Americans have become libertarian and don’t even know it, declares the research head of the (libertarian) Cato Institute.
In his provocative analysis, Lindsey (Against the Dead Hand, 2001) argues that mass affluence has profoundly changed the nation, fostering the well-known red/blue split in our politics. Little noticed, however, is the emergence of a “purplish centrism” that reflects fiscally conservative, socially liberal libertarian thinking. This fusion now dominates our cultural and political values, contends the author, who provides considerable evidence for his thesis in this readable account of American life since World War II. With the shift in the 1950s from scarcity-based self-restraint to abundance-based self-expression, Americans began creating a pluralistic, middle-class consumer society that fostered tremendous changes: the transformation of family life, the rise of a youth culture, the sexual revolution. Ultimately, opposing counterculture and evangelical movements emerged, leading to the present left/right division. Lindsey offers sharp snapshots of key people during these years of turmoil, from psychologist Abraham Maslow, whose hierarchy of needs pointed the way to the pursuit of personal fulfillment, to LSD-inspired spiritual-seeker Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple and helped shape Silicon Valley. The author also nicely renders moments suggesting the coming divide. In April 1967, for example, Haight-Ashbury hippies planned the famous Summer of Love in San Francisco while revivalist and faith-healer Oral Roberts held dedication ceremonies for his eponymous university in Oklahoma. After the excesses of the ’60s and ’70s, Americans began repairing social bonds during Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” era, finding ways to balance greater freedom and choice with self-restraint. The accidental result we see today is a compromise between left and right that Lindsey dubs “a kind of implicit libertarian synthesis.”
A thoughtful attempt to explain—and claim—the broad center in the middle of our political squabbling.