The PJ Tatler

Libertarianism Isn't Over, It Never Got Started

Tuesday, I presented a sober takeaway from the decline of Rand Paul’s campaign. I pointed to articles by Jerry Taylor and Jason Farrell arguing that the much anticipated “libertarian moment” was never an actual thing.

Rare editor Jack Hunter responded dismissively, writing that “all of these ‘Rand Paul-and-libertarism-is-over’ stories are dumb.” He blamed the failure of libertarian germination on one factor — Donald Trump:

… voters are not necessarily rejecting libertarianism, in the same way they are not necessarily rejecting Mike Huckabee’s social conservatism or Marco Rubio’s neoconservatism.

None of these things are being considered at the moment. The current GOP political climate is about being pro-Trump and anti-everything else…

… Rand Paul might not get beyond his current poll numbers and libertarianism may indeed be on the wane within the GOP. But to declare any ideas dead, the election first has to become about ideas.

Hunter sidesteps Taylor’s poll analysis and overall thesis regarding the political culture. Taylor notes that attitudes among the electorate toward specific government programs and policies indicate where voters lie on the ideological spectrum. People might say they’re for free markets and individual rights, but they love their Social Security and expect coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Commenting on Tuesday’s post, reader “Cruising Troll” offered some insight:

Libertarians have to prove that their smaller government free market ideas actually work. That means they have to get into city councils and county commissions and dismantle the regulatory/bureaucratic city/county. And then point at the results. And then move from there to the state level, rinse, repeat. Prove that libertarian principles work, prove that y’all stick by them.

Instead, they keep trying to go top down… which is ironically unproductive and unpersuasive.

As a recently elected city council member and professing libertarian, I can speak directly to the substance of Troll’s point. Implementing libertarian ideas, even at the local level, proves incredibly difficult for one overriding reason. People don’t want them.

I sit on my town’s planning commission as the council liaison. Planning commissions exist for one purpose, to bar property owners from using their property according to their own judgment. Everything from zoning to permitting to advising the council on suggested ordinances emerges from the presumption that property owners must gain permission from an authority to utilize their own property.

As a libertarian, I find that premise loathsome. What can I do about it? Aside from advocate for fewer restrictions and cast a dissenting vote when the opportunity arises, pretty much nothing. City planning remains an established and desired function of municipal government. The last thing most people want is a world in which their neighbor is free.

I could provide specific examples, but won’t. Suffice it to say, to Troll’s point, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to implement libertarian ideas in public policy than it is to espouse them on the internet. That’s because, as Taylor and Farrell indicate, libertarians remain a fringe minority in nearly every community.