Why Libertarians will win (& liberals should fear Rand Paul)

Summary: Liberals have entered the second phase of their struggle with Libertarians. First they mocked them; now they dismiss them as irrelevant. Soon they’ll fear them. Rightly so, for Libertarianism is the interests of the 1% set to music. This is a follow-up to my previous post about Libertarians.   (2nd of 2 posts today.)

This is 2013. I believe the orange Libertarian circle will grow much larger.

PRRI: Poll of overlap among the Tea-Party, Evangelicals, and Libertarians
PRRI: Poll of overlap among the Tea-Party, Evangelicals, and Libertarians.


  1. There are few real libertarians (& no true Scotsman).
  2. Libertarians in the Right’s revolution.
  3. The big picture: the third attempt by the Right to rule.
  4. Conclusions.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  There are few real libertarians (& no true Scotsman)

Liberals have no need to worry as they’ve discovered that there are few “real Libertarians”! This week the New York Times ran two high-profile articles so debunking the Libertarian uprising: “Rand Paul’s Challenge: Libertarians Are Still a Small Minority” by journalist Nate Cohn and “Rand Paul and the Empty Box” by economist Paul Krugman. The New Republic ran a similar article about a porn star libertarian. The Week proved that libertarian star Rand Paul’s views are incoherent (another article said, correctly, that this was an asset).

None of these were written by political scientists, who know better. A philosopher might say there are few “true libertarians”, but that’s politically irrelevant. It’s the “no true Scotsman” fallacy in action. One could just as easily prove there are few “real Christians” — and there have never been many. But Christianity has had a massive impact on history, and that’s so with Libertarianism as well. Liberals gave a similarly dismissive analysis of the Tea Party in its early days, before the demonstration of its great power as conservative shock troops.

One does not measure the effectiveness of a political movement by its fidelity to some theoretical schema, but by the numbers and passion of the people who follow its banner. There are many self-identified Libertarians, and they’re disproportionately in the politically active upper middle class — in rapidly growing regions like Texas and California (e.g., Silicon Valley), and among the 1%.

Libertarians achieving critical mass, appearing unexpectedly and everywhere.
Anti-vaccination movement

(2) Libertarians in the Right’s revolution

“When you say ‘the 1%’ to them, they think 145+IQ and laugh at your ignorance.”
Comment to this post by someone identifying with the Libertarian Internat’l Organization.

The 1% has been winning since the before the rightly named Reagan Revolution (although most of the claims about it are false). It’s a slow-mo counter-revolution to the New Deal, building a plutocracy of the 1%. The first wave began in the 1960s; it laid the intellectual and organizational foundations — the plans, the Right-wing think tanks, recruitment and training of leaders, links to Christian conservatives (useful idiots), and fund-raising — (see details here).

Then came the ramshackle alliance with social conservatives (e.g., the social conservatives of Kansas described by Thomas Frank). Next came the mass movement to produce shock troops: the Tea Party (shock troops need passion, not knowledge or wisdom).

These two phases carried them far but cannot achieve dominance. For total victory they need people who fervently believe that the interests of the 1% are their own. They need Libertarians.

As so many have shown, from economists such as Paul Krugman to polemicists like Charles Pierce, the core Republican policy since 1980 has been a menu of policies with small support.

  • To deregulate businesses and destroy unions, stripping us of any control over their activities.
  • To reduce the social safety net (e.g., Workers Compensation, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, welfare).
  • To shift the tax burden from the rich to the middle classes by flat rates on income taxes, low rates on capital gains and estates, and more regressive taxes (e.g., FICA, sales taxes) — , justified by pixie dust theories about benefits (which the Reagan and Bush Jr tax cuts disproved).

Libertarians believe to varying degrees this recipe, masking it with a variety of other more popular proposals about lessening government regulation of citizens’ private lives (Krugman has a somewhat similar view). While these are an anathema to the social conservatives (who, like Blacks, have no where else to go), they’re largely irrelevant to the 1% — who doesn’t care how the proles lead their lives. And when the voting matters, Libertarian politicians usually vote the standard GOP line (this is a GOP tradition).

They’re the energy tapped by Rand Paul, an engine pulling America’s Overton Window to the Right, as he mainstreams advocacy of positions formerly consider loony (e.g., see a description of his radical views in “Rand Paul is building a bridge — to the early 1800s“).

Libertarian: more freedom, less government(3)  The big picture: the third attempt by the Right to rule

The third time is a charm.
— Paraphrase from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (1602).

As usual we turn to Allan Bloom for a clearer view of these events. From The Closing of the American Mind, published in 1987 and still one of most accurate guidebooks to our time.

This is akin to, and actually part of, the fatal old alliance between traditional conservatives and radicals, which has had such far-reaching effects for more than a century. They had nothing in common but their hatred of capitalism, the conservatives looking back to the revival of throne and altar in the various European nations, and to piety, the radicals looking forward to the universal, homogeneous society and to freedom — reactionaries and progressives united against the present. They feed off the inner contradictions of the bourgeoisie.

… The Right — in its only serious meaning, the party opposed to equality (not just economic equality but equality of rights) — at first wanted to undo the Revolution in the name of Throne and Altar, and this reaction probably breathed its last only with Francisco Franco in 1975. Another form of the Right, as it were a progressive Right, wanted to create and impose a new kind of inequality, a new European or German aristocracy, on the world, and it was blasted out of existence in Berlin in 1945.

Now they’re trying again with a new formula, one that allows them to better penetrate sectors now closed to them academia, journalism, and the high-tech business industries. The appeal of Libertarianism to a broader range of society looks like they have a winner this time.

(4)  Conclusions

“A movement which is confined to philosophers and honest men can never exercise any real political influence : there are too few of them. Until a movement shews itself capable of spreading among brigands, it can never hope for a political majority.”

— From George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman” (1903).

We spend too much time talking about politicians ideologies. We should instead focus on their actions. That shows that the 1% has been winning for a long time. They’re winning today. Eventually it will be an endgame, where we no longer have the ability to resist and they’ll have embedded their rule in our institutions and minds.

Time is our enemy.

(5)  For More Information

For more about libertarianism see the following.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For ideas about what you can do see Reforming America: paths to new politics. Also see these posts about libertarianism…

  1. All you need to know about Ayn Rand, savior of modern conservatism.
  2. A modern conservative dresses up Mr. Potter to suit our libertarian fashions.
  3. Ron Paul’s exotic past tells us much about him, the GOP, libertarians – and about us.
  4. Choose your team: our election is a conflict between long-dead philosophers.
  5. The difference between Christianity & Libertarianism marks a line between America & the New America
  6. Why the libertarian rich & their bankers love price controls – on money.
  7. Why do we believe an armed society is a polite society?

26 thoughts on “Why Libertarians will win (& liberals should fear Rand Paul)”

  1. Libertarians are Republicans who think it sounds cooler to say they are a libertarian. If you think Rand Paul is anything new or different you have failed to do your research. He is deeply in the pocket of big coal; for one and in general he is just a dopey joke, a pale shadow of his father from his toupee down to his self licensing. Check his voting record by the way. Solidly Republican.

    1. Rand Paul is not the real threat, he can’t win in 2016. But he can move the country closer to where the 1% wants it for the 2020 or 2024 election.

      1. Pluto,

        That matches what I said.

        Rand Paul is moving the Overton Window, pulling the window of “respectable” (I.e., mainstream) discourse to the Right. That makes him a politically powerful figure, although unelectable on a national level. Like William Jennings Bryan and Goldwater.

    2. Darwin,

      I have been thinking about comments by you and Rob. You both raise interesting questions about who is a libertarian. Rob uses an ideological definition. I find self-identification more useful for analysis of politics. Each has their place. You raise a question which was important with the Tea Party — who often self-identified as independents but tended to vote as straight-line Republicans.

      Here are two polls — the best I’ve found (cited in this post) — about libertarians. They don’t show much support for Libertarians as a form of Republicans. These were my basis for saying that they’re better classified as friends of the 1%. Both are titled “In Search of Libertarians”. One in 2013 by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the other “in 2014 by Pew Research“.

      1. Darwin,

        Update to that last post. Neither poll gives much about how self-identified libertarians vote. However the PRRI poll has this — which does support your theory.

        A majority (57%) of libertarians have a favorable view of the Republican Party, but a substantial minority (40%) have an unfavorable view of the GOP. … Notably, libertarians hold more negative views of Democrats than they hold positive views of Republicans. Nearly 9-in-10 (89%) libertarians have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party including nearly two-thirds (64%) who have a very unfavorable opinion of the party.

  2. Here’s a wonderful coda to this post

    Ideology Creators of the New Gilded Age” by Erik Loomis (Asst Prof History, U RI) at Lawyers, Guns, and Money:

    I’m not surprised that people are creating ideological justifications for the New Gilded Age. I am surprised however that one of them is Eric Hobsbawm’s daughter.

    She talks about the wonders of networking, and that it’s not just a primary methods elites use to kick the lessor orders off the ladders. It’s total bs, and Loomis does a good job of demolition. Esp note the ending, about Hobsbawms claims of working her way up the ladder:

    Ha ha ha ha ha. Yeah, Julia Hobsbawm totally became a member of the elite because of her good social skills and hard work. She definitely did not gain any advantage from her father’s name and her being able to succeed had nothing to do her father at all. As we were just told, the British understand how to succeed because of their class system so now let me, scion of one of the most famous intellectuals in the world during the second half of the twentieth century, tell you, Oregon mill worker’s son, how to succeed in life through hard work and networking.

    Well, somehow I’m not buying any of this. This is one tonic of capitalist success that I am not tasting.

  3. This article completely ignores the actual L/libertarians, thus ironically proving its point.

    The Libertarians are centrists, militantly pro-union, pro-markets, and want stable social insurance and basic incomes based on voluntary endowments for a start. When you say ‘the 1%’ to them, they think 145+IQ and laugh at your ignorance. They would certainly laugh at identifying Rand Paul, who says he isn’t a libertarian with them.

    For more GOOGLE the Libertarian International Organization.

    1. Rob,

      “The Libertarians are … militantly pro-union”

      This goes to the question of how one defines libertarian. Self-identified libertarians tend to vote as Republicans. I couldn’t find a good poll of their views about unions, but this online poll shows that 61% believe that the unions “hurt” vs 39% who say they “help”. That’s similar to the self-identified republicans (69-31%). I suspect a better poll would have similar results.

      “When you say ‘the 1%’ to them, they think 145+IQ and laugh at your ignorance.”

      Wow. Thank you for this comment. It’s wonderful evidence supporting this post. It’s also quite daft.

      1. I’ll amend that, it would be clearer to say 135+ IQ or so on more common scales like Wechsler.

        In the last year totalitarian socialists I talk to are backing off or modifying what they said in response to the obvious point that the 1% means the higher geniuses.

  4. Rand Paul is moving the Overton Window, pulling the window of “respectable” (I.e., mainstream) discourse to the Right.

    I agree. On taxes there is almost no more room on the Right. Steve Forbes ran on the flat tax in 2000. In 2012 Herman Cain proposed a top rate of 9%. I expect that a 0% tax rate for the rich will soon be proposed with a straight face. Perhaps even proposals that the rich should be gifted tax money simply for being members of the Sacred Order of the Entrepreneur.

  5. Rand is a variation of his father; however he is more politically astute. Unfortunately, he’ll draw naïve, closet libertarians away from the swelling ranks of the LP. Like his father, he will lead many unsuspecting followers into the 2016 slaughter-house confines of the GOP. With a little luck and his youthful resilience, he might recover from reliving/repeating the GOP’s trouncing of a libertarian insurgence and become a true Libertarian.

    1. Bill,
      Are you saying that Rand should run as a Libertarian? Third parties haven’t had much success and they sometimes help the party that is farthest from your ideology win the general election. See the Green Party in 2000.

    2. Bill,

      We learned from the Tea Party that how the people identify themselves is not how they vote. Many Tea Party people identify themselves as “independent” but vote straight line Republican. I haven’t found similar information about Libertarians, but the Pew Poll says how they voted in the the 2012 Presidential election, which gives us a clue:

      Libertarian voters report that they supported Mitt Romney in 2012 at levels roughly comparable to other conservative-leaning groups. Fully 8-in-10 (80%) libertarian voters say they supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, while only 5% say they supported Barack Obama. Notably, however, 14% of libertarian voters report that they supported a third-party candidate. The levels of support for Mitt Romney were similar among white evangelical Protestant voters (79%) and Tea Party voters (86%).

  6. They are a threat.

    This ties in with my observation that urban voters tend to be Democrats and rural voters tend to be republicans. There is significant political tension between the urban centers and the outskirts. Valid or not rural dwellers feel increasingly that their very real economic distress is caused by regulatory over reach by govt combined with unfair taking of resources into the cities.

    There is great overlap between gun nut libertarians, small govt libertarians, religious right libertarians, and banker hating tea party libertarians. Ironically it is urban dwelling republican bankers, war mongerers, and other unfair resource slurping elites who understand this and use it to their advantage.

      1. Peter,

        You raise an important issue close to my heart. I’m from upstate New York. My wife grew up near Binghamptom.

        Upstate New York has been dying since the 1960s, as has been to a lesser extent much of the NorthEast (especially the rural areas). The causes are far deeper than taxes and regulation, which are only symptoms. The massive corruption and deep hold of organized crime are difficult for people in California to even understand.

        There are larger factors at work. Cheap air conditioning opened up the sunbelt, making it far more competitive with the NorthEast. Rising energy prices shifted the balance between Texas and NY. Since WWII the Federal government has drained tax revenue from the NE and given it to the sunbelt. And more important than all of these, imo, is the letharagy of its people in the face of these challenges.

        The rise and fall of regions and peoples are a mystery, which no simple cartoons (they’re Democrats!) can illuminate.

    1. Peter,

      Assuming all that you say is correct, why does make “them” a “threat”? America — like every other large nation, always, has internal divisions. Regional, class, ethnic, religious, ideological, etc.

      “There is great overlap between”

      The graph at the opening of the post shows the overlap. It seemed small to me, not “great”. The Right is, like the Left, a loose coalition of disparate elements.

    2. To understand what’s going on just read Instapundit. Glen Reynolds links to posts by gun nuts (He’s a gun nut), by rural philosopher and pundit Chris David Hanson, by urban/rural divide geographer Joel Kotkin, plus of course lots of Tea Party boosterism mixed in with Big Stupid Government parables and police state nightmare stories.

      Basically the entire GOP Libertarian strategy is on display there. And he’s doing a good job. And the strategy is a threat to the left because it is well aligned with geographic, economic, and political reality.

      1. Peter,

        Thanks for the explaining! Now I see what you’re saying, and I agree.

        “they’re a threat to the Left”
        I’m unconfortable with those who describe mainstream political foes as a “threat to America”. I totally agree with your analysis here.

        Instapundit “is doing a good job”

        As a propagandist, absolutely, skillfully weaving a web of exaggeration and misinformation (with the occasional outright lies). There’s a back story here. He was my major source of referred traffic for the first few years of the FM website (2008-09). The “Instavalanches” would double my traffic. But I became increasingly disturbed by his content, and started debunking him.

        Also with his referrals came commenters. Largely — literally mostly — people passionate and deeply misinformed. Like people from another dimension, with a systematically distorted view of history, economics, and current events. Often with hateful violent attitudes. Scary people. The threads about our wars, about Islam, about torture horrified me.

        So I had to choose between success (traffic) and reality. For the first time, but not the last. Later I alienated my readers on the Left by choosing to defend the IPCC and climate agencies against the climate alarmists. There’s not much air in America for those outside the tribes of the Left and Right. Unfortunately imo both these tribes have gone mad. I don’t write about this as a phenomena because I can’t “prove it”, but I’ve written scores of post documenting it on specific issues.

        It’s only a symptom of some deeper ill, but its a serious one. The primary symptom is that each side clearly sees the problem in the other, but is blind to it on their own side.

        See these posts about the Instapundit’s work.

    1. When we lived in Ithaca we’d go to Cortland for the stores.

      The Mafia almost “ran” entire towns in Upstate NY (they’ve been broken during the past few decades) to an extent most young people today would find difficult to believe. Not just in Upstate. I have stories from my days on Wall Street (an office in the top floor of the WTC) that are incredible.

  7. Regarding true libertarians or true tea partiers: key phrase is ‘self-identified libertarians ‘

    2011 polls showed the self identified tea partiers favored Santorum or other flavor of the month over Ron Paul” by *greater* margin than ‘mainstream Republicans favored Santorum/flavor..
    That makes it difficult to claim that tea partiers are less state religionists than ‘establishment’ republicans are.

    At least in 2011 Republican caucuses, “tea partiers” were the same conservative extremists that previously named themselves “traditional values (somethings)” or “freepers”, or…

    1. Name,

      I would be interesting to see evidence that there are any substantial number of people in America who can be described as “state religionists”. That is, who want a State Religion (e.g., the Church of England) or worship the State as a religion.

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