Michael Gerson

There is an even smaller subset of the tea party movement comprised of libertarian conservatives, representing a more developed intellectual tradition. Their goal is not just federalism but a minimal state at home and abroad. Their commitment to individual freedom -- defined as the absence of external constraint -- is nearly absolute. Taxation for the purpose of redistribution is theft. The national security state does not defend liberty; it threatens it. American global commitments are just another form of big government.

The closest this sect has come to serious political influence is Rand Paul's victory in Kentucky's Republican Senate primary this week. Paul has attempted to become more electable by distancing himself from the worst libertarian excesses. But there can be no doubt about Paul's political orientation. In an interview the day after his primary victory, Paul could not bring himself to endorse the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. "I think there's a lot to be desired in the Civil Rights -- and indeed the truth is," he sputtered, "I haven't read all through it, because it was passed 40 years ago and hadn't been a real pressing issue on the campaign on whether I'm going to vote for the Civil Rights Act." Earlier in his campaign, however, Paul explained his view that businesses should not be forced by government to adopt anti-discrimination rules. Because he is a libertarian, Paul is unable to embrace some of the largest moral achievements of recent American history.

Paul and other libertarians are not merely advocates of limited government; they are anti-government. Their objective is not the correction of error but the cultivation of contempt for government itself. There is a reason libertarianism has never been -- and likely will never be -- a national political force: because too many would find its utopia a nightmare.

Overreach is breeding overreach. The pendulum swings wider and wider.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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