After Paris, this period of relative peace and easy libertarianism is coming to an end.
If you’re an 18-year-old American, you were 3 or 4 when al-Qaida hit the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. You haven’t seen a major terrorist strike in your country since then. Maybe you heard about the attacks in Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, or Mumbai in 2008. But aside from the occasional lone-wolf incident—Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, or the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013—you’ve been lucky.
You’ve grown up in an era of peace at home: no world wars, no cold war, and little fear of being blown up or gunned down by militants. It’s an era of libertarianism: We’re less afraid of bad guys coming to kill us, so we don’t see why Uncle Sam should track our phone calls. It’s also an era of isolationism, because our troops have fought two wars overseas, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they haven’t turned out well. We’re sick of those wars, and we feel pretty safe at home. So we don’t want to go fight again.
The libertarianism and isolationism of our time crosses party lines. It affects President Obama, who came into office promising to bring our troops home. But it also affects Republicans. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican presidential candidate who has campaigned on a platform of sending troops to fight ISIS, couldn’t even garner enough support in the polls to get into his party’s undercard debate last week. And if you study surveys on national security and domestic surveillance, you’ll find that Republicans are, by some measures, more hostile to surveillance than Democrats are.