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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Will libertarians succeed?

By Daryl Luna, Editor of:

In Defense of the Constitution

Libertarians are often viewed as pie in the sky idealists, who sit around all day promoting ideas that could never take hold. There is some validity to this if one merely takes the musings of libertarians at face value, but that is not how they should be taken.

Just because we think that large parts of the government should be abolished or privatized, just because we want to do away with bloated entitlements, and just because our positions are principled and consistent, that doesn't mean that we are not realistic about how to achieve our goals. Most libertarians are both rational and realistic, realizing that incremental progress must be made toward our views of a free society, and that this progress will not come overnight.

Here is an example of reasonableness in the thought of a libertarian: I, personally, would love to do away with Medicare, but it's not my desire to purge the masses from Medicare rolls overnight. I believe we should stop the program from growing and phase people off of dependence on the system as quickly and fairly as possible, while simultaneously creating the necessary conditions for a flourishing, effective, private alternative.

But even if we aren't naive idealists, there is still a huge hurtle to the advancement of libertarianism. That hurtle is the unwillingness of the electorate to stand on principle and hold elected officials accountable; therefore, each election becomes one of "choosing the lesser of two evils" and each time the American people suffer.

Likewise, we see a flood of philosophical compromise flowing out of Washington on a daily basis as almost no one seems to stand for anything anymore. None of us are the better for it. So what is to be done when the system seems stacked against us? The simple answer is to act on the opportunities that present themselves.

Samuel Adams once noted, "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." Adams was right. Libertarians would do well to remember his advice. We need to be "an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."

We are in a war of ideas. I believe our ideas are the right ones as do many Americans, but unless we properly advocate and stand for those ideas, we will profit none. We don't necessarily have to convert everyone to an explicit philosophy of libertarianism. Instead, we just need to create support at different times in different ways for our policies, based on the opportunities before us.

When policy makers look for the best way to accomplish any given objective and the libertarian perspective is adopted--and it sometimes is--we succeed. We have seen these small victories a number of times. Just look at what libertarians did to gut Real-ID, or look at the focus and pressure now being put on our central bank to see the triumph of our libertarian principles in two policy areas.

Not everyone who backs these measures is necessarily a libertarian, but if we are able to sway them to our position, we have had success. John McCain and I may not see eye to eye on much, but I think it's great when we can get him to support the audit of the Federal Reserve; that is a victory in our battle of ideas. So I would contend that we can be successful; we just need to go at it one issue at a time.

Moreover, can we see electoral success? I think we can because we have. We have a strong libertarian in the U.S. House (Ron Paul) and have had a host of libertarians at the state level. Former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM) and Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) immediately come to mind. Is this enough to change our system completely? No, but it is enough to affect real change at a number of levels.

Another ray of hope is the resurgent liberty movement, spurred by Ron Paul's 2008 presidential bid. Liberty candidates are now seriously in contention to win big races. Look no further than Rand Paul's U.S. Senate race in Kentucky. Moreover, new organizations such as Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Liberty, and Campaign for Liberty, are making huge inroads into promoting liberty effectively.

Together, they are all chipping away at establishment influence and gaining respect. Because of the liberty movement's influence, people are being exposed to libertarian ideas through interviews with liberty proponents in the media and other venues like never before.

Will the libertarian movement prove successful at creating lasting change? I sure hope so, but only time will tell. The answer to that question is up to you. Will we allow the torch of liberty to be squelched or shall we continue to be "an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds?"

Photo: / CC BY-NC 2.0


  1. I know a lot of young people who are libertarian, especially among my former students. (I like to think that I taught them well!) I have hope for the future.

    I tend not to measure success only in winning political victories. I measure success in persuading people to think soundly.

  2. Agreed! In fact, changing people's hearts and minds is not only a means to the end of electoral victories, but instead it is an end in itself.