New America Foundation fellow Michael Lind has a provocative op/ed in today’s Financial Times, entitled, “The Unmourned End of Libertarian Politics.” His thesis is that voters and parties have rejected every libertarian proposal there has been since the 1960s libertarian counter-revolution and that therefore,
The demise of both socialism and libertarianism pretty much limits the field to moderate social democracy and big-government conservatism. The limitation of options on the horizontal left-right spectrum is accompanied, however, by a growing vertical, top-bottom divide between an elite committed to globalisation and mass immigration and a populist, nationalist majority. If this replaces the older horizontal left-right divide, then we may see a third, “third way” – one which positions itself between the crudest forms of populism and utopian forms of transnationalism.
The libertarian moment has passed. It will not come again, and its defeat as a force in US politics will change the definitions of right, left and centre – not just in the US but also, the world.
I find this remarkably short-sighted and ill-timed. Faith in government is quite possibly as low as it ever has been. Even Alternet today proposes abolishing a government agency – and with good reason. While people might have turned to government after 9/11, they turned away again after the manifest failures of government – at every level – when the hurricanes struck last year. No matter how bad the situation, government can make it worse. And even after 9/11, the majority of Americans had no faith in government to handle social issues, just national security (see here – and that’s from the DLC!)
Lind is also blind to what is happening in the rest of the world if he thinks his thesis is applicable there. Europe is stagnant percisely because it adopted the political landscape he proposes, although classical liberalism is making a comeback in Germany, where Chancellor Merkel is clearly the most classically liberal leader for a very long time, and even in France. In Asia, meanwhile, India has finally rejected collectivism and is beginning to free the energies and genius of its people (see, for example, Barun Mitra’s op/ed in the New York Times of all places on conserving tigers through private ownership), while China is growing rich on the same principles. Australia and Canada have both rejected collectivism in favor of liberal, conservative governments (Australia repeatedly).
Moreover, libertarianism is evolving. The laundry list of policies Lind outlines are not the focus of today’s libertarians / classical liberals. The current focus is the institutions of liberty that guide and influence freedom. There will be more on this throughout the day at CEI’s Open Market blog.
For the record, I do not regard myself as a libertarian, but as a Thatcherite Conservative from the Liberal Unionist tradition.