Last time I checked, the Cato Institute‘s financials were in remarkable shape. Since I am also in the think tank business, the structure of financial contributions to 501(c)3 public policy organizations has always interested me, and I know from various Cato insiders that the pool of money flowing into Cato and other libertarian groups looks a lot like Howard Dean’s enormous burst of diversified believer-contributors during his presidential campaign: huge and growing.
But my colleague Michael Lind has penned a thought-provoking Financial Times op-ed punctuating what he believes is the “end of libertarian politics.”
It’s a stimulating and complex piece — best for junkies of cosmic political discourse — but I’m not sure I agree with his framing.
While I agree with him that the two constructs most on the table today are “moderate social democracy and big-government conservatism”, I’m not sure that the political realities Lind is diagnosing are static and stable enough to mark the end of a movement that seems to be growing rather than diminishing.
Lind not only pronounces the end of political libertarianism, but he also includes the demise of an activist, socialist left. To some degree, while the jury is still out that the Lamont win over Lieberman may prove more anomalous than trend-setting, a good deal of his support has come from a revived, passionate left whose ideals track closely with what Lind would characterize as the socialist left.
There are numerous movements that have gone into decline — at least cosmetic decline in terms of political impact if not diminishment in funding and numbers of adherents. Liberal internationalism for instance has fallen from the skies, as has realism, in foreign policy circles — though I am working with a number of people to help revive a hybrid of these in the form of American internationalism that may correct the downward trends.
Lind is to some degree documenting yet another realm in which George W. Bush has been impressively disruptive. It’s about Bush — and his impact on our world and social structures. Bush has exploited fear of terrorism to create a big-government, big-brother state, from which Americans are largely buffered from feeling the pressure of direct costs, and that is entirely antithetical to the tenets of classic Republican conservatism.
That’s not the death of libertarianism as much as it is the failure of all competing political philosphies to stand strong against the will and determination of a would-be monarch who doesn’t really believe in limits on federal, and particularly, executive power.
Michael Lind makes one think though. The real question about the libertarian movement is why so much of the libertarian crowd has been silent about the massive expansion of the state, of presidential authority, and the diminishment of “liberty” at home and abroad.
I have numerous friends at the Cato Institute, Reason magazine, and other bulwarks in the libertarian political and policy movement — and there are some heroes out there who have spoken truth to power. But there are others who are closet big government, big brother radical/activists who are rather high up the libertarian hierarchy who have helped squelch libertarian outrage at what has happened to the domestic and foreign policy portfolios of this country.
My hope is that Lind is wrong and that the libertarian movement remains a vital part of the American political ecosystem and that they root out and expel those leaders in their institutions who worship at the throne of G.W. Bush and have forgotten what the pursuit and preservation of liberty are all about.
— Steve Clemons