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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Libertarian Chic

The latest evidence that the Ron Paul Revolution has achieved pop-culture Cool Status is in the puffy Washington Post Outlook Section piece today by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch that discovers libertarianism for readers who have somehow missed the whole phenomenon over the last few decades.
To be sure, the authors of this piece know their subject; they are both editors for the libertarian mag Reason. But they are pitching their faith in a skewed way aimed at seducing people who should know better.
For one thing, Gillespie and Welch gets some simple facts wrong: they call the hyper-clericalist Guy Fawkes an “anarchist,” and they falsely claim that the libertarian strain of conservatism was once “dominant” in the GOP. More importantly, they almost exclusively identify libertarians with their most fashionable, progressive beliefs–opposition to the Iraq War and to civil liberties violations, and support for decriminalization of drugs–and not with their virulently reactionary opposition to every conceivable positive function of government.
If I sound a bit cranky on this subject, it’s because I think libertarianism is the least Cool, and most pedantic and tiresome political ideology on the map. Maybe you had to go through (as I did as an adolescent) the Ayn Rand Virus to understand the extent to which Ron Paul’s obsession with bringing back the Gold Standard is typical of the libertarian mindset. These are people who consider even the mildest forms of progressive taxation as “looting,” and even the most basic regulation of corporations as steps on the road to communism and fascism.
The most ridiculous part of the Gillespie/Welch effort to make libertarianism Cool is their breathless citation of celebrity support for Ron Paul and his Cause (Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Stone, Tucker Carlson, and even Barry Manilow are cited as self-described libertarians, and Drew Carey is also dragooned into the category). Well, what do you expect? Is it a surprise that some wealthy and hedonistic celebrities might favor an ideology that simultaneously lets them oppose wars, take drugs and avoid taxation?
Gillespie and Welch also note Markos Moulitsas’ effort to claim libertarianism as part of a latter-day Democratic ideology. With all due respect to Markos, it’s tough to imagine any real coalition involving people like him, who think it’s heretical to consider any changes in the Social Security system, and want Democrats to stand for universal health care, and people like Ron Paul, who would happily abolish Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and every other safety net program.
The simple reality is that libertarianism is neither new nor hip, nor progressive. No less an authority than Rand Herself described Bourbon Democrat Grover Cleveland, the late-nineteenth-century bete noir of the populists, as the beau ideal of libertarian governance. And the one contemporary libertarian who actually gained real power was Rand’s ever-faithful disciple Alan Greenspan, hardly a progressive figure.
I understand why some Democrats want to fete Ron Paul for his opposition to the war and his support for civil liberties. But get real, folks: an America run by the likes of Ron Paul might be peaceful and non-authoritarian, but from the perspective of every other progressive value, it would be Hooverism on steroids (though libertarians might well object to the analogy on grounds that Hoover was far too altruistic!).
The Ron Paul Counter-Revolution would be a better monniker for the Texan’s campaign.

One comment on “Libertarian Chic

  1. Mbast1 on

    As a former libertarian who was heavily involved in the movement, I have to say good job. This article, while it doesn’t go into some of the very anti-progressive characteristics of many libertarians, does point out that there simply isn’t much common ground between libertarians and progressives. If nothing else, their ideology celebrates rampant corporatism, and I can’t think of anything more opposed by the left, to say nothing of dangerous.


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