Jonah Goldberg: America's selective Libertarianism
And by that measure, writer Robert Draper had more than he needed to declare a new "libertarian moment" in American politics. In a New York Times Magazine cover story, Draper made exactly that case. His chief evidence: Young people are more libertarian today, and libertarian ideas are having a renaissance on the right. Also, self-described "libertarian-ish" Sen. Rand Paul's star is on the rise, thanks in part to national exhaustion with foreign interventions. Plus: recent victories for legalized weed and gay marriage.
As liberal writer Jonathan Chait notes, much of the polling showing that young people are libertarian has been done by organizations eager to find that result. So while it is true that young people are more "libertarian" on social issues and foreign policy, they are also more progressive on the role of government. Pew finds that 53 percent of millennials favor "bigger government." Meanwhile, Chait writes, "older Americans oppose 'bigger government' in the abstract by a margin of some 40 percentage points. That young voters actually favor 'bigger government' in the abstract is a sea change in generational opinion, not to mention conclusive evidence against their alleged libertarianism."
On the other hand, it's also true that young people are more libertarian than ever before. How can that be? Lots of reasons. I'll give you three. First, as The Federalist's Ben Domenech points out, the millennials are the biggest generation in American history. Ideologically, it contains multitudes. It can be collectively more socialist while still containing more libertarians than ever before.
Everyone considers themselves libertarian on the issues they are libertarian about. If you think government shouldn't collect your email and phone logs, you're libertarian on national security issues. If you think you have a right to carry a firearm, you're libertarian about guns. And so it goes with drugs, property rights, free speech, health care, etc. Conservatives are very libertarian about some things and very conservative about others. Ditto liberals and most socialists.
And that, I think, is the elephant in the room Draper largely misses. Example is the school of mankind and they will learn at no other, Edmund Burke observed.
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