A Libertarian Election

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In emails sent on election day to prospective Democratic voters, President Obama said, “Today, the country will make a choice about the direction we take in the years ahead. " We’ll see now whether he respects that choice. I predict he won’t. Yet the Republicans have won an enormous victory.

Of the 435 seats in Congress, two-thirds are safe preserves for Democrats or Republicans. During this election, the Republicans put two-thirds of the rest of them in play. And of those seats, they won about two-thirds. If America operated with a European parliamentary system, Obama would not be president today. He lost the confidence of the majority of parliamentary districts.

Libertarians should be happy, though perhaps not ecstatic, about the Republican victory.

Why?

Because the Republicans are, on the national level, the only effective barrier to the enormous expansion of government personified by Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi.

Stereotypes? Yes. Amusing targets of ridicule? Right again. Yet until now, these ridiculous figures have been potent encroachers on the freedom of every American.

Despite the gross imperfections of the Republican Party, we have to recognize that it is a party that could not exist without essential libertarian ideas. Just as Obama’s most potent ideas come from European socialism, so the Republicans’ most potent ideas come from American concepts of individual liberty. I refer to default notions of limited government, private property, freedom from unnecessary taxation, ownership of self-protective devices (guns), and unabridged freedom of speech and association. Without these ideas, a libertarian society is impossible. Never mind the rest of it: at this moment, the Republicans are friends of these ideas; the Democrats are not — although even Obama was constrained, in his post-election press conference on Wednesday afternoon, to pay tribute to free enterprise and entrepreneurship as the source of American prosperity.

If America operated with a European parliamentary system, Obama would not be president today.

“Across the country,” says David Harsanyi of the Denver Post, “the electorate laid down a resounding angry vote against activist government. And, mind you, no one had to wrestle with any ambiguity about the objectives of the Republicans. Democrats helpfully hammered home all the finer points of libertarianism, and Republicans typically embraced them. Exit polls showed that this election was a rejection of the progressive agenda of ‘stimulus,’ of Obamacare, of cap and trade. Exit polls show that there was great anger with government — not government that didn't work, or government that didn't do enough, but government that didn't know its place.”

Yet the election wasn’t just about ideas; it was about what can be done with ideas in the electoral marketplace. With this in mind, let’s try to put the events of Nov. 2 into some kind of libertarian perspective.

Many people, such as Neil King, Jr., writing for the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 1, wonder about the volatility of American elections, about the electorate’s movement between, for instance, the 2008 and the 2010 elections. How, King wonders, can the country “solve its long-term problems . . . when voters seem so uncertain which party should lead the charge.” I agree with King’s list of specific problems — deficits, Social Security, healthcare costs: yes, those are real issues. But I disagree with his analysis of the situation.

Even Obama was constrained, in his post-election press conference on Wednesday afternoon, to pay tribute to free enterprise and entrepreneurship as the source of American prosperity.

For one thing, “voters” are not quite “so uncertain.” In American politics, huge results can follow from the shift of only 4.6% of the voters, which was the difference between the returns for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and the returns for the same party’s nominee in 2008. As I’ve often pointed out in Liberty, the two big American parties live by getting as many marginal votes as they can, wherever they can get them. If one party falls beneath its normal margin, it will try to find a group of issues that will allow it to annex some new group of voters, or bring some new inspiration to the formerly faithful. That’s why the Republicans (or the Democrats) can stand for one thing in certain years, and nearly the opposite in others, and why individual candidates within each party can stand for both at the same time.

This year, the Republicans put new life into their dormant libertarian principles, and they won decisively. It is not inconceivable that the Democrats will create some simulacrum to those principles, for use in the next election. But the important thing is to reduce the power of politics to “solve” our problems.

When government is perceived as the source of solutions, the problems ordinarily get worse — because, as many voters saw this year, the fundamental problem isn’t the deficit or healthcare or old-fashioned entitlements programs. The fundamental problem is the reach of government. The libertarian idea — originally, the American idea — is to conserve the power of the individual to decide what his indebtedness shall be, what his investments shall be, and what steps he should take to provide for himself in sickness and old age. The problems that King enumerates would not be political if the friends of government hadn’t “led the chargeto extend government’s power and purview.

The two big American parties live by getting as many marginal votes as they can, wherever they can get them.

That’s why the victory of the Republicans is important and interesting, even exciting. In 2010, the Republicans responded to the repudiation of Bush in 2008 by seeking voters everywhere outside the Democratic base. They largely abandoned their appeals to “social issues,” which hadn’t been getting them any crucial amounts of votes, and they appealed instead to the people’s resentment of the Obama regime as arrogant, spendthrift, anti-property, and anti-individual — in short, fanatically expansive and power-seeking. They saw the Democratic regime as the American phalanx of the European nanny state, now in retreat even in Europe.

After World War II, the two big American parties studied the complex art of gerrymandering. In most states, they perfected it. They learned how to ensure that whoever had a seat in Congress would be able to keep it. To maintain their hold on “minority” (i.e., especially, African-American) voters, the Democrats created “urban” districts in which voters would never have a real choice of parties. But often the Republicans cooperated with the Democrats in the great effort to preserve legislators’ individual seats. In this year, however, some of the most gerrymandered districts in the union changed hands: look at the map of Illinois congressional district 17, and notice what happened there, and you’ll see what I mean. The appeal of an essentially libertarian platform inundated many of the carefully fenced-off legislative fiefdoms, and swept their lords away.

Walter Shapiro of AOL’s “Politics Daily” describes the current situation clearly: “At a time when the percentage of voters who call themselves liberal (about 20 percent) has remained constant, the number of self-identified conservatives among voters has risen from 32 percent (2006) to 34 percent (2008) to a whopping 41 percent (2010). In fact, conservatives outnumbered moderates (39 percent) among 2010 voters. Since such ideological markers normally move at a glacial pace, the dramatic increase in conservatives may be the most lasting legacy of the 2010 election.”

The fundamental problem isn’t the deficit or healthcare or old-fashioned entitlements programs. The fundamental problem is the reach of government.

Consider now that conservative “social issues” were not a factor in the current contest, hence did not increase voters’ self-identification as “conservatives.” The new “conservatives” were attracted to that label largely by the libertarian idea of limited government.

In this way, the Republicans found their voters. On the scale in which elections are won and lost in America, they found them in enormous numbers. And this discovery will have enormous effects — if people who believe in the American ideal of individual liberty continue to demonstrate that they will settle for nothing less.




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Measure By Measure

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Ballot measures, most of them in the initiative-friendly western states, reflected a mostly conservative electorate on November 2. Here are some issues of interest to classical liberals and libertarians.

Marijuana was the big policy issue of 2010 — and it did not light the fires of approval.

In California, voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized closet-sized cannabis grows and the possession of one ounce of marijuana by any adult. More important, it would have offered a local option for communities to legalize and tax cannabis much further. But the Obama administration, which has left alone the numerous medical cannabis dispensaries in California and the other medical-marijuana states, said it would not tolerate dispensaries for general use, nor open grows.

California pioneered medical marijuana in 1996 and remains the most liberal state regarding cannabis. A new law passed by the legislature takes effect January 1, making possession of less than an ounce a mere civil infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor.

In Oregon, which also has medical marijuana, the people voted no on Measure 74, which would have created a system of private, nonprofit dispensaries and licensed farmers.

At press time, the count was split 50-50 on Arizona’s Proposition 203, which would have legalized medical cannabis and allowed dispensaries.

Voters in South Dakota rejected Measure 13, a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

The bottom line: cannabis remains legal for certain medical purposes in the District of Columbia and 14 states, but for general use is legal nowhere in the United States.

Liquor. In Washington state, one of the 19 “control states” in which the sale of liquor is a state monopoly, voters appear to have saved the state liquor stores from Initiative 1100, which would have disbanded them. The measure, which was put on the ballot by Costco and supported by Safeway and Wal-Mart, would also have repealed the state law that forbids beer and wine wholesalers from offering quantity discounts.

Beer distributors provided the money for a campaign to tar market liberalization as a threat to public sobriety and health. There was also a competing measure, Initiative 1105, which would have privatized liquor but kept the restrictive beer and wine rules, and the measure divided the anti-state vote. That vote was close, but at press time the state liquor stores appear to have been saved.

Smoking. South Dakota passed Referred Law 12, which bans smoking in bars and casinos, by a vote of almost two-thirds.

Affirmative action. Arizonavoters passed Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Amendment, by a strong yes vote. Like measures that passed California in 1996, Washington in 1998, Michigan in 2006, and Nebraska in 2008, it bans racial preferences in state and local employment, education, and contracting. Unlike earlier measures, it did not get much national attention.

Abortion. In Colorado, voters rejected by more than two-thirds Amendment 62 to establish “fetal personhood.” This had been on the ballot before, and had failed before.

Property rights. By a vote of about 2 to 1, Nevada voters rejected Question 4, a measure to create exceptions to the law passed in 2008 forbidding the taking of private property for sale to a private owner. Question 4 was put on the ballot by the legislature at the request of government officials. It would have allowed government to take private property and transfer it to a private owner who “uses the property primarily to benefit a public service.”

Labor organizing. There was an effort in four right-to-work states to sandbag the proposed “Employee Free Choice Act,” also known as card-check union organizing. Card-check didn’t go anywhere in 2010 or 2009 either, and with a Republican House of Representatives it is dead now. But opponents didn’t know that, and they proposed measures at the state level to guarantee citizens the right of secret ballot in union representation elections.

As attempts to nullify federal law, these proposals are of doubtful legality, but they do highlight public opinion if they pass — and these did.

In Arizona, unions sued to keep the measure off the ballot. They won a ruling to that effect, but Governor Jan Brewer countered them by calling a special session of the legislature, which rewrote the measure and put it on the ballot. As Proposition 113, it passed with 61% of the vote.

In South Dakota, unions sued to keep it off the ballot, and they lost. There it was called Amendment K, and it passed with 79% of the vote.

In Utah it was called Amendment A, and passed with 60% of the vote.

In South Carolina it was called Amendment 2 and passed with 86% of the vote.

Health insurance was another issue in which state ballot propositions were used to send a political message about a federal law — in this case, a bill Congress had passed and President Obama had signed. These measures were of doubtful legality, assuming the new law itself passed constitutional muster (it is in several courts). Think of these state measures not as law but as a political demonstration.

They were measures forbidding government from requiring citizens to buy health insurance or to pay for health services out of their own pockets.

In Missouri, a measure like this, Proposition C, had passed in August with a 71% vote.

On Nov. 2, it passed in Oklahoma as Question 756, the Health Care Freedom Amendment. Despite opposition from The Oklahoman newspaper, it passed with 65% of the vote.

In Arizona, as Proposition 106, it passed with about 55% of the vote, though it was opposed by the largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic.

In Colorado, as Amendment 63, sponsored by the Independence Institute, it was opposed by the largest paper there, the Denver Post, and narrowly failed.

Taxes. California voters passed Proposition 26, an initiated constitutional amendment that requires a supermajority for the legislature to raise taxes. Voters also passed Proposition 25, which repealed the requirement that the legislature have a supermajority to pass a budget. The supermajority rule had led to deadlock over the budget, and a state funding crisis.

Washington voters passed Initiative 1053, which also requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature, or a vote of the people, for the state to raise taxes. Washington does not have initiated constitutional amendments; the two-thirds rule is merely a statute. It will stand for two years before the legislature can vote by simple majority to suspend it — which is what the Legislature did earlier in 2010 to an identical measure passed by voters in 2007.

Washington voters rejected Initiative 1098, which would have created a state income tax for high earners only. The preliminary count was nearly 2-to-1 against.

Campaign finance. Floridavoters gave a majority to Amendment 1, to repeal the state’s system of public finance for statewide political candidates who agree to spending limits. It was a constitutional amendment, however, and failed to receive the required 60% approval to pass.

Guns. Kansas voters passed Constitutional Amendment Question 1 with an 88 % approval. This replaced a provision in the state constitution guaranteeing “the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state” with a measure guaranteeing gun rights “for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.”

Several other states passed measures establishing a citizen’s right to hunt.

Weird stuff. Three things this year.

The first is Oklahoma State Question 755, a constitutional amendment put on the ballot through the efforts of Rep. Rex Duncan, Republican of Sand Springs. Rep. Duncan is worried about Islamic Sharia law coming to Oklahoma, and wrote the measure, which forbids Oklahoma courts from considering or using Sharia law or international law. His proposal to protect Oklahomans from the strictures of Islam won 70% approval.

In Michigan, where former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been disgraced, convicted, and put in prison, voters approved by 3-to-1 Proposal 2. It bars any officeholder convicted of a felony involving deceit and fraud from holding public office for 20 years — a much longer time than Kilpatrick is likely to spend in the clink.

And in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — that is its full name — 78% of voters rejected a proposal to reduce its official name to “Rhode Island,” which is what the rest of us thought it was.




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Where Do We Stand Today?

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Major events concentrate the mind on major issues.

At this moment, we are all trying to analyze the results of the great American election of 2010. We are also celebrating the beginning of Liberty magazine’s online edition — proof of the continuity of libertarian ideas across all movements and events of history.

Much has happened in American politics since Liberty first went to press, back in the summer of 1987. This is a good time to ask how well liberty itself has fared during the past quarter century.

It's sad to realize that the history of these years can most readily be divided into periods, not by great new inventions or movements, but by presidential personalities — the age of Reagan, the age of Bush the First, the age of Clinton, and so on. Let's start by looking at the major features of the world in which Liberty was born, the age of Reagan (second administration).

The most prominent political feature of that world has passed away — the threat of nuclear annihilation of the West by the empire of communism. That threat had overshadowed a generation of Americans, sometimes manifesting itself as a chronic anxiety, sometimes rising to a pitch of hysteria, but always costing mightily in emotion and in wealth. For anyone who came to conscious life after, say, 1991, the effects of a threat like this are probably impossible to understand. I hope they remain that way. Nevertheless, the danger went away. The grand threat of communism was replaced by the nasty threats of Muslim fanaticism and creeping nuclear proliferation; but while these are worth worrying about, they are not quite comparable.

Perhaps the most powerful cause of the collapse of communism was the burden of its own inefficiency, a flaw that libertarian thinkers had never ceased to emphasize.

Why did the communist empire fall? An event of this kind has many causes, and you are free to emphasize one or another of them, depending on your politics. One was probably President Reagan's determination to out-spend and out-invent the communist military machine. Another was Reagan's use of essentially libertarian arguments about the benefits of individual freedom to inspire the West with a new determination to resist the propaganda of defeatism. (A well-advertised determination to resist is itself a powerful counter-threat, and in this case it seems to have had a major effect on collectivist morale, everywhere.) Perhaps the most powerful cause of the collapse of communism was the burden of its own inefficiency, a flaw that libertarian thinkers had never ceased to emphasize, even as their arguments were laughed to scorn by "progressive" thinkers in the West, and even as conservative American leaders worried that the communists were about to "catch up" with us. They didn't; they fell on the track, victims of the astonishing skill and inventiveness of individual enterprise.

Those of us who were politically conscious (or in my case, semi-conscious) in 1989–1991 recognized the communist collapse as a tremendous victory for libertarian ideas. If this be “triumphalism,” make the most of it; the echoes of our triumph are still heard, most recently in America’s general revulsion against the idea of a “single-payer” (that is, communized) national insurance scheme. Contrast the favorable reception of a single-payer retirement system — Social Security — two generations before.

Though not all libertarians would agree, real progress was also made by Reagan’s forthright defense of what is now called American “exceptionalism.” There is indeed something exceptional about America, and Reagan didn’t say that the exceptional thing was religion, ethnic diversity, immigration, community spirit, or anything else that is considered politically correct on either the Left hand or the Right. He said it was freedom, free enterprise — and he was correct.

Yet by summer 1987 it had become obvious that Reagan’s own legacy was more conservative than libertarian. He simplified the tax brackets, which had been designed to extract the maximum possible out of every nickel added to your income, and in so doing he reduced the tax rates; but this, as anticipated, actually raised total government income. Then his administration proceeded to spend much more than its income. That was not a libertarian thing to do.

One thing that limits state power in America is the individual states, which in the federal system are supposed to check and balance the overweening might of Washington. Reagan believed in federalism — but only when it fitted his own purposes. He was responsible for nationalizing the drinking age at an absurd 21, by using federal highway funds as a bludgeon against states that, very rationally, didn’t want to go along. And while he was a mighty foe of regulation, he was also a friend of the ridiculous war on unregulated recreational drugs. You can say the same thing about every other president, except the current one; but we might expect more from a conservative president who once told Reason magazine that “the very heart and soul of conservatism” was libertarianism.

In the case of both Presidents Bush, “conservative” should be placed in quotes. Ideological labels don’t stick very well to sheer incompetence.

Reagan was also to blame for some serious sins of omission. He intended to abolish the Department of Education, but he paid little attention to the person he appointed as secretary of that department; and when the appointee turned out to be a public foe of abolition, Reagan let the project drop. The result: three decades of enormous and destruction educational spending and meddling by the national government. In addition, Reagan, a man of deep personal loyalty (a good thing), permitted his vice president, George Bush, to be anointed as his successor (a very bad thing).

I don’t have to connect all the dots that outline the political profile of George H.W. Bush, although each of them contributed to the success of Liberty in its attempt to distinguish grassroots libertarians from conservatives in power. But probably, in the case of both Presidents Bush, “conservative” should be placed in quotes. Ideological labels don’t stick very well to sheer incompetence.

The first President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a firm and deep libertarian, to the Supreme Court, and stuck by him when he refused to yield to the most violent opposition that any Court nominee has ever endured. That was a good thing — indeed, a great thing — but it didn’t respond to any interest in judicial philosophy on the part of the “conservative” president. It responded, again, to a sense of personal loyalty, which is not to be blamed but can hardly be depended upon as a means of advancing liberty. Bush’s other appointee was David Souter, who was one of the most anti-libertarian, and certainly one of the stupidest and least qualified, people ever to roost on the Supreme Court bench. A political crony vouched for Souter, so Bush nominated him, as Eisenhower had nominated the outrageous judicial activist William Brennan.

Someone, someday, will write a book called “The Mystery of George H.W. Bush.” It will attempt to answer the question, “How can a hero of World War II, and subsequently an observer of every seamy transaction in the wars of American politics, emerge as such a sap?” Bush won office by promising that he would veto any attempted tax increase: “Read my lips: no new taxes!” He then agreed to raise taxes, on the promise of his political opponents to lower government expenditures, something that they had no intention of doing. It’s hard to think of any other president who would have been foolish enough to make such an agreement, and it very appropriately cost Bush his presidency.

Bush showed great ability at persuading foreigners to unite with the United States in asserting Kuwait’s independence after the oil-rich kingdom had been forcibly annexed by Iraq. He also showed great fortitude. I well recall watching news coverage of the buildup to the first Gulf War. I was in the company of other libertarians, all very bright people. Their reaction, as they saw the troops walking onto the ships: “Poor kids! They’ll never come back alive.” And that was a possibility. Yet Bush took the risk and fought a successful war in the Gulf, a war that actually came to a conclusion.

He also fought a successful, though much less honorable, war against Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama — allegedly for his involvement with drug trafficking, actually for his general antagonism to the United States. Bush had Noriega snatched from Panama and tried in the United States, where he was convicted of crimes against the laws of a country that was not his own. You don’t have to be sympathetic to Noriega to sense that President Bush wasn’t a deep thinker about international law. Nor do you need extraordinary intelligence to perceive, in the wars of the first Bush administration, the seeds of wars in the second.

If ideas count — and they do — a modern liberal Democrat president had admitted that libertarians, the foes of every idea he endorsed, had won the argument.

It is hard to find a libertarian feature of the first Bush regime, and harder still to find one in the early regime of Bill Clinton. The only good thing about it was Hillary Clinton’s elephantine attempt to socialize the nation’s healthcare system, and the failure of her attempt. It failed, not principally because of the Republican Party’s opposition, but because of the people’s response to a well-calculated television ad campaign, supported by some intelligent and interested people on the Right. To the political pros, the campaign seemed to have “come out of nowhere,” yet it re-energized the forces of limited government. A year later, these forces united behind new ones within the Republican Party and ousted the president’s party from its leadership of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Clinton’s response was to proclaim that “the era of big government is over.”

Of course, that was a lie. As several people commented at the time, all he meant was that the era of lots and lots of little government was continuing. Nevertheless, if ideas count — and they do — a modern liberal Democrat president had admitted that libertarians, the foes of every idea he endorsed, had won the argument.

Unfortunately, his remarks were a warning, for those who would listen, that future government aggressions would be finessed, not announced. In future, modern liberals like Al Gore would pretend that they had a “lock box” in which to put Social Security taxes, and that the box would never be raided for the use of any other government project — a mythological concession to the people’s desire to limit the state’s depredations. And in future, modern socialists like Barack Obama would claim that even their most Ozymandian schemes, such as Obama’s healthcare “reform,” would “pay for themselves” or even “reduce government expenditures.”

La Rochefoucauld said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. If so, we can do without any more tributes. The truth of libertarian ideas is admitted, in principle. Still, it’s the false ideas that get put into practice.

Clinton commissioned countless military adventures abroad, in Eastern Europe and in the Near East; they seldom amounted to much, although they asserted the kind of bellicosity that his own party now wants to run away from. But Clinton did two good things for the cause of limited government: he made an alliance with the Republicans for a sweeping, and successful, reform of welfare; and by his scandals he so diminished the prestige of the presidency as to make people significantly less likely to believe and trust elected officials. Bad news for government is usually good news for liberty.

What shall we say about the second President Bush? Unlike Bill Clinton, he wouldn't be a bad person to have as a neighbor — unless, of course, he decided that you might be secreting a weapon of mass destruction. R.W. Bradford, the founder of Liberty, once published an article in which he tried to account for Bush's invasion of Iraq. After a close review of the evidence, he concluded that Bush really believed his own account of the dangers that Saddam Hussein posed to the world. I found Bradford's reasoning persuasive. Bush was not an evil man; he was a gullible man, and he was usually gullible in the ways in which modern liberals are gullible. Until recently, they too believed in solving problems, real or perceived, by projecting military power abroad; indeed, more leading Democrats initially supported the second Gulf War than had supported the first one.

If Bush had happened to be a member of the Democratic Party (which, except for his family identification, he could easily have been, given his general political ideas), no one on that side would have quibbled about his vast government expenditures and vast government indebtedness, or his blithe disregard for any limitations on the power of the federal government. It was Bush who engineered one of the greatest federal takeovers in history, Washington’s massive intervention in local education, under the title of "No Child Left Behind."

In 2008, George Bush the modern liberal was succeeded by Barack Obama, another modern liberal — but a much more self-conscious and socialistic one. People in the eighteenth century used to analyze people by reference to their “ruling passion,” to whatever it is about them that they are willing to sacrifice everything else to. President Obama’s ruling passion is intellectual arrogance, the kind of arrogance that finds its equal, among American presidents, only in the disastrous mentality of President Wilson. Wilson never understood why he was deserted by the people over the issue of the League of Nations; after all, his ideas were correct. For Obama, as for Wilson, “correct” means “progressive,” and “progressive” means “maintaining unquestioned faith in the uninformed notions of the leader.”

No hypocrisy here: Obama believes sincerely in the ideas he enunciates. He believes implicitly in Keynesianism, minus Keynes’s qualifications of his theories; in the most naïve form of dirigisme, minus the glitter of Louis Napoleon and Baron Haussmann; in the managerial economics of Henry Wallace, minus Wallace’s wonderful goofiness (though Obama followed the Reverend Mr. Wright as Wallace followed his “guru”). In short, Obama is not an intellectual, no, not by a mile. He simply makes the mistake of believing that he somehow arrived at his naïve ideas through a long process of thought and experience, and that his inspiring “philosophy” is his ticket to success.

For Obama, as for Woodrow Wilson, “correct” means “progressive,” and “progressive” means “maintaining unquestioned faith in the uninformed notions of the leader.”

Clearly, it’s not. If “success” means “being elected,” right now he couldn’t be nominated as an alderman in Chicago. If it means “moral superiority,” why are you laughing right now? Obama’s administration demonstrates the truth of an important libertarian idea, developed by Friedrich Hayek in the chapter of “The Road to Serfdom” that he called “Why the Worst Get on Top.”

I’ll summarize the argument in this way: socialism attracts people for many reasons. One is a desire for unearned material rewards. Another is a lust for the power that socialized economies automatically convey to an elite. But yet another is the humanitarian idealism that is felt by some of the world’s morally “best” people. They enlist in the socialist cause because they think it will make a better world. These are the “hopey-changey” people. But when a socialist regime comes into power, it inevitably demonstrates, as Obama’s regime has demonstrated, that its promises cannot be fulfilled, especially in the terms originally proposed. At this point, the best of the hopey-changey people hop off the train; the worst stay on, making their way toward the front by means of lies and intimidation.

Consider the leading personnel of the Obama regime — the Nancy Pelosis and Harry Reids, the David Axelrods and Rahm Emanuels — and you will see the principle in action. Because our tradition of limited government has been preserved in many important respects, the “worst” in America are not allowed to be as bad as the “worst” could get in, say, Stalinist Bulgaria; but they are as bad as bad can be, in American terms. They are living demonstrations of the intellectual and moral vacancy of socialism, American style, and so is their boss, Obama.

So where do we stand today?

We stand at the end of a quarter century of confirmations of libertarian ideas. We stand in the midst of an enormous popular rebellion against the state, a rebellion conducted almost entirely in libertarian terms. The Tea Party movement is not the only example. In every state, in virtually every county, ordinary intelligent Americans are calling for retrenchments of government. Sometimes their protests are united with demands that run contrary to libertarian ideas, demands motivated by conservative religious dogmas or opposition to international trade or the “outsourcing” of industry. But these notions are not the rudder on the ship. In most cases, they are scarcely heard.

If nothing else, the elections of 2010 showed that the American people are tremendously dissatisfied with the performance of Obama and his party, and on thoroughly libertarian grounds. The results of the election indicate a massive revolt against both the arrogance and the enabling ideas of the modern state.

The vehicle of this revolt has not been the Libertarian Party, which is no longer the most conspicuous political manifestation of the freedom movement. The main vehicle is now the venerable Republican Party. Despite the absence of a self-described libertarian president, despite the presence of time-serving apparatchiks as leaders of the congressional Republicans, the G.O.P. is as much infused with libertarian ideas as the Democratic Party is infused with socialist ones — and that’s saying something.

This remarkable development was made possible by three other developments, two of them quite unexpected.

One was the internet revolution, a supreme technological application of the principle of spontaneous order that libertarians have always advocated. The internet’s creation of a new kind of spontaneous order ended the hegemony of the government-authorized radio and television networks, which in 1987 allowed barely a hint of libertarianism to surface in the national discourse. Their dominance has been utterly destroyed. Now, anyone who has a good idea, an idea that works — and libertarian ideas do work — can reach out to other people and give the idea a potent political expression. Add to this the growth of cable TV, hungry for real ideas that will interest real people.

Another unexpected development was the growth in influence of libertarian journals, think tanks, and other voluntary organizations, making their way in the new channels of the internet and cable TV. The Cato Institute, the Mises Institute, Reason magazine, Liberty magazine, FreedomFest . . . these are only a few purveyors of libertarian ideas reaching out to a broad audience of Americans and giving them intellectual ammunition to continue the war against the coercive state. Gone are the days when the New York Times quoted someone from the Ford Foundation, and CBS quoted the New York Times, and “public opinion” resulted. Now libertarian ideas and libertarian research and the evidence of a successful libertarian society, as embodied in the internet itself, are as close as anyone’s keyboard, where they compete very successfully, thank you, with the ideas of the closed society.

What’s the third development? It’s simply the persistence and continual confirmation of essential libertarian ideas. The arguments of Locke and Madison, Friedman and Mises, Paterson and Hayek, haven’t changed during the past 23 years; but they have been ratified by more, and more conclusive, events and understood by more, and more informed, people. This is not the moment for regret or despair; this is the moment for confidence in the future, in our country, and in ourselves.




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