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Birth of the Cool

January 22nd, 2004 · No Comments

So, Tyler Cowen’s passing on email from a woman who thinks conservative guys pose as libertarian to pick up women, while Matt Yglesias posts on “conservacool,” and it some of the folks at the Lew Rockwell blog seem sure that anyone who hasn’t drunk their particular flavor of libertarian Kool-Aid must just be milking the label for its enormous hip cachet.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth: Huh? First of all, I’m not sure how much sense it even makes to talk about cool simpliciter anymore. Maybe partly because of the Internet, it seems like the last 30 years or so have seen a pretty steady move from a unified mass culture to the proliferation of more fragmentary niche cultures. The music and clothing styles one clique takes as the standard of cool will be seen by another as a badge of incurable lameness. Maybe there’s a meta-conception of cool that could be characterized in terms of a family resemblance, but the consensus here seems thin and growing thinner.

That said, its hard to see libertarianism as fitting anyone’s definition of cool. Capital gains tax cuts aren’t sexy. Sure, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll will beat out abstinence, Nilla Wafers, and Gregorian chant on most people’s fun-scales, but you don’t need any particular political ideology to come down in favor of the former trinity, and as libertarians are quick to remind folk, being in favor of the right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you do it. What the NR piece Matt links here is picking up on, I think, isn’t so much the cooling of conservatism as a resurgence in the face of a leftish academy of what I called “reactive nationalism” in a Reason bit on millenials. As more people take positions that can be classed as conservative (relative to the university environment, anyway) conservatives feel like less of an insular minority of khaki-clad oddballs. The same thing happens when technology lets these people find each other across larger distances, creating a community that encourages people to be less quiet about their politics. But that’s not the same thing as conservatism or libertarianism per se being cool. Come to think of it, I can think of few less promising places to look for “cool” than in politics. I guess if you’re a certain age there’s something vaguely romantic about the “smash the system” anti-globo etc. movement, but even that is mostly the case only for other True Believers. Hard as it may be for us wonks to swallow, at the end of the day, being obsessed with politics of any sort is unlikely to be consiered “cool” by large sections of the public anytime real soon.

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