The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

January 27, 2005

The Problem with Libertarians

Let me preface this entry by stating, first, that I consider myself a libertarian. And the problems I’m about to state, I myself was guilty of furthering, back when I first found libertarianism. The problems that I am going to bring up are not problems with libertarianism itself, but with libertarians. I still believe, and always will, that most problems in the world are only made worse by government intervention, not better. Yet my realism has forced me to understand a simple fact: our actions and methods of furthering our agenda are doing more harm than good.

We’re a fringe party: Being a fringe party has its advantages. When we don’t have to face the constant day-to-day struggles of making our policies work, we can stay a lot more ideologically consistent. Thus, while the Republicans and Democrats are arguing about to what extent the government becomes involved in health care, we can make the case that health care would work best without any government involvement.

The problem with being a fringe party, however, is that we tend to attract a large number of the wackos and misfits. That, coupled with the radical idealism found in any fringe party, tends to turn people off. The world at large isn’t ready to hear that the government should have no role in health care, in social security, in the economy. If anything, we need to establish our position to the right of the Republicans, but not so far that we sound crazy. The proper role of a fringe party is to move the Republicans farther right. Since the role of the major parties is to hover around the center, that will force the Democrats farther right.

In the long run, the Libertarian party itself can only grow if the Republicans move farther left (which they have). But the true success of the party will be to drag the debate back towards the right, and with each step we will further our agenda, while at the same time seeing our influence erode.

Enough with the Ayn Rand, already: I like Rand’s books. I think as a novelist-philosopher, she holds a very important place in the fabric of libertarianism. But the constant injection of her phrases into our arguments is getting us nowhere. If I hear one more libertarian talk about something happening “at the barrel of a gun”, I am going to vomit. Take Ayn Rand’s ideas, but bring the language up to the 21st century.

The world we live in is very different than the time of Ayn Rand. Many of the same over-reaching government programs have expanded since her time, but the argument has changed. It is no longer the cold-war battle between Capitalism and Communism. The polar opposites are no longer there. Communism has been replaced by the softer-sounding socialist principles. Thus, our language needs to be adequately modified to correspond. If we bring out the same old bombastic Ayn Rand language, we sound like the crazy ones.

Our proper argument is a combination of both moral and economic justifications for libertarianism. But the economic issues have to take precedence. When someone brings up universal healthcare, explain why it will hurt everyone more than it will help the few who don’t have coverage. When someone brings up social security, explain why individual accounts will serve the public better than the current system. Don’t just exclaim that the government has no moral right, because that argument is not going to be taken seriously.

We need incremental change: People consider libertarians to be anarchists because compared to today’s government, it’s a pretty fair characterization. The true libertarian ideal would be a government about 10% of the current size. We cannot expect, however, to start a slash-and-burn approach and actually have a chance at accomplishing something.

Our current mix of socialism and capitalism took about 100 years to cultivate. It was done in incremental steps. To believe that anything less than incremental reductions will be practical is absurd. To slash the government at the rate most libertarians advocate would result in anarchy. An entire society based on the role of a strong federal government would collapse without it. The only prudent way to deconstruct that society is incrementally, because only then can we slowly build up the private support structures to replace government.

As a libertarian, I look for ways to further our agenda. But I realize that the world I want to see is a long-term goal. We, as a party, need to be realistic about that as well. We need to position ourselves in such a manner to affect real change, not spout Randian platitudes. And we need to realize that the Republicans are our teammates, not our enemies. When applicable, we need to stand with the Republicans to fight the left. If we keep all these things in mind, we can see a complete transformation of our government in our lifetimes. But if we remain a fringe party of wackos, our ideals will be derided and our policies ignored. That road leads us down the path that Europe has already taken.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 7:46 pm || Permalink || Comments (3) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


  1. Incremental advances — YES. That is certainly something that the LP needs to wake up and smell the coffee about. To talk about summarily ending the public school programs immediately if you are elected is certainly one way to ensure you are not elected.

    However, your talk about situating the LP to the “right” of the Republican party ignores how far to the “left” of even the Democratic party the LP is on moral issues. The Republican party wants government involvement on moral issues — the LP most certainly does not. Yes it is a mixed bag — the Democrats want to force people to ignore morality, and the Republicans want to force people to recognize Christian morality.

    Check out sometime, I’d be curious as to your score. I reside in the bottom left quadrant, I won’t tell you how far yet, though.


    Comment by Anonymous — January 31, 2005 @ 1:43 pm
  2. I’ve found that there is a difference between the right and the Right, and a difference between libertarians and Libertarians. It can be subtle sometimes, but it’s definitely there…

    As for the political compass, I am:
    Economic: +6.00
    Social: -1.74

    I’d say that’s about right for me.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — January 31, 2005 @ 4:01 pm
  3. What if incrementalism could be demonstrated as impossible right at the outset?

    One of the insights of the “public choice” school of economics is the fact that certain “invisible hand” forces within the political realm have gotten us to our current situation. All liberty-encroaching acts of government all benefit somebody, usually private citizens or groups of them. On the other hand, these benefits are offset by the fact that the beneficiaries are forced to pay for everybody else’s special benefits. We would all be better off if nobody recieved special benefits.

    The incrementalist approach would begin by stripping only a few people of their special benefit. These people are going to be extremely resistant, and they will fight with much more vigor to keep their benefit than people are willing to fight to take it away. This is because the benefits of government favors are concentrated while the costs are spread out.

    Consider ending any specific welfare benefit. To the recipient, that benefit is hugely valuable. But to the taxpayer who funds it, eliminating it would only save him a few dollars. Thus, any attempt to eliminate this benefit is going to be a battle between unequal sides, and the side most committed to winning usually will.

    Thus, I don’t believe incrementalism has a chance, and I think this is evidenced by the fact that libertarians have been trying to change the system incrementally for years with no success and utter failure.

    This does not mean that purity will work either, for the reasons you describe. Thus, the unfortunate conclusion of this individualist is that a free society cannot be achieved. Our efforts should focus on the ways in which we can better our own lives, as individuals, understanding that the oppressive state is simply a fact of nature that is not going away in our lifetime.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 3, 2005 @ 1:20 pm

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