Establishment conservatives are leery of the young
libertarians for several reasons. Some, like Lindsey Graham and John McCain
(who recently dismissed them as “libertarian kids,” much to the delight of YAL
members), say they are naÃ¯ve about world politics. Others, like National
Review’s Jonah Goldberg, believe that a coalition of social liberals and fiscal
conservatives–the kind the libertarians hope to build–would be disastrously ineffective in terms of actually
limiting the size of government. In practice, Goldberg notes, strong social
conservative credentials tend to coincide with effectiveness in lowering taxes.
Social conservatives tend to vote for tax cutters and are crucial in efforts to
limit government. Moreover, many people who describe themselves as socially
liberal and fiscally conservative–those people that Kate O’Beirne dubbed the
“jackalopes of American politics”–tend to vote Democrat, making it clear that
they care more about social liberalism than fiscal conservatism.
It’s difficult to say what impact the campus liberty movement will have on American politics. Some of the things they
do–such as press releases that mock John McCain for being old–suggest
that they are unserious and not ready for the mainstream. Then again, perhaps
we should expect sophomoric antics from sophomores, and the movement will gain
maturity as its members do. In any case, they have momentum and they will be
interesting to watch in coming years.
This article certainly indicates that formal Libertarianism seems to be growing on the campus, but it’s hard to get a feel for how deep and widespread the movement actually is.
In my day (ancient – middle 1960s) when a supposedly Republican, but actually libertarian, group call the Young Americans for Freedom, flourished widely. But in the end, the kids from that movement didn’t have a lot of influence on governance as compared to their more radical fellows.
But every generation is different, and the times today are not the times of those days. The Millennials are the equivalent, generation-wise, of that generation we now call the Greatest Generation. Strauss and Howe, in their book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, regard them as the saviors of the Republic, but there is a fair amount of evidence that is horseshit.
One of the Strauss and Howe generational theories that seems to chime with reality is the notion that a generation will rebel against its parents, and seek guidance from its grandparents. The grandparents of the Millennials are the Boomers, which may be why I, a Boomer, see certain similarities between this new libertarian presence on campus, and the one that I knew in my own college years.
But there is a fair amount of evidence that also indicates Millennials are but pale, pabulumized, limp copies of the robust change the world activists their grandparents were. They seem to me to be fearful of confrontation, far more submissive to authority, and far too trusting in government.
In other words, this may be a heartening development, or it may not. Like many such things, time will tell. Civic engagement, per se, can be quite harmful, if your notion of such things is to use the power of the state to enforce your notions of utopia on everybody. The essence of real libertarianism can be summed up as “Leave me alone to live my life.” I don’t get the sense that this is what these young people are really about. They want to live their lives, but they seem to want the government to make sure their lives are safe, secure, and protected against the bumps and scrapes of existence.