Libertarianism 3.0: The wave of the present?

June 1

Over on The Daily Beast, Reason editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie has a very nice account of the way Charles and David Koch have contributed to the evolution of Libertarianism 1.0 to 2.0, and now to 3.0: Libertarianism 3.0: Koch And A Smile . Having been present for each stage in this development, his narrative rings true to me, as does his description of each stage:

Libertarianism 1.0 spans the 1960s and ’70s. It was a time of building groups and having arguments that hammered out what it meant to be a libertarian as opposed to a liberal who grokked free trade or a conservative who was against the warfare state.  [snip]

Libertarianism 2.0 covers the past 30 years or so. By the early 1980s, the libertarian movement had established a distinct ideological identity, albeit one often ignored or put down by an older, square conservative movement that still considered libertarianism as a punky younger brother.  [snip]

Which brings me to Libertarianism 3.0. The first iteration of the modern libertarian movement was focused on figuring out who we were and what sorts of institutions and outreach were necessary for the movement. The second was about working within existing power structures, sometimes even to the point of keeping mum on matters of serious disagreement. I’d argue that Libertarianism 3.0 will be a phase in which libertarians pursue two parallel political paths.

The first is outlined in The Declaration of Independents, the book I co-authored with Matt Welch: As increasing numbers of Americans flee affiliation with either major party, libertarians and others will form ad hoc coalitions that focus on specific issues and then disband after a threat has been stared down. That happened in 2012, when a rag-tag group of people from all over the political spectrum teamed up to defeat The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart The Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Ralph Nader is calling for something similar in his new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Right-Left Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. In a recent interview, Nader—no fan of major parties, he—told me that libertarians and progressives could get a “hell of a lot done if they would band together on specific issues” such as cronyism and corporate subsidies. (The problem, he said, is that “everyone wants to win every argument on the things they disagree about.”)

The second strategy is relevant to those trying to work within the Republican Party (and possibly the Democratic Party in time). They will start insisting that their economic and social views not only get taken seriously but start driving the agenda. That’s the strategy that Matt Kibbe, head of FreedomWorks, champions in books such as 2011’s Hostile Takeover and this year’s Don’t Hurt People and Take Their Stuff.

In relating the role that Charles and David Koch have played in this development, Gillespie is playing off a new book by Daniel Schulman, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, that Nick says “is mandatory reading.” A truly fair and balanced account of the Kochs would freely acknowledge their enormous contributions to the growth, development, and increasing influence of the modern libertarian movement, the impact of which is now being felt by the Republican party. This is indeed big. But Schulman apparently is also sensitive to what the Left’s shameful McCarthyite treatment of the Kochs deliberately ignores: the distinctly libertarian path they have funded, and in which they have personally participated, that is quite different from that of either the Republican or Democratic parties, or from either traditional conservatives on the right and traditional progressives on the left.

That sort of nuance does not drive campaign contributions, so instead we have the “vast right wing conspiracy” theories with “the Koch brothers” cast as Drs. Evil. The reality is actually far more interesting and potentially momentous. But those who get their talking points from Harry Reid, MSNBC and the DNC (I am on their list so I know what they are saying, though they think my name is “Rob”) are missing the real story. They might just start with Nick Gillespie’s column on the Daily Beast.

Randy Barnett is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory, Georgetown University Law Center, and Director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. His books include: Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (Princeton, 2d. ed 2014); and The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law (Oxford, 2d. ed. 2014).
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David Kopel · June 1