Part V: Final Thoughts on Millennial Politics
I wanted to accomplish a few things with this long (and hopefully not boring) essay. First, I wanted to provide a rationale for starting this blog – particularly for my skeptical progressive friends. In my opinion, Democrats misunderstand and underestimate libertarian thought at their own peril; reliance on favorable demographic trends will not be enough, as the evidence shows Millennials are open to arguments in favor of smaller government and are generally skeptical of institutions. If the right continues to dominate libertarian politics without a left alternative, the vaunted Democratic majority could evaporate.
Second, I wanted to reintroduce libertarian ideas through a progressive lens to show how heterodox those ideas can be – as evidenced by the discussion of von Mises and Friedman in Part II. Libertarianism has become synonymous with the fringe right, despite a long and intellectually rich history of left libertarianism. If libertarianism is to be a viable political force, it must free itself of its older associations and welcome new (and at times divergent) lines of thought. A philosophy constantly in thrall to its original thinkers becomes ideology.
Finally, I wanted to focus on where our politics are going instead of the shitstorm of gridlock that passes as politics today. As a generation, we’ve seen how destructive partisan politics can be for our country. As we enter the workforce and vote in larger numbers, we must take responsibility for creating the kind of politics we want to see. We don’t have to take gridlock for granted. And, as the past six years of the Obama Administration have taught us, we can’t rely on politicians to solve our problems for us. The first step to making things better is to engage with unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas rather than relying on the current power structure to do the right thing.
In Part I, I discussed Skowronek’s theory of political arcs in presidential politics. The Roosevelt arc promoted the idea that government technocrats could manage the economy and prevent another Great Depression caused by the avarice and myopia of businessmen. The Reagan arc promised to reduce the size and ability of government to meddle in businesses and personal lives, and espoused a belief in the wisdom of private markets over bureaucratic fiat. Both arcs endorsed a strong role for America abroad, built on economic and military strength as well as ideals.
The new arc could be a pox on both their houses. Instead of pointing to governments or private markets as the solution to our problems, a libertarian-progressive arc would call for a major reordering of our institutions themselves – toward more democratic, responsive, and innovative forms. It would favor a less aggressive foreign policy and increased dialogue with other nations, as well as less reliance on military solutions to thorny international problems. On a wide array of issues – the War on Drugs, the prison-industrial complex, immigration, protection of civil liberties, American interventionism and hegemony – libertarians and progressives share common ground.
And yet, progressives and libertarians disagree deeply on the scope and role of government, in ways that could be truly irreconcilable; whether the new arc leads to bipartisan consensus or continued gridlock remains to be seen. If we fail to learn the lessons of the Baby Boomers and continue the cycle of invective, wage the culture wars with renewed intensity and double down on partisanship, then we could be remembered as the generation who truly fucked up a good thing. For better or worse, our system only works if we work together. The latent progressive and libertarian ideological leanings of the Millennial generation – diverse, committed to social liberalism, individualistic yet sympathetic to government action – will shape the new arc, for better or worse.