About a year ago, I published a piece calling for the creation of a coalition against consensual crime laws, which have long been a pet peeve of Libertarians. I was thinking of this earlier when a social media friend made the following observation concerning Libertarians:
No one will vote for open Libertarians who want open borders and unfettered capitalism, which is why they garner at best around 1% in national elections.
This is why people like Ron Paul, for instance, stick to talking about legalizing weed, ending the drug war, revoking the Patriot Act, and vague appeals to ‘freedom and liberty,’ but if he said, ‘my friends, we are going to remove all regulations from business, abolish the social safety net, cause you all need to be on your own, and get rid of minimum wage laws, support would plummet. I’ve seen Libertarian Party activists in action at fairs and other public events. They never talk about the economic aspects of their philosophy unless you confront them directly about it, and even then, they look mighty uncomfortable discussing the subject openly.
Professional Libertarians tend to be white middle aged, male, or young kids in college going through a phase. Few women or non-whites, maybe some Asians here and there. No real working class people at all, middle to upper-middle class, tech nerds, eccentrics. I’ve never met a Wal-Mart employee or migrant farm worker who was a Libertarian…
These sentiments echo anarchist writer Bob Black’s semi-famous statement that Libertarians are merely “Republicans who take drugs.” This is sometimes an unfair stereotype. Not all Libertarians are corporatist apologists of the kind the above statement would indicate. But the stereotype is all too often true, and I tend to agree that this is a stumbling block for many when it comes to embracing the Libertarian philosophy.
However, I believe that a way that Libertarians could achieve more influence is to focus on the aspects of their philosophy that are the most unique to their own camp. It’s generally said that Libertarians are economic conservatives and social liberals, and I think this is part of the problem. Many Libertarians prefer to focus on economic issues, and in the process they, willingly or not, become frequently indistinguishable from Republicans, Tories, or the center-right parties of Europe. Other Libertarians prefer to focus on liberal social issues, such as feminism or gay rights, and often become indistinguishable from Democrats, the Labor parties, or the Left.
Perhaps Libertarians should instead reorient their energies towards building the coalition against consensual crimes I have previously suggested, or towards building a wider coalition in the defense of civil liberties, a highly necessary enterprise in the era of terror laws and paramilitary policing.
When I was growing up in the America of the 1970s and 1980s, one of the most hated organizations out there was the American Civil Liberties Union, a left-liberal civil libertarian group that was highly active in the defense of a wide range of individual rights against the state. The ACLU was initially founded for the purpose of defending the free speech rights of labor agitators during the early 20th century. The organization’s founder, Roger Baldwin, was inspired to do so after hearing a speech by none other than the classical anarchist Emma Goldman.
The America of the Nixon-Reagan era was considerably more right-wing culturally than the America of Barack Obama. The ACLU was widely despised by many people for allegedly being excessively biased against religion when it came to issues involving the question of where to draw the line between the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment and the “non-establishment” clause. This accusation was probably true. The ACLU was also known for defending the procedural rights of accused criminals to the letter, prompting one-time Attorney General Edwin Meese to refer to the organization as the “criminals’ lobby.” However, the ACLU of that time was unafraid to take on very un-PC issues as well, such as defending the right of the American Nazi Party to hold a rally in a Jewish suburb, or defending Iran-Contra figure Oliver North’s Fifth Amendment rights.
Today, however, the ACLU is just an absurdly political correct leftist organization as a review of their present positions will indicate. However, this creates an opening for Libertarians.
I think Libertarians have started to fill the role that was once held by the Left as the defender of civil liberties. It used to be that it was left-wing groups like the ACLU that were defending civil liberties, and their positions on social matters were fairly commonplace among the Left as a whole. When the Left was overrun by Political Correctness and Social Justice Warriors, it moved away from that kind of perspective and instead embraced the jihad against “bigotry.” That left an opening for the Libertarians to fill. It’s just that their economics tend to be conservative while the ACLU-type civil libertarians tended to be social democrats.
The Libertarian movement in the United States is now much, much larger than it was during the heyday of the ACLU, as a casual survey of contemporary libertarian organizations would indicate. There are a wide range of issues that Libertarians normally disagree on, but the overwhelming majority of Libertarians agree on the basic civil libertarian issues that I discussed in my previous call for a coalition against consensual crimes, and Libertarians are also concerned about the excesses of the terror war, the police state, and the surveillance state on a more general level.
Would it not be unthinkable for a “United Libertarian Front” to develop that essentially played the same role as the ACLU during an earlier era? Such a effort would require no agreement among Libertarians on most issues such as abstract philosophical principles, various schools of economics, minarchism vs anarchism, and other issues of contention. Instead, it would simply focus on rolling back the ever escalating statism we find in a wide range of policy areas, ranging “zero tolerance” in schools to knock raid SWAT team raids to drug prohibition to the arrest of citizens for the sale of raw milk.
Surely, this is a bit of political turf that Libertarians should claim for themselves.