The Liberty Movement and Libertarians

The liberty movement has seen an explosion of growth in the past 10 years.  The presidential campaigns of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 woke up a new generation to the ideas of personal liberty and non-interventionism. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 2016, received almost 4.5 million votes, a four fold increase from 2012, albeit in an election year with two historically hated candidates. Libertarian Party state memberships are up and ballot access issues are improving across the country.  Still, there exists sharp disagreements on tactics and vision for the movement going forward.

Here it is important to distinguish between a movement and a party, as well as between big L and small l libertarians. Those things are definitely not the same. The Libertarian Party (LP), as effective a vehicle for liberty as it can be, does not own liberty or the liberty movement. There are all types of libertarians in the movement, even some that are entirely apolitical and abstain from voting on moral and ethical grounds, yet still seek to advance the liberty movement through education and individual activism.

One of the main schisms in the liberty movement, is between the pragmatists and the radicals. Right now the pragmatists are winning, as the nomination of soft libertarian Gary Johnson and the truly horrible Bill Weld shows.  While I disagree with the argument of moderating some principles for political gain, i.e. supporting public accommodation laws to broaden support leading to inclusion in the presidential debates, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to it. The problem is that it flat out didn’t work. In an election year where the LP should easily hit 10-15 percent in the national polls, the blundering Johnson received 3.2%.

In addition to weakening libertarian principles, the LP and the Johnson campaign are seeking to redefine what it means to be a libertarian. A libertarian is not “socially liberal and fiscally conservative”. That is a horrible simplification of what libertarians believe and leads to all sorts of errors. A libertarian believes in strong private property rights, the cornerstone of which is self-ownership, and the non-aggression principle, the basic understanding that you don’t hurt people and you don’t take their stuff.

Public accommodation law is socially liberal, but it isn’t a libertarian principle because self-ownership means the right to discriminate.  The religious baker shouldn’t have to bake a gay wedding cake, or any other type of cake for that matter, because no one has a right to fruits of the baker’s labor. Calling the baker homophobic misses the point. This isn’t a defense of homophobia, but support for private property and self-ownership. They same case can be made regarding all kinds of fiscally conservative principles, as well.

A proper definition of libertarian principles is vital if the movement is to move forward and educate people. If we continue to spend our time pushing a false doctrine of liberty, we shouldn’t be surprised when the movement is co-opted by authoritarians, either from the left or the right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s