Stephen Metcalf has responded to the critics of his Robert Nozick piece, and while he doesn’t address me by name, it is implied that I am “accustomed to the shady comforts of the fringe.” I readily admit to living on the political fringe, but it is neither shady nor comfortable. I am constantly asked to defend my worldview by friends and associates. I’ve had people come to my presentations just to yell at me. And I spend a great deal of my free time grappling with criticisms of my beliefs from people such as…Stephen Metcalf. I grant that libertarians and others with outre political beliefs can cut themselves off from criticism and preach only to the choir, but that’s not the path I have chosen. I try to engage the mainstream of American political culture, but it is still largely hostile to libertarianism.
And that undermines Metcalf’s rationale for the original article, which he now explains:
…[I]magine the country had swung to the left over the past 30 years, as far as it has now swung to the right. An entire news network devotes itself around the clock to keeping the left’s Communist fringe in a state of permanent arousal. Its talking heads nightly pound their respective tables with copies of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; its anchors routinely quote St. Simone and Fourier. The message is unrelenting: A libertarian menace awaits us—a world of vast inequalities, poor health care, and slow, chronically delayed passenger trains—should we lower taxes even a fraction…
Reversing ideological polarities, I hope, better measures the extent to which a climate of extremism has become our new normal, while pointing up how willfully distractive, not to say silly, many responses to my piece have been. My interest in Nozick is not pedantic; it is informed by a general reality that I find, to put it mildly, alarming.
Metcalf is correct that libertarianism is growing in political influence, but this idea that we now live in a land ruled by the philosophy of Robert Nozick is just silly. Fox News may be on the right (I know there are people who would contend that point), but with few exceptions, they are not libertarians. They have adopted more libertarian rhetoric as of late, but that’s only because libertarianism is friend only to the party out of power.
Moreover, if libertarianism is such a powerful force in American politics these days, why is it that federal spending as a percentage of GDP has risen from a bit over 18% of GDP in 2001 to 24% this year and is set to climb to nearly 34% by 2035? Why is any attempt at meaningful entitlement reform equated with throwing old, wheelchair-bound women off a cliff? Why hasn’t the defense budget been cut? Why are there still agricultural subsidies? I could go on forever, but it’s clear that government policy is not moving in a libertarian direction–quite the opposite. The fact that Stephen Metcalf looks around and sees the sinister influence everywhere in contemporary American politics says far more about him than any potential dangers of libertarian philosophy.