Libertarians Divided Over Two Big Questions of Strategy

As the liberty movement is propelled into a position of serious influence and power by the combined forces of the Ron Paul Revolution and the overwhelmingly meddlesome, ever-growing Bush-Obama state, two serious questions of strategy arise:

1) How should libertarians advance the cause of liberty:  through political action or through gradual social change?

Gradual social change has been the goal of numerous organizations and think tanks for decades. Ayn Rand preferred this path, believing the current American society to be unfit for genuine freedom. Organizations like Students for Liberty focus on this method exclusively.

Most actual social change in the libertarian direction to date seems to have occurred as a result of the more obscene assaults by the state on individual liberty. While the organizations in the libertarian movement have certainly supplied the right ideas at the right times, their concrete influence appears thoroughly limited. Hillary Clinton did give partial credit to the Cato Institute for toppling her universal healthcare bid, but the ultimate trophy invariably ends up in the hands of politicians and special interests with agendas that favor liberty only when it suits them.

A good example of a current potential failure in social change is the Tea Party movement. There is plenty of fear among libertarians that the whole spectacle will one day be co-opted by the Republican Party and rendered ineffective in triggering real change.

So what about political action? Before Ron Paul’s 2008 bid for the Republican nomination, libertarian efforts at political success were largely limited to the activities of the Libertarian Party. This produced some success at the local levels, but not much of an impact overall.

The Ron Paul Revolution changed this entirely. “Liberty candidates” and “Ron Paul Republicans” are running for office around the country on Republican (and Independent) tickets, driven in part by the Tea Party Movement. Rand Paul won a spectacular primary victory in Kentucky. Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty are mobilizing activists to win on principle — in real, current political races. Projects such as Year of Youth 2012 promise further political expansion. The power of political organizing showed up beautifully when Campaign for Liberty and YAL helped Ron Paul win the CPAC 2010 straw poll.

Social change is a long-term project never to be forgotten, but if libertarians actually want to live in a free country at some real point in time, they must capitalize on political opportunities as they come along. Now is the time for action. Let us not waste resources starting book clubs when we can take over parts of the government and throw off a few of our many chains.

2) Should libertarians use the existing machinery of the two major political parties to advance the cause of liberty — and, if so, of which one?

As pointed out above, the Libertarian Party has not had much success and the current two-party system (until we can dismantle it) will not allow that to change. The solution is simple. In certain areas of the country, we now have the support to win primaries and elections on sugar-coated-rhetoric-for-conservatives platforms — as Republicans.

The potential for libertarian victories on the American right seems obvious, but, unfortunately, the cultural agendas of some libertarians prevent them from buying into this opportunity.  Some intellectuals, such as Cato’s Brink Lindsey and a good majority of Objectivists, consider a compromise with right-libertarians to be too high a price for libertarian victories. Consider these despicable comments by Lindsey.

The fact remains that some libertarians continue making the case for “liberaltarianism,” the fusion of liberals and libertarians to promote the cause of liberty. Whether this is, as I think, philosophically absurd and completely unfeasible is a separate debate, but so far experience shows that it is little more than a pipe dream with no corresponding political reality. Cooperation between libertarians and the left can only ever involve tactical work on single issues.

Real change, real political victories, real liberty in our lifetime: these are the promises of real political action on the American right today. Let us not allow philosophical folly and petty differences to cause us to lose the momentum that the R3volution has given us. Let us capitalize on it, and take our country back.

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