The libertarian or “freedom movement” is a loose and baggy monster that includes the Libertarian Party; Ron Paul fans of all ages; Reason magazine subscribers; glad-handers at Cato Institute’s free-lunch events in D.C.; Ayn Rand obsessives and Robert Heinlein buffs; the curmudgeons at Antiwar.com; most of the economics department at George Mason University and up to about one-third of all Nobel Prize winners in economics; the beautiful mad dreamers at The Free State Project; and many others. As with all movements, there’s never a single nerve center or brain that controls everything. There’s an endless amount of in-fighting among factions […] On issues such as economic regulation, public spending, and taxes, libertarians tend to roll with the conservative right. On other issues — such as civil liberties, gay marriage, and drug legalization, we find more common ground with the progressive left.
Nick Gillespie, “Libertarianism 3.0; Koch And A Smile”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-30.
January 28, 2015
December 8, 2014
The two Reason stalwarts did an “Ask Me Anything” session at Reddit last week:
We’re Matt Welch (/u/MattWelchReason) and Nick Gillespie (/u/Nick_Gillespie), the editors of Reason magazine, Reason.com and Reason TV and co-authors of 2011’s The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America.
Matt’s also the co-host of The Independents on Fox Business Network and Nick is a columnist for The Daily Beast and Time.com.
Go ahead and ask us anything about politics, culture, and ideas and the libertarian movement, 2016, you name it. But we’ve got to warn you that quite probably the toughest question — “Ever wonder what it’d look like if you switched faces?” — has already been asked and answered #triggerwarning
Proof: Matt and Nick
November 25, 2014
Tim Black thinks John Stuart Mill (were he still alive) would be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for mis-appropriating the title of his famous book:
Given the eponymous nod to John Stuart Mill, Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty promises to be a tribute to individual freedom. It promises to be a stirring defence of liberty written by someone who, as the head of the 80-year-old civil-rights campaign group Liberty, has been knee-deep, holding back the tide of aggressive, illiberal legislation. It promises to be an unbowed affirmation of freedom at a time when it has rarely been more devalued.
But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.
But first, the prose. Whatever vital impulse there was behind writing this book must have expired long before it reached the page. There’s no life here, no spirit. It as if Chakrabarti has barely thought about the words she’s using. Even when she’s describing the frustrations of her ‘university-educated’ mum, held back ‘by a lack of affordable childcare’, she sounds as if she’s dashing off a policy document, not portraying a loved one. Admittedly, she does prove capable of a geekish whimsy at points — ‘You might say that I am a Jedi Knight who began on the dark side of the force’, she writes of her career beginnings at the UK Home Office. But On Liberty is mainly composed of dead phrases and, worse still, argument-averse legalese. ‘This type of administrative detention by the UK secretary of state’, she writes of the internment of foreign terror suspects at Belmarsh, ‘is not incompatible with the right to personal liberty and the right against arbitrary detention under Article 5 of the Human Rights Convention, as long as it is necessary to the stated purpose, provided for in legislation and subject to scrutiny and appeals in the appropriate courts and tribunals’. Magical stuff.
November 22, 2014
October 21, 2014
I’ve been a bit busy to pay much attention to the by-election going on here in Whitby-Oshawa for the seat of the late Jim Flaherty, but I was delighted to get this bit of news:
— Andrew Echevarria (@AndrewLibertyCA) October 21, 2014
At least I know I’ve got someone I can vote for without having to hold my nose.
October 6, 2014
The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.
The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.
(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)
I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds.
Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.
September 30, 2014
P.J. O’Rourke talks to Senator Rand Paul:
The Senator smiled and shrugged. “I never really felt like it was a problem explaining libertarian principles in practical politics. Republicans are champions of economic liberty. Democrats are champions of personal liberty. Bring the two back together.”
The Senator said, “The problem is mostly how people characterize libertarianism. But that’s changing. Libertarian has gone from being something scary to something people like as a label for themselves.”
He said, “There are different ways to get where we want to go.” And gave an example of going nowhere. “Nothing good has come out of the war on drugs.”
“What’s a different way?” I asked.
“I like the unenumerated powers.”
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. The Tenth Right in the Bill of Rights keeps us from having just nine rights.
“In The Federalist Papers,” I said, “Hamilton argued against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that government even mentioning rights like free speech implied government had some power over those rights.”
“But it’s a good thing we did write them down,” the Senator said, “otherwise we’d have nothing left.”
Senator Paul asked, not quite rhetorically, “Is this the ‘Libertarian Moment’? If so, it probably won’t come from a third party. Probably it will come from within a party.”
“From within the Democratic Party?” He didn’t seem to think it was inconceivable. “In New Hampshire,” he said, “even Democrats are against state income and sales taxes.”
But he didn’t seem to think it was likely either. “Republicans are an ideological coalition,” he said. “Democrats are a coalition of ideologies. The only thing Democrats agree on is income redistribution.”
Sen. Paul said, “Republicans have tradition on their side. It’s the American revolution versus the French Revolution.”
This was a switch – a flip-flop if you will – from Thomas Paine’s radical liberty de facto to Edmund Burke’s traditional liberty de jure. But I don’t fault the Senator. No friend of liberty can avoid the tumble back and forth between Burke and Paine.
“Tradition is a good thing,” the Senator said. “Ninety percent of Americans don’t break the law, not because there’s a law against it, but because they have a tradition of conscience. Republicans are traditional. But tradition can be boring. Libertarianism spices things up. Republicans have to either adapt, evolve, or die. They either have to water [down] their message — or extend liberty.”
Nick Gillespie responds to a really dumb argument against libertarianism:
As one of the folks (along with Matt Welch, natch), who started the whole “Libertarian Moment” meme way back in 2008, it’s been interesting to see all the ways in which folks on the right and left get into such a lather at the very notion of expanding freedom and choice in many (though sadly not all) aspects of human activity.
Indeed, the brain freeze can get so intense that it turns occasionally smart people into mental defectives.
To wit, Damon Linker’s recent essay in The Week (a great magazine, by the way), which argues that the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism, in particular, the Hayekian principle of “spontaneous order.”
No shit. Linker is being super-cereal here, kids:
Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.
In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.
You got that? An archetypal effort in what Hayek would call “constructivism,” neocon hawks would call “nation building,” and what virtually all libertarians (well, me anyways) called a “non sequitur” in the war on terror that was doomed to failure from the moment of conception is proof positive that libertarianism is, in Linker’s eyes, “a particularly bad idea” whose “pernicious consequences” are plain to see.
In the sort of junior-high-school rhetorical move to which desperate debaters cling, Linker even plays a variation on the reductio ad Hitlerum in building case:
Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.
Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”
What nuance: Exterminating Jews may be the worst idea…! When a person travels down such a rhetorical path, it’s best to back away quickly, with a wave of the hand and best wishes for the rest of his journey. Who can seriously engage somebody who starts a discussion by saying, “You’re not as bad as the Nazis, I’ll grant you that”…? I’d love to read his review of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninjas movie: “Not as bad as Triumph of the Will, but still a bad film…”
August 29, 2014
One of the biggest problems facing the Right these days is an inability to answer the question, “How should we live?” One reason for this is that we don’t want the government imposing an answer. Another reason is that we rightly don’t want to tell other people how to live. A third is that the conservatives who do try to tell everyone how to live are simply buzzkills and pariahs in the mainstream culture. A fourth reason is that we simply assume that the institutions of civil society that we draw meaning from are adequate for others to draw meaning from as well. And maybe they are — but something is stopping a lot of people from drawing sustenance from the Burkean little platoons of civil society. And, as a result, many are also having trouble making the most of what capitalism has to offer.
This was my point about how the Constitution is powerless against Satan. A healthy society should not have to resort to constitutional arguments to explain why building a shrine to devil-worshippers on public land next to the Ten Commandments is incredibly stupid. Indeed, if all you have left are constitutional arguments, you’ve lost.
“Today, the New Left is rushing in to fill the spiritual vacuum at the center of our free and capitalist society,” Irving Kristol wrote over three decades ago in Two Cheers for Capitalism. Indeed, because they are liberated from the need to pay tribute to the idols of the old order, the Left has always had an easier time telling people how they should live. Conservatives — who wish to conserve what is good or even eternal about the old order — are always at a disadvantage in this regard. (Our advantage is that our ideas may be boring but they have been proven to work. “What is conservatism?” Abraham Lincoln asked. “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”)
Thanks to the mostly healthy influence of libertarianism, conservatives have lost interest in making arguments about right and wrong, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable, preferring instead to fall back on the principles of the Constitution, federalism, and individual liberty. We’ve largely gotten out of the business of telling people how to live. And that’s probably a good thing, at least in most circumstances.
The problem is that the Left hasn’t gotten out of that business — at all. It is selling people an answer to “How should we live?” It’s fine for us to point out the deficiencies of their offer. But it would be nice if conservatives had a counter-offer that people wanted to hear.
Jonah Goldberg, “It’s Still Only Two Cheers for Capitalism”, The Goldberg File, 2014-01-31
August 27, 2014
Published on 26 Aug 2014
“Just this whole process of going through the baby boom’s history, I began to realize what a nicer society — kinder, more decent society — that we live in today than the society when I was a kid,” says P.J. O’Rourke, best-selling author of Holidays in Hell, Parliament of Whores, and many other titles.
O’Rourke sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest 2014 in Las Vegas to discuss his new book, The Baby Boom: How it Got That Way and It Wasn’t My Fault and I’ll Never Do it Again. As the father of three kids born between 1997 and 2004, he also lays down some thoughts about millennials, noting that they live in a much nicer, more tolerant world than the one in which he grew up. “I don’t think my 10-year old boy has ever been in a fist fight,” says O’Rourke, who was born in 1947. “I mean there might be a little scuffling but I don’t think he’s has ever had that kind of violent confrontation that was simply part of the package when I was a kid.”
He also feels that the internet “fragments information” in a way that destroys the sweep of history, at least at first. “You end up with mosaic information,” he says. “Now, I think over time the kids put these mosaics together but I don’t think the internet itself lends itself to the sweep of history.”
The interview also includes a tour of O’Rourke’s long and varied career in journalism, from his humble beginnings writing for an underground alt-weekly to his time as editor of National Lampoon and his incredible work as a foreign correspondent for Rolling Stone to his current position as columnist at the Daily Beast.
A prominent libertarian, O’Rourke also discusses the difficulties in selling a political philosophy devoted to taking power away from politicians.
“If libertarianism were easy to explain and if it weren’t so easy to exaggerate the effects of libertarianism — people walking around with ‘Legalize Heroin!’ buttons and so on — I think it would’ve been done already,” says O’Rourke. “But the problem is, of course, is that libertarianism isn’t political. It’s anti-political, really. It wants to take things out of the political arena.”
August 20, 2014
Vice is not a venue that normally has nice things to say about any Republican, but they go out of their way to do so for Rand Paul in this profile by Grace Wyler:
For the past two years, from the moment Ron Paul called off the Revolution and headed back to Texas, the political establishment has been eagerly waiting for his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, to run for president. They’ve watched with amusement as Paul popped up around the country — in Iowa and New Hampshire, at Evangelical powwows, Howard University, the ACLU — and at the top of early 2016 polls. Unlike his father, it’s hard to deny that he Paul is a “serious” candidate. But the idea that he could actually be elected President of the United States? That’s never been taken very seriously.
But with half of the GOP’s 2016 bench trying to avoid prison time and Democrats spinning their wheels in Obama’s second-term rut, the idea of a President Rand Paul is starting to sound less and less crazy. On issues like criminal justice reform, mass surveillance, and drug policy, Paul is casting himself as Another Option, carving out new space as the candidate who can make room for both small-government libertarians and other voters — young people and minorities, mostly — who don’t see either party as particularly effective or relevant. And some of what he’s saying makes a lot of sense.
Take Paul’s comments about the events in Ferguson, Missouri. In an op-ed published by Time on Thursday, the Kentucky Senator laid out a remarkably blunt, even angry, assessment of the racial tensions at the center of this week’s riots, linking policing issues to his broader critique of the federal government.
On other issues, too, Paul has been able to find unexpected common ground with voters outside of the aging, white GOP base. His views on issues like medical marijuana, federal sentencing laws, government spying, drones, and military intervention are much more closely aligned with public opinion — particularly among young voters — than those of any of his potential 2016 Republican rivals, and also of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. This is probably not, as last week’s New York Times Magazine suggested, the harbinger of some national libertarian moment. But it does give Paul the space to expand his appeal with the younger generation of voters — something the Republican Party admits it needs to do if it ever wants to win another presidential election.
August 12, 2014
J.D. Tuccille on five libertarian issues that should matter just as much to non-libertarians:
Are libertarians just Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man? That’s what many critics of the libertarian movement, and its seemingly looming moment in American history (as reported by the New York Times) would have you believe. But maybe we’re smoking that grass because we’re all too aware of what government officials do with that money (and to us all) when they get their hands on it (Ayn Rand did provide some cautionary tales, if you care to read her books).
Below are just five of the many issues on which libertarian journalists, independent think-tankers, state-challenging politicians, and freedom-loving litigators, among others, have worked to preserve and extend our liberty over the years. These are issues that matter to us. We think they should matter to you too — and they already may.
America’s Insane Incarceration Rate
“Every ten or eleven people that you meet, someone is going to either know someone in prison, has been in prison with a record, or you met them and they are going off to prison,” Michael Stoll, co-author of Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?, told Reason last year.
Those who now fill the nation’s jails, prisons, and detention centers, says the Prison Policy Initiative, number about 2.4 million people.
The Insane War on Drugs
The easiest way to get thrown behind bars in recent years has been by using, buying, selling, or merely possessing an intoxicant that doesn’t meet politicians’ approval. Prohibition of alcohol may have failed, but the impulse to prohibit — and to penalize those who don’t or won’t get with the program, continues in laws against marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and myriad other substances.
Whatever the Hell Happened to Police in This Country
You can’t have prisons groaning full of people busted for drug violations without somebody to put them there. That somebody is inevitably law enforcement in all its various permutations—though you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an occupying army, given the military tactics, equipment, and mindset that so many police departments have adopted.
Small Business-Killing Meddling
Government officials don’t have to unleash uniformed minions on you to make your life miserable — they can do the same thing with a web of red tape and a plague of inspectors. The challenge of making an honest living can become almost impossible when burdened with bureaucracy.
You can’t enjoy life, liberty, and prosperity if your ass has been shot off in some politician’s bloody military adventure. And libertarian-oriented lawmakers feature prominently among the “wacko-birds” denounced by uber-hawk, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.). Specifically, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) ranked proudly among those called out for opposing drone assassinations and unprovoked interventions in other countries’ affairs.
August 8, 2014
In The Federalist, David Harsanyi goes out of his way to stamp out any libertarian optimism that the typical American voter is becoming more in favour of free minds and free markets:
A libertarian — according to the dictionary, at least — is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.
Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”
Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.
Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.
The case for libertarian political success always seems to hinge on the idea of pleasing the left on social issues — namely, on abortion. So why is that the most successful libertarians — and really we’re talking about Republicans like Justin Amash and Rand Paul — rarely focus on the issues that allegedly define the “libertarian moment.” Paul has taken a moderate, incremental approach on gay marriage. He’s strongly pro-life. And he’s the most successful libertarian politician in America. Many social conservatives are giving Paul’s libertarian views on foreign policy, the NSA, and sentencing reform a fair hearing. Which would not have happened if he had moved strongly to the left on social issues.
Democrats will never be able to accept libertarian fiscal policy. It’s far more likely that conservatives will end up adopting a more laissez faire, let-the-states-decide outlook out of necessity. So maybe the more apt political question should be: how do libertarians and social conservatives coexist? That hasn’t happened yet. Until it does there is no libertarian moment in American politics.
August 7, 2014
Republican politicians as bands? In the New York Times? Fascinating. Here’s Matt Welch responding to the article:
The New York Times Magazine has just published a 6,600-word exploration of, essentially, whether, Nick Gillespie is right when he says “The libertarian moment is now.” Writer Robert Draper, author of the terrific 1991 book Rolling Stone Magazine: An Uncensored History, and more recently When the Tea Party Came to Town, takes an entertaining tour through various antechambers of the libertarian movement, from Reason‘s gin-swilling D.C. headquarters, through the Free State Project’s anarchic PorcFest, to the offices of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), in search of ever-elusive answers about what these libertarians want, how/if they plan to use two-party system to get there, and whether 2016 will be the presidential cycle when the burgeoning libertarianism of the millennial generation will produce a political realignment.
You’ll come for the Kennedy Ron Paul/Nirvana quote, stay for the Nick Gillespie/Lou Reed comparison, savor David Frum’s delicious contempt, and be left rooting for a clarifying Rand Paul/Hillary Clinton showdown.
July 2, 2014
Whenever I talk to people about libertarianism, they usually dismiss it right off because of all the misconceptions that are floating about. They seem to have no understanding of what libertarianism is actually. This is largely thanks to all the years of government schooling, as well as the falsehoods perpetrated by the lamestream media. Usually their objections are based on falsehoods that are repeated often in government school textbooks and by talking heads who don’t know Jack about libertarianism.
They seem to believe the myth that the free market was a gigantic cesspool that was letter cleansed by the purity of government. This is largely based on a work of fiction created by Upton Sinclair, even though it was largely debunked by two different investigations performed under two different branches of government. They also seem to have the cartoon image of the greedy “Robber Barons” who supposedly created monopolies so they could line their wallets, while the poor became poorer. Never mind that they actually found ways to produce cheaper goods, which gave the poor greater access to them.
That is why there are so many people who believe that the government is the end all solution to everything. They have become so accustomed to having the government interfere in their daily lives that they can’t imagine life without it. That is why people make straw man arguments against libertarianism. Well, that and intellectual laziness also plays a strong part in it. The same intellectual laziness that I have seen in many creationists who constantly attack evolution without even bothering to open a science book to find out what they are arguing against.
Sean Gangol, “Misconceptions”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2013-12-08