Is Ferguson the start of a 'libertarian moment'

A St Louis police officer holds a sniper rifle.

Much of the commentary on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer has been dominated by liberal outrage over what some see as racial injustice.

There is, however, a growing chorus from the conservative movement's libertarian wing that connects the perceived overreaction by a militarised local law enforcement to their critique of the heavy-handed power of government.

"The state is big and powerful and violent and can hurt you, whether it's the FDA, the state prosecutor or the local police force," writes Hot Air blog's Mary Katharine Ham, concisely summarising the gist of this libertarian argument.

Representative Justin Amash tweets about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

Breitbart's John Nolte puts it a bit more sharply: "The media hate police but without them, who will ultimately force us to buy ObamaCare and confiscate our guns?"

On Wednesday night Congressman Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning Republican embraced by the grass-roots Tea Party movement, tweeted that the news from Ferguson was "frightening", asking: "Is this a war zone or a US city? Gov't escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics."

One of the leading figures in today's libertarian movement, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, offers his take in an opinion piece for Time magazine on Thursday afternoon:

Start Quote

Whether they look like it or not, cops will be an occupying force seeking compliance from local residents on behalf of democratically elected central authorities”

End Quote Ed Krayewski Reason magazine

"When you couple this militarisation of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury - national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture - we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands…

"Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country."

Reason magazine's Ed Krayewski builds on this theme of a militarised police force as the spear-point of an intrusive government, causing more harm than good:

"What's happening in Ferguson certainly looks like a counter-insurgency," he writes. "If cops keep it up long enough, some residents might respond with an insurgency. Around the world, insurgencies are fueled by unemployed young men with few prospects. It's the way things like this tend to work, actions and reactions, supply meeting demand, in this case residents filling roles cops seem to be waiting to have filled."

He continues by noting that much of the criticism of law enforcement abuses are instigated by laws that intrude on individual rights.

"Whether they look like it or not, cops will be an occupying force seeking compliance from local residents on behalf of democratically elected central authorities," he writes.

US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator Rand Paul says police have become "judge and jury"

Comments like these mark a sharp break from the previous conservative embrace of government authority when it comes to public safety issues.

"The modern GOP, the one that elected Richard Nixon and built its base in the South and the suburbs, established early on that it was the 'law and order' party," writes Slate's David Weigel. "Only recently, as violent crime rates have tumbled, has the libertarian tendency of the GOP reasserted itself."

In Sunday's New York Times magazine cover story, Robert Draper asks: "Has the 'libertarian moment' finally arrived?" He cited poll data showing young people embracing smaller, less intrusive government and concluded that the once sidelined ideology could be poised to take control of the Republican Party.

The piece started a debate over libertarianism's current influence within the conservative movement and was criticised from both the right and the left for being an "unsophisticated, laughable fantasy".

That was before Ferguson exploded, night after shocking night. Now, with a few exceptions, law-and-order conservatives are silent (look, for instance, at the front page of the conservative commentary site Town Hall, where Iraq and Hillary Clinton continue to dominate the conversation).

Perhaps the libertarian moment has arrived after all, borne in the ashes and smoke of Missouri riots.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    It would not surprise me if the US government uses guns against their own people. They have done it in the past. (Kent State).
    They took the lives of 3000 of their own people on 911.
    A BBC article last week showed that only 19% of Americans trust their government. The other 81% must be in hiding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    @58 readwriteblue
    You can always spot a democrat. Spin. Every word you wrote has to do with media. THIS is about getting a job done. These Officers are highly trained and most likely highly paid. Risk is real for them on the street. Stick to reading comic books, watching cinema and TV...close to your refrigerator. Do you think they're employed to help you unwrap your bar of soap ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    If he hadn't resisted arrest, he would still be alive. He only had himself to blame.

    A tragic waste.

    Hopefully others will learn from his mistake and this sort of unfortunate incident can be avoided in the future.

    Spare a thought for the officer who pulled the trigger- he will have to live with this for the rest of his life. I hope he is not made a scapegoat. He was only doing his job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    totally bonkers right wing leaders scare people who are politically center into not voting or voting for left wingers no matter what--

    these RWing people seem intellectual but they in behavior are scary and make people crazy times

    Obamas better ..less people died under his admin -- by far

    making Hillary Clinton seem potentially a big fakey 'orchestrated' loser.....weird n scary

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Armed police routinely patrolling in Scotland where gun crime is close to lowest on the planet ?

    Thin end of the wedge that ends in Fergusson, Missouri ?

    Funny thing is everyone in Scotland (and elsewhere ?) seems to want the Government to provide for them from cradle to grave !

    Well, THAT comes at a price and the price is lost civil liberties.

    The Libertarians have gotten THIS issue right !


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