Monday, July 10, 2017

R.I.P. L.P. Or Why Libertarianism Isn't A Viable Political Party

Something very minor but very interesting happened last week in the world of politics, or at least I thought it was interesting. It involved Austin Petersen, a relatively young 36 year old guy who is mostly famous in Libertarian circles for coming in second to eventual Libertarian party Presidential nominee Gary Johnson at the 2016 LP convention. Gary Johnson went on to run a Quixotic campaign memorable mainly for asking "What Is Aleppo?". Even so Johnson somehow managed to pull in a rather substantial percentage of the votes in 2016, positioning himself as less obnoxious than Trump and less criminal than Hillary, although to be fair virtually everyone not currently incarcerated in America is less of a criminal than Hillary. Johnson won 4.4 million votes in 2016. That is a huge number of votes that came from a variety of people, including people like me on the "far Right" who recognized that Trump was not a "conservative" of any sort and temperamentally unsuited for the Presidency. It was so many votes that when you look at the total votes cast, the meaningless "popular vote", I dug into the data and came to the conclusion that candidates on the right won more votes than candidates on the left (for my reasoning, see here). Ironically it also was a sign that the end has come for Libertarianism.

Back to Petersen. On Facebook he said he had been pondering a run for the Senate in his home state of Missouri. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is up for re-election in 2018. On Independence Day Petersen announced that he was indeed running for the Senate but as a Republican. Petersen said of his announcement:
Dear friends in the Libertarian Party,
For the last eight weeks, I've spent six hours a day calling my supporters to ask them their thoughts on how I might best advance liberty. I took the time to listen to every single persons' opinion about a potential opportunity to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate here in my home state of Missouri.
 Of the thousands of people I spoke to, all encouraged a run, hundreds donated, and the vast majority offered their opinion regarding which party I should align with. Over 98% of them, including registered Libertarians, independents, Republicans, and even Democrats, said to run GOP.
You can read more here from Reason Magazine, Read Austin Petersen's Goodbye Note to the Libertarian Party. It is worth pointing out that Trump won big in Missouri, defeating Crooked Hillary by around half a million votes and nearly 20% so McCaskill looks hugely vulnerable.

You might not know who Petersen is but I think this is pretty significant. As someone who supports most of the points of the Libertarian Party platform (a platform I think a lot of "Libertarians" are completely unfamiliar with) and has voted Libertarian for the Presidency in the last two elections, I liked Petersen a lot and had high hopes for him. He is not a religious fellow but he is pro-life and makes a great secular case for being so. He is solidly pro-Second Amendment. He is young and charismatic and well spoken and dynamic, pretty much the exact opposite of the ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld who combined being dull as drywall with not being terribly Libertarian. I think he recognizes the reality that a lot of Libertarians have come to, that the LP is completely incapable of competing on the national scale except as a spoiler to help Democrats. For example, in our home state of Indiana every statewide office is held solidly by Republicans except for one Senate seat held by Joe Donnelly. Donnelly won in 2012 with almost exactly 50% of the vote, thanks to some serious missteps by his opponent Richard Mourdock that the media repeated ad nauseum but also thanks to a solid third place from Libertarian Andrew Horning who drew 5.7% of the statewide vote. While Mourdock would have still lost by a few thousand votes even with Horning's votes, it would have put a win in striking distance and in a different electoral environment could have caused the difference.

More broadly speaking, I see Libertarianism as equal parts an academic exercise and an online treehouse. It is fun to post "Taxation Is Theft" memes on Facebook and talk about Austrian economics on Twitter. It is especially gratifying to have the smug sense of intellectual superiority compared to those sheep who vote Democrat or Republican. It is kind of like being a Calvinist. Half of the fun of being a Calvinist is commiserating with other Calvinists and chuckling over a craft beer at how simplistic and inferior Arminians are.

Libertarianism is great as a political philosophy but ultimately impractical for governing because it fails to understand something critical about human nature, that is that humans are fallen and selfish beings. It  is ironically one of the same failings of its polar opposite political philosophy, socialism/communism. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need sounds lovely when arguing over drinks but in practice human selfishness takes over and no one works any harder than is absolutely necessary which is why in the end the only way to keep socialism functioning is via state sanctioned violence.

That brings me to the NAP. The NAP or non-aggression principle is the cornerstone of libertarianism. You leave me alone, I leave you alone. Unless you are hurting me or someone else, what you do is your business.

James Madison addressed this question, although not necessarily in libertarian terms, in the Federalist No. 51, a text I learned way back in political science classes in college:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
That is a pretty solid summary. It was true in 1788 and it is just as true in 2017. Men are not angels and because men are not angels, they must have some sort of government.

Back to the NAP. The problem with it is that it only works if everyone agrees to abide by it. The reality is that almost no one does. This works from a Romans 12, non-resistance theological framework because we fully expect people to abuse it. As a governing political philosophy it doesn't. It doesn't take into account human nature and it doesn't really take into account a lot of other factors that contribute to our liberty. Don't bother me and I won't bother you doesn't address questions like abortion. It also fails to deal with the problem that as long as a bunch of people can vote to take what they want from other people and a bunch of other people get rich from making that happen, there is very little chance that we will ever disentangle the political process from a redistributionist scheme.

The other big problem and what I think is contributing to the rapid disenchantment of many towards libertarianism is that the movement seems to be obsessed with and hijacked by the twin pillars of gay marriage and legalized pot. Instead of "muh freedom" we have "muh pot" and "muh sodomy". A lot of people on the Left who favor "gay marriage" and pot legalization have latched on to libertarianism and either don't know or don't care that those are, or ought to be, pretty peripheral issues when it comes to liberty. I guess as long as two fellas can play house and smoke a joint after sodomizing each other, it doesn't really matter what our tax structure looks like or if our Second Amendment rights are intact.

More broadly, we have moved into a new phase of political expression that defies the old Left to Right political spectrum where more Left means higher taxes and bigger government and more to the Right means less government and lower taxes. We are seeing a lot of groups on the "Right" that don't care all that much about tax policy. We see a lot of new groups on the "Left" that have very little interest in the once cherished working class insofar as the working class includes white people. Libertarianism used to occupy the position on the far right end of the spectrum by calling for the elimination of most taxes and even government itself just as the socialists on the far left end called for complete government control of all economic activity. As we saw with the Bernie Sanders insurgency, identity politics transcended socialist politics. An old heterosexual Jew from Vermont was inadequate to represent the new Leftists. No, you have to be homosexual or "transgender", black or Latino or "Native American". Being a Jew is a no-go, being a Muslim is the way to go. What you really need to be for the new Left is a homosexual transgendered half-black, half-American Indian vegan Muslim in a wheelchair. It is all about identity. Trump is the mirror image of this on the Right. Other than his suspect miraculous conversion to the pro-life cause, Trump is nowhere to be found on the old Left-Right continuum. He is always rambling about protectionism and stimulus spending and tax increases/decreases. In fact he doesn't seem to know what he believes but he believes in the West apparently.

The divide now is one of cultures and civilizations. The political struggle is now Western culture vs. everyone else. The Libertarian response would be that our conflict with Islam and the non-West is a result of "blowback" from military interventionism in the region. That is true, but it is not the whole story or even the majority of the story. The West and Islam have been in conflict for over 1000 years, a conflict that predates the Crusades and a conflict driven by Islamic aggression that largely precipitated the Crusades. Blowback provides a convenient contemporary issue to rail against but it is just a tiny irritant in the grand picture.

A low tax, low regulation Libertarian utopia is irrelevant in a non-Western culture, even if it could hypothetically happen. Those on the far "Left" don't care if there is a socialist paradise if the paradise is run by heterosexual whites. The Left has moved past "get other people's stuff for free" and it now mostly concerned with "taking white people's stuff". If you think I am wrong I would challenge you to simply open your eyes and see what is being said by prominent "activists".

Libertarianism in it's purest form is the best possible form of government in a perfect world but we don't live in one of those. Quite the opposite. A better way of describing it would be that Libertarianism is the best possible form of government for the 1990's, after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before September 11th. For the world we live in today it is at best a whimsical academic exercise, something fun to debate online but otherwise about as meaningful as fantasy football. In the best environment for a serious third party challenge in decades with two absolutely repulsive main party candidates, Libertarians nominated two utter chumps without a shred of charisma between them and who were actually barely qualified to even call themselves Libertarians. Even in that environment they managed to garner a tiny fraction of votes.

The political world has jumped the single political spectrum tracks and now a lot of us are arguing about policies that aren't even in play anymore. People who care about liberty and freedom and who also care about sustaining Western civilization need to find a different path because Libertarianism isn't going to be any more viable in the critical next 5-10 years than it was in 2016. That path doesn't exist in a clear form yet but the makings of it are there. The real question now is who will lead that movement and what will it look like? That question is the one that occupies an awful lot of my attention these days.

Rest in peace Libertarianism. You had a nice run but ultimately failed to live up to even a fraction of your potential. It is time to make room for something new.
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