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News Link • Philosophy: Libertarianism

Is libertarian skepticism about democracy a major cause of our current ills...

•, By Ilya Somin

In an interesting recent essay for the Niskanen Center, Will Wilkinson argues that libertarian skepticism about democracy is a major cause of the current pathologies of the political right in the United States. 

More specifically, he contends that, as a result of embracing an absolutist conception of property rights, libertarians have become hostile to democracy to the point of seeking a total "escape from politics." While earlier "classical liberals" sought only to put constitutional "trigger locks" on democracy, today's libertarians seek to eliminate it entirely.

These ideas, Wilkinson argues, have infected the mainstream Republican right, and become a major factor in the latter's undermining of various key norms of liberal democracy. If true, Wilkinson's thesis would be an important contribution to our understanding of the history of both libertarianism and American politics more generally. But, unfortunately, every step in his story is either greatly exaggerated or simply wrong. Libertarian skepticism about democracy is not primarily the result of the factors Wilkinson cites, and it is not a significant contributor to the pathologies of the conservative right. Far from being a key cause of our current problems, it can be a useful part of the solution.

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