On libertarianism.

An anonymous reader e-mailed, “Your thoughts on Libertarianism and the growing movement especially amongst young people?”

I’ve written several posts that address libertarian ideas in some fashion. I’m not going to list them all here, but you’re welcome to dig around for them. I recommend starting by entering “libertarian” or “libertarianism” in the search box.

Libertarians running for office need to get better at developing policy and promoting it. That’s counterintuitive to many libertarians; after all, the whole point of the movement is to have less government policy. They’re running for office in order to not do big things. But if your intention is to dismantle government policy, you need to be able to explain to the voters not just why, but how you’re going to do it– so you want to cut the Department of Education or the Department of Labor? Fine. How? Executive order? Congressional law? Will there be a transition phase? Explain it.

Also, libertarians need to do a better job of explaining what would replace government policy. I know what you’re thinking: “The point is to replace it with nothing!” Well, no, it isn’t. The point is to replace public (government) control of a policy area with private control of a policy area; i.e., individuals, families, businesses, other organizations interacting as they see fit. Libertarian candidates have to do a better job explaining why this replacement won’t lead to chaos and disaster.

Now, let me address the Libertarian Party (LP). In my humble but correct opinion, it faces a major obstacle, insurmountable for the foreseeable future: the Duverger effect. Long story short, it means we’re stuck with a two party system because almost all elections in the US are designed to have a single winner. Strong third parties don’t last because they are likely to weaken the similar major party, resulting in victory for the less similar major party. If we had proportional representation (i.e., your party wins 10% of the votes, you control 10% of the legislature), then third parties like the LP could grow. But considering that the two major parties write the election laws, we are unlikely to see any shift towards proportional representation, and thus LP candidates are unlikely to win elections.

But a failure to win elections does not translate to a failure to influence policy. Look at the Progressives a century ago: the Progressive Party won few electoral victories, but eventually there were many progressive thinkers and politicians in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, enacting progressive policies. If libertarianism is going to continue to spread, then young libertarians have to be as persistent and patient as those progressives were.

Young libertarians also have to internalize a very simple truth: the world is run by those who show up. Libertarians have to participate in politics– as much as it might be against their nature– because if they don’t, they leave room for their opponents to step in. I think their best hope for policy success lies in dragging both Democrats and Republicans in their direction, though I think they currently fit one of the two parties far better than the other (hint: it’s the party that has seen two recent candidates also run for President as Libertarians).

I know that working with or within the two major parties is distasteful to most LP members, but look: neither Ron Paul nor Gary Johnson is going to win the White House, period. It’s going to be Obama or one of the non-libertarian GOP guys. When that happens, the libertarians will have to get over it fast, so they can keep pushing libertarian causes and campaigning for– or being— libertarian candidates, whether in the LP or in the two major parties.

2 comments

  1. Do the big two parties really care about the fraction of a percent of voters each election who actually vote for the LP enough to justify voting on principle? Or is actual work within the framework of the Dems or GOP more effective? I love being involved politically but I want to maximize my efforts and I feel like I can do more than just argue on reddit.

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  2. I really don’t know what the best approach is, politically speaking. But the more you express your ideas, the more you successfully articulate and defend your arguments, the more minds you change. It’ll take time, but you need to start now.

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