There can be no political ideology that is more inherently self-defeating than libertarianism.
We are seeing a growing number of people who identify as libertarians as they shed outdated social conservative values of the traditional right along with rejecting bloated and intrusive government of the traditional left.
This trend among gen-x was recognized in the 90s and they were labelled as “South Park Republicans”.
Libertarian wings of main stream parties have been formed and in some cases have been quite influential for short periods.
Libertarian parties have sprouted up like daisies but tend to remain mired within the political hinterland.
So why the hell can’t libertarians get anywhere politically?
Unfortunately the very nature of libertarians makes them the least likely to succeed in a partisan system. How the hell do you organize self-styled individualists into any sort of working group?
Living and working under a central authority is utterly contrary to the very nature of a libertarian. Staying silent and taking one for the team is tough if not impossible for a libertarian. They can hold it together for awhile, but eventually the cracks will show and a blow up is almost inevitable.
Maxime Bernier and Derek Fildebrandt were both recognized as libertarian thought leaders in their respective parties. Both rose to prominent positions with high expectations. Both flamed out and have marched off to form their own parties.
There were contributing factors in the cases of both Fildebrandt and Bernier aside from their libertarianism which led to their departure from their parties of course. Fildebrandt created a lot of grief for himself with some poor personal judgement calls and Bernier is clearly still holding some personal sour grapes after losing the party leadership by such a tight margin. Non libertarian types would be able to suck it up and move on within the party more easily.
Individualists chafe and get bitter under party discipline. That can and does lead to some pretty rough breakups when they part ways.
So what can libertarians do?
I do wish I had a simple answer for that. I do see libertarianism as the way of the future and betterment of us all as the state grows ever more intrusive and malevolent. I am just not sure how to accomplish it.
The party system is essential whether one likes it or not. No major wave of ideological change will come without a party driving it and either coming into power or holding the balance of it. So how does a purely libertarian party come into power? It doesn’t. It simply won’t happen.
I am not saying that there is no role for libertarian parties. I ran in the last federal election for the Libertarian Party of Canada after all. Tim Moen has been doing a fantastic job in holding things together with that volatile bunch and has been promoting both the party and the ideology excellently. I don’t know where he gets the patience and energy from.
I was under no illusion that I would win or even threaten the seat of the winner in the last general election. My goal was to use the electoral platform to ensure that libertarian questions were asked and answered and I think I did a good job of that. Issues such as supply management or increasing private involvement in health care provision will never even be brought up without a libertarian candidate forcing the issue. The reality that has to be faced though is that libertarian parties exist to promote ideas rather than win elections.
Another partisan challenge for libertarians is that they can almost never get along with other libertarians. I gave up on most online libertarian discussion groups as they inevitably devolve into categorizing themselves into sub groups and begin fighting with each other. Anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, libertarian socialists (still can’t wrap my head around that one), geolibertarians, classical liberals, objectivists and the list goes on and on as new sub categories are invented. Fervent adherents to any of those sub categories will invariably declare that folks who follow any other sub category are clearly not “true libertarians” and will stomp out of the room.
Pure libertarianism (whatever that may be) won’t be coming along any time soon. Principles of libertarianism can be promoted and embraced by administrations though. Libertarians just have to learn to accept incrementalism.
People who can manage to bite their tongues and take one for the team can and should promote libertarian principles within mainstream parties. It is a tough role for any individualist but it certainly is one that benefits us.
Those more dedicated to full on individualism should stick to promoting libertarianism through discussion and activism. They will only cause damage to organized parties if they try to work from within.
It is more fun working as an individual anyway and if you do it right you can make a point and influence policy.
For example, the Notley NDP thought it was a good idea for the state to manage party nomination contests. I have been having a great time ever since as an aspiring NDP nomination contestant in rubbing their noses into their own shitty legislation while exposing it for the crap that it is.
I would not be able to pull such stunts were I constrained by a party however. It took me awhile to recognize where a nutty libertarian such as myself belongs and I have been embracing it. I hope that more libertarians find their comfortable roles rather than taking a scorched earth approach to parties in the future.
Interesting and thought provoking post, Cory. Unfortunately, a libertarian party will get no where unless there is either a) a massive cultural and social sea-change which would support the basic tenets of libertarianism as fundamental underlying assumptions of the society; or b) a libertarian party organizes itself like the Bolsheviks, i.e. “democratic centralism” , lying about its means and aims, and having a willingness to use brute force and whatever means necessary to force people to be free. In other words, act like the criminal conspiracy that was 20th Century Communism. My preference, of course, is for option a) since we’ve all seen where b) can lead. In other words, I’m not too optimistic about the future of Libertarianism as a viable political option, despite it being my preferred choice.
People who like freedom and small government will always be vilified in a socialist society. Canada is a socialist society.
Libertarians (and other atheists) believe that freedom of conscience is freedom from consequence. Experience leads to wariness of wrong attitudes and actions, but the “outdated socially conservative values” are .. well, outdated? I’d be interested to learn which social values short of Handmaid’s Tale fantasies are less valid today than a century or two millennia ago.