Libertarianism's Limits

The American Conservative, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

Libertarianism's Limits


In politics there's always a temptation to overdo what works--to refight the last battle, especially if you won it, rather than look over the horizon. Realigning the South and mobilizing evangelical Christians paid great dividends for the conservative movement. But doing so also led political conservatives to forget how to appeal to other regions and traditions, with the result that the successful formula of 40 years ago now elicits diminishing returns.

In fact, the "New Right" of that time has been succeeded by a newer right--one that's noticeably more libertarian. Young Americans locked to Ron Paul's banner in 2008 and 2012. And with good reason: nearly all their lives the country had been at war, and they were the generation who were to fall hardest once the Potemkin economy of the 2000s collapsed. What's more, Paul spoke with a frankness and courtesy that appealed to them--especially in contrast to the hectoring of most partisan ideologues.

In the years since Paul became a national figure, these new libertarians have combined with the older conservative base to re-energize the right. The Tea Party is but the most striking outward and visible sign. The Objectivist cult of Ayn Rand has also taken advantage of the new spirit on the right--witness the serial film adaptations of Atlas Shrugged--while on a more encouraging note, a long-subdued conservative-libertarian critique of "crony capitalism" has found eloquent expression and a growing audience. Perhaps most important of all, in light of the catastrophic foreign policy America followed in the last decade, young libertarians have swelled the ranks of non-interventionists on the right.

Conservatives in the vein of Edmund Burke can find much to welcome here. …

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