Libertarianism on the rise in America, and on the Courts?

October 5th, 2013

In today’s New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus write about the growing influence of Libertarians in the American populace.

But as America becomes more diverse, another population has come more clearly into view: the alienated and disenchanted. These people have embraced a libertarian and anti-government outlook and have little use for what they see as the compromised, impure “big government” conservatism of the Reagan and Bush years.

To this constituency, the Republican who will go as far as he can — taking one last crack at undoing Mr. Obama’s health care reform or voting later this month not to raise the debt ceiling — is not an obstructionist but a politician of principle, a rebel with a cause.

Is Libertarianism on the rise in America? There are new data points to suggest that it this. David Kirby at Cato@Liberty notes that during Cruz’s filibuster, the junior senator from Texas read from Atlas Shrugged, mentioned the phrase libertarian six times, and Rand Paul read from a personal favorite, Basitat’s “What is Seen and Unseen.” During Paul’s filibuster a few months ago, he cited the work of Randy Barnett, David Bernstein, and others.  Are these libertarian views of Cruz, Paul, as well as Mike Lee and others, indicative of a growing trend? In citing research about the growth of libertarian views within the Republican party, Kirby writes, “Libertarians may have reached a tipping point within the Republican Party.”

In various studies, libertarianism is defined in terms of people questioning the role of government in both business and social arenas. Libertarians will question both. According to Gallup data, there has been, “a 19 percentage point increase in libertarian views among Republicans and Republican leaning independents in the decade between 2002 and 2012. In 2002, libertarians represented 15 percent of Republicans; in 2012, 34 percent.” Based on American National Election Studies data,there has been “a nine percentage point increase in libertarian views among Republicans and Republican leaning independents between 2000 and 2012. In 2000, libertarians represented 26 percent of Republicans; in 2012, 35 percent.”

This rise in libertarianism over the last two decades seems to reflect something I have commented on before–a growth in libertarianism on the Supreme Court over the same period. In Reason, I noted how the Court’s recent federalism opinions sounded strongly in libertarian principles. I’ll have more on this last point when I finally finish my piece on Kennedy’s Constitutional Chimera.