For a supposedly “fringe” movement, libertarianism sure seems to be getting a lot of attention these days.
Chris Moody at Yahoo News argues that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is successfully fusing libertarian ideas like prison sentencing reform and a less aggressive foreign policy to grassroots conservatives, a typically hostile audience. The Republican National Committee recently passed a resolution calling for an end to the NSA’s bulk data collection. Many in the GOP also opposed President Obama’s attempts to start a war in Syria.
After decades of fighting and disagreements – culminating in the downright nasty treatment of former Congressman Ron Paul by mainstream Republicans – can libertarians now trust the GOP?
Not so fast. As John Glaser points out at Reason magazine, “Time and time again, the party not occupying the White House and lacking full control of Congress opposes the status quo and hunkers down on purported party creeds, only to contradict those principles when they return to power.”
Glaser shows how Republican rhetoric in the 1990s was very non-interventionist and budget-minded when it was a Democrat dropping the bombs and dispensing taxpayers funds. Yet when a Republican succeeded President Clinton, the Republicans cheered on, and smeared as unpatriotic anyone who opposed, President Bush’s massive expansion of government power, suspension of civil liberties, and overseas wars.
One can easily say the same thing about Democrats when they are out of power, but when it comes to Republicans specifically, it goes back even further. Although always quick to sprinkle in rhetoric about “limited government,” free markets, patriotism, and the Constitution, for over 100 years the GOP – and conservatism in general – has been the party of corporate welfare, war, crony capitalism, and big government.
It is the historically unique libertarian instincts of America that drives Republican politicians to adopt rhetoric that while pleasing to the ear is completely opposite of their actual public policies, especially as Americans increasingly oppose draconian drug war policies, debt-ridden government, and interventionist foreign policies.
But just because a Democrat is in power does not mean that conservatives and Republicans can possibly be trusted to dismantle a single aspect, program, or policy from what they would inherit from the Obama administration. Libertarians oppose centralized government power on principle; conservatives want this power for themselves. Like liberals, they favor their version of society imposed on the rest of us by the barrel of a gun.
Under whatever stiff, suited monster the GOP puts out there in 2016, does anyone think that their libertarian-ish rhetoric will continue? When President Jeb Bush is in charge of the NSA, the IRS, a global military power at his fingertips, and the rest of the alphabet soup of government agencies from Mordor, Republicans won’t even make it until Inaugaration Day before it’s “Render unto Caesar.”
While the Republicans try their best not to sound like authoritarians while they briefly do not hold the ring, what is also interesting has been the response from mainstream progressives and liberals to a rising popularity in libertarianism. Slate, Salon, the New York Times and the outright fascist Cass Sunstein have all recently put out smear-pieces against libertarians with laughably sophomoric arguments and straw-men, confirming the suspicion of libertarians like myself that liberals really have no idea what libertarianism is.
Conservatives want to mimic us, and liberals are scared of us. Max Freeman explains why in The Freeman. “In the peer-to-peer age, you really want to try to solve the world’s problems with the blunt instrument of government power? Dirigisme? How gauche. Government has been flogging that old mule for centuries now: Taxes, subsidies, and mandates. Lather, rinse, repeat. Is that all you got? It sort of inverts the terms “liberal” and “conservative” when you think about it. Progressives don’t want change; they want the same old things that don’t work. And when people listen to libertarians, they learn why. (Hint: libertarians actually understand economics.)”
Progressives love to pay lip sercive to equality and egalitarianism, yet never fail to support the centralization of state power that enriches corporations, benefits the 1%, harms the poor and the most vulnerable in society, and disincentivizes local solutions to local problems. Libertarianism is the real progressivism, and their focused hostility forces them to look in a mirror and wince.
While Democrats and Republicans bicker back and forth about who should be entrusted with the largest, most powerful instrument of violence in the history of the world, libertarians should look to neither party for hope and answers. As a matter of fact, politics in general should be distrusted as well.
In this day and age, people can now connect and trade ideas across borders and boundaries. It is becoming easier and easier to simply turn your back on the disorder that is imposed on us from a distant DC, circumvent their power, and create new orders based on markets, peace and cooperation.
Let the Republicans and Democrats shuffle the deck chairs of the Titanic; we’ll be busy taking Lyfts to local farmers markets to buy organic produce with Bitcoin in privately-secured neighborhoods.