I was recently asked by a journalist to comment on the decline of libertarianism. Here are my comments:
1. Voters under 30 tell pollsters they love legal weed, love gay rights, hate war, think the welfare state won’t be around for them. So why, in your view, did they bail on libertarians this year?
Gary Johnson is an obviously terrible candidate, but I think there are deeper reasons for his inability to capture people’s imagination. (Ron Paul never had an “Aleppo moment,” but he wasn’t much of a politician, either.)
Perhaps there is room enough only for one “anti-establishment” or “radical” candidate in each election cycle. So many of us supported Ron Paul in 2008—not for the “legal weed” and not just for his antiwar stance—but because he was the candidate of a new beginning, a dramatic “reset” after the Bush years. Bernie Sander captured some of this energy over the past year, as did Barack Obama in 2008. But in 2016, Donald Trump is the real candidate of “change”—the person who (we hope) will fundamentally transfigure politics as we know it.
Johnson and Weld present themselves as “liberals without the socialism” and “conservatives without the nationalism and religion.” They think this is the best of both worlds, but in fact, it is the worst of both worlds.
Though I’m not a libertarian, I do respect its intellectual tradition, and I’ve profited over the years by reading Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Tom Woods, Sean Gabb, Lew Rockwell, et al. They offer a radical vision of the world. Johnson and Weld, on the other hand, are simply another face of the existing system: “low-tax gay marriage” or “leftists for capitalism.”
2. Why did Trump, not Paul, capture the antiwar energy on the right?
The GOP primaries proved that populism easily trumps (left-)libertarianism.
Clearly, public opinion is against further Middle East wars. That said, successful candidates must be antiwar for the right reasons, and the public (and especially Republican voters) generally distrusts liberal pacifists and wimps. While most Republicans engage in symbolic “dick measuring” by talking about bombing various Middle East countries, Trump can authentically express his exasperation with the Iraq war and talk about sensibly working with Russia precisely because everyone knows he’s tough and resolute. “Only Nixon could go to China,” as the saying goes.
We forget now that the 2016 Republican nomination was Rand Paul’s to lose, as he was set to unify his father’s movement with the mainstream GOP. Paul lost big because Trump monopolized the populist energy; indeed, Paul was anti-populist. For the run-up to 2016, he engaged in all sorts of weird outreach to Black Lives Matter and the grievance industry—in other words, he was trying to appeal to the people Middle Americans hate most. When his poll numbers collapsed, Paul attacked Trump as a “racist” and went on The Daily Show presenting himself as the liberal’s choice for the Republican nomination—a truly idiotic strategy!
If Paul had amplified and echoed Trump (instead of attacking him), Paul might very well have earned the Vice Presidential nod. As it is now, Paul’s political career seems to have hit a wall.
3. How hobbled do you think libertarians are by their immigration stance?
That’s a bit like saying, “How hobbled do you think Catholics are by the their dogma?” In other words, you can’t have one without the other.
Yes, I know, there have been libertarians strongly opposed to mass immigration (Rothbard and Hoppe, most prominently), but this has always been a rather eccentric position. For immigration is ultimately a foreign policy; foreign policy is the realm of the state; and libertarians hate state power. Libertarianism is derived from a vision of a pacific world order, in which all humans are united through consensual relations and, as it were, collective individualism. It is a profoundly Christian worldview (even if most libertarians today are atheists).
Anyway, libertarianism is fundamentally inconsistent with nationalism and national identity. Most human beings on planet Earth are nationalists (of some kind) and have a strong sense of national identity. So you could say that libertarianism is hobbled by human nature.