“You’re going to find really wonderful, well-meaning, well spoken people, and then people who are just bat-shit crazy.”
-Gov. Gary Johnson, 2012 and 2016 Libertarian Party presidential nominee, when asked about the Libertarian National Convention
Libertarians, whether they are in the Libertarian Party or skulking about the fringes of the Republican Party, are a notoriously difficult bunch to deal with. I would compare it to herding cats, but that might be insulting to cats. (Plus I like cats; I can’t say the same for all libertarians.) It stands to reason that a group of people who value individuality and free thinking might have trouble playing nice with others.
(For the purposes of this column, I will mostly be referring to “Big L” Libertarians, i.e., actual members of the Libertarian Party.)
Democrats hate us because we aren’t entirely liberal (or as they say, “you fascist!”) Republicans hate us because we aren’t entirely conservative—plus they think the Libertarian Party is stealing votes that rightfully belong to them. Independent or “undecided” voters (if there are such things anymore) don’t necessarily hate us, but they are often put off by our antics.
But most of all— Libertarians hate each other. To that point, there is a well known meme based on “The Simpsons” that has been making the rounds the last several years:
Groundskeeper Willie: “Brothers and sisters are natural enemies. Like progressives and libertarians! Or communists and libertarians! Or an-caps and libertarians! Or libertarians and other libertarians! They ruined libertarianism!”
Principal Skinner: “You libertarians sure are a contentious people.”
Groundskeeper Willie: “You’ve just made an enemy for life!”
Why are we like this, with the general public and with each other? I have a few thoughts on the matter:
(real or perceived) extreme political views
The Libertarian Party platform doesn’t pull any punches. It wants to legalize all drugs. It wants to pull all troops out of all countries. It wants to eliminate pretty much every social program. It wants to throw open our national borders and also throw open the legs of sex workers.
Some Libertarian edgelords even argue in favor of personal ownership of recreational nuclear weapons (“McNukes”)…and they’re probably not joking. 2004 LP presidential nominee Michael Badnarik, hardly an edgelord (at least intentionally), held a similar viewpoint.
Most of these are noble ideas to the party faithful and the keepers of the flame. But these stances can be hard to swallow for the great unwashed. Plus, they are electoral suicide—at least when presented at face value with no nuance or serious plan on how to ease into these things. Walk into a nursing home and tell people you’re going to take away their Social Security and their Medicare tomorrow and see how many votes you get from them, no matter how awesome the rest of your platform is.
(Y’know what, with COVID-19 still going around, just avoid nursing homes for now. Especially if you’re carrying a concealed McNuke. But you get the idea.)
Humans are social animals. (Even Libertarians, presuming we are in fact human.) We love to belong to teams. And a large part of being on a team is working together to win. America is full of “front runner” and bandwagon fans. Everyone loves a winner. Unfortunately, the Libertarian Party is abysmal at winning.
I don’t need to go into great detail on this, because the win/loss numbers are what they are. We are good at finding candidates and decent at getting on ballots. Funding a campaign, running a campaign, and winning over voters…well, not so much. We are the Washington Generals of political parties, forever getting dunked on by the big boys.
We are…how you say…full of offbeat personalities. We have Vermin Supreme and we had (for a while) Chief Wana Dubie (R.I.P.) We had the Rubenesque hirsute gentleman at the 2016 convention doing the notorious “watch those votes disappear” boogie on C-SPAN. We have John McAfee when he’s not on the run from various authorities.
Even our less offensive rank and file adherents often have certain characteristics: whiteness, maleness, social awkwardness, and pedantry. (Not to be confused with pederasty, but we’ll get to that.) We also have more than a few neckbearded virgin incel types living in their mothers’ basement—guys who like to condescend and emphatically use the word “actually.” They are sometimes touched with wee bits of Asperger Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, or maybe a little “Rain Man” kind of vibe. (I have never personally been diagnosed with any of those things besides whiteness and maleness, though I may be adjacent to a few. Whatever you choose to call me, just make sure you preface it with “high functioning.”)
Free from the burden of winning elections or, you know, governing, we can be as crazy as we want to be. And boy, are we ever. During my own quixotic run for Missouri Secretary of State in 2016, I made lots of new Libertarian friends. Unfortunately, I was stunned to learn how many of them were Flat Earthers.
Cavorting with lunatics can be fun. It’s a lot more fun if you’re winning. (That would actually explain a lot of President Trump’s appeal.)
Even St. Ayn of Rand hated us. Let that sink in.
Fixation on “age of consent” and other esoteric issues
Libertarians tend to be seen as radical on “big picture” issues, such as the non-aggression principle (“NAP”) or the menace of public roads. But don’t worry, we also aren’t afraid to get deep into the weeds on minor things. And by “minor” things, I don’t mean like arguing over the need for stop signs. (Though we argue about that, too.)
I mean literal minors, as in underage persons, and whether they can give consent to be diddled. If you thought having vending machines for machine guns or allowing drive-thru abortions were political “third rails”, wait until certain Libertarians start talking about age of consent.
This is a strangely pervasive thing that keeps popping up in our circles, whether it be former Libertarian National Committee Vice-Chair/presidential candidate Arvin Vohra, Missouri’s own Cecil Ince, or some others. (I am not accusing any person of any illegal or otherwise improper activities.)
It goes without saying that making these arguments, even in supposed good faith, isn’t a good look for anybody. Especially in the post-Epstein era, where increasing attention is being rightfully paid to these very serious issues. Just…no.
(I was going to say any such discussion of this issue must be handled with kid gloves, but even I can’t live with a pun that awful.)
America’s hostility to third parties in general
Third parties just don’t win in America. The last third party to go big time was the Republican Party in 1860, but people tend to forget that they more or less replaced the imploding Whig Party as the second major party.
Sure, we suck at winning, but the Green Party and Constitution Party folks are in the same boat. (Or is it a bus? Perhaps a…short one?) Misery loves company.
Americans have been trained for centuries to expect two serious candidates in November. And only two. They see the major party primaries as the “playoffs” with the general election as the “championship”, right or wrong. It’s hard to beat that mindset.
Donald Trump ran a very third party-ish campaign, but managed to do it from inside one of the two big parties. Even then, he barely won.
One might think that for a liberty candidate to win, they might need to do so from inside the GOP. Or, long term, have the GOP collapse and be replaced by the Libertarian Party. Of those, the former seems much more doable than the latter. (More on that in a future piece.)
hostility to newcomers
Libertarians are sometimes very hard on new Libertarians. Or, as you might say, the “liberty-curious.” The internet has not helped us to improve our social graces. In fact, the internet is where the vast majority of Libertarian-on-Libertarian violence occurs.
Imagine a fresh-faced young freedom lover joining a Libertarian message board or discussion group seeking information. He (or she… screw it, it’s almost always a “he”) asks a question about the Libertarian catechism. Just the act of asking the question can call down a rain of thunder from the party stalwarts. The Aspies and neckbeards descend from above and pick the meat off the bones of people who do things like…question selling heroin to five year olds.
This is closely related to the previous point. Libertarians are notorious for holding pissing matches over who is the most libertarian. We are constantly trying to out-John Galt each other, prove that we are the one and true Grandmaster of Rand Fu, or to show that we are the Kwisatz Haderach of liberty. According to most libertarians, he (or she… but again it’s probably he) is the only real libertarian and the rest of us are just pretenders. Stray one iota from the dogma and you are labeled a “socialist” or a “statist.”
The only purity test current Republicans have is loyalty to Trump. The only purity test Democrats seem to have anymore is being pro-choice on abortion. Our purity test is more like a state bar exam being proctored by angry dyspeptic nuns.
A few nice things
Having said all these things about Libertarians, let me close with some positives.
I think that we have a lot of smart people, even if it’s often “book smarts” as opposed to “street smarts.” Most of our people are true believers, sometimes to the point of pie-in-the-sky naivete. And unlike the two major parties, who are willing to break all of their own rules (and even gaslight themselves) if it means winning, we are much more consistent and persistent in our core beliefs.
Our presidential nominee bucks the party stereotype by being a delightful, well-informed lady. She notably does not suffer from dementia, mental infirmity, malignant narcissism, or megalomaniacal tendencies. (Unlike some other candidates out there who shall remain unnamed.)
I also think we are right on most issues, which is ultimately the most important thing, and the reason I’m still around. A Libertarian world would be a just and free world. Not to mention an endlessly entertaining one.
When you meet a Democrat, you know that they love government and hate Trump. When you meet a Republican, you know that they dislike government (at least on paper) and love Trump.
When you meet a Libertarian, you know that they sincerely hate government even if they sincerely hate each other. Win or lose (mostly lose), that is true all the way to the edges of the flat Earth.