Having returned from the recent ‘The Birth and Death of the Fed’ conference put on by the Mises Institute, certain questions about the current state of libertarianism in American politics have come to mind. Libertarianism in America is mostly associated with the what would be more or less understood as a Lockean Liberal, or Classical Liberal. This politic seeks to limit government intervention in economic AND social matters. One result of this politic is that libertarians often find themselves in difficult positions, many times siding with leftist Democrats in matters of gay-marriage and abortion while allying themselves with Republicans on free-market economics, although much ostensible adherence to free-market principles said by Republicans ends up being mainly lip-service. Indeed, during the Bush years libertarians often times came over to the Democrats in opposition to government moralizing and wiretaps. Many libertarians, including myself, were even captivated by then candidate Obama’s promises to turn back the Bush administration’s infringements on civil rights. Yet the reality has come and past and the alliances are coming to a close.
Republicans as well have many difficulties with libertarians because of their views on morality. Ayn Rand never gains traction with the right because of her rejection of religion and ‘family values,’ whatever that term might have meant in the 50′s. Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), whom I met and talked with at the ‘End the Fed’ conference, is a libertarian that often times is marginalized by his own party for his libertarian views. So we libertarians have a difficulty with the two major parties in this nation.
Yet I think there is a further problem that libertarianism suffers from, nay encounters since the connotation of suffers invokes something negative, and that is the internal struggle of fundamental principles. One could make the plausible argument, and it has been made, that the logical entailment of a consistent libertarianism would have to be anarchy. Indeed, philosopher-economist Murray Rothbard‘s work, ‘The Ethics of Liberty‘ makes a compelling case for what he termed ‘anarcho-capitalism.’ Rothbard attacks libertarians for having to invoke some kind of ‘social contract’ that serves as a stopgap for a political inconsistency. While discourse within any movement is praiseworthy, too much discourse may lead to too much internal conflict of ideology. I do not see this difficulty present in the Democratic or Republican parties. Both do not have the sorts of internal disagreements, for the most part, regarding their core values and assumptions. The Democrats have internal disagreements on how much government spending should occur, whether or not the ‘stimulus’ was big enough, or that their social engineering is not occurring on a quick enough pace. Republican internal disagreements range from how much to disagree with President Obama, to how much torture is justified. Libertarians have the burden of having to argue these practical matters as well as the theory that goes behind the arguments, a la is it justified to take the fruits of labor of one individual and give it to another non-working individual, or whether or not the state should, making the massive assumption for a state, deprive a morally blameworthy individual of his ownership to his body. All these difficulties, in addition to the way our political system gives representation in government based upon majority rather than proportion, makes me think that libertarians will always be that shouted over voice.
However recent developments such as the growth of interest in libertarian literature, the Tea Party movement and the unexpected boom in Ron Paul followers gives me great hope. The movement is undoubtedly gaining ground, we do have the best argument; how does one argue against liberty?, and that indicates to me that there is chance of gaining actual power. People inherently want liberty and the Tea Party movement best exemplifies this phenomena. The danger that lies ahead for movements like the Tea Party is being identified as quacks by the overall left-leaning media or being courted by the GOP for votes.
Libertarians are at a crossroads. We must band together and put some theoretical quibbles off to the side for the time being and focus our efforts towards turning back the massive expansion of the Federal government and the massive new interference of the state in the bedroom.
I would like to thank the Mises Institute for awarding me the stipend that allowed me attend ‘The Birth and Death of the Fed.’ The experiences I had there and the friendships I made will undoubtedly last a lifetime.