The resistance to even modest gun control measures among many swing-state Democrats seems like the exception to the Obama-era party’s leftward shifts on gay marriage, immigration (where the party’s Byron Dorgans are all but extinct), and recreational drugs. But if you look at things from a libertarian perspective instead, it’s all perfectly consistent — the freedoms of gun owners being of a piece with the freedoms of migrants and pot smokers and gay couples—and an indication that the Democrats are simply becoming more culturally libertarian across the board.When you combine this trend with the Republican Party’s sharp libertarian turn on economics and modest libertarian turn on civil liberties, you could argue that libertarian ideology has never enjoyed more bipartisan influence than it does right now.
Borrowing a term from Brink Lindsey, Douthat calls this “liberaltarianism,” a kind of emerging cultural and political consensus that joins the right and the left together around a kind “a highly individualistic view of our social and cultural fabric, and government’s role therein, with a statist understanding of government’s role in providing economic security.”Reading gun control as a sign of the nation’s burgeoning cultural libertarianism is astute (to toot our own horn just a bit, we made that same point here in 2011). Most everything in American politics today can be understood as either an outgrowth of or a reaction to our country’s growing individualism. Individualism was written into America’s political DNA from the very start, but the rate at which it transforms American institutions has been picking up in recent years. There are both good and bad effects that flow from this accelerating individualism, but love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.[Gun image courtesy of Shutterstock]