Are We All Libertarians Now ?
As I noted yesterday, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post about the rise of a libertarian voting bloc, most notably found in the movement that has grown around the Ron Paul campaign.
The more interesting question, though, is whether the American public really is becoming more libertarian, and what that means for the country’s political future.
At Liberal Values, Ron Chusid argues that the ideas that are taking hold with the public resemble libertarianism, but aren’t of the doctrinaire variety that seems to motivate those attracted to Ron Paul’s campaign:
Libertarianism, especially as advocated by Ron Paul, is not the only pro-freedom philosophy and in some cases does not advocate freedom as seen by most Americans. Most see freedom in terms of how government impacts their lives, not whether the Federal Reserve is ended or American returns to the gold standard. Americans who reject the social policies of the religious right will find many of the same faults in Ron Paul, who denies that the founding fathers envisioned a secular society characterized by separation of church and state and who claims that the founding fathers envisioned the United States as a Christian nation. Paul’s support for federal legislation banning so-called partial birth abortions and legislation to eliminate the legal distinction between a zygote and a fully developed human contradict his claims of both supporting freedom and supporting state’s rights.
Chusid also makes point that I’ve made myself several times, that Federalism and individual liberty are not necessarily the same thing:
The stress for state’s rights is also not what most Americans are looking for when seeking freedom. What matters is the relationship between the individual and government, regardless of level of government. Turning duties performed by the federal government over to the states might sometimes be good, but this is not necessarily a matter of greater freedom. Often it is the reverse. Paul’s lack of acceptance of the 14th Amendment, which extended Constitutional liberties from the federal government to the states, could result in less freedom. It is often necessary to protect the rights of the minority from the majority. It is far easier to gain a majority to restrict liberties in a state or local area as opposed to nationally
As I noted in the comments to this post, the post-Reconstruction history of the South, dominated as it was by Jim Crow and the often brutal suppression of the individual liberties of black Americans, was by it’s very nature entirely a creation of state law and the reluctance of the Federal Government to do what needed to be done to enforce the 14th Amendment.
That’s why, for people who want to restrict the role of government in their lives, the idea of simply transferring power from Washington to, say, Trenton, isn’t entirely attractive. Additionally, with the Civil War now 140 years in the past, most Americans no longer think of themselves primarily as residents of the state in which they happen to reside but as citizens of the United States — the idea that their home state, assuming they even still live in their home state, deserves some special loyalty is alien to most Americans. Therefore, a political movement based primarily on “states rights” is unlikely to have the appeal that it did even back in the 1950s.
Chusid also notes that Americans haven’t fully accepting the libertarian message because they have come to believe that there are some areas where government is necessary. While I don’t agree with him entirely on this point, it’s hard to deny that this is at least partially true.
Chusid’s argument is similar to the one advance by Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey, who has argued that America’s creation of a mass affluence society has established trend that, on the whole, will lead to a political environment that is more skeptical of state intervention but accepts the role of government in the economy at some level.
It’s not a libertarian utopia, but it’s also not another Sweden and that, at least, is a start.