During a recent Lions Of Liberty podcast, Libertarian Party Chair Nicholas Sarwark discussed the 2016 election, Gary Johnson’s campaign, and more. Nearing the end of the episode the conversation shifted towards Bill Weld’s “impure” message which was righteously defended by Sarwark. Although, when Ron Paul was put up by the host as an example of a “pure” libertarian message, the Chair took issue. Following a forced “I don’t want to speak ill of Dr. Paul”… Sarwark spoke ill of the good Doctor. According to the Chair of the Libertarian Party, supporting “states’ rights is not a libertarian position”.
That wasn’t the end of it either. Sarwark followed up by saying that Ron Paul had other positions that were “straight up wrong and anti-libertarian” without deigning to provide more than that one example. Sarwark doubled down on his attack on states’ rights by claiming that Ron Paul’s belief that states should regulate marriage is not libertarian. Unfortunately, his attack on states’s rights only obfuscated the the more important argument that Sarwark was making about the dangers of a cult of personality. That is a legitimate argument, but it was overshadowed by the aimless attack on a very popular libertarian issue.
States’ rights enjoys widespread support among libertarians of all stripes. It’s odd that the Chair of the Libertarian Party would seek to criticize such a popular idea especially after defending the idea that libertarians need not be purists. Immediately following his defense of Bill Weld’s imperfect libertarian message, Sarwark criticized Ron Paul’s much more pure policies. It’s a strange train of thought seeing as the majority of libertarians would probably make the opposite argument. Despite that, the fact is both Bill Weld and Ron Paul should be defended from the purists – not just one or the other. They’ve both contributed greatly to the liberty movement and done so more effectively by moderating their views on select issues.
That aside, states’ rights is a legitimate libertarian position. Reducing the power of the Federal government is noble goal and the support of states’ rights helps accomplish it. Nullification and other measures taken by the states such as Constitutional amendments offer practical ways of limiting government power. There’s nothing anti-libertarian about that. Furthermore, the states are far more responsive to citizens’ demands than the Federal government and can be petitioned directly. Marijuana legalization, for example, has been accomplished at the state level by taking a states’ rights approach. It’s perfectly libertarian to support such a policy.
Libertarians can debate about the merits of this position as they see fit. Although, a large majority would likely support states’ rights as being perfectly libertarian. Regardless, this isn’t a position that Nicholas Sarwark should be debating in his official capacity. It’s not up to Chair of the Libertarian Party to determine what is or is not libertarian. It would be best for the party if he would to stick to supporting libertarian candidates instead of stirring debate among libertarians.