Skip to content
Breaking News Alert Supreme Court Rules Bump Stock Ban Unlawful

The Logic of Jonathan Chait: Libertarians Don’t Exist

There can’t be a libertarian moment because libertarians do not exist. They’re make-believe, just like elves, gremlins, or Eskimos!


In my piece this morning on the libertarian moment, and why it represents a libertarian opportunity which could become compromised by progressivism, I somehow managed to go about 4,000 words without mentioning Jonathan Chait. Chait has been roundly criticizing the New York Times Magazine, reporter Robert Draper, and Reason’s polling expert, Emily Ekins, who is quoted in the piece. Chait’s apparent belief is that there has not been an increase in libertarian-leanings among youngsters, and that this is all a mirage furthered by the dastardly folks at the Reason Foundation and Ayn Rand lovers everywhere. For anyone paying attention to what young voters are saying, you may be excused to roll your eyes for a minute or two. I’ll wait.

Now, back to Chait’s insightful analysis of the voting populace. Here is his latest critique:

Draper’s analysis hinges on the premise that young voters harbor “libertarian leanings.” He offers two data points to support this, both fallacious. The first is that “fully half of voters between ages 18 and 29 are unwedded to either party.” There has been a long-term generational rise in people describing themselves in polls as independents rather than as Democrats or Republicans. But this has not caused more actual independent voting. Indeed, the rise of independent identifiers has coincided with rising polarization and a decline in swing voting. Both experimental evidence and actual voting behavior show that the majority of self-identified “independents” support one party or the other as reflexively as self-identified partisans. When I pointed out this phenomenon, which is by now well known among political professionals, Draper merely shrugged it off in a way (“point was, they don’t consider themselves D’s”) that misses the point. What young voters “consider” themselves doesn’t matter. What matters is how they vote.

[Note how delicately Chait warns his readers about media bias: Draper “shrugged”. You know who else did that?]

I’m struggling with this. Chait notes that people who identify as Independent claim they dislike both parties… but then mostly vote for candidates who are in one of these two parties… therefore they must really like those parties? They can’t just be someone who recognizes we have a two party system and that you’re a lot likelier to succeed by taking one party over with your ideas, apparently.

So by this logic, a self-identified Independent who considers themselves a libertarian and votes for or supports Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, et. al can’t possibly be a libertarian because they voted for a libertarian-leaning Republican. Okay then.

Maybe the aim here is to create an argument that can remain true even when the 2016 primary polling starts to come out in earnest. Those crosstabs showing Rand Paul’s popularity among younger and Independent voters will not reveal anything worthy of note, because real libertarians would only vote for the Libertarian Party candidate in the general election and definitely not a candidate who could actually win.

I’m sorry, folks, but he’s onto us. Jonathan Chait has figured out the secret we’ve all been desperately trying to hide. There can’t be a libertarian moment because libertarians do not exist. They’re make-believe, just like elves, gremlins, or Eskimos.

My apologies for not mentioning this trenchant analysis in my original piece. This may appear to be a real failing on my part, but by way of explanation, I have committed myself to a personal regimen of going as many days without mentioning Jonathan Chait as possible, particularly because resetting the “Days Without Mentioning Jonathan Chait” sign in the office is kind of a hassle.

Subscribe to Ben’s daily newsletter, The Transom.