“Libertarianism, a belief in what Adam Smith called “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty,” is the core philosophy of America. The first colonists fled aristocratic Europe to find religious liberty, individualism, and economic opportunity. They declared their belief in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. American history has been a struggle between liberty and power, between those who wanted to defend and extend the liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and those who wanted to make the United States more like the countries our ancestors left, with powerful and paternalistic government. Throughout our history, libertarian sentiments have been rekindled when the federal government has grown beyond what Americans will tolerate—such as the past few years.”
Rand Paul’s leadership in the Senate – on the budget, regulation, privacy, criminal justice, and foreign policy – and his likely presidential campaign are generating new attention for libertarian ideas.
“Libertarianism is hot,” headlined the Washington Post in 2013. From an almost-forgotten part of American political culture, libertarianism has grown into a respected and much-discussed political faction and a compelling set of ideas that challenge the conventional wisdom. Tens of millions of Americans are fiscally conservative, socially tolerant, and skeptical of American military intervention.
The growth of the libertarian movement is a product of two factors: the spread of libertarian ideas and sentiments, and the expansion of government during the Bush and Obama administrations, particularly the civil liberties abuses after 9/11 and the bailouts and out-of-control spending after the financial crisis. As one journalist noted in 2009, “The Obama administration brought with it ambitions of a resurgence of FDR and…
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