Libertarian theory and its limitations

How’s that ‘Libertarian Moment’ working out?”  asks Kevin D. Williamson before answering:

And we libertarians wonder why we’re losing.

The Las Vegas area is in fact a pretty good test case for libertarian theory and an excellent example of its limitations. The legalization of prostitution in nearby lightly populated counties was supposed to provide all of the benefits familiar from anti-Prohibitionist arguments: moving prostitution off the streets, bringing it under responsible regulation, eliminating the influence of organized crime and criminal exploitation, etc. A drive down West Tropicana, where the street corners are full of underage girls and lost addicts plying the oldest trade in the oldest fashion, suggests very strongly that this hasn’t happened. So do the arrest numbers. So do the human-trafficking operations that help stock the nearby massage parlors. The casual marijuana peddlers offer similar testimony about the state’s relatively liberal marijuana laws. So does the fact that you can go to jail for organizing a dollar-a-point bridge game here where “gambling is legal.”

Las Vegas’s vice economy isn’t libertarian at all: It is one of the most tightly regulated economies in the United States, staffed by union members and dominated by politically connected cartels and their friends in elected office.

The real world does not unfold according to our neat ideological models.


In the event, the two presidential candidates Americans got most excited about were Donald Trump, a nationalist, and Bernie Sanders, a socialist. Between the two of them, they make a pretty good national socialist. Trump won his party’s nomination and Sanders ceded his to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is (arguably) a little bit more of a nationalist and (arguably) a little bit less of a socialist but in many ways a much better distillation of the partnership between big government and big business that characterizes our current political moment.


The complexity of the real world exceeds what can be adequately addressed by our ideologies, and the variety of real human beings — and real human experience — means that there are real differences in basic, fundamental values. Most people do not want their values to be tolerated — they want their values to prevail. The terrorists in Nice and Orlando are not fighting for toleration. Neither are the neo-socialists now migrating from the Sanders camp to the Clinton camp or the Trumpkins who are sure that their frustrations and disappointments are being artificially and maliciously inflicted on them by a nefarious elite.

And that’s why we are not having a libertarian moment, but a nationalist-socialist moment.

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One Response to Libertarian theory and its limitations

  1. Paul Marks says:

    One can not have a “libertarian moment” without people understanding the principles of libertarianism.

    It turns out that .F A Hayek was mistaken – liberty does not “evolve” without conscious intention, indeed without conscious understanding of, and support for, the principles of liberty, freedom decays and dies.

    Humans are beings, agents, we have the ability to CHOOSE do other than we do (Hayek denied that as well – but let us leave his determinist errors for another time) – but we need knowledge to help us make good choices.

    Whilst the level of knowledge, of understanding the principles of liberty is so terribly low (thanks to the schools, the universities, and the media) we should expect candidate like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to be popular.

    Some people manage to find (or stumble upon) the truth without help – but a lot of people need help.

    How they are going get that help, that knowledge of the principles of liberty, is the great question.

    People are capable of understanding these matters, they really are. But they need the knowledge presented to them.

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