The Road to Obscurity

Elijah O'Kelley
Jan 20, 2014 at 10:12 AM

imageWithout diversity and competition of ideas, any philosophy is doomed to underdevelopment and stagnation. Libertarianism is no different, and it surely has a plethora of variations. Every libertarian one comes across probably subscribes to some unique flavor of the broad philosophy. There are anarchists, minarchists, constitutionalists, anarcho capitalists, paleo conservatives, and countless more. Hell, there are even libertarian socialists.

But let’s face it, libertarians are a minority — growing, but still a minority — and without a concerted effort to bring more people into the movement, we’ll never come to prominence. Unfortunately, it is all too often that instead of inclusion, libertarian activists are guilty of a tendency to exclude those who fail to share the same or all libertarian beliefs. As a minority, such infighting and exclusivity could prove more detrimental to the movement than any statist opposition ever could.

This isn’t to suggest that libertarians as philosophers should abstain from constant debate on every intricacy of the philosophy. In regards to philosophy, purism is absolutely vital. Nor is this to suggest that libertarian activists should sell out the philosophy at any point that it gains them a small victory. Activism without sound philosophy is a human with an empty soul. However, it is to suggest that libertarians working as activists should have different goals than libertarians working as philosophers.

The goal of the libertarian activist should always be to bring more people into the movement. A typical situation to consider is the case of handling Reagan and his supporters. Was Reagan a libertarian? I hardly think so. But what favors do we do the movement by bashing all of his supporters, who are likely prime prospects for a libertarian conversion, making them think we’re “extremist” and turning them off from us? A much wiser approach would be focusing on his hints of libertarianism, especially his way of branding it, and using this to bring his fans to a true limited government mindset. 

We do ourselves no favors by shunning those deemed not quite libertarian enough.

As activists we must constantly seek inclusion, especially strategic inclusion. Should we bar Ted Cruz from our events because he’s not a poster boy libertarian? Should we sacrifice the opportunity to introduce true libertarianism to the thousands of newcomers he might attract? Strategically, this seems like an insurance policy to forever limit the growth of the movement.

When the GOP turns to dirty tricks to shut us out, should we tuck our tails, pout, and cry all the way to the Libertarian Party, making ourselves effectively useless? Or should we mobilize, grow larger, reinvade the GOP and bury the establishment? For a decent activist, the right answer is obvious.

And dare I mention Rand Paul? It’s odd that the only libertarian-leaning politician with any chance to win the most significant office possible finds some of his most ardent opposition from libertarians. Yes, there is legitimate concern with Rand that he may position himself as a libertarian, do statist things, and cause libertarianism to be blamed for the results of statism. But should we really cut him down, essentially helping his political enemies? Would the philosophy, and more importantly the country, really benefit more from a growth of the influence of people like Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie?

No other nationally prominent politician primes more people to be converted to libertarianism than Rand Paul does (no, Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, as great as they are, aren’t nationally prominent...yet). A failure to embrace and take advantage of this is nothing more than a massive missed opportunity.

By no means should we blindly support any libertarian-leaning figures and not attack them when they drift into statism. We must be hard on them when they do stupid things. But we must also embrace their libertarian tendencies and utilize these to appeal to their non-libertarian or pseudo-libertarian supporters. The liberty movement only paves a road to suicide by retreating to closets with locked doors and Ayn Rand wallpaper.

As activists, it is by focusing on the issues that all forms of libertarianism agree on that we will seize the future (except maybe the libertarian socialists because, well, what even...?). Things like non-interventionism, free markets, civil liberties, and property rights are what we should rally behind and emphasize to gain newcomers’ support. The intricacies on which we disagree can remain at the philosophical level so as to not retard our activism or the growth of our philosophy. But in spreading the movement, it is with open doors, manned by united activists that the liberty movement will gain the passengers it needs to travel into the future. 

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL.

"The liberty movement only paves a road to suicide by retreating to closets with locked doors and Ayn Rand wallpaper."

I love this.

Bonnie Kristian's picture

Thank you, been saying this for a while now. I may not agree with everything Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or even GLENN BECK says, but should we shun them just because they aren't 100% on board? They are wonderful gateway drugs to the liberty movement, so why shun them?

Stick to your principles but drop the hostility.

nmorpus's picture

This article hits the nail right on the head in regards to "how libertarian someone should be", especially in comparison to Ron Paul as I've noticed many do. The core ideas should be what are focused on, the degree in how much limited government we would personally prefer should not be added into the activism that takes place in the liberty movement. ESPECIALLY with the youth who are still in the learning stages and are flying away from the nest of their parents political preferences, and the more establishment-type Republicans that people like Rand would need as allies to take on the white house. Thank you for this article, will be sharing.

PhilippeDesrameaux's picture