On George Will and Libertarianism

Over at Hit and Run, Tim Cavanaugh notes that Newsweek columnist George Will recently put in a good word for libertarians with:

So Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a 48-year-old Texan, tried riding to the rescue. Hensarling is a Republican, which means next to nothing nowadays, but also a libertarian, which means he believes, as Republicans once did, in limited government.

which prompted this commentary from Cavanaugh:

I gag at putting in a good word for any baseball elegist or bowtie-wearer, but Will consistently provides a strong critique of campaign finance reform in media that regular people actually pay attention to; he’s probably the most prominent figure making this argument in the mainstream media. So godspeed to him.

It wasn’t just Will’s latest column which used the “L” word in a positive light. On November 27, Will had the following to say about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels:

In the division between social conservatives, who emphasize nurturing virtue, and libertarian conservatives, who emphasize expanding liberty by limiting government, Daniels is with the latter.

Whether Daniels is truly libertarian is a matter for debate, however. Indiana attorney and state Libertarian Party chairman Mark Rutherford sent the following message out on the LP State Chairs’ e-mail list:

No. Mitch is not now, nor has he ever been a Libertarian. And with such government-expanding actions as:

  1. advocating taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the multi-million-dollar business, the Colts;
  2. seeking to spend millions of dollars on an unnecessary Interstate-69 route when the state can’t afford to maintain and upgrade current roads;
  3. dumping the state’s tax burden onto local entities to fulfill the whims of the governor and the legislature;

Mitch Daniels will never become a Libertarian.

While Will may not be libertarian either, he clearly seems to respect libertarian principles, and it is truly refreshing to see him using the increasingly popular “L” word.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. I recall a column by George Will several years ago (I think during an (presidential?) election year) on “Why Libertarians will never be elected” basically because they are too purist and principled and not pragmatic. I remember being dismayed by his conclusion but thinking he had a point. I was unable to locate it http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/will.archives.asp (earlier than 10/99?) but think it bears rereading. If anybody can locate a copy I would be greatly appreciative.

  2. I was going to point to the same thing as Daniel Ong. There’s a certain element of “flip-flop” by Will when it comes to libertarianism. He consistently pooh-poohed it in the past.