Mytheos Holt

"You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you."

-Letter from Ludwig von Mises to Ayn Rand

"We can't all be born rich and handsome and lucky, and that's why we have a Democratic party!"

-Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller

In his essay, "Chirping Sectaries," conservative thinker Russell Kirk famously derided the idea of a libertarian alliance with conservatives as "like advocating a union between fire and ice." While I think he was wrong as a practical matter at the time, when I hear people today talking about libertarian populism, I can't help understanding what he meant.

Let me state something at the outset. Though there are many people in the libertarian movement who would contest this self-descriptor (some more honestly than others), I tend to identify as a libertarian when the chips are down. True, my views on foreign policy are more hawkish than your average modern libertarian (though I like to think of myself as standing in the tradition of Goldwater, Rand and erstwhile Goldwater supporter John Bolton), and yes, I tend to think Milton Friedman was absolutely right about the importance of a Federal Reserve. But when you set aside these two heresies, I can scream bloody murder about the NSA and/or the payroll tax and/or the idea of a (pointless) war with Syria with the best of them.

Moreover, whatever my opinions now, the fact is that I came into the conservative movement through the libertarian door (via scholarships from Cato and internships from the Institute for Humane Studies). So even if I'm not a pure libertarian myself, I know what the ideology stands for in its various iterations. That is to say, I know my Hayek from my Friedman and my Rothbard from my Meyer, and my Rand from everyone else. And because I know what libertarianism means, though I have great respect for the libertarian thinkers pushing this idea, I can't help thinking that if Kirk was right and libertarian conservatism was a union between fire and ice, then "libertarian populism" is a union between napalm and liquid nitrogen.


Mytheos Holt

Mytheos Holt is an Associate Policy Analyst with the R Street Institute