The Libertarian Party Is Not Libertarian, but It Could Be
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.