May 31, 2023

"Self-identified libertarians have always been tiny in number—a handful of economists, political activists, technologists, and true believers."

"But, in the decades after Ronald Reagan was elected President, they came to exert enormous political influence, in part because their prescription of prosperity through deregulation appeared to be working, and in part because they provided conservatism with a long-term agenda and a vision of a better future. To the usual right-wing mixture of social traditionalism and hierarchical nationalism, the libertarians had added an especially American sort of optimism: if the government would only step back and allow the market to organize society, we would truly flourish.... Had you written a history of the libertarian movement fifteen years ago, it would have been a tale of improbable success. A small cadre of intellectually intense oddballs who inhabited a Manhattanish atmosphere of late-night living-room debates and barbed book reviews had somehow managed to impose their beliefs on a political party, then the country.... Ever since the George W. Bush Administration, the libertarian movement, as such, has been disintegrating...."

Writes Benjamin Wallace-Wells, in "The Long Afterlife of Libertarianism/As a movement, it has imploded. As a credo, it’s here to stay" (The New Yorker).


s'opihjerdt said...

The biggest problem is that libertarianism's followers tend to think "I should be able to do what I want." But not "They should be able to do what they want."

Big Ed Thompson: marijuana should be legal.
Crowd at libertarian rally: YEAH
Big Ed Thompson: Tobacco should be legal
Crowd: BOO

rehajm said...

Overregulation is the biggest problem holding prosperity back. It’s maddening but it is solvable. That’s why it’s so maddening…

Temujin said...

Thirty or so years ago, I was a card carrying Libertarian...for a minute. I went to one of their local chapter meetings. It was like watching chickens try to corral themselves. So much going on, so many ideas, so much insisting, and literally no action. Nothing could ever get done.

Libertarians are best left in think tanks, writing books, sending out some good ideas. As a national party, it's a Granfalloon.

Michael said...

Gay rights, gay adoption, gay marriage all were libertarian positions as far back as the 70s. Drug legalization as well.

Don't know where this take of libertarianism as a right-wing ideology comes from

John henry said...

Otoh, president trump was probably our most liberal (libertarian) president ever.

He did not accomplish nearly enough but it did se to be a guiding principle. He did try and did move the needle some.

Small f fascism, encapsulated in mussolini's elevator pitch

"Everything in the State,

nothing outside the State,

nothing against the State."

Seems to be the guiding principle of the current govt. This is not new but they keep getting more brazen.

Today I see the feds are confiscating monies sent to J6 defense funds.

John LGKTQ Henry

Gulistan said...

Much of the characterization of libertarianism seems off in the quoted excerpt:

I don't believe that libertarians generally accept "social traditionalism" and "hierarchical nationalism", for example. And most libertarians I read aren't utopians about markets, but just think that they tend to do a better job than central planning at providing the sorts of things people value. And there's a lot of evidence to support this claim.

I'd enjoy reading an article that addresses this debate (about markets vs. central planning) honestly, but this doesn't appear to be that article.

wild chicken said...

Libertarianism: legal pot, porn and prostitution.

Almost there!

Michael said...

"(T)heir prescription of prosperity through deregulation appeared to be working."

Appeared? It's worked as long as it's been tried. (Not to say there should be NO regulation, just limited and not motivated by bureaucratic power-seeking and empire building.)

West TX Intermediate Crude said...

I'm not particularly interested in the New Yorker's take on libertarianism.
I was once a card carrying Libertarian. Several decades ago, in another state, I became a member of the L party.
I started reading their newsletter in detail, and did not renew- the more active party members were nucking futs.
I'm still a small-l libertarian. Not a lot of space between classic small l libertarianism and the authors of our Constitution.
We don't need any Article 5 new constitution. We don't need any amendments. We just need strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the original document, as amended. If it's not explicitly permitted to the central government, it can not be done. That would get rid of all the programs which result in the feds taking money from person A (at gunpoint if necessary) and giving it to person B, with the government taking its cut, of course.
Let the states find the equilibrium between completely private charity and allowing bums to live off the state.
That means a gradual taking down of Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps. Let the states and private charity do whatever is needed to keep people from starving in the streets.
What can't go on, won't go on. It is already happening, we're in the gradual phase now, and if we let it get to the suddenly phase, it will be dramatic, and catastrophic.
I suspect that a full 3-4% of Althousians agree with me, and maybe 1% of the voting American population.
I'm that optimistic.

Ficta said...

I'm puzzled by "hierarchical nationalism". I did a bit of web searching and all I could find were articles about South Korea. It appears to be a new (to me) way of calling Republicans racist. Oh boy, another one, imagine that.

n.n said...

The left is authoritarian. The right is libertarian. The far-left is totalitarian. The far-right is anarchist. The left-right nexus is leftist.

That said, the center is pro-Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

n.n said...

Overregulation is the biggest problem holding prosperity back.

The god-complex of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini et al.

rcocean said...

Losertarians have always been a blight on American Politics. The Liberal/left has always liked libertarians. BHTV would always have them represent "The Right" because losertarians are just liberals/leftists who like low taxes. Plus, their individualistic credo makes it impossible for the Right to organize and be an effective counterweight to the Left.

The whole "I just want to be left alone" only works if there's zero organized force working as a group to take power and use it. A Losertarian in Nazi Germany and the USSR ended up in a Gulag or a Concentration camp. In the USA, the Liberal/Left power elite likes the losertarians telling average people to act like random individuals and look out for "Number 1". And if you get control of the Government, don't use the power to push an agenda. Leave that for the liberal/left. Complete frauds.

Sebastian said...

"hierarchical nationalism"

What's that?

"the libertarian movement"

What "movement"?

Sure, absurd regulations and race balancing should aggravate libertarians, and maybe a few worry about the surveillance deep state, but at least they can be half-happy: they are getting their open borders, abortion on demand, legal pot, SSM, sex anytime with anyone. And shouldn't transgenderism, that apotheosis of unrestrained choice, make them even happier?

rcocean said...

THere's a reason why the biggest fans of Ayn Rand novel are teenage boys. that ridiculous "Get out of my way LOSERS, and let me make zillions and do what I want" only makes sense when you are ignorant and full of youthful egotism.

mikee said...

I like how the New Yorker declares dead that which it abhors, and then hopes and hopes and hopes that it is correct.

Oso Negro said...

Such nasty people! Actually want freedom of association.

Aggie said...

I've come to believe that almost every American is a blend of democrat, republican, and libertarian. The proportions vary, but the funny thing is that most of us can have conversations about these things, amicably. But when the first letters start getting capitalized, the trouble starts.

hombre said...

Libertarians are defunct, conservatives are racist, white supremacists, Republicans are corporate fascists.

There is nothing left for us but to become Marxists masquerading as Democrats.

Rocco said...

"But, in the decades after Ronald Reagan was elected President, they came to exert enormous political influence... [But] ever since George W. Bush Administration, the libertarian movement, as such, has been disintegrating..."

If this were true, then pre-Bush II:
- the budget would be balanced
- there would be (next to) no national debt
- most of the federal agencies, bureaucracies, and regulations would have been gutted if not ended completely
- there would be a lot more nuclear power
- more fracking
- more oil refineries
- more pipelines
- far lower taxes and fees, and income tax returns could be filled out on a postcard.

And that's just what I can think of off the top of my head.

Where there have been changes that libertarians have cheered, those changes were driven by more popular non-libertarian philosophies, not libertarians.

n.n said...

American conservativism has its roots in libertarian (i.e. classical liberalism) philosophy moderated by Christian moral religion.

Modern Libertarianism is closely correlated with Progressivism, Liberalism with its adoption of the ethical religion popular from prehistoric times, less the authoritarian bent.

Rocco said...

s'opihjerdt said...
"The biggest problem is that libertarianisms' followers tend to think 'I should be able to do what I want.' But not 'They should be able to do what they want.'"

At one time there there was a fad where people decided to call themselves "libertarian" simply because it was hip, edgy, and cool. Not because they were libertarian.

Michael K said...

So the New Yorker thinks GW Bush was a libertarian? Good to know.

Amadeus 48 said...

Read or watch "Free to Choose", the old PBS series that explained how free people in a free society achieve prosperity.

Robert Cook said...

"That means a gradual taking down of Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps. Let the states and private charity do whatever is needed to keep people from starving in the streets."

Exactly wrong. Your preference is a prescription for widespread poverty, hunger and even starvation, homelessness and people dying for want of access to medical treatment, all of these ills particularly afflicting older Americans.

Tina Trent said...

I can't read behind the firewall so I'm just imagining the spin, but the modern Libertarian movement, which is indeed fractured, has nothing to do with the older one, which is largely retired or deceased. In shorthand, I don't trust any Party libertarian under 70, though I make a few exceptions for those drawn only to the ideology who won't associate with the Party itself.

Why? The older libertarians got on fine with the social conservative and even mainstream GOP. They were war veterans, middle and managerial class men who believed in patriotism, borders, civic duty, traditional families, respect for real law and order, and opposition to the anarchist left.

Then, in 1980, David Koch ran for VP on an open borders ticket so extreme that even the ACLU opposed his stance on the issue. Even since then, the Koch brothers poured money into creating a new libertarian movement rivaled in anarchic power only by Soros' Open Borders Society. They both had the same goals, which is why I call them, collectively, leftitarians. What most people in the TEA Party didn't know in 2012 was that the Kochs and Soros were already working together on three key issues: flooding the country with illegals, emptying prisons and vilifying police, and legalizing all drugs.

I was in some back rooms with some of the Koch people and, once, the Koch themselves, and I was lucky enough to have had my nondisclosure overlooked because I was just doing a few gigs for them. I heard what the said about the TEA people they were astroturfing, and I was able to get the message out in a three-part series that has been disappeared from the internet.

Now the Koch and Soros foundations work together openly on their three evil goals, and any young libertarian wanting a political career has to kiss the ring of decadence and anarchy behind closed doors. Conservative organizations have been stripped of their conservatives and replaced with Koch-bots and little storm trooper Ken Dolls who only differ from ANTIFA because they wear button-down shirts instead of tie-dye. Politics is a circle, not a straight line, and at the extremes of both parties, this sick marriage of Marxists and so-called libertarians are eating away at both Parties.

Like ANTIFA, they Koch Libertarian thugs don't need to win elections to rot our body politic.

Kathryn51 said...

Fifty years ago, the term "libertarian" was not in the general population's lexicon. As a Poli Sci major (undergrad), the term was never discussed or analyzed. My parents were active in GOP politics and they never used the term. It wasn't until my 1st year in law school that someone told me to read "Atlas Shrugged". This was 45+ years age.

Reagan's various campaigns and then Ron Paul's many Presidential bids were the means of informing the general populace about the term and what it kinda-sorta meant. Stay. Out. Of. My. Life.

The New Yorker is right: The credo is here to stay.

Tina Trent said...

I see that many other commenters had a first-hand experience similar to mine.

I never was a libertarian, but after seeing the Koch operations up close, and who they bought in Washington, it was heartbreaking to watch them descend on and exploit the decent hard-working people who were fed up with the GOPe and tried to create a more populist, patriotic, conservative movement through local organization as TEA Parties.

These people weren't snookered, astroturfed, and silenced because they were stupid. They were just politically naive because they had spent their lives doing right and decent things instead of doing politics, like marrying, working hard, raising kids, and practicing religious and community values. They were lied to by some very skilled professional liars, and that is a shame. I'll give this to the radical Left: at least they admit they want to destroy this country. The Kochs hand-delivered the big-L Libertarian machine to the professional Left and danced off into the sunset with Soros, leaving two flavors of chaos destroying us in their wake.

Daddy of Charles and David Koch is spinning in his grave.

n.n said...

Fifty years ago, the term "libertarian" was not in the general population's lexicon

There was a similar evolution that transposed Republican blue with Democrat red.

n.n said...

libertarian (n.)

1789, "one who holds the doctrine of free will" (especially in extreme forms; opposed to necessitarian), from liberty (q.v.) on model of unitarian, etc. Political sense of "person advocating the greatest possible liberty in thought and conduct" is from 1878. As an adjective by 1882. U.S. Libertarian Party founded in Colorado, 1971. Related: Libertarianism (1849 in religion, 1901 in politics).


Free Manure While You Wait! said...

" rcocean said...

So I read no further.

I belong to no party and haven't voted in two decades. One of the reasons is that if I did vote, that vote would immediately be cancelled out by some idiot using the word Losertarians and thinking it's clever.

Like DemocRATS and GQP, they're markers for stupid.

wild chicken said...

I first heard about libertarianism in a political economy class, taught by a socialist. 1983.

He said libertarians were logically consistent so at least they had that going for them.

Logic has its limits.

West TX Intermediate Crude said...

Mr Cook-
We're coming up on a century of welfare stateism in the USA.
I agree that it appears to be working well, but that is only because it's working with borrowed money, money that will be owed to the Chinese (etc.) government and paid by our kids and grandkids.
We have tried to fix it for the past 30-40 years, but it keeps getting worse. We have a >$30 trillion debt, but by GAAP we are more than $100 trillion in the hole.
If welfare is devolved to the states, their budget discipline, if it holds up, will prevent disaster. If they blow it, it's just one state, and maybe there will be a chance at reform. Our national political system does not allow for entitlements to be decreased once they are in place. They must be removed.
You apparently think that there is a means for the USA to continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars it does not have, every year, indefinitely.
It's just a matter of time before we lose reserve currency status, and we will have to pay market rates to borrow. That will mean the market will determine how and when we take our welfare system down. We are currently like a profligate family on vacation who is about to hit the credit limit on their credit cards. It will get ugly for us fast.
Better for us to recognize reality and take it down with some deliberation. If it happens organically, the suffering and starvation that you fear will be much worse.

Mark said...

I don't know that libertarianism has imploded or is disintegrating as much as, in the face of undeniable social challenges, the mask has slipped and they are seen as the self-centered leftists they really are.

crisper said...

"...impose their beliefs..." ??

So non-authoritarianism is authoritarian? Wow.

Narr said...

I knew some Libertarians but they were too organized for my tastes. Actually, small-l libertarianism of the MYOB variety has always had a lot to recommend it, but no society can long survive Utopic Libertarianism.

Nozick had the delightful notion that a libertarian America could become a Utopia of Utopias, but for now the grubby remnants of Federalism are all we have left.

rcocean said...

"I belong to no party and haven't voted in two decades."

That's a great attitude. And I wish losertarians would not only quit voting, I wish they would quit talking about Politics. You don't want the GOVERNMENT to do things, well don't feed the monster. Ignore the monster. Stop playing the Monsters game. He'll leave you alone, if you leave him alone.

Cultivate your own weed garden. Smoke MJ. Snort some Coke. Go do a business deal.

Just shut up about politics and losertarianism. And let serious people run the world.

Tina Trent said...

I second rcocean. I'd rather deal with some ungodly cross between Code Pink and a RINO, and that's saying something. These morons intentionally threw the Senate race in Georgia via cultivated, well-funded lying.