How the Libertarian Party Became the Party of Reform and the Party of Republican-Lite
For the past 30 years, the driving force of the Libertarian Party has been twofold: one, advocating welfare-warfare state reform measures and, two, recruiting disgruntled Republicans to come into the Libertarian Party and run for office as L.P. candidates.
In the process, the party has lost its original brand — a brand that originally stood for principled, uncompromising liberty. Although the L.P. retained its self-imposed motto of the “Party of Principle,” in reality it became the Party of Reform and the Party of Republican-Lite. Another option would be the “Party of Republican-Libertarian Mush,” which depicts a combination of Republican and Libertarian principles in some sort of political and ideological mush or hash.
A few examples include the advocacy of welfare-state reform measures that are popular within the Republican Party: privatizing or saving Social Security, health-savings accounts, securing the border, regulatory reform, the decriminalization of marijuana (as compared to the legalization of all drugs), selective foreign interventionism, restrictions on the Federal Reserve, reductions in the Pentagon budget, and CIA reform, as well as the embrace of popular Republican mantras, such as “reducing the size of government.”
How did this happen? How did the Party of Principle become the Party of Reform, the Party of Republican-Lite, and the Party of Republican-Libertarian Mush? More important, how do we restore the Libertarian brand to one of principled, uncompromising liberty, and how do we restore Libertarian Party as the Party of Principle?
The answer to those questions requires us to go back to the Great Depression in the 1930s, during the administration of Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt. That was when the socialist concept of a welfare state swept across America like a tsunami. That was when Social Security, a concept that originated among socialists in Germany, was enacted.
For some 30 years, Republicans opposed this new welfare-state direction. In 1964, the Republican candidate for president was Barry Goldwater, who favored the repeal of Social Security and who opposed the concept of a welfare state. President Lyndon Johnson massacred him, winning 61 percent of the popular vote. Goldwater won only six states, including his home state of Arizona.
At that point, Republicans were faced with an enormous choice: Do they continue opposing the welfare-state way of life and continue losing elections? Or do they accept the welfare-state way of life and gain political success by proposing ways to reform it?
They chose the latter. They threw in the towel and resigned themselves to supporting and defending the welfare state but, at the same time, coming up with what they called “free-market” reforms of the welfare state.
Moreover, by this time the federal government had been converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state, which consisted of the Pentagon, the vast and ever-growing military-industrial complex, the CIA, the NSA, and, to a certain extent, the FBI. Most Republicans and Democrats were unequivocally committed to the conversion, notwithstanding the omnipotent powers that came with it, including the power to commit state-sponsored assassinations. They maintained that the conversion was necessary to protect America from a supposed international communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Russia.
That meant that there was no political party standing for genuine liberty — i.e., the repeal, not reform, of the welfare-warfare state way of life — and for the restoration of America’s founding system of a limited-government republic.
Enter the Libertarian Party. It was founded in 1971 precisely for that purpose — to provide the American people with a political party that stood squarely and unequivocally for liberty and rejected the entire welfare-warfare state concept. Political success through vote-getting was considered of secondary importance. Of primary importance was the goal of achieving a genuinely free society. Getting L.P. candidates into public office was considered to be the means of leading America to freedom.
Around 30 years ago, disgruntled Republicans began leaving the Republican Party and coming into the Libertarian Party. In fact, the party leadership even targeted disgruntled Republicans as part of efforts to “grow” the party’s membership. At first it was a trickle, but over time the influx of disgruntled Republican became a flood into the Libertarian Party.
The problem is that those many of those disgruntled Republicans brought much of their Republican or conservative baggage with them. Their baggage included their embrace of Republican reform measures and their practical or pragmatic mindsets regarding political success.
The disgruntled Republicans argued the Libertarian Party was a political party, not a debating society or an educational foundation. The aim of any political party, they maintained, was electing party members to public office. That, they said, should be the true goal of the Libertarian Party.
Moreover, they made the same practical or pragmatic argument that had caused the Republican Party to throw in the towel after the Goldwater debacle. They said that L.P. candidates would never get elected to office if they continued to oppose Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, foreign interventionism, the national-security state, and the entire welfare-warfare state apparatus. In order to achieve political success, they said, the L.P. would have to do what Republicans did — settle for reform and advocate reform in its political campaigns.
That practical or pragmatic mindset ultimately became the driving force within the L.P. That’s when L.P. candidates began embracing popular Republican reform measures, such as school vouchers, health-savings accounts, privatizing or saving Social Security, immigration controls, and many others.
But here is the kicker: The disgruntled Republicans also convinced Libertarians that all these reform measures were, in fact, libertarian. They argued that libertarianism is a long spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are the pure principles of libertarianism. At the other end of the spectrum, they maintained, were welfare-warfare state reform measures. Thus, a L.P. candidate could feel perfectly comfortable embracing and supporting reform measures because they were considered to be “libertarian” even if they were at the bottom end of the spectrum.
Making matters worse was the fact that some libertarian think tanks, educational foundations, and magazines were also throwing in the towel and moving toward the advocacy of conservative or right-wing welfare-warfare state reform measures. In the process, they reinforced what was happening within the LP by claiming that such reform measures were, in fact, “libertarian.” If anyone challenged them on this, they would simply respond in a derogatory fashion, "Oh, you’re just trying to show that you’re more principled or more libertarian than me."
Equally important, the L.P. could feel perfectly comfortable importing disgruntled Republicans into the Libertarian Party to run as L.P. candidates because both the L.P. and the Republicans shared the same reform-oriented, practical mindsets.
Thus, over the past 30 years, the Libertarian Party slowly but surely became the Party of Reform, the Party of Republican-Lite, and the Party of Republican-Libertarian Mush. That’s also why the L.P. continues to be referred to today by non-libertarians as right-wing or conservative.
In the process, many L.P. candidates lost — or never even gained — the ability to competently make the case for the genuine principles of libertarianism — e.g., the separation of school and state, the abolition of Social Security and Medicare, the legalization of all drugs, open borders, and the dismantling of the national-security state.
In my article last week “The L.P. Leadership and the “Party of Principle,” I pointed out that the new LNC — the one that took control over the Libertarian Party last spring as a result of what was called the “Reno Reset” — recently featured a talk at one of its social functions that advocated school vouchers rather than the genuine libertarian position of separating school and state. I also pointed out that the new LNC had recruited and funded two disgruntled Republican MAGA-Trumpsters, who had lost their races in the Republican primaries, to come over to the L.P. and become L.P. candidates.
Or course, these two events reflect perfectly the direction that the L.P. has been taking for 30 years. But in my opinion, one should not be overly critical about this. Why? Because that is all that many, if not most, LP members today know. In other words, if someone has joined the L.P. in the last 30 years, he has been inculcated with the notion that reform is libertarian and that running Republican candidates as L.P. candidate is perfectly normal.
But there has always been one obstacle standing in the way of all this: the libertarian non-aggression principle. Welfare-warfare state reform measures involve the initiation of force. That, of course, doesn’t matter to Republicans. But for Libertarians, it is of the utmost importance. That’s why the L.P. even requires people to sign a written Pledge stating that they subscribe to the libertarian non-aggression principle.
Thus, today, L.P. members must do some serious soul-searching. Do you want a political party that supports welfare-warfare state reform measures that constitute violations of the core principle of the libertarian philosophy as well as violations of the Pledge that L.P. members take? Or do you want to restore the Libertarian brand to one of pure liberty?
The Libertarian Party has the potential of leading America out of the highly destructive and dangerous statist morass into which both Republicans and Democrats have plunged our nation. But it will not — and cannot — do so by being the Party of Reform, or the Party of Republican-Lite, or the Party of Republican-Libertarian Mush. To lead America to liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony, the Libertarian Party must, once again, become the Party of Principle.
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