Voltaire at 24
With the formation of the Tea Party, the emergence of Rep. Ron Paul in 3rd place in a number of presidential polls, and the prominence of such think tanks as Reason and Cato, libertarianism has been in the public eye recently. However, the philosophy was neglected for years; and its concepts still are unclear to many. Libertarianism isn’t a new thing, in fact it is quite old in origin. Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson were two of libertarianism’s influential fore-bearers, or as it they were called at the time, liberals (obviously the meaning of liberalism has changed since then). Another 18th Century classical liberal writer/philosopher Voltaire famously wrote, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” This is a thought provoking quote that could possibly offend some religious people, but libertarians have never been afraid of being called offensive. Voltaire became widely renown for his brilliance, wit, and snark; many traits that describe his modern intellectual counterparts.
Yes, libertarians often say things that are thought provoking and offensive to the core beliefs of many. Possibly more annoying, they usually speak with great confidence, even arrogance at times, about their convictions and are able to soundly defend their arguments from emotionally driven attacks. Some have complained that libertarians talk down to people in debates/discussions, and I’ve even had to stop myself while doing it. I do agree that many libertarian intellectuals act like the right’s counter to the limousine liberal elites; and with that in mind, it could be pointed out that such an attitude could easily be a turn off to some voters.
While I agree that the concern should be noted, there are reasons for this. Libertarians don’t try to win a popularity contest, nor would they ever consider voting for a “less of the evils” candidate based on electability If it was an option, libertarians would happily nominate a constitutional robot who was incapable of delivering presidential addresses or emotionally appealing to the population of the nation; who instead would spend his time repealing a hundred years worth of unconstitutional legislation. They understand that they spend their time “fighting the good fight”, stated differently, that a 3rd party doesn’t stand a chance in America so they fight a futile battle trying their best to impact the national debate and standing for what they believe in.
Libertarians have to explain the same things over and over again and this becomes tiresome. They don’t always know what their audience knows and doesn’t know, which can cause problems when explaining issues. They won’t waste time trying to appeal to people with platitudes and generalities, but instead, they will discuss in depth policy proposals and historical evidence. Libertarians in this regard are among the most well informed of people from any ideology. Libertarians can easily become disgruntled, having for years been taken advantage of by the republican party. Libertarians are often grouped in with the “conservative coalition”, yet they are perhaps the only group that never gets a bone thrown to them.
Libertarians are the Rodney Dangerfields of the republican party, they never get any respect. When Michele Bachmann was in Charleston for Congressman Tim Scott’s “First in the South” presidential candidates forum last month she described how a united republican/conservative coalition would put a filibuster proof majority in the senate. The coalition she described was: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, and libertarians. Maybe she has a point, maybe if we found candidates that fit those four descriptions, the republican party and the country would be in better shape. The problem? Social conservatives and so-called national security conservatives can easily clash with libertarians. The typical republican solution? Keep playing to the social conservative and “national security” conservatives and the libertarians will have to vote for us because they’ll have nowhere else to go.
As Jonah Goldberg wrote, “As you know, I consider Libertarians to be like Celtic barbarians deployed by British kings in the Middle Ages against the Scots or the French. They are extremely useful for fighting your enemies, but you would never want one to actually sit on the throne.” I like Jonah Goldberg, I think he is smart and witty, but I find his analogy to be both humorous as well as sad because I know there are a number of others who feel the same way. Obviously the problem with his comparison is that, unlike barbarians, the libertarian goal isn’t to rape and pillage, but instead to encourage the people to keep all of their stuff and live as they please (so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else). As Neal Boortz joked, “Have you heard about the vast libertarian conspiracy? They want to take over the government and then leave you the hell alone.”
Not since the early 1960s was there a time when it was possible for the government to spend less than the year before. Not that I think we had too little government in the 60s, but at least since then, libertarians have been an enslaved bunch. President after president, regardless of party, has stuck it to them. The past 11 years has been particularly hard on libertarians, as republican President Bush doubled the size of government, only to have democrat President Obama to double it again. The results have yielded less freedom and less economic prosperity.
With the formation and growth of the tea party movement, libertarians see a glimpse of hope for the first time in likely their entire lives. The tea party runs candidates in the republican party who regularly fight the rest of the republican party. My hope, and the hope of other libertarians, is that the republican party with at the very least throw us a few bones every once in a while. Otherwise part of the politically active base that is relied upon for electoral support, despite not having anything to show for it, may one day return the neglect.