The Future of the Libertarian Party

The LNC has spoken – Gary Johnson will be the Libertarian Party nominee moving into the main election. going up against what likely will be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the Republican and Democratic tickets, respectively. Many conservative-leaning libertarians are unhappy about this. I’ve even heard some of my friends proudly proclaim that they are going to write-in Rand Paul as a protest vote since their personal preferred LP pick didn’t make the cut. One author outrageously claimed earlier today that Austin Petersen, the second-most-popular candidate in the running this year, was “liberty’s last hope,” and later said that Johnson’s nomination meant that the party itself was no longer viable, and even claimed that a move back to the GOP as a voting libertarian somehow made more sense than continuing to support the LP in Petersen’s absence.

This rhetoric is, frankly, ridiculous. The liberty movement fancies itself one of intellectualism and fearless activism, yet the reality of it seems much more bleak and stagnant than this residual self-image would imply – there are internal rifts between anarchists and minarchists, social conservatives and social liberals, and yes, the rather chilling cults of personality that have recently cropped up around the different presidential candidates themselves. The fact that this even needs to be said is extraordinary, but true activism comes from an ability and willingness to not only put in the actual footwork, but also to cast a wide enough net to rally like minds and build alliances. In other words, we actually need the liberty movement to grow, or else we don’t deserve to call ourselves activists of any kind. And part of that needed path to growth comes largely from being humble and tactical enough to accept the richness of the liberty movement for exactly what it is: a tumultuous, sometimes contradictory, but always beautiful mess of embodied independence.

Far too often, though, I see the purists in the movement not understand or realize these qualities as innate, and instead I see them expecting it to be nothing more than an exclusive debate club of high philosophical discussion. Meanwhile, the world crumbles. What is so frustrating to me personally is that libertarianism as a philosophy has many qualities that I truly believe could fix this country’s current woes, yet the movement itself, and the LP specifically, continuously and predictably keeps dropping the ball.

So, Johnson won the nomination this time. Was anyone really surprised by this? I wasn’t. And I defended both him and his main competition, Petersen, equally and on the same grounds from their haters throughout this entire race. But some others wanted McAfee, or Perry, or any of the other multiple candidates this year. But guess what? Those people didn’t get the nomination; Johnson did. And anyone who knows how to read polling trends should have seen that coming from a mile away. And yet, I’m still seeing outrage – outrage about Johnson’s views on cakes; outrage over the fact that he’s scientifically literate and a Rothbard fan, and therefore pro-choice; outrage because he endorsed Bill Weld as his VP pick (but that’s another article I’ve already written); etc. It never stops, and these people, it seems, will never be happy until they are 100% appeased in every conceivable way. Otherwise, they aren’t voting.

There is another demographic other than the purist libertarians who also choose to take their ball and go home after the red carpet isn’t rolled out for their every waking request and desire: children. And as we see in their case, they never get what they want entirely. But eventually, they do something that makes them very different from the purist libertarians and changes everything for the better – they grow up. They learn to accept the things they cannot change. They learn to be humble, wise, pragmatic, tactical, and inclusive in their approach to life. They embrace diversity of their peers and they adopt compromise – not because they are a bunch of good-for-nothing children-betrayers, but simply because they have now become adults. They aren’t children anymore. They have grown into more savvy, thoughtful individuals who care more about humanity and the world as a whole than their own selfish desires. I wish the same could be said of the purist libertarians, but for now at least, it appears that they are fighting maturity and would rather cling to their fantasies.

In the meantime, however, the sensible among us are all too aware of the reality: Gary Johnson cannot win in 2016. But the LP could.

Allow me to explain to those still a bit slower on the uptake: The Libertarian Party is currently polling, with Johnson at the helm, between 10% and 14% in the major surveys so far. In order to be featured in the main debate stage that include the two major parties, a third party candidate must trend at 15%, consistently, for at least 5 of these mainstream polls. Johnson is almost there. So rallying support behind him in polls and (ultimately) votes would mean one thing and one thing only: the LP would for the first time in decades become publicly visible to every single American. Period. It would not mean that Johnson himself would win the presidency, because he won’t (the public isn’t sold on libertarianism just yet, despite what the purists seem to think). It would also not mean that the LP would somehow be given a poor branding to the public (only purist libertarians seem to find Johnson repulsive – everyone else outside the movement likes him once they listen to his views). All that could possibly happen if we all get behind Johnson this year is that the LP would live. And come 2020, it would be all the easier to see a libertarian president as a real possibility. At that point, the purists can nitpick about the nominee. But until then, it’s just an uphill battle to visibility, nothing more.

So please, if you truly consider yourself an activist who wants to affect change, set your idealism aside long enough to vote on a principle, not a man. Maybe then, just maybe, libertarianism will finally have its shot. If you throw this chance away by protesting the guy who can’t win anyway, then you frankly do not deserve to complain during the next four years.

Micah J. Fleck is a journalist and political writer who has spent the past several years developing his political outlook through independent research. While an enthusiast of both American history and economics, Mr. Fleck typically comes at his topics from a more anthropological perspective. His writings and interviews have been featured in various publications - including The National Review, The Libertarian Republic, The Wall Street Journal, and The College Fix - and he is currently earning a degree in anthropology at Columbia University.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your basic sentiment here. However, a vote on principle rather than a man is the exact logic that has me torn. I supported Petersen over Johnson knowing full well that Johnson would end up with the nomination. My problems and headaches when I begin to consider that a vote for Johnson is also a vote for Bill Weld. I vote on principle and have ever since I first heard Ron Paul back in 2008. Am I not sacrificing those principles by voting for a “former” Patriot Act supporter? I understand that he is now a registered member of the LP, but that does nothing to quell my fears or distrust of our VP candidate. As I have said elsewhere, a Libertarian on paper does not a libertarian at heart make.

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