THE POPULIST TEMPTATION.

Author:Welch, Matt
Position:POLITICS
 
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FOR THE TWO decades that he's edited the scabrous and insightful U.K.-based web magazine Spiked, Brendan O'Neill, an occasional Reason contributor, has described himself--perhaps with a wee bit of provocation--as a "libertarian Marxist." That is, until the populist uprisings in Europe last year.

"The thing that's different now than it would have been six months ago," O'Neill told me during a February episode of the Fifth Column podcast, "is that I've increasingly gone off the word libertarian." The Brexit vote in England, the Yellow Vest protests in France, various anti-elitist spasms across the globe--these have packed more of a punch in two short years than four decades' worth of classical liberal think-tank thumbsucking, he said: "I think other things more interesting than libertarianism are happening in the world right now."

Individualists fond of Enlightenment rationalism do not generally hasten toward the excitement of street mobs or even electoral majorities. But the global rise in nationalist politics, from Viktor Orban's Hungary to Donald Trump's America, has tempted many commentators with the thrills of revolution and machinations of power. Unsurprisingly, they are shedding their libertarianism along the way.

Daniel McCarthy, also an occasional Reason contributor, recently uncorked a Trumpian manifesto for First Things under the ambitious headline "A New Conservative Agenda: A governing philosophy for the twenty-first century." Like neoconservatives during the George W. Bush presidency, McCarthy is giddy with political possibilities yet oddly millenarian about the consequences of choosing the wrong ideological path.

"The most effective and honorable way out of the dilemma we face is to embrace something like nationalism as an economic program," he declared. "America's fundamental political choice now is between mild nationalism, resurgent socialism, or suicide by liberalism, whether of the libertarian or palliative sort."

We should be accustomed by now to such political appeals to our hormonal fight-or-flight reflex, even against a global backdrop the past three decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity. What was 2016, after all, if not "The Flight 93 Election," according to the famous Claremont Review of Books essay? (Never forget: "Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway.") More recently, The American Conservative's Scott McConnell insisted that "Hungary Shows the West the Path to Survival," which is an odd way to...

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