Remembering some victories

It’s too easy (for me, anyway) to sink into doom and gloom about the political situation. There are plenty of reasons to be depressed right now, but focusing only on bad news just kills motivation. So here’s a quick list of areas where libertarians have made gains in the 21st century. In most cases, other groups did a lot (often most) of the work; there aren’t enough of us to win many battles without alliances. Often, though, libertarians were there first.

I’m not claiming this is a complete list or even covers all the most important cases; please mention others in the comments if you like.

  • Freedom of political speech. Citizens United was a huge win for free speech, and progressives have been howling in pain ever since. The battle against suppression of speech in the name of “campaign finance reform” goes on, with some other successes.
  • Freedom to work. The Institute for Justice has successfully battled a number of occupational licensing laws with absurd requirements. These laws are generally designed as barriers to entry, so the people already in the field can command higher prices.
  • Freedom to photograph. Following the 9/11 attacks, people in some places were arrested for openly taking pictures of public buildings. Cops have often arrested people for taking pictures of them committing crimes. The battle isn’t over, but legal decisions have consistently favored freedom to photograph.
  • Freedom to marry. The culture shifted so quickly on this that most libertarians were caught by surprise. Most libertarians have long held that people should be able to form their own domestic contracts, but we hadn’t seriously considered same-sex marriage a short-term possibility.
  • Freedom to live free of official violence. Libertarians spoke against police militarization and excessively brutal raids long before the Black Lives Matter movement got started. There hasn’t been a clear victory yet, but public awareness has resulted in enough improvements that we’ve been accused of waging a “war on cops.”
  • Freedom to own weapons. There haven’t been any major breakthroughs in either direction, but the general trend has been toward upholding freedom.
  • Freedom of travel. Libertarians were hardly alone in opposing Trump’s Muslim ban, but we had been there since he first proposed it while campaigning.
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2 Responses to “Remembering some victories”

  1. Eyal Mozes Says:

    I very much agree with the spirit of this post. It’s very easy to become completely discouraged, and lose sight of how much freedom has gained. The most important antidote to that is to look at the long term, over the past several generations, and at all the crucial progress that has been made; but even looking at the shorter term, of just the 21st century, we’ve made some crucial progress and we should not forget it.

    Of the items on your list, the one I disagree with is freedom of travel. Where do you see any progress or victory on that? The 21st century saw the creation of the TSA, with all its intrusions on out liberties when flying; the great increase of the CBP’s power under Obama to intrude on travel both at the border and in the interior; and, more recently, the new restrictions introduced by Trump. Freedom of travel, sadly, is one area on which there is nothing whatever to celebrate.

    On the brighter side, let me add two more important areas of progress that you didn’t mention:

    First, the elimination of state anti-sodomy laws, in the 2003 decision of Lawrence v. Texas. You mentioned freedom of marriage, which is important, but removal of the threat of being prosecuted for one’s sexual choice was really a much more important victory.

    Second, the progress made in educational freedom. The two traditional forms of school choice – vouchers and scholarship tax credits – have made important progress both in getting Implemented in many states and in winning court cases. Even better news is the emergence of educational savings accounts, the most radical and innovative form of educational freedom, going beyond traditional school choice; ESAs have never even been heard of at the turn of the century, and by now have been implemented in several states.

  2. Gary McGath Says:

    On freedom of travel, the defeat in court of Trump’s arbitrary and very harmful ban was an important one. After claiming the ban was necessary to stop some unspecified imminent threat, the administration has been dawdling for weeks on rewriting its order, possibly hoping people will forget. The long-term trend has been bad, but that was a victory.

    Update: Just a little after posting that comment, I saw a news article saying Trump is going to re-issue his order with some technical changes very soon. So he wasn’t just hoping people would forget.


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