Atlas Embraced: Why Libertarianism is Back!

Posted: Mar 28, 2009 5:03 PM since Barack Obama started seizing companies -- and pushing his pseudo-fascist notion of "national service" -- I've noted some subtle changes bubbling up from deep within the conservative movement. The change is: Who is John Galt?

... Perhaps you've noticed the trend, too? Your Facebook page may now list you as "Libertarian" or "classical liberal," instead of "very conservative." If that's the case, you know exactly what I mean. If not, read on...

BACK IN THE 1990's -- before anyone knew the names George W. Bush or Barack Obama -- being a young conservative was a lot more fun. It was easy to fight the power (because Bill Clinton was the power) and to fight the man (because Bill Clinton was the man) -- and so conservatives were a bit edgier back then.

In truth, I suspect it's always a bit more romantic to be an ideologue/revolutionary when you're out of power (Green Day didn't sing, "I want to be the minority" for nothing!).

"This is one of the many reasons Democrats gained a lot of ground during the Bush era with young voters – and this is one of the reasons people dismissively point out that people read Ayn Rand when they're young," says David Weiegel, a Libertarian who serves as a contributing editor to Reason and a political reporter to Washington Independent.

To be sure, the three-legged fusionist conservative stool was alive and well in the 90s – so it's not as if we were all running around listening to the Grateful Dead, smoking weed and wearing red "Viva La Revolution" Ronald Reagan tee-shirts. But since Rush Limbaugh is an obvious point of reference, I do recall that back in the 90s, Rush spent a lot more time talking about civil liberties – and how we were in danger of losing our freedom to the tyrannically power-hungry Clintons -- than he did talking about anything else. 

Rush would often quote Founding Father Ben Franklin, who famously said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Conservatives concerned about protecting property rights – a "pro-Liberty" issue, to be sure – seemed to garner as much attention as any other issue. And, of course, the Clintons played right into our hands by overreaching time and time again. This, of course, culminated in the grand spectacle of the National Guard's armed seizure of Elian Gonzalez on Easter Sunday in 2000.

According to Weiegel, a lot of it was much ado about nothing: "During the Clinton era, there was a lot of stuff that could be classified as more paranoid – like Ruby Ridge – that I always thoughts sounded crazy." Still, conservatives were fired up back then.

Strangely, though, during the 2000's, Limbaugh – like many conservatives during the post-9-11 Bush years – quit discussing "libertarian" ideas once Republicans were the ones in power (and once terrorists started slamming planes into the buildings). Those who didn't get the memo, like Ron Paul and Bob Barr, were essentially written-out of the movement.

Liberals then seized on the same ideas that had powered the out-of-power right, and began playing-up Bush's "Imperial" tendencies – and railing against the loss of personal freedoms from things like "The Patriot Act".

It's no surprise that liberals – who happened to be out of power at the right time (when blogs came into existence) – were able to tap into the zeitgeist and dominate the blogosphere (it's also no surprise that Limbaugh and other conservative talkers thrived during the Clinton years).

But now that Barack Obama is in the White House, conservatives seem to be reliving the 1990s. We're hosting tea parties, and the question: "Who is John Galt" is commonly heard these days as author Ayn Rand is experiencing a comeback (I realize Ayn Rand technically was an Objectivist -- not a Libertarian)..

Until recently, Rand was generally dismissed by serious conservatives for having an "unrealistic view of human nature -- and little appreciation for cultural values," but she seems to be back in vogue these days -- and while she certainly had serious faults, one can't help but be encouraged that young people are -- in today's milieu -- drawn to her writings. As Morton Blackwell has noted, Rand's famous book Atlas Shrugged is "one of the most devastating critiques ever written of big government and the liberal media." And Rand's popularity may continue to increase, as word on the street is Angelina Jolie will be starring in a movie adaptation.

... Of course, now that liberals are in power, they will be less inclined to complain about government's encroaching on their liberty. As they say, where you stand depends on where you sit. In fairness, many liberals did criticize him for voting for FISA, but as Wiegel noted: "The general trend is that each president adds another level to a national security state." People out of power talk about civil liberties, in power, they shut up about it. Ninety percent of partisans become hypocritical, so it's likely we will just switch sides on civil liberty issues, depending on which party is in power.

Another potential benefit to being out of power is that Libertarians are once again considering whether or not to reengage in the Republican Party. During the 90s, it was obvious that the GOP was the natural home for Libertarians who didn't want to waste their votes. In the 2000's that has not been the case. Now, the question is whether or not they will be able to successfully reintegrate into a party that they don't always agree with. For instance, would the libertarian wing of the party be able to tolerate candidates like Mike Huckabee, and would the mainstream tolerate Ron Paul-esque figures taking Governorships and Senate seats?

For me, both of those things would need to happen before we can declare ourselves reconciled. So, while we might not be ready to move back in together, I think we are definitely taking steps toward fixing the broken marriage of libertarians and conservatives. Regardless, it is interesting to note this phenomenon is, in fact, taking place. So far, it has generally been ignored...