Libertarians of the world unite?

Sunday 18 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Cinema 3, Barbican Contemporary Controversies

Rand Paul’s announcement that he would be standing for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 has reopened debate about the resurgence of libertarianism in political discourse. Unlike the fringe Libertarian Party rhetoric of his political stalwart father Ron, Rand is talked up in many circles as a serious candidate and increasingly compared to a young Obama in terms of his popularity with younger voters. While the Tea Party’s focus on fiscal conservatism, small government and individual rights has been discussed as a nostalgic return to core conservative values, however, others are asking whether libertarianism represents a new political force beyond the particularities of US politics. Noting the popularity of figures such as Ayn Rand amongst Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and riding a wave of resentment against the perceived failures of Western governments on civil liberties and foreign policy, contemporary libertarians espouse a strong social liberalism which seems to set them far apart from other post-recession populist movements across Europe.

Yet many find a term referring to a milieu that could include anyone from Milton Friedman to anarcho-capitalists difficult to pin down. Liberal critics suggest that many contemporary libertarian ideas are an extension of Thatcherite-style selfish individualism, with an extreme hostility to state interference cynically deployed to sidestep regulation and taxation. Others query whether libertarianism is more of a lifestyle label than a coherent political movement, noting libertarians tend to be defined more by a reaction against perceived ills of political correctness and state surveillance than a particular enthusiasm for free-market economics. Supporters counter that they represent a philosophical strain of thought rather than ideology per se and point towards the success of the Pirate Party in influencing European policy on net neutrality. Indeed, some see in the libertarian impulse an impatience with a growing mood of anti-individualism in society.

Is libertarianism a movement distinct to the particularities of US politics or does it have growing purchase across the West? Why has a term which was once straightforwardly associated with support for civil liberties now become so closely related to the right alone? Is libertarianism just another product of the culture wars: a conservative-leaning mirror image of the ubiquitous hashtag feminists and social justice warriors? Does its rise reflect a broader crisis of liberal values or rejection of a conformist political mainstream? Has the libertarian moment arrived?

Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Vít Jedlička
president of Liberland

Dr Patrik Schumacher
principal, Zaha Hadid Architects; author, The Autopoiesis of Architecture

Cathy Young
contributing editor, Reason magazine; author, Ceasefire! Why women and men must join forces to achieve true equality

Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos
lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy

Produced by
Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy
Recommended readings
Why a genuinely libertarian party is an oxymoron

Party politics prevents the emergence of Libertarian political philosophy.

Chris Hughes, Blasting News UK, 28 March 2015

Which Party Deserves the Libertarian Vote? Nicholas Rogers, Huffington Post, 2 February 2014

UKIP is not a libertarian party Alex Massie, Spectator, 27 November 2012

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