Libertarian Authors Discuss "The Declaration of Independents"

Libertarian Authors Discuss "The Declaration of Independents"

By Heather Wilhelm - July 5, 2011

Reason magazine editors Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, authors of "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America," discuss their ideas in an interview with Heather Wilhelm. You can read her review of the book here.

Heather Wilhelm: Your book is very optimistic about the future, and you mention the word "utopia" several times. One critique of progressivism, at least from a conservative point of view, is that it is based on the assumption that society -- and therefore people -- can be perfected. How would you describe your view of human nature?

Matt Welch: We definitely have a sunny-side-up mentality. It's in the DNA of the magazine -- and I think in the DNA of America as well. We've had people comment on how optimistic we are in the book, which is funny, as we really didn't think about it that way. I guess the fact is we're in a pretty tight spot as a nation, and a lot of people who are receptive to our ideas are feeling pretty apocalyptic right now.

Nick Gillespie: As to the human condition, my view is that it's terminal. I might describe us as libertarian existentialists. Humanity is not perfectible, but our optimism stems from the fact that it's getting harder and harder to control people from the top down. We are running an infinite number of experiments in living all the time.

On a personal level, that's great. From a policy perspective, it's also fantastic, as you can learn from other people's mistakes. It's really an incredible network, where you have decentralized activity all the time and people learning and sharing through failure as well as success.

Welch: If you look at history, it's pretty indisputable that everything is much better than it was in 1971. We aren't locked in a superpower battle against an evil empire -- we won -- and hundreds of millions of people were freed as a result of the end of the Cold War. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in China and India. So many measures of our personal lives are indisputably better. Things have improved everywhere you look, with one glaring exception: the areas of life where the government has the biggest role. If we can transfer the insights that have led to gains everywhere else in the world to government, we can see real improvements in public policy. And since we're out of money, the appetite for these changes will continue to grow.

Wilhelm: You cite polls that indicate "sizable majorities think the government is doing too much and spending too much." And yet similar polls show sizeable majorities rejecting significant changes to their entitlement programs. How do you explain these contradictory results?

Gillespie: Yeah, we all want ice cream that tastes great and isn't fattening. I think it's part of an educational process. There's no question that people like to get stuff for free. What's been going on over the past few years is that people are realizing that there isn't a free lunch.

Welch: I also think there's a successful politics out there that involves railing against entitlement spending. Rand Paul is a great example of this -- he ran on this issue, took on the GOP, took on Mitch McConnell in his own state, and won. It's not an accident that Paul Ryan is a rising star and many Republicans are scrambling to get on his team. People recognize that this is a key issue.

Wilhelm: If someone held a gun to your head and you had to choose between the Democrats and Republicans, which one would it be?

Gillespie: (Laughs). I think I would wrestle the gun away and blow my own brains out first. Our whole point is that it's the wrong question to be asking. We're always going to have two parties, but they are significantly weaker than they were in the early ‘70s as a controlling apparatus. Party loyalty is down substantially.

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Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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