A couple of weeks ago the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy piece by a guy named Robert Draper titled, Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived?
The gist of the article is summed up by Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief at Reason and a central figure in Draper’s article:
Just two weeks ago, The New York Times Magazine had the temerity to ask,“Has the Libertarian Moment Finally Arrived?” Among the evidence that America is becoming more socially tolerant, fiscally responsible, and interested in shaking things up: rapid increases in the acceptance of gay marriage, pot legalization, and other forms of self-expression; wariness toward our bipartisan interventionist foreign policy; widespread outrage at governmental invasions of privacy; continued antipathy toward Obamacare and declining approval ratings of Congress; and a general lack of belief that spending more money is going to fix the country anytime soon.
Gillespie has a vested interest in assuming that this is a unique time for libertarianism and his article goes on to use Ferguson as a metaphor for the rise of libertarian tendencies. I think that goes a bit too far, many of us appalled by the conduct of the police in Ferguson are hardly libertarians and for some of us our skepticism that the police actually act in a way significantly different from a legally sanctioned street gang began with the Rodney King beating and the station-house rape of Abner Louima.
What Draper and Gillespie offer up as proof is a rather thin.
For instance, a disapproval of morality has been a staple of the Progressive Movement since its inception. The libertarian fetish of personal licence has long had a home within the Democrat party. It is Democrats, not libertarians who have waged the war on marriage as it has been recognized since the dawn of human history. It is Democrats that led the charge for legalization of marijuana (though many of we conservatives have become so jaded by the evils wrought under the guise of the War on Drugs that we were willing to go along with it.)
Left and right have a broad agreement that government surveillance has gone too far. While Justin Amash styles himself a libertarian, when not running for office as a Republican and acting like a petulant ass, Carl Levin is most assuredly not. The strongest voice for civil liberties on the Supreme Court is Antonin Scalia… who is not libertarian in practice or inclination.
More problematic is Gillespie’s assertion that the Millennials, whom he sees as the shock troops of this libertarian moment, are opposed to Obamacare and spending more money. There is really no evidence to indicate this is the case. Support for Obamacare is lower among independents, whom one must assume includes libertarians, than Democrats but nearly three times higher than among Republicans.The Millennial generation is more supportive of Obamacare than any other age group.
When one looks at support for government spending, one finds that 54% of Millennials, according to a survey conducted by Reason, support a larger government providing more services over a smaller government and fewer services. Reason tries to smear lipstick on this pig by waffling:
At first glance millennials appear to prefer a “larger government providing more services” (54%) over a “smaller government providing few services” (43%). However, once tax rates are mentioned support for large government flips. Instead 57 percent favor “smaller government, providing fewer services, with low taxes” and 41 percent want “larger government providing more services, with high taxes.”
Unlike what the writer alleges, that Millennials are all budget-cutty, it simply underscores two facts. First, Millennials don’t have the native wit to figure out where the government gets its money– while this doesn’t disqualify them from voting, as it should, it certainly does not augur well for their ushering in a libertarian Age of Aquarius. Second, politicians sell benefits to voters not tax increases. The fact that Millennials like a big government with lots of services and only balk when it comes to paying more taxes and aren’t terribly clear about where the government gets its money indicates that they will vote for big government.
The answer to Draper’s question is obviously no. This is not a libertarian moment. The portion of the Millennial generation that Gillespie and others identify as the leading edge of a libertarian consensus are actually large government Progressives who will become doctrinaire Democrats in time. They want to do what their nether regions and medulla oblongata demand and they want free stuff. In short, you are looking at a younger and more priveleged version of the grifting, low information voter that keeps electing Democrats today.
Their ascendancy, if it happens, bodes ill for anyone who doesn’t fall in line. Cato’s Jason Kuznicki says this about libertarian morality:
Essentially nobody does that. We give a very false picture of developments since the 1960s if we suggest that it’s all been a matter of things disappearing from our moral radar. We have added many new norms as well, and we are clearly better off for having them. Norms against drunk driving, smoking, racism, and sexism are stronger than ever, and those are certainly better than the norm that permits you to disown your son if you find him having gay sex.
In short, there are norms, they are merely norms that he approves of. Adultery, shacking up, divorce are out. Is smoking really worse than buggery? AIDS and STD numbers would tend to indicate that isn’t the case. And we’ve seen what happens when these norms are put into play. Religious institutions composed of women sworn to celibacy, chastity, and continence are required to pay for contraception. People are fined for refusing to participate in homosexual marriage ceremonies.
When the big government leanings of Millennials are wedded to their “values” it will not be fun for those who do not fall in line.
The moment we may be on the cusp of experiencing is not a libertarian one. It is more likely than not one as oppressive as the worst story of Victorian society that is used to scare young libertarians into obedience at bedtime only this time technology and the regulatory state will join forces in doing something that Carrie Nation and other moral scolds never dreamed of achieving.