About July 2007
In his new book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture, Cato vice president for research Brink Lindsey argues that post-World War II affluence precipitated a renewed quest for meaning in America giving us both the counterculture to the Moral Majority, redefining the meaning of “left” and “right” in American politicians, and eventually settling into a broadly libertarian sociopolitical synthesis, despite the seeming intractability of “red state/blue state” partisanship.
In this month’s lead essay, “The Libertarian Center,” Lindsey elaborates his conception of the current soft libertarian consensus, and the constraints this places on Democrats and Republicans as they seek to cobble together working political majorities. Can any party keep power if they stray too far from the libertarian center? Is there a distinctive, yet-to-be-formulated libertarianish politics of abundance that could ever gather real political steam? Lindsey will be joined in addressing these questions by a polypartisan panel of blogging luminaries. On the left, we’ll have The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias. On the right, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. And in the … libertarian middle? … Reason contributing editor Julian Sanchez.
In this month’s lead essay Cato vice president for research Brink Lindsey elaborates his argument in The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture that the culture wars are over and a vaguely libertarian consensus is the result. While recognizing that principled libertarianism doesn’t have a significant constituency, Lindsey argues that the soft libertarian synthesis constrains the Democrats and Republicans as they seek to cobble together working political majorities.
National Review Online editor-at-large and LA Times columnist Jonah Golberg offers a critical assessment of what he calls “the Brink Lindsey Project” — “a new fusionism which will make us stuffy conservatives lighten up and make pie-eyed liberals give up their enduring weakness for Gosplans.” According to Goldberg, Lindsey’s “libertarian centrism” involves a suspiciously convenient confluence of forces. “His definition of libertarian centrism is really Lindseyan centrism,” Goldberg argues. “And by writing his own priorities into the grand sweep of history, he misdiagnoses the nature of the liberal-conservative divide.”
Atlantic Monthly associate editor Matthew Yglesias joins Brink Lindsey in thinking that the relaxation of traditional social strictures over the past few deacades is a good thing, but he doesn’t see anything libertarian about it, citing the role of Civil Rights Act and other intrusive anti-discrimination laws in bringing about the shift. Yglesias concedes that the economy has in some ways become less regulated, but argues that this didn’t signal an “ideological triumph.” Furthermore, he argues, “libertarians interested in practical politics might want to consider that a federal commitment to health security and retirement security isn’t going away,” and suggests that Lindsey himself may have explained why.
Reason contributing editor Julian Sanchez spots several ambiguities in Brink Lindsey’s argument leading him to doubt the conclusion that America has become more libertarian in a meaningful sense. “To speak confidently about America’s growing libertarianism,” Sanchez writes, “we need to establish that at least some of the changes Lindsey lauds are driven by a shared conception of justice” that leans increasingly libertarian. Yet Sanchez is unimpressed by the polling data Lindsey recruits to his cause. There is no doubt we now have more choice due to increasing abundance, but “the conception of freedom that has always centrally concerned libertarians has been the freedom from restraints on choice, not the variety of available options.” But, Sanchez argues, “much of the plausibility of Lindsey’s thesis relies on [the] conflation” of these two conceptions of freedom.
Related at Cato
» The Libertarian Vote by David Boaz and David Kirby
» Libertarians in an Unlibertarian World by Brink Lindsey