2008: The Five Faces of Political libertarianism

I use the small “l” in the title out of respect for Bob Barr's right, as the nominee of the Libertarian Party, to claim the word Libertarian for his candidacy. I also refer specifically to political libertarianism, because I am in this article primarily concerned with libertarianism as it seeks to elect candidates to office or to influence the outcome of elections.  Some libertarians are close to anarchism in their opposition to government and its institutions.  Some libertarians, while they may support one or another particular candidate in a particular race, distrust all office seekers and feel that candidates elected as libertarirans will be co-opted by the current political system.  Others, who are “issue libertarians” feel their political influence can be better served through interest groups than by a political organization.  Libertarians in these groups have no interest in the political representation of libertarianism 

The most prominent face of political libertarianism this year has been that of Representative Ron Paul.    His presidential candidacy created libertarian movement which raised more in campaign funds and achieved a larger voice than any basically libertarian campaign had in more than forty years.  In spite  of being slighted by the media and opposed at every turn by the Republican Party organization, Repreentative Paul received over 1,200,000 votes in the Republican primaries and caucuses, with percentages ranging from 3% to 26%.  This was not enough to bring him the nomination, or ever a significant number of delegates.  But it was an impressive showing for a basically libertarian campaign.  Beyond this, it brought together a number of people, particularly young people and got the message out.  While the national media largely ignored the campaign, the Freedom rallies, particularly the ones on college campuses, captured the attention of the local press and helped to spread the idea of freedom across the country.

Not all of those supporting Representative Paul's candidacy were, strictly specaking, libertarians.  Many of them were attracted by his opposition to the war in Iraq and the Bush foreign poliicy.   Many of them were traditional conservatives, who were attracted by his support for more limited government, lower taxes, and less power to the federal government.  And many libertarians did not support him.  His membership in the Republican party, his personal conservativism and his unlibertarian possition on immigration kept many of them away.  But even these aspects of the Paul campaign did not diminish the impact of what is basically a libertarian position.  In areas which he might take a more conservativee position, he said that the matter should be left to the state governments, and particularly the state legislatures.  This is constitutionally the correct position, and the solution of these problems by the legislatures rathern than the judiciary means that the solution of which liberties are part of the natural rights of human beings and which are civil or legal rights will be decided in a way that has greater support from the citizenry of the state.  On the question of immigration, I oppose representative Paul's solution and try to change the policy.  But he is right on so many issues that I still support his overall campaign.

When Representative Paul ended his active campaign for the Presidency, He established The Campaign for Liberty([link edited for length]). The organization had a website and was announcing plans the same day.  The most hopeful aspect was the statement that the new organization would continue with the plan of the presidential campaign to appoint a precinct chairman for every precinct in the country.  The Paul campaign has created what libertarianism has so far lacked, a nationwide grass roots organization, and intends to continue to provide it.  The campaign for Liberty set a goal of 100,000 members of the organization by September 3.  As of 12:20 m.m EDT today, it had 83,814.  If it does not reach its goal on time, ir will be very close.

The site includes blogs and information about the organization.  So far, its other activity has been focused primary on the Ron Paul Freedom Rally, which is scheduled to be held in Minneapolis (the twin city of St. Paul) during the Republican National Convention.  What I find more heartening, however, is that the grass roots organization seems to be developing.  On Saturday, I received an e-mail announcing the appointment of leaders for each of the Congressional Districts in my state and two at-large leaders.  I assume that the same steps have been taken in other states, and the basics of a national grass roots organization are being committed.  I am looking forward to working with the people appointed in my state soon.

Ron Paul is not going to win the Republican Party nomination for President this year.  But he is creating for the first time an organization through which the Libertarian movement can attain success in the future. either within the Republican Party or as an independent political movement.

The second face of political libertarianism this year is the familiar one of the Libertarian Party, which has been campaigning for libertarian primciples since 1972 . This year the Presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party is Bob Barr, formerly a Conservative Congressman from Georgia with a few libertarian impulses.  After leaving Congress, Mr. Barr has worked as a lobbyist for some libertarian causes and been an organizer for the Libertarian Party.  The nomination of the ticket of Barr for President and Wayne Allyn Root for Vice President was accompanied by many promises that with this ticket contributions to the Party would be increased and Barr as candidate would get the attention of the national media. 

According to an assessment of the Barr campaign by David F. Nolan([link edited for length]) the promised advantages of the Barr candidacy have not yet appeared.  And the nomination itself aroused some opposition within the Libertarian Party which has not yet subsided.  Despite his work for the Party and for libertarian causes as a lobbyist, many Libertarians felt that the antilibertarian positions he had taken as a congressman made him better suited to seek the nomination of the Constitution Party than the Libertarian Party.  One of  his opponents argued that the nomination of Bob Barr would make the Libertarian Party just another vehicle for the Neocons to use.  The Paul supporters, whom the early drive for the nomination of Mr. Barr suggested would flock to the Party when Representative Paul eneded his campaign, have to a large extent not embraced the Party or its candidates.  The poll numbers for the Libertarian Party have been fluctuating, and it is difficult to know if the Party will attract nove total votes this year.  It is also unclear whether the higher percentages in the early campaign are a reflection of Mr. Barr's success, or simply a reflection of the weaknesses of Senators Obama and McCain.  Mr. Barr will not be elected President this year.  Whether his campaign will leave the Party with a stronger or a weaker position on the political scene is still an open question.

The third face of libertarianism in this years election is George Phillies.  Whether by accident or design, Professor Phillies, a left libertarian, is on the ballot in Massachusetts and New Hampshire as the candidate of the Libertarian Party.  Professor Phillies was a candidate for the Libertarian nomination during the convention, but was eliminated in the early balloting.  In his campaign he had condemned by Ron Paul and Bob Barrr as non-libertarian in their position, and warned that Barr's nomination might be fatal to fhe Party.  After he was eliminated from the balloting, he made a surprisingly gracious speech, saying  that non one in the party was an enemy.

During the early campaign, as he pointed out during the candidates' debate at the convention, the party organization in Massachusetts, of which he was Chairman, had circulated petitions and put the party on the ballot for November–with Professor Phillies listed as the candidate for President.   The same things had happened in New Hampshire.  Professor Phillies contends that it was his intention to serve only as a place holder prior to the convention and have his name replaced by the nominee after the convention.  It was his understanding that the election laws of Massachusetts and New Hampshire allowed this to be done.  After the convention, the secretaries of state in the two states denied that this could be done, and Professor Phillies has said that he will stay on the ballot until the state governments allow for his replacement with the nominee.  The national Libertarian Party, the Massachusetts Libertarian Party and Professor Phillies are jointly suing for the replacement.  There is a story that the national party may try to circulate its own petition in Massachusetts and create a second Libertarian line on the ballot featuring Bob Barr.  I think the law suit ought to be purused, but if the courts delay it, I think it would be a serious error to enter a second Libertarian ticket.  Neither of these two men is going to carry Massachusetts this year, so the electoral votes mean nothing.  In terms of the Party, it would be far better to have the same candidate on the ballot is all states to that the total vote for the party would be clearer, but there is nothing to be gained in splitting the vote in Massachusetts or in New Hampshire.([link edited for length]).  Having Barr and Phillies both on the ballot, repesenting the extreme ends of the libertarian spectrum, would be a disaster for the Libertarian Party in the state and certainly harmful to the national party.

If George Phillies is, as he has said, and accidental representative of political libertarianism is this year's race, Charles Jay and the Boston Tea Party definitely are not.  The Boston Tea Party ([link edited for length]) was originally organized as a caucus within the Libertarian Party to promote a simple platorm and a broad spectrum of Libertarian opinion.  The Platform stated opposition to all laws which increased government control over individual freedom and support for any proposal to decrease governmental control of individual freedom.  In 2008, when the platform was being rewritten to achieve its acceptance by more conservative voters and particularly with the move to nominate Bob Barr for President, the caucus decided to become an independent party and nominated Charles Jay for President andThomas Knapp for Vice President during the Libertarian Party convention.

The Party is on the ballot in Colorado and hopes to be on the ballot soon in at least four other states.  It has also begun work on organizing local affiliates and endorsing candidates, from the LP and other parties and independent candidates who accept their platform.  Among other actions, they have endorsed Geoge Phillies for President in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  They show no inclination to endorse Bob Barr in any state.  The BTP until this years has existed only on the web.  It remains to be seen if they can create an effective political organization outside of cyberspace.  The leaders of the organization appear to be both serious and intelligent, and they may be able to create a different type of libertarian political organization.

The Objectivist Party ([link edited for length]) must be regarded as the fifth face of olitical libertarianism this year.  It is an off-shoot of the BTU, and like that organization, has its origin on the internet.  The Party's webpage says that the party was created on february 7, 2008, on Ayn Rand's birthday as an organization to promote Ayn Rand's ideas in a political movement.  Whether or not the party was actually founded on that date, its founder, Dr. Tom Stevens continued to serve on the board of the BTU until the BTU started to transform itself into a political party.  At that time, according to Thomas Knapp( http://www.bostontea.us/blog/1), Stevens attempted to secure the nomination through unfair means and was expelled from the party.  I have not seen Dr. Stevens' version of events.  The Objectivist Party, like the BTU, has announced the organization of affiliates and plans for drives for ballot access.  It is hard to tell if this is a genuinely libertarian movement or a personaliity based movement.  The lack of history for this organization makes me doubt its ability to last beyond this election season, but I make no claim to clairvoyance.

There will always be disagreements between libertarians.  But this five way divisions between political libertarians cannot last much beyond this campaign.  I think the Campaign for Liberty, with the beginning of a grass roots organization shows the most promise.  Libertarianism as political movement has been too centralized and too topheavy in organization, and this applies both to the Libertarian Party and the Ron Paul presidential campaign.  The grass roots movement must be maintained, and that cna only be done, as libertarians suggest the government should be carried out, with most of the decision making done at the state and local level.  The Libertarian Party, regardless of the outcome of the election, remains a viable organization, but it needs reform and it must decide it it is to be a libertarian or conservative organization.  The other three are, in a way, welcome innovations.  It is remains to be seen what strength they accumulate and whether their initial enthusiasm can be maintained.


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