Poor Libertarians

In op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal (link unavailable) called “?Libertarian Orphans” David Boaz points to a Gallup Poll as evidence that 20 percent of the country is libertarian and he laments that these people are underrepresented in politics and the media. But libertarians have nobody to blame but themselves. Libertarians may want to laugh at the religious right, but whatever you may think about their views, they undeniably earned their place at the table. For decades religious conservatives have been politically active, they have organized, donated their money and they have shown up for Republicans on Election Day. Meanwhile, libertarians by nature tend to be too cynical about politics to become active and get involved in campaigning, and would rather sit back and be critics, or work in think tanks or intellectual journals. Some libertarians think that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils, some think that the Republicans are and others would rather vote for a Libertarian Party candidate in protest. Still others will brag about how they didn’t vote at all, as if this makes them morally superior because they will never feel responsible for what happens. Now, these are all defensible positions on some level, but the bottom line is that when you add them all up, it means that libertarianism will never translate into political power. For a group of people who oppose anti-poverty programs out of a belief that in a capitalist system anybody who works hard and has talent can succeed, libertarians are awful defeatist when it comes to politics. Rather than fight the fight, they’d rather sit back so that they can complain about the outcome.

So, to answer a question posed by Boaz, “?What’s a libertarian to do”? I’d argue that they should get more politically active. Libertarians who won’t participate in the political system are the ones to blame for the under representation of libertarians in politics, and nobody else.

Over the next week, I hope to post some additional thoughts on the nature of libertarianism.

One thought on “Poor Libertarians”

  1. Personally, I think libertarianism is irrelevant for the foreseeable future. As an inflexible ideology it was little more than a luxury of an era of peace and prosperity. It’s leadership was never exactly organized in any significant way, and especially now it’s become an isolationist party at a time when isolationism is only thriving on the opposite end of the spectrum. Meanwhile, it’s impossible for someone who is serious about national defense to associate themselves with the term.

    The only future I see for libertarians is perhaps as an interest group, focusing on issues like eminent domain, or a network of local (and maybe state) parties.

    Otherwise, I see a major political realignment coming in the next few years – the most dramatic since the 1850s. The Democratic party is on course to implode and fragment (or, Whig-out, if you will) – if not before ’08, definitely in the aftermath of that election.

    At which point it’ll be interesting to see where the various factions land, but regardless, I see a version of the Republican party emerging that will be much more hospitable to all but the most hardwired libertarians. Now, this may happen slowly, as the old religious-right element dies off, and you see a new, more tolerant, generation of Christian conservatives come of age.

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