Hymowitz: Freedom Fetishists

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[from the September issue of Commentary]

Kay S. Hymowitz

More than perhaps any other American political group, libertarians have suffered the blows of caricature. For many people, the term evokes an image of a scraggly misfit living in the woods with his gun collection, a few marijuana plants, some dog-eared Ayn Rand titles, and a battered pick-up truck plastered with bumper stickers reading “Taxes = Theft” and “FDR Was A Pinko.”

The stereotype is not entirely unfair. Even some of those who proudly call themselves libertarians recognize that their philosophy of personal freedom and minimal government can be a powerful magnet for the unhinged. Nor has recent political history done much to rehabilitate libertarianism’s image as an outlier.

The Libertarian party’s paltry membership has never reached much beyond the 250,000 mark, and polling numbers for Ron Paul, the perennial libertarian presidential candidate (now running for the Republican nomination), remain pitiable. Worse, despite Bill Clinton’s declaration that “the era of big government is over,” anti-statist ideas like school vouchers and privatized Social Security accounts continue to be greeted with wide-spread skepticism, while massive new programs like the Medicare prescription-drug benefit continue to win the support fo reelection minded incumbents. A recent New York Times survey found increasing support for government-run health care, and both parties are showing sigs of a populist resurgence, with demands for new economic and trade regulation.

And yet, judging by their output in recent years, libertarians are in a fine mood–and not because they are in denial.

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