Why Does the Libertarian Party Fail Every Four Years?
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
Campaign season or not it’s easy to find headlines virtually everywhere asking why the Libertarian Party fails, doesn’t work, can’t win and falls short every election year. Everyone, friend and foe, has an endless array of answers and an even longer list of fixes. But few get to the true heart of the matter.
The fundamental reality is that as a philosophy, as a political ideology, as a personal psychological mindset, libertarianism is an individualist concept while all other forms of social organizing are authoritarian.
Libertarianism and authoritarianism are the only two basic, elemental, meaningful types of belief systems; people either gravitate primarily toward collectivist (authoritarian) or individualist (libertarian) values.
Obvious conclusion: Since libertarians are individualistic by nature and political parties are collectivistic by nature there’s little wonder why libertarians have a problem making a political party work. Libertarians, being individuals first, can’t agree on what the LP should be, why or how it should work, or even if it should exist. This gives the LP a split personality, a dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia.
Each individual self-identified libertarian knows exactly what his or her libertarianism means, but so does every other individual self-identified libertarian. And virtually every meaning is different.
The biggest divergence is between those who call themselves a “Big L” (upper case) Libertarian, which refers to the political ideology by that name, or call themselves “Little L” (lower case) libertarians, which refers to the non-political philosophy of the word. To further confuse this issue, libertarians can be either one or the other or simultaneously both.
The question then becomes whether all of this is a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe a little history will help.
Quickie History Lesson
“Libertarian” meaning “liberty” first appeared in print in 1789 in England. The French libertaire became associated with communism and mutualism in 1857. The anarchist journal Le Libertaire was published the following year. When France outlawed anarchist publications in the 1890s “libertarianism” started being used as a euphemism for “anarchism.”
Meanwhile in the United States people who believed in such libertarian principles as minimal government and individual rights called themselves “liberals” until American progressives stole the word and changed it to mean big collectivist government and “group rights.” Today those former liberals call themselves “Classical Liberals.”
The Libertarian Party stole the word “libertarian” back along with its original individual liberty and minimal government meaning when the party was founded in 1971.
(NOTE: As with all things libertarian, it’s an ironclad lock that many libertarians will angrily dispute and furiously rewrite this acutely condensed history.)
But political libertarians aren’t just confined to the Libertarian Party. Many, like Ron and Rand Paul and other like-minded politicians and their supporters attempt to work from within the Republican Party – sort of like a “Fifth Column” working to take over and ultimately “libertarianize” that party. Elected libertarian-leaning members work within the “Liberty Caucus” while others have formed what has come to be known as the Libertarian Wing of the Republican Party.
A few have attempted to make common cause within the Democratic Party as “Libertarian-Democrats” with little success.
But large and growing numbers of American libertarians have outright rejected political activism. They view governments everywhere as criminal enterprises since they use coercion, intimidation and fraud that allows an elitist ruling class to grow rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. These libertarians, always identifying as “Little L” in print, have adopted various forms of the zero- or non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud.
While they all accept the same basic libertarian principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility few call themselves “libertarians” but go by such names as voluntaryists, agorists, mutualists, anarcho-capitalists, post-statists, anarchist libertarians and even non-statist Objectivists who embrace “voluntary governance” while rejecting “coercive governments.”
So how does all of this affect the Libertarian Party? It means many libertarians will seldom or never support the party and many others vehemently advocate against it.
More Libertarian Problems
But there are even more problems with libertarianism. Many people around the world and in the United States still cling to the Old World definition of libertarian as meaning “anarchism” that puts them in the collectivist (authoritarian) camp. These include anarcho-socialists, anarcho-communists and other types of anarcho-collectivists.
To American libertarian minds this is a truly schizophrenic oxymoronic self-contradictory concept. Virtually every definition of “anarchy” points to an individualist anti-statist meaning while virtually every definition of socialism, communism and other forms of collectivism points to a “groupthink” authoritarian meaning. This brings up the question of how a person can be both an individualist and a collectivist.
If on the other hand “anarcho-socialism” means “non-statist socialism” but still uses some source other than the state for imposing coercion then it isn’t voluntary libertarianism in any American sense.
So a better term would be “voluntaryist-collectivist.” And under the American non-aggression principle no libertarian would deny anyone’s right to voluntarily create, join, work within, and leave any form of collective organization. Libertarians would rightly reject all forms of mandatory, forced, violent, coercive, intimidating and fraudulent collectivism however.
In fact, absolutely everyone who understands, accepts and lives by the Modern American Libertarian Movement concept of the non-aggression principle should be able to coexist under the “Big Tent” of libertarianism.
So where does this leave the Libertarian Party?
Some see the party as strictly a political entity whose sole justification for existing is to win public office and bring the nation’s legal system into compliance with the non-aggression principle. Others see an incredibly important role for the LP as an educational platform, running candidates not just to capture public offices but to disseminate the philosophy of the entire movement as a means of reaching the hearts and minds of all freedom-loving people everywhere.
Still others think the LP should not overlook or forget that libertarianism is also a social, cultural, intellectual and lifestyle philosophy as well. Politics, we must remember, is nothing more than the practical application of philosophy. Without understanding the underpinning philosophical concepts of the politics the LP will continue to fail to attract new adherents.
There is the argument that different aspects of an idea must be separated into its constituent parts. A political party must only advocate politics; educational entities such as college campus groups must concentrate on advocating education; that public outreach operations can be expressed through online social networks and books and music and movies.
But all of this has been going on for several decades now and still the Libertarian Party fails, doesn’t work, can’t win and falls short every election year. So maybe it’s time for the LP to become explicitly ideological and tap into that Big Tent that it can’t reach simply by playing the lukewarm traditional game of mainstream politicking.
The Libertarian Party is too meek! For nearly all of its existence the LP has been trying to do two contradictory things at the same time and failing at both.
1. It contradicts itself by laying claim to the non-aggression principle against coercion in its platform, not quite openly but very clearly, while explicitly working within the coercive political system:
- “all individuals are sovereign over their own lives”
- “no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others”
- “respect for individual rights”
- “force and fraud must be banished from human relationships”
- “only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized”
- “we defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest”
- “The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.”
2. It never unequivocally explains that its ultimate goal is to replace statism through the evolutionary process of transforming “coercive governments” into a functioning laissez-faire free market society of “voluntary governance.”
The Socialist Party of America, Communist Party USA, American Workers Party and other American collectivist political parties explicitly stated their ultimate goals for the United States and look what it got them: The Democratic Party. So even though every one of those “third parties” continue to fail miserably we live in an explicitly collectivist society today.
So did they really fail? Or did they tap into the wider world of collectivism and get virtually everything they wanted?
The Libertarian Party must tap into the wider world of libertarianism or continue to fail. The first thing it should do is begin its platform Preamble with something like this:
“The Age of Libertarianism is the obvious and logical next step in humankind’s long climb out of savage tribalism and violent authoritarianism that began with The Renaissance, The Reformation, The Enlightenment, The Age of Reason and the Promise of the Declaration of Independence. The Libertarian Party is dedicated to taking that next step.”
If the Libertarian Party did everything within its power to support and advocate every aspect of libertarianism – not just the political but the social, cultural, educational, economic, intellectual, et al – and loudly proclaim its dedication to The Libertarian Age it may still continue to fail as a party but yet have a similar outcome as those collectivist political parties: the creation of a libertarian society.
So let the LP become radicalized. If nothing else they will make those Libertarians in the Republican Party look positively mainstream to the general public by comparison. After all these years of failing what exactly does the Libertarian Party have to lose by reaching out to all libertarians (Big and Little “L”) who have an unshakable belief in libertarianism?
“Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” – RPI News, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, July 2011
That’s what they have to lose.