May 26, 2021 • 1HR 48M

Volts podcast: Will Wilkinson on libertarianism, pluralism, and America's political crisis

Two white bearded ex-libertarians, talkin'.

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
Episode details

I have been reading Will Wilkinson’s writing since I was a baby blogger, way back in the early 2000s. By then, I had already left behind the libertarianism that gripped me in college, but Will was still a professional libertarian at the Cato Institute. I disagreed with him about many things, but I always found him rigorous and engaging.

Over the years, I’ve followed as he’s moved from Cato to the center-right Niskanen Center (where he got canceled) to, now, the Progressive Policy Institute, where he is a senior fellow. In the process he left behind libertarianism for “liberaltarianism” and now some some kind of synthesis that doesn’t quite have a name but lands in the vicinity of social democrat, with an emphasis on small-d democracy.

And of course, like everyone who’s anyone, he has his own newsletter: Model Citizen.


Will Wilkinson and his enviable pandemic hair.

There’s something nice about following a mind you admire as it tries to work its way toward higher and better understanding — it is so rare these days to witness anyone change their minds about anything — and there’s something especially nice when it ends up converging with your own thinking. I feel much more confident about things I believe when Will articulates them.

Both Will and I have come to spend less time thinking about what might be the correct or optimal political philosophy and more time thinking about the workaday challenges of pluralism and democracy: how people of different cultures, ethnicities, genders, beliefs, and personalities, whose disagreements and conflicts are unlikely ever to be entirely resolved, can live together in relative peace.

All of which is to say, I’ve wanted to talk politics with Will forever. We got around to it a few weeks ago and now I’ve finally got the thing produced. If you're in the mood for almost two hours of nerdy talk about Ayn Rand, rationalism, freedom, social insurance, the relationship between markets and government, and the perils of pluralism, strap on those headphones and travel along.

(Note: several times in the pod I say “non-zero” when I mean “non–zero sum,” which bugs me now, but what can you do.)