Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Libertarian triumphalism?

Brink Lindsey denies that there’s any "libertarian triumphalism" in this essay, but you could have fooled me. Consider these snippets:

American society has become more libertarian because, more than any other country on the planet, it has successfully adapted to the novel conditions of economic abundance. And because of the way this adaptation took place, a broadly defined libertarianism now occupies the center of the American political spectrum.

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Our politics today is stuck in a reactionary rut. The right remains unreconciled to irreversible cultural changes from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The left remains unreconciled to irreversible economic changes from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The idea of the libertarian center suggests that the way to break out of this rut is with a new, post-culture-wars politics that embraces both economic change and cultural diversity. I am not saying that some particular package of libertarian reforms is now the key to assembling a winning political coalition. The idea of a libertarian center is about the core of American political culture, not the margins of political change. What I’m saying is that partisans on both sides need to recraft their messages and programs to better reflect the entrepreneurial, tolerant spirit of contemporary America.

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[O]n subjects that have been of central concern to the conservative movement, Americans are becoming bluer, not redder, and conservatives will have to change with them or else be marginalized.

Lindsey’s description of the drift of American public opinion toward a kind of tolerant libertarianish center is plausible, but I’m not as convinced that the attitudes that sustain our decency and prosperity will survive the acid bath of libertarian individualism. For example, Lindsey quotes Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart to this effect:

“In a major part of the world, the disciplined, self-denying, and achievement-oriented norms of industrial society are giving way to an increasingly broad latitude for individual choice of lifestyles and individual self-expression.”

Is the apotheosis of choice and self-expression going to sustain a stable social order? Is it going to sustain a productive economy? Is it going to see us through the challenges we face, now from radical Islam and perhaps later from an emerging superpower like China? What will happen when the going gets tough? Where will our mushy libertarian centrists go? If "people are much less willing to subjugate their personal interests to standards set by families, employers, churches, and governments," will we ever be able to call them to sacrifice in the face of a civilizational challenge?

Perhaps. But in so doing we’ll reveal the shallowness of libertarianism with its all-too-optimistic and all-too-individualistic view of human nature.

Hat tip: Jonah G..

Discussions - 3 Comments

Is the apotheosis of choice and self-expression going to sustain a stable social order? Is it going to sustain a productive economy?

The post-1960s demographic decline of every Western state seems to be pretty to have rendered it's verdict on the former. The latter seems better, until you realize how dangerous the entitlement state has become to long-term survival. Entitlements cause the government to distort the market in endless ways to prop it up.

Just one question please about the "new libertarianism": is there any solid reason why the liberty of those who would prefer to own others as slaves should not be permitted again in the "tolerant spirit of cultural diversity"? If that freedom is still to be denied, on what basis can the new libertarians justify the denial?

Post-culture-wars politics Translation: pro-lifers, shut up.

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