What is a Libertarian? This is the key question that can spur intense and sometimes vitriolic debate among those who call themselves Libertarians. According to Webster, the following is the definition of a Libertarian:
- an advocate of the doctrine of free will
- a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action
- capitalized : a member of a political party advocating libertarian principles
There are those who have been involved with the Libertarian Party for years, who identify themselves as Libertarians, to which other Libertarians will argue that they are not. There are also others who call themselves a Libertarian, who do so because they think it’s the “in” thing but really do not know what it means.
Within the Libertarian community, there is a very real concern of infiltration which would result in a change in the principles of Libertarianism, thereby negating the purpose of the formation and growth of the party. Why would people have this concern? For good reason… The Libertarian Party has built a formidable organization that has the skeletal structure in place to allow for the movement to actually be implemented. There is no other third party in the USA that is in this position, so others may look to the Libertarian Party as a potential of a “hostile takeover” of sorts.
It is this sensitivity to the reality of this threat that keeps the “so and so is not a Libertarian” argument alive and well ad nauseum.
As a person who believes in the vision of the founding fathers and has witnessed how far we as a nation have veered off the pathway created by those founders, I too do not want to see the party overtaken and changed to a new version of either the Democratic or Republican Party.
To me, this situation has created a problem for the party… Growth is improbable when the first question a person is asked is: “How long have you been a Libertarian?” This question itself seems innocent enough, but the inevitable follow up is the damaging part. That follow up manifests itself in the form of a put down or insult. When we fail to welcome new members (and many times alienate them), our growth is restricted. One by-product of that restriction is that it keeps us small enough to be a viable take-over target from one of the old parties.
A simpler definition of the basics of Libertarianism should be all the requisite “glue” that is required to hold us together. In essence, our own bickering and posturing, put downs and insults, lack of finite definition of Libertarian from within our party, willingness of some to support candidates from other parties, and cannibalistic tendencies of some of us… result in a group of people that agree on 80% – 90% of all pertinent issues that is perfectly willing to publicly impugn others based on a small minority of a person’s platform. After all, we are very different from the old parties and even an 80% agreement with a Libertarian will far outweigh supporting a Republican or Democrat which may share our views 20% of the time.
If we were to compare our actions with the actions of a Republican or Democrat, there is no comparison. They may totally disagree with 60% of the views of a candidate within their party, yet support that candidate as vociferously as a candidate which they agree with 100%. We tend to eat our young. How can we grow and thus make a real difference in our country if we are so willing to attack our own over a detail or two, while agreeing with the 98 or so other details?
In 2016, the eyes of the nation are upon us. In our attacks of our own candidates, we provide fodder to the Republicans and Democrats in the constant attacks against them, many of which are on finer points or impossible realities. In essence, we give the impression to others that we would rather not see the Liberty movement successful at all unless it is precisely on all of our own terms. The damage in that position is that we never overtake the Republicans or Democrats because we are too busy discrediting our own members and candidates over some trivial detail (it may not seem like a trivial detail to whoever is repeatedly espousing it, but in the reality of our nation today, it is trivial or likely to never be addressed in the first 20 years of Libertarian administrations.) I believe that there is a solution to this.
There are several foundational belief systems within the Libertarian Party. These belief systems all have foundational similarities in addition to the differences we all have. We have a platform, and there will always be pressure to amend that platform from within. This is healthy. We have principles, and most of us have no issue with these principles.
We need a simpler definition of what is a Libertarian, which is based upon the similarities, and leave the differences to the platform debates. If we can achieve this, people who wish to join our movement might receive less attacks and feel more welcome. People entering the movement get scared right back to where they came from after they run into the wrong person.
When a person becomes disenfranchised with their political party and makes the first move to get to know us, we need to be welcoming and we need to recognize that sometimes it can take a bit of time before a person can fully understand and embrace the Libertarian way of thinking. Most of us have a public school education, and that education does not provide the free thought needed to recognize that a system of much smaller government would enhance individual liberty. If we are kind and welcoming to these people, they are more likely to have the time to fully comprehend where we are coming from.
The best way to allow for growth of the party (which is imperative if we ever intend to change the course of the country) is to have a few simple and basic foundations. If a person agrees with these foundations, they are a Libertarian whether they are a moderate, radical, anarchist, or any combination of these. If these principles can never be changed then there is a consistent definition of what is a Libertarian and we can welcome these new people in and not be as concerned about any possibility of infiltration. The result… our party grows, wins elections, rebuilds the cause of Liberty and allows the people to live their chosen lives in peace. Government retracts and stays out of our lives. The people can grow to their full potential and enjoy the satisfaction of freedom that was intended for us.
After all, would we rather sit around and complain and be judgmental of each other, or would it be better for us to band together and make a difference? I can tell you that complaining never got me anywhere, so I ran for President because I wanted to make a difference. I hope you all will join me in that goal.