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The Great Disappointment

It has been a rough year for libertarians

Just think about it: from a libertarian perspective, we were supposed to be preparing for President-Elect Rand Paul’s inauguration, and yet here we are

“A spectre is haunting the world: the spectre of radical anti-libertarian movements, each grappling with the others like scorpions in a bottle and all competing to see which can dismantle the institutions of liberty the fastest. Some are ensconced in the universities and other elite centers, and some draw their strength from populist anger. The leftist and the rightist versions of the common anti-libertarian cause are, moreover, interconnected, with each fueling the other. All explicitly reject individual liberty, the rule of law, limited government, and freedom of exchange, and they promote instead radical, albeit aggressively opposed, forms of identity politics and authoritarianism. They are dangerous and should not be underestimated.

In various guises, such movements are challenging libertarian values and principles across the globe, especially in Europe, in America, and in parts of Asia, but their influence is felt everywhere. They share a radical rejection of the ideas of reason, liberty, and the rule of law that animated the American Founding and are, indeed, the foundations of modernity. Those who prefer constitutionalism to dictatorship, free markets to cronyist or socialist statism, free trade to autarchy, toleration to oppression, and social harmony to irreconcilable antagonism need to wake up, because our cause and the prosperity and peace it engenders are in grave danger. …”

Libertarians have probably been the hardest hit group by the rise of the Alt-Right. It shouldn’t come as any surprise given the demographics of libertarianism: 94% non-Hispanic White, 68% male, 62% under age 50, 3/4’s of libertarians have a secular or Protestant religious background, nearly half are ideologically inconsistent and they are also more likely to be college educated and active on the internet.

Who does that sound like? Demographically, libertarians have a lot in common with the Alt-Right. The two groups have so much in common that one could wonder if the allure of libertarian ideology to many self-described “libertarians” has something to do with the social position of White males in contemporary American society. Maybe libertarianism is just another response by the same group – a kind of solution, an ideological cloak to justify what they already wanted to do anyway – to the same social pressures?

I’m not motivated by racial anxiety! Some of my best friends are black. I don’t feel any White guilt because of … uh, my liberty. We’re all individuals. Keep your big government hands off my hard-earned money because of … uh, my Constitution. Stay away from my White neighborhood because of … uh, my freedom of association!

The stunning collapse of Rand Paul in the 2016 election cycle suggests that CATO libertarians like Robert G. Palmer grossly misread their “base.” How did so many former Ron Paul supporters end up migrating from Rand Paul to Donald Trump and the “authoritarian populist” Alt-Right? Doesn’t that suggest that libertarian ideology was much less important to these people than so many had assumed?

I guess you could say that the actions of Black Lives Matter shattered illusions of colorblindness and individualism and the illusion that invoking the “Constitution” could save us from the mob. The SJWs on college campuses and the routine Islamic terrorist attacks must have heightened awareness that politics isn’t going to magically disappear and give way to a libertarian Millennium of laissez-faire economics.

As the reigning taboos have weakened in 2015/2016, maybe the old disguise of the ideological cloak has become … less necessary? We could speculate that White males are regaining confidence and have been emboldened by Trump and have less need for an ideological rationalization to pursue their interests.

Isn’t it “liberating” to be honest with yourself and say what you really think? Maybe all groups don’t have the same capacity for liberty and self-government?

Note: For more of Tom Palmer’s whining, check out “Taking Seriously the New Populist and Alt-Right/Fascist Thinkers” on the Cato Institute Podcast.