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Am I a Libertarian?
I am definitely a classical liberal, an individualist, and a constitutionalist. But does that make me a libertarian? Also, The Threat to the American Individual.
Welcome to this week’s issue of Self-Evident. In this newsletter, I’m going to delve a little bit into some political philosophy and discuss libertarianism, the Libertarian Party, and the American individual.
Am I a Libertarian?
The short answer is no. While I am definitely a classical liberal, an individualist, and a constitutionalist I do not consider myself a libertarian.
If libertarian was simply a modern term for a classical liberal, an adopted term that allows for a clearer differentiation from modern liberalism, then, yes, I would be a libertarian.
But, in many ways, libertarianism as espoused by those claiming the title and as typically practiced by the Libertarian Party represents a range of minimalist, minarchist, and anarchist beliefs that cannot quite be considered within the framework of classical liberalism and often deviate considerably from its theories, especially as classical liberalism has been applied in American governance.
So, while I can find much about libertarianism that I can agree with, it is often only inasmuch as they channel the principles of classical liberalism. Move beyond that common ground to the various camps of voluntaryism, objectivism, minarchism, and anarcho-capitalism and I tend to find far less coherence between their perspective and my own.
Additionally, if the goal of adopting the term libertarian was to wrest the narrative of the American story back from the progressives who appropriated the term liberal, it is not a goal that has been accomplished. In fact, most Americans have come to associate the term libertarian with a pseudo-anarchist vision, one that “has never been successfully applied in government.”
Given that the American system of government is clearly built on classical liberal principles and has proven to be the most successful experiment in self-government in human history, libertarianism has apparently only muddied the water further when it comes to Americans’ understanding of their nation’s founding values.
But moving beyond the philosophical matters, there is also the practical concern of who libertarians are willing to accept into their ranks. While I consider myself liberty-minded, I am also still very much a modern conservative and a traditionalist.
While I view liberty and freedom as the highest goal of properly instituted government, I hold virtue to be the highest goal of individual endeavor. Liberty without the quest for virtue lacks purpose and direction. I fight for liberty because it affords me the freedom to seek virtue as I see fit.
Because of this perspective, my passion for liberty is tempered by a recognition that an overly permissive and libertine society can make the quest for virtue impossible. And virtue is indispensable to republican government. A nation whose culture drowns itself in vice will not have a citizenry capable of the duties and responsibilities of republican citizenship. Self-government requires self-government.
Therefore, a common sense of order and justice must temper the flames of liberty, lest it burn itself out. It is this sense of ordered liberty, this belief in the federalist system and of limited government, not minimal government, that often leads libertarians to consider my perspective statist and coercive.
And finally, I recognize that the American libertarian movement has over a seventy-year history and the Libertarian Party has existed as a political institution for half a century. I currently don’t use the term and don’t affiliate with the party, in many ways, as a sign of respect.
I have just recently left a political party co-opted and turned from its principles and platform. I am politically homeless and have lost a platform for my principles and values. I have no desire to do the same to another political party. Nor can I set aside the aspects of my political perspective that many libertarians are not yet ready to associate with.
But don’t misunderstand me. I consider myself to be a part of the broader liberty movement. In fact, I am a fusionist (perhaps the last one standing). I believe classical liberals and modern conservatives form a natural alliance and kinship, whose often fiercely different perspectives can ultimately be boiled down to different emphasis’ in how the founding vision is interpreted.
I believe the current circumstances of the Republican Party largely result from the absence of a zealous classical liberal perspective within its rank, a perspective that could have been provided had the GOP recognized the importance of a libertarian constituency.
I believe an active, vibrant, and relevant liberty movement is going to be crucial in the fight to re-assert the founding values of our republic. So, libertarians and the Libertarian Party can consider me a staunch and willing ally wherever our goals for limited government and constitutional values coincide.
Justin Amash recently voiced his belief that everyone is a libertarian in one way or the other, and they just need to be taught to associate these beliefs with the term. Perhaps, under his leadership and over the course of his coming presidential campaign, libertarianism and the Libertarian Party can come to provide a broader home for many different proponents of liberty and limited government.
Who’s to say if, a year from now, I may have changed my mind and gladly adopted the description of a libertarian. But, before that can happen, I would have to be invited into a growing coalitional effort willing to take me as I am.
The Threat To the American Individual
Speaking of libertarianism, earlier this week I was able to observe Justin Amash’s digital townhall with Libertarian national delegates from several western states.
I don’t remember his exact words, but I recall him saying something along the lines that while the American system is currently threatened, it is the American individual that would be most threatened by its demise.
The ways in which the Democratic Party and the Left have failed to respond appropriately to the rise of Trumpism has come to be something of a theme of mine as of late, and this idea from Justin Amash adds another layer to this assertion.
For how much the Democrats talk about norms, values, and our system of government, their political perspective has very little to do with individual freedom. To the progressive mind, the government is a tool of management they can wield to force their utopian sense of justice and equality into being.
In this aspect, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are not really offering us anything different than what Donald Trump and the Republican Party are currently giving us. The culture war continues to be a fight to the death between two disparate groups who wish to wrest the government from the hands of the other and gain absolute cultural victory at the other’s expense.
There’s been a lot of focus lately on beating Trump and re-establishing the norms of our republic in the wake of his defeat. But Trump didn’t invent big government, deficit spending, or the national debt. Trump didn’t create the welfare state, the imperial presidency, or the unitary executive. Trump didn’t establish the regulatory state, the welfare state, or the federal bureaucracy.
At the end of the day, if Donald Trump loses this election, he’ll be handing off a political office and a branch of government that won’t really be all that different from what he received. If Donald Trump has been an autocratic pseudo-dictator, it is because the office he inherited had been elevated to a pseudo-dictatorial autocracy by those who came before him.
As this year progresses, the arguments for Trump on the one hand and Biden on the other are only going to grow more hysterical. And, they’re largely going to be centered on who would cause the most damage to the system, and who’s presidency will more put the future of our republic at risk.
But, stepping beyond these narrow lesser-of-two-evils considerations, and looking at the persistent increase in the size and scope of government and its intrusion into the lives of its citizens, it becomes clear to see that if the option truly boils down to Trump or Biden, the American individual loses no matter the result.
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