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Why not to vote Libertarian

Evaluating a candidate of the Libertarian Party (LP) is very different from evaluating a candidate of the Republican or Democratic Party. The major parties stand for no ideology. Each is an amalgamation of pragmatic, concrete-bound positions, driven by no discernible theme.

By contrast, the LP—like, say, the Communist Party or the Green Party—does represent an ideology. It is regarded as an advocate of an unorthodox set of ideas. It declares in its platform that it seeks to “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual,” and all its positions are supposed to follow from that premise. A vote for the LP is a vote for its ideology.

So the crucial question becomes: what in fact is that ideology?

Harry Binswanger, in his post, has already indicated the devious ways in which the LP’s platform has been crafted to accommodate the views of anarchists. But the LP does not explicitly endorse those views. It is nominally non-anarchist. What it does endorse, however, is not only a tacit form of anarchism, but worse: the equating of anarchism with capitalism.

  • When its platform declares: “We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering or monitoring the ownership, manufacture or transfer of firearms or ammunition”—it is rejecting the means by which government protects the individual’s rights. In a free society, one is legally prohibited from engaging in any activity that poses an objective threat to others. While there is a right to use guns in self-defense, as defined by law, there is no right to the unrestricted possession of deadly weapons. Allowing anyone to have any firearms he wishes—allowing someone, for example, to walk the streets with a machine gun—clearly places everyone else’s rights in jeopardy.
  • When its platform declares: “We assert the common-law right of juries to judge not only the facts but also the justice of the law”—it is rejecting the means by which government protects the individual’s rights. The purpose of law in a free society is to make objective the prohibitions against the private initiation of force and the authorizations of government’s retaliatory use of force. By giving a group of citizens the power to nullify any law they happen not to like, including perfectly rational laws, the LP is negating the entire function of laws. (I agree with HB’s suggestions about recusing yourself if you are a juror on a case involving a patently unjust law.)
  • When its platform declares, in the very first sentence under “International Affairs”: “American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world”—it is rejecting the means by which government protects the individual’s rights. Peace is a byproduct of a policy of laissez-faire—and so, sometimes, is war. The fundamental value of any proper foreign policy is not peace, but freedom. A government committed to its citizens’ freedom will abide by two equally important imperatives: it will refrain from initiating force anywhere and it will resolutely take military action if and when that freedom is threatened.

A mentality that regards the existence of government per se as odious will not distinguish between initiated and retaliatory force on the part of a government. It will simply mandate, as stated in the LP’s platform, that we “avoid entangling alliances” and “end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid.” Can there be alliances that enhance our defense against aggression? Can there be military efforts that protect our freedom? It’s all part of one big hash called “intervention,” according to the LP, and should be condemned. (Yes, the platform states that we should maintain “a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression,” but that’s just window dressing. Whenever there is occasion for the proper use of military force—against ISIS, for instance—the libertarian directive invariably is: “non-intervention.”)

The LP is thus guilty of more than making wrong applications of the principle of laissez-faire. It is conveying to the public the noxious message that laissez-faire means “non-interventionism.” The message of this anti-concept is that “liberty” requires the elimination of even legitimate functions of government. In the LP’s view, for the same reason that the state should not forcibly intervene in an employer’s decision on what to pay his own workers, it should also not forcibly “intervene” in Iran’s decision on whether to acquire its own nuclear weapons.

Is this how the cause of liberty is supposed to be advanced?

Given the major-party candidates in this election, I’m sympathetic to the desire to cast some sort of protest vote. But you wouldn’t cast a “protest” vote for the Socialist Workers Party, just because it opposes government bailouts of Big Business. Or for the Christian Liberty Party, just because it wants to end all government welfare programs. Why then vote for the Libertarian Party just because it wants to cut the size of government? The right conclusion for the wrong reason is the wrong conclusion.
Are there any circumstances under which I would consider voting for a Libertarian candidate? Sure. All that is needed is for the LP to issue a statement along the following lines:

“We disavow our past ties to, and tolerance of, anarchism. We hereby proclaim our repudiation of anarchism because it contradicts the principle of individual rights. We now regard government not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary good, so long as it restricts itself to its proper function of defending its citizens against all threats of force, domestic or foreign.”

Until and unless that happens, my vote will go elsewhere.