We Are All Not Libertarians Now

Lots of talk lately about a “libertarian moment.” However, it appears there may be few actual libertarians to have a “moment.”

A Pew Survey found that about 11 percent of Americans are libertarian, meaning they call themselves libertarian and know what the word means. However, among this group there were huge inconsistencies in their opinions, and on the whole their ideas about government policy are not significantly different from the views commonly held by a lot of other Americans.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of people are libertarian but don’t know it. It means that libertarians don’t automatically endorse libertarian views. About four in ten libertarians said that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest (41%). Others also said government assistance to the poor “does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met” (38%). Further,

…there are only slight differences between libertarians and the public in views of the acceptability of homosexuality. And they are about as likely as others to favor allowing the police “to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect” (42% of libertarians, 41% of the public). … Libertarianism is generally associated with a less activist foreign policy, yet a greater share of self-described libertarians (43%) than the public (35%) think “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.”

These are the ones who correctly defined libertarianism, mind you.

I wrote a few days ago that there seems to be more faux than actual libertarianism floating around. And I have also observed that it’s something of a party game for libertarians to denounce anyone in the public eye associated with them as a fake. The difference between the fake and the true libertarian is an elusive thing that defies measuring, however.

See also Pew: What If The Libertarian Movement Doesn’t Really Exist?

10 thoughts on “We Are All Not Libertarians Now

  1. And then there are the Rand Paul libertarians, who want to shrink government small enough to fit inside women’s vaginas!

  2. It does make sense that libertarianism is such a nebulous concept. Given the emphasis on radical individualism, we should expect widely diverging views among people who call themselves libertarians.

    I suspect that the individualism has something to do with the generally poor quality of libertarian scholarship and analysis, too. It isn’t really an attitude that encourages intellectual rigor.

  3. Stephen’s comment reminds me of a time in my college days, lo those many years ago, in the mid 70s. My girlfriend’s roommate went to the library with us. She was writing a paper on the subject of communism. After about an hour she found us and asked if we were ready to go. She had found definitive proof that communism was an unworkable, impossible system. Of course, I was truly humbled to be in the presence of an intellect that could so quickly penetrate the miasma of political and philosophical debate in the space of an hour, when so many academics had been tripped up in the details. The feat is even more remarkable when you deduct time for soldiering through the Library of Congress System, trudging the aisles and talking to the occasional classmate.

    The few true Randian Libertarians that I have known, although “known” might be an exaggeration, seem to have had the same sort of experience. They found the truth early on, as if stumbling on some treasure, scattered on the ground, in plain view. They were very intelligent people, good at puzzles and taking tests. They were rational, but simple minded, in that the success of their logic was dependent on a Manichean clarity. Their premises could be chosen, and as needed, processed to the degree of purity necessary for them to construct an absolutely airtight, quintessentially logical and inescapably obvious argument, that bore no resemblance whatsoever, to reality. We have all walked through a similar territory, probably more often than we would admit. Needless to say, their dance cards were seldom full.

    I have a cousin of some uncertain enumeration, who is a young, successful musician. He is a self described, “hippie” and also, a libertarian. I think at this point in his life, the social justice that libertarianism seems to trumpet, but never pursue, appeals to him. Since his band has met with some success and he is already making a decent living and paying for college, some of the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and individual freedom” stuff might appeal to him a little more than it will when and if, the “party ends.” But, all the social justice and better world rhetoric is really just clever packaging and window dressing. The prize inside the package is the economic policy, which clearly gives the reins of political power to the lords of the manor, not a young hippie with a guitar. They somehow make the case that if we deregulate the energy sector, racism will end, LGBT people will enjoy their rights and a new era of freedom will dawn. The logic is inescapable.

    • “an absolutely airtight, quintessentially logical and inescapably obvious argument, that bore no resemblance whatsoever, to reality.” Love it. That should be the dictionary definition of libertarianism.

  4. After 8 years of W’s mucked-up mis-administration, Republicans sought other label’s, since “Compassionate Conservative” and Republican George had crapped on the Constitution, started two needless wars and occupations, allowed bin Laden to walk, ok’d domestic spying, let New Orleans drown, took away Habeas Corpus, and deregulated to the point of a near world-wide economic collapse.
    Self-identifying as a Republican, was an embarrassment. It also had the connotation of some sense of responsibility for the mess of those 8 long years.
    And, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 4+ decades, it’s that Conservatives have no sense of responsibility.

    So, after W’s mess, some conservatives chose to be labeled as Independents, some Libertarians, and some, when it was created deep in the bowels of the Koch Brothers, as Tea Partiers.

    The Tea Partiers are a mix of the religious and fiscal conservatives, and the followers of The John Birch Society.
    The independents, are a mix of various conservative mindsets, who no longer wanted to be tainted by being called Republican.
    Libertarians, are the ones who want to smoke pot while counting their money, and not get arrested for it.

    Despite the MSM’s attempts to find common ground between these people and Liberals/Progressives, there is none.
    None of these conservative groups has any empathy or consideration for women, immigrants, gays, minorities, or people who are not Christian.
    And Liberals do.

    There is no common ground.

  5. Excellent comment , goatherd. It’s like you can kick the tires and admire the chrome, but just don’t look under the hood. A transmission full of sawdust..?

  6. And they are about as likely as others to favor allowing the police “to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect” (42% of libertarians, 41% of the public). …

    Is this statement describing the same concept as stop and frisk? If it is, than the general description of a crime suspect would mean the color of their skin alone. The survey question kind of misleads in the fact that it doesn’t mention that the crime suspect isn’t suspected for a specific criminal act, but rather stopped and searched based on their appearance alone.

  7. If you distill Christianity to bare essentials you probably get, “Christ died for my sins.” You can disagree about a lot of details, but it’s hard to discard that core precept. Libertarianism boils down to these four words, “Rich people are better.”

    I am not qualified to argue the motives of Christ. However, in a democracy, rich people are not better – they just have more money. (Which is why a lot of libertarians argue that the USA is not a democracy.) In a democracy, their businesses should be regulated so they don’t pollute, so they provide safe places to work and they can’t cheat their employees. Monopolies and other unfair business practices can be prohibited to promote a free market. Rich people should pay their share of taxes as determined by the elected representatives of the majority.

    These principles of democracy are heresy to true libertarians, most of whom expect they will be outrageously rich some day and expect a set of rules that exempts them for the precept, ‘all men are created equal.’ They don’t want to be equal, they want to become aristocrats, and with that status be treated as ‘better’ which is what wealth is all about.

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