The Libertarian Party Is Not Libertarian, but It Could Be

Updated on May 23, 2018
Garry Reed profile image

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

The two former Republican Governors: Too much politicizing, not enough libertarianizing.
The two former Republican Governors: Too much politicizing, not enough libertarianizing. | Source

Libertarian Criticism

There’s a difference between the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party but that’s no reason for Libertarian Party candidates to compromise on principle.

The libertarian movement is part of the overall “liberty movement” that comprises everyone who wants more freedom and less government. That includes people who don’t consider themselves libertarians such as Objectivists, classical liberals and traditional conservatives. It also obviously includes the Libertarian Party with its website tagline that doesn’t say “Zero Government, Total Freedom” but does say “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom.”

Introduction to the Libertarian Party: For Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, and Everyone Else
Introduction to the Libertarian Party: For Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, and Everyone Else
This is the book for those who see Libertarianism as a primarily political movement and want in on it. Author Wes Benedict is the former executive director of both the Libertarian Party of Texas and the Libertarian National Committee. After giving a summary of libertarianism for newcomers he gets into the nuts & bolts of party-building.

In its simplest concept libertarianism is defined by its non-aggression principle (NAP) against coercion, intimidation and fraud. Yet many who self-identify as libertarians reject that principle because they still insist on some coercion, intimidation and fraud when they advocate a minimum state or “watchdog government” and therefore must forcibly collect taxes to maintain police, law courts and a military. These people are called “Minarchists” or small-state libertarians as opposed to “anarchist” non-state libertarians.

Philosophy vs. Politics

So here’s the crux of the whole thing: Again stated as simply as possible, philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of existence and of humanity’s relationship to it. Politics is the practical application of philosophy.

The result of all this is that non-state libertarians reject politics since that necessarily means working within the beast of the state; they seek other non-statist means of promoting their freedom philosophy.

Minarchists who believe in pursuing more freedom and less government through political means have no choice but to compromise, ignore or outright reject NAP in spite of the fact that the 2016 LP Platform states “The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights.”

So here’s the Grand Solution which nonetheless will almost instantly be rejected by virtually every brand of libertarian:

1. Non-political libertarians must absolutely not compromise on NAP but continue to refine and clarify it even as they continue to look at the political activist’s minimal government as “a good start” or at least “a start.”

2. Political libertarians can and will continue to work within the belly of the statist beast in an effort to shrink its size and power, but they too must maintain respect for NAP by openly declaring every one of their political successes as only “a start” or “a good start.”

3. The sole purpose of the Libertarian Party should therefore be the practical application of the libertarian philosophy. That means it must be wholly NAP even as it plays the wretched game of politics. Its mindset must be explicitly “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom” today while working toward “Zero Government, Total Freedom” tomorrow.

The problem is that whenever the LP abandons its philosophy to pursue votes it loses its core support, and when it abandons politics to pursue its philosophy it loses its wider appeal.

Major coup for Gary Johnson, an editorial endorsement from Virginia's Richmond Times Dispatch
Major coup for Gary Johnson, an editorial endorsement from Virginia's Richmond Times Dispatch | Source

Even with Gary Johnson and Bill Weld riding higher in the media, polls and popularity than any other previous LP candidates they’re losing both. By appealing to a wider base they’re losing their core, and when they do appeal to their core they lose the wider base.

The LP has never seemed to be able to do the one thing that it must do; refuse to compromise on the non-aggression principle while being political about it.

Hardcore libertarians, both the “capital L” Libertarian Party supporters and the “small l” libertarian anti-politicals insist that neither LP candidate is a Libertarian. Walter Olson, a self-described “more or less lifelong libertarian” called their candidacy “libertarian centrism” in a recent Newsweek article headlined “The Libertarians Have Become the Moderate, Middle Way Party.”

That’s certainly a big improvement over past “fringe” and “extremist” and “wackadoodle” descriptions but it isn’t libertarianism. And even though both candidates ping the libertarian label the positions they take are frequently not just unlibertarian but outright anti-libertarian.

Candidate Fails

Libertarian Party candidates must be philosophically libertarians first, not just “libertarian-leaning” or “temporarily libertarian-like.” Then they must not be just political professionals but politically savvy as well.

Here are ways that both Johnson and Weld have wandered far afield from “libertarian” to “almost libertarian” into the realm of “Totally not libertarian at all.”

Playing group against group is the mainstream political way, not the libertarian way.
Playing group against group is the mainstream political way, not the libertarian way. | Source

Gary Johnson said in an early LP debate that he would retain laws that prohibit discrimination based on religion even if it meant that government could force a Jew to bake a cake for a Nazi. It was an obvious euphemism for the nationwide story of the Christian baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Here’s how a savvy LP political candidate could have answered:

“Government coercion is always wrong and always unnecessary. I personally despise such discrimination but if the state can use its monopoly on legal coercion to compel non-gay bakers to serve same-sex couples that’s just another form of discrimination, and it’s an abuse of power as well.

“Can the state then force a gay baker to serve American Nazis, White supremacists, believers in Sharia Law and Westboro Baptist Church members, all of whom hate gay people? Every time government backs one group against another it creates more hate, not less, and politicians thrive on it.

“All business people and all consumers must have the equal right of freedom of association. Consumers will use non-coercive means to settle these issues through boycotts, publicity, demonstrations, public shaming, social media rants and the like. The state’s abusive power is far worse, and totally unnecessary, when people are left alone to make adult decisions. We are not babies and government must stop treating us like babies.”

Many libertarians see Bill Weld as a typical opportunistic pol, not as a libertarian.
Many libertarians see Bill Weld as a typical opportunistic pol, not as a libertarian. | Source

William weld has a similar problem. Being a savvy politician but not any kind of libertarian Weld did this in 1993 as reported by the New York Times: “With voters growing increasingly fearful of gunfire on the streets, Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts reversed course this week and proposed some of the most stringent gun control laws in the country.”

He’s been trying to launder that dirty underwear with libertarian detergent ever since with little success by claiming he was for gun control back then because the people he represented were demanding it while saying now “Restricting Americans’ gun rights doesn’t make us safer, and threatens our constitutional freedoms” because, apparently, Libertarians are demanding it.

Here’s one way a savvy LP candidate could respond:

“Every top level politician and rich person has armed government agents or bodyguards protecting them so how can they possibly take the position that decent, peaceful free American citizens should have no right to self-defense?

“The whole purpose of individual gun ownership is self-defense. If a person doesn’t want to carry a firearm they can carry a knife or a Taser or Mace or pepper spray or take martial arts training. I and all libertarians issue this challenge to the President, Vice President, every former president, every presidential and vice presidential candidate, and everyone else who receives protection for themselves and their families: If you are in favor of restricting the defensive use of firearms for the average citizen then fire your Secret Service agents and private bodyguards right now! Otherwise admit to the public that you’re a flaming hypocrite on this subject.”

Down With Power: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis
Down With Power: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis
L. Neil Smith is an uncompromising 50-year veteran of the freedom movement, author of over 30 liberty-related books and originator of the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP) as an alternative to the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). Down With Power is straightforward radical libertarianism. As one reviewer succinctly described this book with reference to “The Matrix” movie, “This book IS ‘The Red Pill.’"

Consistent Libertarianism

And here’s a generic Q&A for every libertarian:

Q: “Mr./Ms. Libertarian Party Candidate, aren’t all libertarians against social welfare programs and want to abolish all of them?”

A: “Absolutely not! Libertarians are totally in favor of every kind of social welfare program to help the truly poor, disabled, elderly and most needy of our society as long as they’re voluntarily funded.

“And once all of the massive amounts of our tax money stops being skimmed into the pockets of lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats, corporate CEOs, banksters and all of the thousands of other politically connected bottom feeders people will have extraordinary amounts of their own money to donate to the organizations they want. It will likely have to be an agonizingly slow transition process because of all the greedy political power players but that is exactly why people must become conversant with the ideas and realities of libertarianism and put as many LP candidates as possible into office. That would be a good start!”

Every libertarian position at every level of Libertarian politics can and should be handled this way. If Libertarian Party candidates cannot be both libertarian savvy and politically savvy at the same time we don’t need and shouldn’t have a Libertarian Party.

References and Links

Has the Libertarian Party Compromised too much? Walter Olson, writing in Newsweek, offers his opinion on how the LP has become “The Moderate, Middle-Way Party.”

The Politics of Picking Winners and Losers If government can force a Christian to bake a cake for gay people what’s stopping them from forcing a Jew to bake a cake for a Nazi?

William Weld Wobbles on Gun Rights From the New York Times William Weld was against gun control before he was for gun control before he was against gun control.

Ad Week, Sept 8: Most Viral Ad of 2016 Election (8 million+ views, 420,000 shares in two weeks)

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


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    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Hi Elanore,

      Just proves that "first impressions" are very important. I spent months in Objectivist discussion groups listening to a recorded lecture series and there were many women involved. Later many of us joined the LP of Minnesota in the early 70s and there were many women involved in it too, one ran for Lt. Gov, others ran for other offices, others served in exec committee positions and on other committees, and several helped me when I took over publication of the LP newsletter and turned it into an outreach newspaper, serving as asst. editor, proofreader, writing a regular column, typing, writing articles, producing illustrations, and etc.

      Maybe it helped that Minn was a liberal state, even though I came from a hardcore conservative background. I found much to disagree with in Objectivism but the lessons I did take from it absolutely changed my life for the better. Rationality and thinking for myself are the most important lessons I took from Rand so I'll always be in her debt and remain an Objectivist at heart but certainly not a "Randroid." I know the difference.

      Much is the same with my experiences in the Minn LP. I didn't care that there were only a couple of gay men and no other minorities at the time because I was there for the IDEAS and knew even then that they applied to everyone equally.

      I've moved on from being a member of the LP but still think it works okay as an outreach educational platform. Maybe if you'd had a better introduction you might be more interested today. I think it's changed a great deal since those days and mostly for the better.

    • Ewent profile image

      Eleanore Ferranti Whitaker 

      2 years ago from Old Bridge, New Jersey

      Back in 2004 when after 33 years as a female Republican, I became totally fed up with bossy white males making decisions for me, I actually did seek out information at Libertarians.

      I attended an "open" meeting here in NJ to try to see if perhaps the Libertarian Party might be a good replacement for the GOP.

      The meeting I attended in August 2005 was regional to my hometown. So, it incorporated membership from several towns including my own.

      To my shock, there were only 3 other women in that meeting. Being an open minded, fair person, I wanted to know what Libertarianism was all about.

      If the discussions I heard at that meeting are an example, I knew it was more of the white male domination just like the GOP. The only voices doing any of the speaking were white males. There wasn't a single minority in that room. Red flag No. 2.

      The speaker was Steve Lonegan. In 2005, I didn't know much about him other than that he ran for state office 3 times and lost.

      During this meeting, Lonegan, not unlike our current Republican Governor, went on and on about property taxes and how residents "shouldn't have to pay property taxes." I agree to a point.

      I raised my hand to ask, "If we remove property taxes, doesn't that mean every working person must pay more taxes to compensate for the loss of property tax revenues?"

      Lonegan gave me a disdainful look and changed the subject. From that point on, the meeting took on an Ayn Rand template. And as we all know, while Ayn Rand espoused some pretty idiotic ideas, she also was first to help herself to welfare.

      Today's Libertarians like Charles and David Koch, Paul Ryan, Chuck Grassley and Louie Gohmert don't mind helping themselves to government paychecks so long as they can grift their campaign donations from billionaires they schmooze with.

      When I left that meeting, I had the oddest sense of deja vu of a book I'd read many years earlier about the secret society, "Opus Dei," that demanded strict loyalty to an inner core of men. They left so many unanswered questions to commonly asked questions that only sought to exacerbate their own admission by "omission" that Libertarianism is not for everyone.

      All that wink, wink, nod, nod among Libertarians at the meeting is a huge turn off in this day and age.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      3 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Ron, thanks for your comment. You're obviously talking about the past with which I'm familiar but I'm writing about a future libertarian free society that would not allow the "Jim Crow Laws" imposed by Southern state governments that explicitly created the conditions you describe. Libertarians are already "enlightened" by definition based on their non-aggression principle that rejects "laws" based on coercion, intimidation and fraud.

      I come from an all-white family but today I have a black daughter-in-law, a Korean daughter-in-law with a white/Korean grandson, a granddaughter-in-law with a white/Japanese father and a Mexican mother who now lives with her gay partner. We are all family and we all love each other.

      I've long held that there is far more racism in politics and media than in most people's real lives but racism will continue as long as people benefit from it in the form of getting power, votes, influence, control, money and ego gratification.

      Consider this:

      "In 2013, a record-high 12% of newlyweds married someone of a different race, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data. (This share does not take into account the “interethnic” marriages between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, which we covered in an earlier report on intermarriage.)" --

      Libertarianism is all about a better future for everyone, not about re-living an ugly past. You won't have to "wait 50, 100, or maybe 200 years" for attitudes to change if you join us in the libertarian movement and help make the change happen. Our attitudes have already changed. Government enforced laws of any kind inevitably result in angry blowback from the people it's being enforced against. Voluntaryism is a far better and more permanent solution than state coercion.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      "Consumers will use non-coercive means to settle these issues through boycotts, publicity, demonstrations, public shaming, social media rants and the like."

      Ok, let's see how this worked in recent American history. It's 1954 and you are a black man living in Birmingham, Alabama. You can't eat at the Woolworth's lunch counter because that private company refuses to serve you. Nor can you go to an amusement park or a swimming pool, or sit in a front seat on the bus, or try on a coat in a store before buying it, all because private individuals are exercising their right of free association.

      For similar reasons no decent school (all private, of course) will allow your children to attend, so your kids are getting a substandard education. And since no one in a decent part of town will sell or rent to you, you can’t escape the slums.

      At every turn people of one racial group, by their private but coordinated actions, are denying you any opportunity of competing on a level playing field because that’s the “place” they think your race should occupy.

      So, what can you do to change things? Let’s see.

      Boycotts and demonstrations? Participate and you'll be fired from your janitor’s job, the bank will call in the loan you got to buy your car, and the KKK (a private organization that has zero concern about the non-aggression principle) will pay you a visit at night.

      Well, let's try publicity and public shaming. But those privately owned newspapers, radio and television outlets either ignore you or slant coverage to discredit you. Besides, the people who consume those "news" stories enthusiastically agree with what's being done to you.

      So, what’s left? I guess you just have to wait 50, 100, or maybe 200 years until attitudes in your community change. The last thing you’d want is to have government enforce any anti-discrimination laws. After all, you’re a Libertarian!

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      4 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Hi Maria, always great to hear from you. I’ll respond to your question personally via email but here are some suggestions for everyone new to libertarianism – type each book title into Amazon search and read the reviews. These are all excellent starting points. There are also many others of course.

      “Libertarianism in One Lesson” by Dave Bergland

      “Libertarianism: A Primer” by David Boaz

      "What It Means to Be a Libertarian" by Charles Murry

    • profile image

      Maria Folsom 

      4 years ago

      Excellent! And I'm not voting. By the way, Garry, I need your advice. I have several friends who are truly ripe for libertarianism. I want to give them some simple, basic, elementary books on our philosophy. Can you recommend any of your favorites? Or perhaps one of your own essays? I'm thinking of Henry Hazlitt, Bastiat, and that sort. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      4 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Yes Zionists are statists by definition but why do so many people hate them even more than their own violent American government? I see a lot of this on social media. What evidence do you have that the LP will be infiltrated by them, especially since libertarianism as a philosophy is anti-statist?

    • profile image

      Laura Ludwig 

      4 years ago

      just like the democrat and republican parties that have been infiltrated by Zionist pigs, so will be the libertarian party, its a given.

    • profile image

      Jeanne Caples 

      4 years ago

      Well said. Thank you, Garry!


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