Libertarianism With a Human Face

There’s an interesting nugget in a mildly tendentious David Frum column about why Rand Paul’s campaign launch got a lot more attention than Ted Cruz’s:

If you live and work in Washington, D.C., it’s easy to imagine libertarianism as a powerful national movement. Washington is home to Reason magazine and the Cato Institute, and to dozens of hard-working and talented libertarian writers, commentators, and policy analysts. It’s easy here to lose sight of the extreme marginality of the doctrine in the nation as a whole—especially because libertarianism as we see it in the capital looks a lot like the preferred politics of the institutional media (socially permissive, fiscally cautious) than like the Lincoln-hating, bullion-believing, conspiracy-mongering politics of libertarianism beyond the Beltway at the Ron Paul Institute, Antiwar.com, or the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Journalists are consequently vulnerable to claims that libertarianism appeals to independents, Millennials, or some other demographically desirable group—no matter how overwhelmingly such claims are contradicted by the evidence.

I do agree that the money big donors like the Kochs have put into the Beltway libertarian infrastructure has been an excellent investment. And the whole “liberaltarian” phenomenon explains why liberal or “neutral” journalists would tend to put a thumb on the scales for Paul as opposed to Cruz. Nobody’s talking about a bipartisan coalition that includes conservative evangelicals, are they?

And speaking of conservative evangelicals, Frum’s obviously right about this, too:

Meanwhile, the conservative Christian evangelicalism to which Ted Cruz looks for his base remains perhaps more underrepresented in D.C. media and culture than any other major American social group. D.C. journalists intellectually apprehend that evangelicals are important, but they have a hard time remembering that fact when they offer their commentary.

I’m pretty famously hostile, on both political and religious grounds, to the Christian Right. But unlike a lot of progressive folk, I do not find that world view any more alien than that of serious libertarianism, or as I like to think of it, the Cult of the Golden Calf. Maybe I just developed some powerful antibodies from my adolescent exposure to Ayn Rand, but people who think success in markets or the lottery of inheritances are the best indicators of human virtue kind of scare me. Still, when I think of the people I encountered in DC who represented the Cato Institute and the Family Research Council, I can understand, if not share, the widespread prejudice in favor of the former.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.