The Strange (Well, Actually, Absolutely Predictable) Death Of Left-Libertarianism

The Strange (Well, Actually, Absolutely Predictable) Death Of Left-Libertarianism, by Hubert Collins.

I have attended the annual “Liberty Conference” (formerly the “International Students for Liberty Conference”) for years now, and the decline is palpable.

At its peak, from 2012-2015, the conference was always covered by Establishment outlets such as National Review and Bloomberg … But by 2017, the non-libertarian coverage of the event discussed one thing only: that Richard Spencer had showed up, uninvited, and caused a stir … The 2018 gathering just wrapped up, but no one seems to have noticed. The only article I could find outside of libertarian outlets was a puff piece in the Washington Times…. What happened?

Anecdotally, I can tell you that in the golden years, attendees really felt like they part of a rising tide that would sweep the country in their lifetime. More recently, everyone feels at best like a virtuous remnant. …

Attendance has gone down. Between 2008 and 2012, it rose rapidly. From 2012 until 2015, it rose slowly. Now it is slowly dwindling. …

And this slump is happening right across the Libertarian movement: the active membership rolls of Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty are past their peak, and the same is true of the student programs at the Charles Koch Institute.

Libertarianism as a relevant political force is over. The triumphalist essays on the ideology’s ascendency from a few years ago … now seem about as laughable and far-fetched as Leftist critics claimed at the time.

At this point, Libertarianism has moved back to its more traditional role in American politics: the hobgoblin of a few, often brilliant but eccentric, academics, intellectuals, and journalists. With no natural constituency and few sizeable patrons aside from the Koch brothers, Libertarianism will continue as a gadfly in American politics, but never a consequential participant. …

Why the decline? The return of tribalism, brought on by the promotion of identity politics by the left.

Sociology is real. Outside of their immediate families, what matters most to your average human is the collective identities they have with others, particularly those forged over a shared race, ethnicity, religion, culture, or geography.

This is why Libertarianism is not going anywhere, no matter how much it seemed that way a few years ago. Unlike almost all other political orientations or groups, Libertarianism is relatively “pure” in its ideological orientation. It is not tailored to protect, promote, or glorify a particular class, or race, or any other sociological group. Simply stated: it lacks an identity outside of its own ideological axioms.

While this was always the case with American Libertarianism, today it matters more than ever. The country is rapidly polarizing into warring tribes, with race being the most salient divider. …

Free speech, for example:

While Libertarians firmly and genuinely believe in this right, they believe in it as an abstraction. Meanwhile, the rest of the country (and humanity) wants to uphold or abolish the right for very specific, and self-interested, reasons. Fans of college tours by Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter do not uphold their right to free speech out of principle — they simply like the speakers and want to see their presentations. That was equally true of Leftist advocates of free speech in the 1950s who were sticking up for blacklisted Communists. It was not that those Leftists were truly enamored with the principle of free speech — they simply wanted to give their Communist friends some breathing room. …

It is a very rare bird who will advocate for a particular public policy while considering only its abstract justness and not its real-world impact.

Conclusion:

America today is a pitched battle between conflicting cultures and preferences. Broadly speaking, you have one side yearning for a classical republic with traditionalist values, and another trying to create a cross between black ruled South Africa and socialist, immigrant-ridden Sweden. Libertarianism has little to give either side. …

Today, everyone threatened by America’s Emerging Totalitarian Left must hold tight. It’s time Left-Libertarians grew up and recognized this reality.