Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Libertarian Center

Brink Lindsey has a very good essay up over at Cato Unbound on The Libertarian Center. We are definitely in need right now of new thinking about politics and society. The conceptual frameworks we have inherited are decades old and were designed for different times and different challenges. We need ideas that are relevant to our time and the transformations and challenges we face. Lindsey's ideas are an important contribution to an emerging discussion about how to update our ways of thinking.

...I maintain that the concept of a libertarian center offers useful insight into the current political situation. In particular, it highlights the fact that our ideological categories have not yet caught up with social realities. The movements of left and right continue to be organized around discontents with the new, more libertarian cultural synthesis that prevails today. Thus the reactionary claims of decline and fall we hear from both sides: the right wails about cultural and moral decline, while the left gnashes its teeth about economic decline. Think of the leading red-meat issues for conservatives today. Gay marriage is destroying the American family; an invasion of illegal immigrants from Mexico threatens to overwhelm American culture; stem cell research is leading us to a Brave New World of moral atrocities. Meanwhile, the left is fixated on mounting “economic insecurity” for the most materially blessed population in human history. Endlessly repeated statistics on stagnant median wages, rising income inequality and volatility, and a shrinking middle class fortify true believers in their denial of the obvious reality that we’ve never had it so good.

Our politics today is stuck in a reactionary rut. The right remains unreconciled to irreversible cultural changes from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The left remains unreconciled to irreversible economic changes from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The idea of the libertarian center suggests that the way to break out of this rut is with a new, post-culture-wars politics that embraces both economic change and cultural diversity. I am not saying that some particular package of libertarian reforms is now the key to assembling a winning political coalition. The idea of a libertarian center is about the core of American political culture, not the margins of political change. What I’m saying is that partisans on both sides need to recraft their messages and programs to better reflect the entrepreneurial, tolerant spirit of contemporary America.

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