The neglect is strange, given how much libertarians and their limited-government logic have shaped the culture and economy of the U.S. The ideas of John Locke and David Hume animated the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Libertarian principles kept what we think of as "big government" in check for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th, despite tariffs and war. The federal income tax officially arrived, in permanent form, as late as 1913. Coolidge and his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, took a famously minimalist approach to governing. Of course, we now live in a post-FDR age, with government programs everywhere. Still, the libertarian impulse is part of our political culture. "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism," Ronald Reagan declared.
Today, pollsters find only 2% of people refer to themselves as libertarians, but some 15% of voters hold broadly libertarian views and can be a swing factor. In the photo-finish presidential race of 2000, some 72% of libertarian-minded voters supported George W. Bush. Last November, many of them abandoned the GOP, disillusioned by its profligate ways, and helped hand control of Congress to Democrats.
With "Radicals for Capitalism," Brian Doherty finally gives libertarianism its due. He tracks the movement's progress over the past century by focusing on five of its key leaders--Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman. The emphasis is on their ideas, but Mr. Doherty also takes into account their personal struggles--not least their feuds with other thinkers and their relation to an intellectual establishment that for most of their lives thought they were either crazy or irrelevant or both.
John H. Fund
The only way our republic will survive is for the electorate to swing the government back in the direction of libertarianism. Given the degenerate nature of democracy and its inevitable outcomes, I don't know if this is even possible, but I do remain hopeful. Neither faction of the current political party is inclined to move that way, so I believe that only the rise of an independent, libertarian-based party can accomplish the turnaround. I would prefer to think that voters could accomplish this independent of party affiliation, but the herd instinct appears to be too strong in American voters. Any political party, no matter what its ideological roots, will eventually become an albatross around the neck of freedom.