September 29, 2016

An Anarcho-Capitalist’s Case for Gary Johnson 2016

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In the strangest presidential election year ever, the surprises keep on coming. Some of them are pleasant, though, including the huge surge in attention being paid the Libertarian Party.

Four years ago, a little over 20 press passes were issued to cover its national convention. This past weekend, over 250 journalists joined a record number of delegates at a convention that made the 2012 RNC seem like “the dance of the living dead,” as Rodney Dangerfield would put it.

But just as the Republican and Democratic Parties are deeply divided this year, so, too is the Libertarian Party, for relatively the same reasons. The Party’s winning presidential ticket, Gary Johnson/William Weld, aren’t viewed as true libertarians by almost half of the party’s delegates. The cybersphere is replete with comments and blogs from hardcore libertarians saying the Libertarian Party no longer represents them, that it’s nothing more than Republican Party Lite, etc.

I believe they’re wrong.

For the record, I am an anarcho-capitalist, which I believe is the only way to be 100% libertarian. Since just before Lew Rockwell outed me in 2011, I have believed the only way the human race will ever really free itself is to reject the state completely, along with all its works, and all its empty promises. And I believe we will get there. Someday, people will consider government itself as much a barbaric anachronism as we consider state religions today.

But getting rid of state religions took 5,000 years. Libertarianism has only been around a little over 300. Anarcho-capitalism is even younger. This is going to take time and, in the meantime, the political process is one of many avenues to try to advance liberty within the present framework. Voting is a 15-minute commitment. It doesn’t cost anything in terms of time or money and doesn’t stop one from pursuing liberty in any other way, including agorism, civil disobedience (but I repeat myself), homeschooling, etc.

The Libertarian Party has nominated some of the greatest voices of liberty in the past half century, including Ron Paul, Harry Browne and Michael Badnarik. Neither Johnson nor Weld are nearly as purely libertarian as any of these giants, but they’re going to get far more votes. Dissatisfaction with Trump and HIllary is certainly one reason. But it’s not the only one.

Libertarians don’t want to hear the other reason, but I’ll say it anyway. Contrary to libertarian-ish (in rhetoric only) icon Ronald Reagan, government is not the problem. The electorate is. As a social media friend remarked, “If you want to find out how interested your neighbors are in individual liberty, just go to your local planning board meeting.”

The truth is most Americans in 2016 aren’t ready for an ideologically pure libertarian message. This is an electorate that is angry with Washington, D.C. for not doing more, not for meddling too much. Grassroots conservatives complain Obama has gutted the military and (gasp!) negotiated with Iran. Grassroots liberals believe markets are too free and corporations “run rampant.”

Thanks to Trump and Hillary, millions of these Americans are going to find the Libertarian Party for the very first time. If the first thing they hear is “abolish the police,” “close all public schools” or “disband the army,” (all positions this writer would support), they’re going to stop listening immediately, never to be seen or heard from again.

Johnson/Weld has the potential to attract millions of new members to the Libertarian Party where they will be exposed to the far more libertarian views of most of its members. And no, this will not destroy the party or libertarianism as a philosophy, just as electing centrist Bill Clinton did not destroy the Democratic Party or the progressive philosophy. On the contrary, Clinton strengthened the party, paving the way for the far more progressive Barack Obama and the overtly socialist Bernie Sanders.

Perhaps a musical analogy would help. In the 1950s, white kids were discouraged from or forbidden to listen to black artists playing what was disparaged as “jungle music,” a.k.a. “rock ‘n roll.” Then, along came Pat Boone with a sexless, rather cringeworthy version of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.”

Despite Little Richard’s hilarious rant in Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll! about Pat Boone stealing his song, he admitted in a quieter moment that Boone’s whitewashed cover actually helped him, by introducing millions of white listeners to a style of music they may never have otherwise heard, at least at that time. Posterity reveres Little Richard as a founding father of rock ‘n roll. Pat Boone may be remembered for other things, but not that.

Gary Johnson might just be the Pat Boone of libertarianism for an American public subconsciously yearning for the real thing, but not yet ready to hear it.

Let there be no mistake. I disagree with Johnson on all of the same grounds as the hardest core libertarians. He’s wrong on bake the cake, in my opinion. I agree with Darryl Perry he’s wrong on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And let’s be clear about what Perry and I disagree with: only Titles II and VII, which deny freedom of association to private individuals. Perry and I are both glad the federal government came in and crushed Jim Crow laws, “states’ rights” be damned.

Anyone who’s read my latest book knows I agree with Tom Woods: libertarianism is not “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” It is a philosophy unto itself, with its own first principles. Woods and I disagree on the strategic value of a Johnson/Weld Libertarian Party Presidential ticket.

But let’s get some perspective here. If these are the worst of Johnson’s heresies against libertarianism, then I have to ask many of my fellow libertarians why they aren’t applying the same measuring stick to Donald Trump, whose only libertarian position is his noninterventionist foreign policy. Because of this alone, they’re willing to excuse Trump’s full-throated endorsement of NSA spying on American citizens, shutting down the internet, protectionist tariffs and promises to expand the military, if not to use it as often. Johnson is far more libertarian on all of these issues than Trump.

Even on foreign policy, Johnson is better. For, while both men agree the interventionist policy must change, both questioning NATO and the overseas military empire, Trump still promises yet another war, against ISIS. Johnson has made no such indication. Johnson told this writer he is willing to go “all the way” down the road of bringing U.S. troops home from overseas deployments, adding “something drastic needs to be done” with U.S. foreign policy.

The purest libertarians don’t believe there is any legitimate role for government, as Darryl Perry also pointed out in last weekend’s debate. Any involvement in politics at all evokes the old joke about the prostitute (Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? Sure! Would you sleep with me for $25? No, what do you think I am, a hooker? We’ve already established that. Now, we’re just bickering about price.)

If we’re going to pursue liberty through the political process at all, the only way to do so is to have a reasonable shot at winning. Even Ron Paul said that. That doesn’t mean selling out our principles. That nominating Gary Johnson is doing so is as hysterical an overstatement as the typical, neocon “Insert-Dictator-Name-Here is Hitler” meme.

As much as I abhor the left’s agenda, I am realistic about one thing: they’ve played it smart. The 20th century was as overwhelming a victory for progressivism as one could imagine. They didn’t achieve that by dogmatically refusing to support any candidate who parted with them on one or two issues. On the contrary, they got behind anyone who supported any of their positions, regardless of how ideologically impure the candidate may have been from their perspective.

It’s time for the Libertarian Party to play it smart, like the left has, albeit for different ends. The real world isn’t a think tank. Get behind Johnson/Weld and seize the opportunity pounding on your door. You have nothing to lose but your irrelevance.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Comments

  1. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for this essay. I think a lot more of the hardcore libertarians (of which I am one) should read it. I also listened to Tom Woods’s most recent podcast (Ep. 672), in which he briefly mentions this piece of yours. After listening to Woods I came here, and I have to say, I agree with you more, despite my initial aversion to Johnson (and I’m still not crazy about him). Woods’s point that Gary is by far not the best communicator of libertarianism is valid, but like you, I agree that a lot of the radicals do fail to appreciate how many people could really be reached by Johnson, even if to “the initiated” he is a compromised wannabe. I get and respect that, but they’re missing the point. Your Pat Boone analogy seems very apt. I do think there is a real threat of the Libertarian Party being co-opted as many radicals fear is happening, and that is something to watch out for. But maybe the radicals who are not convinced will be surprised by the influx Johnson could bring into the party — not of carpetbaggers, but of people who are genuinely intrigued by this thing called libertarianism. Only time will tell.

  2. The way I see it a dialogue has developed between right-wing ideologues and a large group of voters in which the ideologues pontificate against immigrants and the voters respond by voting for them. The act of voting may take a mere 15 minutes but psychologically it bonds a person to a group in their mind, as Hayek said in chapter 10 of the Road to Serfdom (Why the Worst get on top), according to the lowest common denominator. Trump is not something new but just a logical progression in this dialogue. So what I hope the Johnson campaign will do is provide a means for large numbers of (rationally) low-information voters to walk out of the voting booth feeling like they’re part of a group that’s “for freedom” however vague that feeling might be. Then they will start listening to libertarian ideas and refining their understanding. The common denominator will be liberty rather than hatred, fear, anger, or envy. No matter how vaguely understood, this could be the start of a conversation of sorts that will train the participants in the fine points of freedom the way we lucky ones stumbled across the intellectuals who trained us. Or not. But if we understand this then we can assist each in our own way.

  3. I agree with most of what you wrote. However, I consider myself a libertarian and I’m not an anarchist. As long as you believe in a limited government that follows the NAP, i.e. does not initiate force but only reacts to those that initiate force(criminals) I believe you can be a libertarian. Anarchism is not a prerequisite.

  4. There are conflicting definitions of “libertarian,” as this article illustrates. Classical libertarians admit legitimate roles for government, essentially comprising protection from crimes of force and fraud. Anarcho-capitalists like Tom Mullen are pretty much what used to be called plain old anarchists: they want pretty much everything privatized. I’m not sure if they think the state should have any role at all. But anarcho-capitalists like Tom Mullen now refer to their brand of anarchist as “100% libertarian.”

    That’s why I call myself a constitutional libertarian, which used to be called plain old libertarian, and before that (in the 18th century, for instance) used to be called liberalism (indeed, another name for it is classical liberalism). Under that view the People, through elected representatives, create and adopt a constitution that gives enumerated, legitimate, but circumscribed powers to the state (or as we say here, the several states and the federal government).

    And as any serious disciple of critical thinking knows, it’s impossible for a group of human beings to resolve anything when they can’t even agree on the definitions of the words they use to discuss any topic.

    • Anarchist used to mean some variety of radical leftist; denying the government went along with denying private property rights. In fact, even “libertarian” used to have this left-wing meaning, and you still get old left-anarchists like Chomsky calling themselves “libertarian”. Those who upheld private property rights, on the other hand, couldn’t conceive of how rights could be defended without government. The marriage of anti-statism with defense of private property rights is really the invention of Murray Rothbard and his radical form of right-libertarianism.

  5. I think this piece is well-argued, but I want to raise a possible objection. As Tom observes, the political trend is actually towards greater statism and dependence on government, rather than towards desire for more liberty. Some socially liberal libertarians like to think that promotion of pot legalization and gay marriage are evidence for a trend towards libertarianism, but the intolerance shown towards religious objectors to gay marriage, or towards tobacco smokers, only shows that one form of social intolerance is being replaced with another, with no overall progress towards greater tolerance and liberty.

    I think we should acknowledge the possibility that progressivism is a different political beast from libertarianism or conservatism. Progressives don’t need to worry about compromise on particular issues, because they know the broader political and cultural trend is towards bigger government and greater intolerance towards traditional social norms. Every time a conservative or libertarian compromises on an issue, however, you get the “ratchet effect”: any progressive idea or policy that gets incorporated into the libertarian program will stay there, while any libertarian idea that gets sacrificed in order to bring on progressives will be lost forever. Libertarians are fighting against the tide and cannot afford to allow themselves to be carried along the current. This means they will just have to work harder and be more vigilant against compromise. Compromise is a luxury that only progressives can afford.

  6. So what you’re saying is that we should compromise our principles for popularity, the same thing the people did who nominated GJ/Weld for the nomination, the same thing that GJ was *BEGGING* them to do in his appeal to get them to support Weld, even though he holds some extraordinarily hostile positions to liberty. You know, on the LP website, it says, “The Party of Principle”. If we’re constantly compromising those principles, what’s the point of having them in the first place? The compromising of principles is why we’re in the mess we’re in, in America.

    I sincerely hope that GJ *doesn’t* get into the debates, because he will do more harm to libertarianism than anyone has done since its inception. Trump or Hitlery would be remiss if they did not bring up the “Nazi Cakes” thing, which is going to leave GJ stuttering and stammering to either double down on that lunacy (which he’s already done on several occasions) OR change his tune and become a flip-flopper. GJ also supports going to war with N. Korea (he said so on Penn Jillette’s Podcast). GJ believes that legislation should be used to enforce morality. These are things which true libertarians fiercely oppose. And Weld…well, he supported so-called “assault weapon” bans, supported Obama, supported Obamacare and Mitt Romney. Is that what the LP is, the “republican-light” party?

    One of the major problems that I see with American politics is this “sports team” mentality and now it’s permeated the LP, too. People see winning as more important than sticking to their principles and this entire article smacks of that same mentality. As for me, I will continue to stand on principle, even if I stand alone.

  7. “Gary Johnson might just be the Pat Boone of libertarianism for an American public subconsciously yearning for the real thing, but not yet ready to hear it.”

    So much YES!

    I am also an an-cap, and I was just telling someone the other day that we need to bring those who tend towards classical liberalism and other ‘libertarianish’ ideas this POTUS cycle, then we have a wider and more attentive audience on a national/international stage for a better platform.

    Great piece Thanks for writing this, and for doing it well. I will be spreading it 😉

  8. I could almost agree with you if Johnson hadn’t picked Weld. That shows what kind of people he will surround himself and listen to. And I don’t think Johnson is going to actually convert anyone to libertarianism. Woods is right. Johnson is boring and actually has no interest in learning. He’s still bringing up gay marriage. I met him on the 2012 campaign trail and asked him why marriage was his lead issue when there were much more pressing issues. Johnson couldn’t give a straight answer. No pun intended.
    He also stated earlier this year that you can’t be a libertarian if you’re a social conservative. How is that building numbers?

  9. Rick Gibson says:

    I could almost be exhibit A for your argument. I heard about Gary Johnson yesterday through a news article, read his platform and liked it. I listened to a couple of interviews and it was rather refreshing compared to the Clinton or Trump messages; then I went to the Libertarian Party’s site and did some reading there. I liked what I read there as well.

    Bush was the last president I voted for but, after the Patriot Act, continuous meddling in the middle east, and sky rocketing debt, I could no longer vote Republican. I also think Democrats created the Trump phenomenon by attempting to enforce a secular liberal morality through the law, and by trying to play Robin-Hood by taking from the ‘rich’ (a.k.a everyone who lives above the poverty line) to give to the ‘poor’; now we are seeing the backlash.

    I thought maybe I finally found a party that represented my beliefs about government’s role. But then I listened to Woods case against Gary Johnson; Woods basically talked be out of being a Libertarian. So there goes your exhibit A, but that wasn’t Johnson’s fault. I’m against the US Military being a global police force — the DoD should not be the largest employer on the planet, but I’m not anti military. I’m against making a new law every time someone commits an atrocity that was already illegal, but I’m not for anarchy. I’m for small, limited government, but not for no government. So I guess will register independent, and vote for Johnson this time around.

Trackbacks

  1. […] on the Libertarian Party Convention,” by Jeff Deist “An Anarcho-Capitalist’s Case for Gary Johnson 2016,” by Tom […]

  2. […] Article by Tom Mullen: An Anarcho-Capitalist’s Case For Gary Johnson 2016 […]

  3. […] more mainstream argument for Johnson/Weld An anarcho-capitalist defense of support for […]

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