney and Domenech are trying to pretend one exists. Why? Because they want to steal a few ideas from the libertarian insurgency and discard the rest. They want to pretend that there is some OTHER libertarian populist movement that the Republican Christian-military-cop base can get behind. They are coopting the libertarian insurgency by attempting to turn it into some other thing that would be completely alien to the Ron Paul faction.

        2. That’s what all of politics is about and has always been about, in all places and all times. You try to get more support than you give, and come out ahead in horse trading.

          1. So libertarians trade away civil liberties, non-interventionism, and marijuana legalization, in exchange for what exactly? Some rhetoric about the evils of crony capitalism. As if the subsides are going to stop when the same neo-con anti-drug defense hawks get reelected on our backs.

            1. Says who?

              Did you watch the video? I don’t think you did.

              The Libertarian populism they are talking about means none of those things. Carney was talking about legalizing pot in Texas, and non-interventionism being a stool leg.

            2. There is no way in hell the republicans could ever co-opt something like a program to kill corporate welfare.

              If that happened, it would be us that had co-opted them.

        3. ^^^THIS!

    2. Yes, and that’s what the warmongers and fascists are most worried about.

      1. Right, they want to exploit a few useful libertarian ideas without threatening the defense industry or the tough-on-crime faction.

  11. Presidential press conference video crashed the shit out of my computer.

    Thanks a lot.

    If I wanted to know what that vapid buffoon has to say, I’d be watching MSNBC.

    1. And if I wanted videos to autoplay, I’d be on Yahoo!.

  12. I really like the fit of Ben’s suit, although his mid-interview pocket square adjustment was a bit much.

  13. If you go purely by opposition to bigness, then you’re practically quoting from E.F. Schumacher and his follower Kirkpatrick Sale. In the 1970s, maybe even the early 1980s, when each was casting about almost blindly for allies, it made sense they and radical libertarians would find each other. Now, not so much. What have the decentralists accomplished? Well, the political breakup of much of eastern Europe (but countered by the rise of the EU), and the establishment of farmer’s markets in big cities like NYC. What the libertarians have accomplished was a good deal of deregulation and denationaliz’n, but countered by a lot more to complain about.

  14. Sound to me like the conservatives Ayn rand denounced as pseudo-libertarians.

    The real populism is in the 4 million participant LIO with clubs in every country that is Libertarian International Organization at http://www.libertarian-international.org/

  15. Lipstick on a pig.

  16. The term “populism” is used to denigrate ideas that intellectuals and progressives don’t like: “if it might appeal to the dumb masses, it can’t be any good”.

  17. got a book coming out,maybe even the early 1980s, when each was casting about almost blindly for allies?it would be us that had co-opted them.

  18. Free Minds and Free Markets

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