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My libertarian friends may be surprised to hear this, but my respect for libertarianism has grown quite a lot since my introduction to Ricochet two years ago. Admittedly, my estimation at the time was pretty low. I had lots of libertarian undergraduates, and I also encountered a handful of professors and grad students with broadly libertarian views, so I was well familiar with that “I’m-conservative-but-not-a-moral-nag” snobbery. That bothered me only a little bit. My real reasons for dismissing libertarians were twofold.
First, libertarianism struck me as reactionary in broad sense. It presents itself as a universally applicable theory about the relationship between the individual to the state, but on that score, I found Ayn Rand far less insightful than Thomas Aquinas, Plato or Aristotle. Her influence, I saw, related to more idiosyncratic conditions of her time: the rise of the administrative state. That was, I supposed, a real problem in our time, but in historical terms it was still contingent; not every society has these same problems. As a political theory, then, it seemed to me that libertarianism drew unjustifiably broad principles on the basis of historically distinctive challenges.