The rise and fall and rise again of the libertarian moment

By Samuel Goldman The Week

Do you remember the “libertarian moment”?

I wouldn’t blame you if not. For a few years around the end of the Obama administration, though, it looked as if the right just might coalesce around restrained foreign policy, opposition to electronic surveillance and other threats to civil liberties, and enthusiasm for an innovative economy, very much including the tech industry. Beyond policy, the libertarian turn was associated with a hip affect that signaled comfort with pop culture. Even though they were personally far from cool, The New York Times compared the movement’s electoral figureheads, the father-and-son duo Ron and Rand Paul, to grunge bands Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

In retrospect, those descriptions seem naive. Less than a year after the Times feature was published, the announcement of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign sounded the death knell of the libertarian moment (along with Rand Paul’s own bid for the presidency). In another unforeseen twist, though, the pendulum seems to now be swinging back toward libertarian instincts.

While in office, Trump had deployed an apocalyptic idiom that clashed dramatically with the libertarians’ characteristic optimism. Although personally indifferent to ideas, Trump also inspired a cohort of intellectuals who denounced libertarians’ ostensible indifference to the common good and proposed a more assertive role for government in directing economic and social life.


Leave a Reply