Politics

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Something Better

May 19, 2016

Multiple Pages
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Something Better

There is no libertarian moment.

Contrary to popular opinion, the self-styled “liberty movement” is not ushering in a new era of freedom. Friedrich Hayek’s books aren’t flying off the shelf. Rand Paul’s sclerotic presidential campaign isn’t months away from downing Hillary Clinton. Libertarianism as a philosophy is still relegated to all-male conferences and basement-dweller Facebook pages.

You wouldn’t know that by the gleeful headlines running in certain libertarian publications, though.

Reason magazine, that libertine crack rag, just can’t let the libertarian moment go. Headline after headline is tagged with “libertarian moment,” inserting freedom where it doesn’t belong. Cam Newton’s “dab” dance? Libertarian moment. Beyoncé’s new hate whitey album? Libertarian moment. Millennials confused about our two-party system? Libertarian moment.

“A little thing called frustrated nationalism got in the way.”

It’s so bad that Nick Gillespie could step on a pile of dog shit and abstract an impending Gary Johnson administration from it.

The buzz around the “libertarian moment” emanates from an August 2014 New York Times Magazine article. At the time, libertarianism felt ascendant. Senator Paul was “the most interesting man in politics.” Social conservatism was on the wane, with the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision less than a year away. The creatively destructive sharing economy—represented most prominently by Uber and Airbnb—dominated headlines.

What happened to our great libertarian future? Why aren’t we looking forward to a reciting of The Law at the inaugural address and a shuttering of the Federal Reserve?

A little thing called frustrated nationalism got in the way.

Donald Trump lit the fuse of the 21st century’s biggest powder keg: uncontrolled migration from the Third World into the West. His nonpareil presidential campaign finally brought attention to the loss of sovereignty and cultural cohesion that Western countries are experiencing by welcoming untold numbers of foreigners.

The Republican-base voters whom libertarians hoped to convert put down Milton Friedman when thousands of undocumented minors poured through America’s southern border. They turned off John Stossel when Muslims took over whole European neighborhoods. When Islamic terrorists shot up Paris and bombed Belgium, it was “bye-bye” individualism and “hello!” collective security.

Trump won the GOP primary contest by proposing to ban Muslim immigration, “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, and build an actual wall along the Mexican border. Libertarians decry all these measures as authoritarian, racist, and fascistic. They don’t seem to realize that nobody is listening to them. By and large, the Republican electorate supports these measures.

Why the big misjudgment on the political landscape? Libertarians missed the emergence of the “national question” because they don’t think in terms of nations. For them, borders are a government construct, and because the state enforces them, they are illegitimate.

They don’t realize that while national governments establish borders, they serve a real and meaningful purpose. As paleocon columnist Sam Francis wrote, “National borders are both legal and cultural, separating one people and state from others.”

Just as we separate our homes via fences and grass lines, so we separate our countries. The arrangement isn’t perfect, but it’s not a terrible way of organizing people and establishing similar bounds of conduct within large geographic areas.

With their individual fetishism, libertarians have a difficult time accepting the idea of collective action. They also can’t process how people might reject the misunderstood Ben Franklin dictum of “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Man has a proclivity for safety, not liberty. Human history is littered with war after war, conflict after conflict. Whatever liberty we eke out of our constant warring state is always in danger of being lost. As philosopher John Gray noted, “To think of humans as freedom-loving, you must be ready to view nearly all of history as a mistake.”

It pains me to say it, but the neocons at the National Review are right: There never was a libertarian moment. America’s youth are enamored by a socialist senator. The threat of Islamic terrorism is not going away. Emerging industries are dropping their Henry Rearden-like independence and are openly collaborating with governments.

Most important, after years of dissolution, the feeling of belonging seems to be making a comeback. It’s great being an empowered individual, but autonomy must be tempered with a devotion to a larger body, whether it be family, town, or country. Libertarianism is predicated upon the idea that everyone can exist within their own sphere. It doesn’t acknowledge the bonds we have that turn life into more than just a dog-eat-dog struggle.

So, no, there is no libertarian moment, and there never was. Politics is about the provision of public goods, and the goods most on the mind of Republican voters are jobs, security, and immigration control. Libertarians lack the imagination needed to combat the feeling of alienation within one’s own country. Rugged individualism is not a solution to blue-collar Joe losing his job to a Hispanic illegal earning a quarter of his wage.

Until libertarians accept that 90% of the country live on a different intellectual plane than them, the philosophy will remain only of interest to polyamorous nitwits arguing on Reddit. And given the trend of libertarians teaming up with the culturally Marxist left, we’re probably better off if it stays that way.

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