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A Neo-Libertarian Nation?

The future of the Republican party.

by James Leroy Wilson
January 29, 2004

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A Neo-Libertarian Nation?_James Leroy Wilson-The Future of the Republican Party A site I discovered called The Free Liberal a self-described “left-libertarian” magazine, discusses why the “Religious Right” opposed Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s run for governor in California. The author, Eric Dondero Rittberg, founder of the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus, writes:

[Schwarzeneggar] is part of the new emerging neo-libertarian movement that represents a more mainstream and highly electorally attractive libertarian agenda. Current icons of the emerging neo-libertarians include nationally-syndicated Radio Talk show hosts Neil Boortz of Atlanta and Larry Elder of Los Angeles, Rock Star Ted Nugent and KISS guitarist Gene Simmons, “conservative Lesbian” Activist Tammy Bruce, Syndicated Columnist James Pinkerton, Actor Bruce Willis and Comedian Dennis Miller.

What is, or who is, a “neo-libertarian?”

I know that Elder and Boortz, self-described libertarians and critics of many of the government’s domestic programs, came out in support of the invasion of Iraq. As did Dennis Miller. This explains much of it.

Essentially, a neo-libertarian is a “moderate” who leans toward greater personal freedom (especially when it comes to sex) and greater economic freedom (less government taxing and spending, fewer regulations). Yet, the neo-lib also signs on to part of the neo-conservative agenda:

- reforms in social spending and structure, such as school vouchers and privately-managed Social Security and health-care accounts, but not principled opposition to government intervention in these areas.
- a broad trust in the goodness of America and the deployment of its military forces to punish evil.

The neo-libertarian thinks of himself as having a “common-sense” view of freedom and government. But he is also probably more secular than religious in his outlook, which always, always, makes Statism his religion, even in more moderate degrees than say, neo-conservatives or Greens. The neo-lib might be “pro-choice” on abortion, but not necessarily on guns or hard drugs. He wants the government to be more efficient in the distribution of public goods, and is open to new solutions on that score, but still believes that government is not just the essential defender of life, liberty, and property, but also an indispensable agent to promote greater freedom (that is, more choices), health, and wealth.

And the annual 4th of July ceremonies, public-school textbooks, and television documentaries still persuade him of the positive influence that America’s military has played in the world. The neo-libertarian believes in the right to burn the American flag, but still reveres it.

The neo-libertarian has libertarian “instincts,” but has been trained by his public and even religious education to distrust libertarian “philosophy” and quake at genuinely libertarian solutions.

As such, he has a lot in common with the mainstream of the American people, who generally want people to be free - as they understand freedom - yet also still believe that government can play a positive role in the economic and educational well-being of the people, and to be a force for good in the causes of international peace and human rights.

Neo-libertarianism is not the “present” of the Republican Party, not part of the alliance of the corporate elite, neo-cons, and the Christian Right. But, as Rittberg points out, they are the heirs of Barry Goldwater and the fiscally-conservative, socially liberal Massachusetts governor William Weld. And of the former Reform Party Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura.

And cultural indicators suggest that neo-libertarianism might be the Republican future. A worst-case scenario is that the Bush Administration is the final sign of the end of the free republic that was the United States of America. Freedoms will gradually and continually disappear, as the power elite, in control of both parties, and who were weaned and reared over 40 years of Big Government, from FDR through Nixon, will find the final consummation in the re-election of Bush or of some Democrat corporate hack like Kerry or Edwards.

But the Republic isn’t over until its over. Generation X is coming into its own, and remembers Ford‘s housekeeping, Carter‘s malaise, Reagan not remembering anything, Bush Sr.’s ineffectual “prudence,” and the embarrassing Clinton years, not remembering what was good, or bad, about the Imperial Presidency of 1933-1974. And we had to endure Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. And James Carville and Rush Limbaugh.

Such a level of national dysfunction leaves America ripe for a nationwide neo-libertarian revolution, something Newt Gingrich probably thought he achieved in 1994. It will turn out, however, not to be a careerist politician like Gingrich to lead the charge, but someone building on the “celebrity governorships” of neo-libs Ventura and Schwarzeneggar.

It might not happen within the next two election cycles, but when today’s young adults actually start to vote, that is, when they hit their late twenties and thirties, the hysterics of by-gone political and religious demagogues won’t persuade them. Iraq and the “War on Terror” will define their understanding of politics, just as Vietnam and Watergate did to the baby-boomers.

I’m not saying that neo-libertarianism is necessarily a good thing, in itself. But if America gets its moral bearings from celebrities who call for “common sense” and greater freedom, that is a far healthier development than following the wishes of politicians and religious leaders who call for more government control of everything.

For better or for worse, then, it will be the Ronald Reagans of the world, people famous for something other than being politicians, who are going to be the moral and political leaders of the future. This might be good, or bad. But if bad, it won’t likely be any worse than what we’ve already experienced.

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