Steve Hochstadt: Libertarians, Watch Out

Roundup: Historians' Take

Steve Hochstadt of Jacksonville is a professor of history at Illinois College. His column appears every Tuesday in the Journal-Courier and is available and on his blog at

Libertarianism is mainstream. It seems as if the libertarian moment has finally arrived, when Americans grasp the significance of the national Libertarian Party motto: “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom.”

The level of anti-government sentiment in the U.S. is startling. Liberals think the Democratic president and his Democratic Congressional colleagues have failed miserably to promote liberal policies, and talk about taking their disapproval to the streets. Republicans have been preaching an anti-government line since Ronald Reagan was president, and have shown more than once their willingness to thwart the normal working of the federal government.

Self-promoting ideologues, like Glenn Beck, adopt a Libertarian cover to hide fascist ranting. Congressman Ron Paul, who talks like a Libertarian, is making a respectable run for the presidency.

But the Libertarians can’t win. The two big parties have so entrenched themselves behind a wall of laws and practices, that the rise of a popular third party is nearly impossible. Among 7,300 state legislators across the country, less than one-third of 1 percent are from other parties. Only in Vermont has a third party had any success: Three percent of state representatives belong to the Vermont Progressive Party, which was founded to support U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders....

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