Is Gary Johnson Really a Libertarian?


Why I Question Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Credentials

by Lee Enochs


Is Gary Johnson really a Libertarian? This might seem like a ludicrous question to those who follow politics in America. Since Johnson came to national prominence in 2012 when he became the nominee of the LP, he has become the quintessential Libertarian and virtually the living personification of Libertarianism to many Americans.

In a socially progressive college town such as Princeton, New Jersey where I live and attend graduate school, I have found that the vast majority of my peers are unfamiliar with the names of most Libertarian leaders but someone are acquainted with, at least on a surface level, with Gary Johnson.

Thus, for better or worse, Gary Johnson is the leading Libertarian in America right now. But is this a good thing? Is the former New Mexico Governor Ipso facto, the best representative of Libertarianism these days?

To answer this question, one most even probe deeper into the essence, nature and meaning of Libertarianism as a coherent political philosophy.

In the understanding of Western Civilization’s preeminent philosopher, Immanuel Kant, the thing-in-itself (das Ding an sich) as opposed to what Kant identified as the “phenomenon”—the thing as it appears to an observer. Though the noumenal holds the contents of the intelligible world, Kant claimed that man’s speculative reason can only know phenomena and can never penetrate to the noumenon.

Thus, in an objective sense, it may be entirely impossible to give a precise definition of what Libertarianism is since there is no ultimate authority to define Libertarianism. The very concept of what a Libertarian is appears to be in a state of flux and at various times, leading figures ranging from Ayn Rand to Ted Cruz have had the ideological moniker of “Libertarian” attached to their names and political endeavors.

The Webster’s dictionary simply defines a Libertarian as, “a person who believes that people should be allowed to do and say what they want without any interference from the government.”

Yet, despite the apparent ambiguity, arbitrariness and impossibility of objectification when it comes to the meaning of Libertarianism as a cohesive political philosophy, there does seem to be some discernable propositional tenets that are commonly held to be “Libertarian” in nature.

It is safe to say that the vast majority of people who claim to be Libertarian in the United States do not like the current size and scope of the American federal government. Another essential theme of Libertarianism is aversion to government coercion.

This later notion of disdain for the coercive power of the federal government is why I have begun to question Gary Johnson’s legitimacy as a Libertarian leader. Some of his comments of late on forcing an individual state to carry out gay marriages and using coercion to make a Jewish baker make a cake for a Nazi trouble me greatly.

While I am not the final arbiter of what Libertarianism is or who an authentic Libertarian is, I do have concerns over what Gary Johnson is saying of late. Is Johnson really the best spokesperson for Libertarianism today? I think his challenger for the Libertarian Party Presidential nomination; Austin Petersen appears to be more authentically Libertarian on the issue of government non-interference and coercion in my book.

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