The unmourned end of libertarian politics

by Michael Lind,
Senior fellow
New America Foundation

The most epochal event in world politics since the cold war has occurred – and few people have noticed. I am not referring to the conflict in Iraq or Lebanon or the campaign against terrorism.
It is the utter and final defeat of the movement that has shaped the politics of the US and other western democracies for several decades: the libertarian counter-revolution.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, the US and other liberal democracies adopted their own versions of modern welfare state capitalism. By the mid-20th century, in every western democracy, the legitimacy of the welfare state was accepted by mainstream parties of the right as well as the centre and left. But not by the libertarians. Unlike Eisenhower, Nixon and other “modern Republicans”, America’s libertarians did not seek a more fiscally responsible welfare state. They wanted to abolish the welfare state altogether and replace it with an “opportunity society” or “ownership society”. They were revolutionaries – or more precisely, counter-revolutionaries, seeking to restore an idealised Victorian world of laisser faire capitalism.

Read more@ The Financial Times.


Cato said...

I would not be so quick to say libertarian politics has ended. Not only is the third largest political party in the United States the Libertarian Party (meaning in the short term it is still viable), but when the debt-money house of cards that is the Federal Reserve falls apart and Atlas shrugs, the welfare state will fall.

Josh said...


This was extremely interesting. I was quite impressed.

Cato... does this mean you'll shut down your OTBL membership? haha

Josh said...

What's really interesting here is that OTBL really does stand firmly in the libertarian category described here, and many of them would admit it.

Yet, There is NO way I'm the socialist described in that article, nor andy for that matter.. nor many people on this blog. I think a lot of us on ATBL are all along the spectrum from left to moderate to even conservative.

Its the radical right (OTBL) that keeps screaming at the top of its lungs pretending people are listening.

Cato said...

I don't see what is so radical about the government obeying the Law of the Land.

Cato said...

Yes people have accepted the fact that the welfare state is part of our lives. So is cancer and disease, war and crime, and death and taxes. Evil is not a GOOD thing simply because it exists. That is where the author of this article fails. He assumes that since many people have resigned to the fact that the welfare tate exists that it is a good thing. George Bush is not a right winger. He is a neo-con. We all know this. Neo-cons' only difference from liberals is that in foreign policy they will readily use force as an option to make the world safe for democracy. They are President Wilson's children. At home they want the same things liberals do. Soending is at outrageous proportions. Many Republicans are jumping out of Neo-con ship. The libertarian party is more viable than ever, and I think it may suprise you all in the immediate future. It just takes a few people (since so few care) to move their votes and plant the seeds of liberty in our local, state and national politics.

AndyRand said...


I find it amazing and amusing how you define evil, as it's invariably at odds with the majority.
I also find it amusing that you don't consider neo-cons "Right Wing". My God, what are the Bolsheviks?

Every day on the news I hear of some unscruopulous corporation, scammer, quack, or other charlatan conconcting some scheme to take advantage of the general public. I think the public rightfully expects protection from these evils.
I'm tired of hearing cries from your side that the Government is not "my daddy". I, and I believe most in this country expect government to actually do something, and one is to protect it's citizens from evils like those mentioned above and provide service to "promote the general welfare" (from the preample which I'm sure you are aware).
Unlike you, when I see people look to the "government" I see them looking to themselves to solve problems and promote general welfare. Those establishing a government to promote the common good are not looking to big daddy as you believe.
I'm certain that history will show that the government response to Katrina will have been one of the largest factors in the unraveling of this administration. In my mind, that only goes to prove that the vast majority in this country expect the government to promote the general welfare. This is not the "Welfare State" that you and your minions revile, but I'm sure you see it as that.

Anonymous said...


What's the difference between laizze-faire, free market and perfect competition? Or are they the same...

Cato said...

What? Katrina? The Federal government should have given ZERO dollars to them. It was a local issue and it remains a local issue. It is not the concern of the Federal government to steal my money to give to people for making bad decisions in their past, let alone SUSIDIZE them to continue to make bad decisions (government mandated artifically cheap flood insurance = more deaths and more property damage).

The man who wrote the Constitution and who authored many of the documents that supported it under the name of Publius, President Madison, vetoed legislation to give aid to farmers in Texas who had be stricken by drought.

He said, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

The government will throw you in jail for disobeying the law. Maybe you're a poor chap who forgot to get car insurance. A few times. Then you get thrown in jail, and beaten to death. It happens (well, it just happened, sadly). He broke the law, and gets beaten to death.

Those in charge have burned the Constitution and disrespect every word of it, yet we are not hanging them for treason. Why? Because most people like security. You are right Andyrand. Most people would forsake liberty for security. Most people like the idea that someone somewhere is looking out for them. Whether it be GOD or GOVERNMENT they want someone else to do work for them and make their life fine. They would rather not be free. It's been this way for all of human history. Yes, you are correct.

But it doesn't matter that most people are rubes. That's where you are wrong. The Law of the Land is still the Law of the Land and it must be respected.

To quote V the anarchist,

"While I'll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate. It was you who encouraged these malicious incompetents who have made your working life a shambles. All you had to say was "no." You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company."

Yes, the people want security and do not want liberty. The freedom to fail and die in a van down by the river is a freedom I want for every man woman and child. The freedom to cucceed and not have to carry the rest of the world on your shoulders is a freedom I want for every man woman and child. The freedom to do as you please without government interference, from taking recreational drugs to refusing to take chemotherpy without the government forcing it upon you as they are known to do is a freedom I want for every man woman and child. You would deny people the freedom to succed or fail and to live their life as they please. And for what? So we can all live th same misewrable life, allowing others to leech off of everything good we create? While that may be gratifying for some people it is not gratifying to me. Why don't YOU goto New Orleans and rebuild the city. I have no reason to go there. it was a dirty crime ridden city before and only thing different now is it is more moldy. I don't want to go there and I don't want my money to go there. The Constitution of the United States does not allow the money to go there. Yet you think it is a bad thing for Federal moneies to not go there. I know why. But Ben Franklin was right.

Dick said...

``Are there no prisons?'' asked Scrooge.

``Plenty of prisons,'' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

``And the Union workhouses?'' demanded Scrooge. ``Are they still in operation?''

``They are. Still,'' returned the gentleman, `` I wish I could say they were not.''

``The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?'' said Scrooge.

``Both very busy, sir.''

``Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,'' said Scrooge. ``I'm very glad to hear it.''

``Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,'' returned the gentleman, ``a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?''

``Nothing!'' Scrooge replied.

``You wish to be anonymous?''

``I wish to be left alone,'' said Scrooge. ``Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''

``Many can't go there; and many would rather die.''

``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that.''

``But you might know it,'' observed the gentleman.

``It's not my business,'' Scrooge returned. ``It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!''

AndyRand said...


No offense, but thank God most people don't think as you do.
Over the course of my life, I've found that those who choose ONE value at the expense of all others will never do well in life. In otherwords, balance and compromise are the ideals of the wise. Liberty
( or more accurately, your concept of it, which I consider flawed ) is your idol and your God. You worship it at the expense of all else.

Yes, Ben Franklin was right about a few things, like the following.

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

"Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."

I'm assuming your quoting my namesake here. Perhaps I'm wrong? ( I've never read her books by the way, I could get past the author's bio.)

"You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company."
In other words " you are a worn out cog in my machine and ready for the trash heap". A fine sentiment. Maybe it would fit on a series of Ayn Rand
Greeting cards.

Gosh, and I thought we were getting along spledidly?

Cato said...

The quote I was blatently alluding to by Franklin was that "those who would give up liberty for the sake of a little security deserve neither liberty nor security."

And no, I was quoting V the anarchist (Alan Moore), not Rand.

I will quote Rand now though:

"You cannot comprimise food and poision. Only death prevails."

Comprimise is all well and good, until you do the above. We are at the above. You cannot give up good for the sake of evil. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

I do not "worship" liberty. I just will not comprise good and evil. I don't think it is too crazy to not want to be Faust and rather be a good person who does not give away goods to take upon himself and force upon others evils.

Now you may argue that it is "my opinion" of what is good and evil. Fine. I am also correct but fine. Say what you will. Returning if we may to the Constitution, my view prevails, and the Katriana victims illegally recieved a penny (and more) of aid by the Federal governemnt.

AndyRand said...


As stated earlier, your view of Evil seems to contradict that of most.

That's a unique interpretation of the Faustian myth. So Satan, is taking your goods to spread evil among others. Unique indeed.

My main point was not Katrina, it was promoting the common welfare.

Cato said...

Not "goods" as in material things, necessarily. "Goods" as in "good things" as opposed to "evil things."

Cato said...

The "general welfare clause" is controlled by all that follows it; the semicolon has a distinct purpose and should not be taken lightly; the man who wrote the words the way they are said "nothing could be more natural" than to have a general clause with following constricting clauses that define the general.

AndyRand said...

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

What semi-colon?
Source: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/preamble/


"nothing could be more natural" than to have a general clause with following constricting clauses that define the general."

I see not how this is pertinent.
I also find it interesting that "Liberty" is further down the list than "promote the general Welfare".

CATO: If you want to argue the Constitution, I suggest you find a more worthy foe. This is not my area of interest or expertice.

On a different note. ( and problably less pertinent).

What do you think of the definition of a planet changing this week?
I mean last week a planet was one thing, today, it's something else.
Funny of that isn't something that is static and frozen for all eternity. In other words, the experts have come to a concesus about the definition. There is no
cosmic "planetness". The current definition is a concensus of experts
that meets our current state of scientific knowledge.

Cato said...

That's the preamble. The USSC has ruled that neither it nor the preamble to the Bill of Rights means anything legally binding. I was speaking of Section 8 of Article 1, the enumerated powers, which, if the interpretation of yours (and admittedly many others) is correct leaves all the enumerations redundent and superflousous. And nothing in the Constitution actually is.

If your point about how the meanings of words change, YES I agree that they do. But if the meaning of the word "stop" becomes "go" by the year 3006, does it mean that in 2006 when the laws said "people must stop at red lights" in the future people think the words meant something else? I suppose that was worded awfully but I think you can get my point: the words of a law cannot change on a whim after the law was created.

My personal favorite example of this all is the Supreme Court's ruling involving the 8th amendment jurispudence and the "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." I often ask, "if society can evolve into something better, can it not devlove into something worse?" No one wants to admit it but it can. So if "cruel and unsual punishment" can mean things DIFFERENT today than when the law was ratified it can mean DIFFERENT things in the future. Perhaps one day we will think people should be put to death for failing to have car insurance. And the "maturing society" would have evolved into that. And it would be "Constitutional" since words have NO meaning if they can change at a whim...

You must examine the meanings of the words when they were created to find out what they mean. Not what they mean now.

Karl said...

Did you notice how collective that statement is: "We" and "our." There is no "I," "my," or "me."

I bet Cato's getting the piss shivers...

Groucho said...


You are starting to tap dance on the issue. Would you like to borrow my top hat and cane?

Cato said...

Karl and Groucho, do you have anything to bring to the table?

Marx My Word said...

That comrade, is the $64,000 question.

AndyRand said...


From the link I provided.

"Although the preamble is not a source of power for any department of the Federal Government, 1 the Supreme Court has often referred to it as evidence of the origin, scope, and purpose of the Constitution. "

I don't think that these issues the Constitution address change by whim.
Are we not following the Constitutional process to appoint a Supreme Court to do the interpreting? And are they not, at least in theory far more competitent to interpret than you , or certainly
I am.
You provide examples of words changing in a manor that are inconceivable, that is polar opposites. (That could only happen if you're an objectivist. You can ignore this dig if you wish)

You said:
I" often ask, "if society can evolve into something better, can it not devlove into something worse?" No one wants to admit it but it can."

I will, I agree it can devolve. But hopefully through reinterpretation the society's heading will go back to it's proper direction once it has seen the fruits of an incorrect interpretation.
At any rate, I think you are referring to a "maturing" society that inevitably gets better. You are
right, it can just as easily get worse.

I think where we disagree is the original meaning of words being cast in stone forever. Transporation (or at least how things are transported )certainly meant something different
in 1776 than today. Today's society inevitable poses issues that could not be conceived of in 1776.
I think trying to get emulate the minds of the founding fathers can be something akin to mind reading. You may have an inkling from there other writings but I don't think you can be sure of exactly what they thought. Plus could they not change their minds?

Cato said...

No where in the Constitution does it ive the Supreme Court the power of judical review over acts of Congress that the President has signed.

AndyRand said...

As I said,
You picked the wrong guy to argue these issues with.
Hasn't the Supreme Court Ruled laws as
If they have, then we are working from your interpretation of the Contitution and not those in power when you say there is no such provision.

RightDemocrat said...

I agree with Lind that there are no small government solutions. We need a balance between free markets and state invervention. A mixed economy gave our country the greatest period of prosperity. Libertarianism is dead and John Maynard Keynes lives !