These days, people are less hyped about “The Libertarian Moment” than they seem worried about an “Authoritarian Moment” that’s exemplified by Donald Trump’s political success.
“He’s an authoritarian,” says Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will. “He believes that government we have today is not big enough and that particularly the concentration of power not just in Washington but Washington power in the executive branch has not gone far enough.”
In late February, Will sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch for an opening-night interview at the International Students For Liberty Conference, which was attended by nearly 2,000 people from all over the world.
The official topic was “Is The Libertarian Moment Over?” and the conversation was as wide-ranging as it was at times depressing. “Today, 67 percent of the federal budget is transfer payments,” announced the 74-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner. “The sky is dark with money going back and forth between client groups served by an administrative state that exists to do very little else but regulate the private sector and distribute income. Where’s the libertarian moment fit in here?”
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Gillespie and Welch, who coined the “Libertarian Moment” term in a 2008 Reason story and expanded its meaning in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America (praised by Will, incidentally), argued that many things are moving in a decidedly libertarian position. As Welch pointed out, in 2008, recreational pot legalization, marriage equality, and criminal-justice reform were barely discussed at the national level. Now, all three have proceeded or are proceeding apace, as is judicial support for liberalized gun rights. And there’s this: “In the last 25 years, a historical number of people—1 billion people—have been lifted out of extreme poverty,” said Welch. “Even the United Nations says this is because in large part due to globalized reductions in tariffs and barriers to trade.”
For all his gloom, Will acknowledged that “there are good signs underway.” Specifically, he cited Reason Senior Editor Damon Root’s Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court (2014), which makes the case for “libertarian judicial activism” as a constitutionally legitimate way of reining in government action. Root and others such as Georgetown Law’s Randy Barnett and Institute for Justice’s Clark Neily argue that “what we need is an engaged judiciary asserting the fact that the essence of America is not majority rule, it is liberty,” said Will, who applauded the rise and power of this argument.
[Order Damon Root’s book “Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court“ from Amazon.com]
He also cited the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in the Citizens United case, which invalidated many campaign-finance rules. “The court,” noted Will, “overturned prior decisions and overturned certain clear principles enunciated by elected officials around the country by saying that when Americans band together in corporate form, they do not, for the purpose of advocacy, forfeit their First Amendment rights.”
What happens if Donald Trump actually becomes the Republican nominee? Read the rest of this entry »