Jason Farrell: Why Libertarians are failing at politics

newspaperColumn by 
Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center dropped a truth bomb on the beltway in his recent piece for Fox News about the decline of Rand Paul. Taylor notes that the alleged growth of the libertarian movement in the wake of the Ron Paul campaign was largely illusory. The alienated populists and conspiracy theorists that filled out Paul’s numbers in 2012 easily made the transition to the very un-libertarian Donald Trump in 2015, leaving Rand out in the cold.

The lack of a broad-based movement, despite a number of high profile campaigns and events, is a bitter pill for libertarians who believe in electoral politics. Having libertarians in office may help raise the profile of issues like overcriminalization, tech freedom, and the insanity of the drug war. But those who await a libertarian takeover of the GOP misunderstand the fundamentally radical nature of libertarian ideas and how deeply that radicalism conflicts with the perceptions most Americans have about the role of government.

Trump supporters are a grim reminder that millions of voters view the government as a hammer that can be wielded to smash opposing values or groups and force their beliefs on others. Educating the electorate about libertarian ideas misses the fact that they have no real incentive to learn; most don’t care about the relationship between man and state and likely never will, as long as the state continues to provide the stability they have come to expect. Ron Paul’s success in 2008 and 2012 can largely be credited to the mortgage crisis; once the sting faded, so did support for his radical ideas.

There’s a good reason libertarians remain at the ideological fringe: “Libertarian politics” is a contradiction in terms. Libertarianism is not a third party, like the Know-Nothings or the Whigs or a prescription of policy tweaks to make the government more efficient. It is a distinct value system that abhors political power itself, even if some of its adherents consider power a necessary evil.

Libertarians may disagree whether the state should be abolished or minimized, but the difference matters little to the average American: Both seem frighteningly outside his own experience. Even the most moderate libertarians will wax poetic about ending intellectual property or privatizing the welfare system. Moreover, virtually all voters are deeply invested in government services they have come to depend on, and libertarians have been unable to present hypothesized private-sector alternatives while the state forces dependence upon itself. Conceptually, libertarians are on a page that most people find bizarre.

Libertarianism is best understood as the latest in a long line of radical liberation ideologies, rooted in the principles of natural law and individualism, that have provided the intellectual basis for rebellion since the American Revolution. It is a reaction to the perpetual expansion of government power in the U.S. and its frequent abuses. But radicalism, by definition, is immoderate and cannot compromise its way to reforms. Rather than moving toward the “Overton window” of public opinion by moderating controversial views (as Rand Paul attempted), radicals must pull public opinion towards their own viewpoints. Rand’s straying from libertarian principles means that he likely has little unique appeal even for the tiny libertarian electorate his father created. David Boaz’s research shows that 70% of libertarian-leaning voters went with Mitt Romney over Gary Johnson in 2012, so we know even libertarians who believe in politics are willing to blunt their own sword.

If libertarianism is denied its radical characteristics, it degrades into a flimsy millennial conservatism: Fiscally conservative, socially liberal and completely powerless, a mashup of existing ideas better espoused by other parties and ideologies. Without unyielding commitment to truly radical ideas, libertarians are drowned out by louder voices catering to the will of angry, pitchfork-bearing constituents. They add little of value, and are likely to end up little more than a footnote in the history of conservatism.

To fail to understand this is to remain resigned to swim against the tide of American politics. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out: “Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this has rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide.”

Instead, libertarians might be more useful as single-issue activists and innovators. While U.S. politicians fail to shrink government, individualists like Erik Voorhees, Cody Wilson, Peter Thiel and the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto are using technology to forge a new path. Time will tell exactly where that leads. But Rand’s decline underlines the fact that libertarian ethics predicate disruption and revolution, not moderation and compromise. As such, it is unlikely to ever get big votes in American politics.



augusta free press
augusta free press news

UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

Dick Vitale on Team of Destiny: “This is a hoops story you will LOVE! Jerry and Chris capture the sensational and dramatic championship journey by Tony Bennett and his tenacious Cavalier team. UVA was Awesome Baby and so is this book!”

Ralph Sampson on Team of Destiny: “Jerry and Chris have lived and seen it all, even before my time. I highly recommend this book to every basketball fan across the globe. This story translates to all who know defeat and how to overcome it!”

Buy here.

AFP Business

As professional consultants, Augusta Free Press LLC provides clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia and beyond with marketing and PR solutions including website design, SEO, TV/radio, video work, branding and logos, social media and overall marketing campaign design and implementation. Augusta Free Press LLC was founded in 2002.

Web Design

Augusta Free Press has designed more than 800 websites for clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia. We take care of all facets of web design – visual design, layout design, content development and SEO. Short on staff? We’ll work with you to update your AFP-designed website in a timely manner or train your staff to make changes.

Marketing/Social Media Management

Augusta Free Press manages advertising campaigns for small- and medium-sized businesses across Virginia. You don’t need to hire a full-time marketing coordinator. Bring the experience of the Augusta Free Press team to work for you – for a fraction of the cost.

Graphic Design

Augusta Free Press will help you take your vision to the next level. From branding and logos to print materials, our team will work with you to develop products to showcase your business. From brochures and rack cards to full-color magazines or print/digital ads, we’ve got you covered.

Event Planning/Fundraising

Augusta Free Press will help you plan the best event for your organization. From an open house or anniversary to a 5K or Pay Per View, we can handle it all. Looking for training for your sales staff? We can help energize your employees or board. Need ideas to raise more money? Let us help you plan a successful event. Want to hold a news conference or need help with a press release? We can do that too.

Click here for more.