Former IPR writer Peter Orvetti posted this article at LibertyForAll.net. Although the article discusses the larger libertarian movement, which encompasses independents, members of a variety of large and small political parties and non-voters, the issues he discusses here are directly applicable to the Libertarian Party – and by more general implication, to all alternative parties and alternative political movements. Reposted by Paulie with permission of the author.
Is there room inside the libertarian movement for a moderate? Is there such a thing as a libertarian moderate?
Any small but passionate cause runs the risk of creating an echo chamber. The libertarian movement is experiencing remarkable growth online — a happy by-product of the simultaneous rise of Ron Paul and social networking — which means activists can communicate and organize across great distances with ease. But it also means the members of the small group can come to interact entirely with others in that same small group, creating the misimpression that all the world shares its views.
The American far left has long used the echo chamber effect as a salve against its own irrelevance, with members of scads of indistinguishably didactic communist parties fighting one another for domination of the red hearts and minds of a few hundred adherents. Though the libertarian movement is much broader, the echo chamber is there. Many libertarians would sooner be accused of doing lewd things with their own mothers than be called “statists” — yet most people do not even know what that word means, let alone know why it is supposedly so awful. The echo chamber produces cult-like reverence for names obscure to the masses, like Mises and Rothbard and Browne: all great men indeed, but of little interest to folks outside the movement looking for solutions to the nation’s ever-worsening woes.
A “moderate” libertarian could easily feel like a reactionary in such a closed circle. But in the harsh light of the non-libertarian political arena, that “moderate” will quickly be reminded how out of the mainstream even vaguely libertarian notions like drug legalization, the abolition of victimless crimes, and a non-aggressive foreign policy really are.
This breed of libertarian does not seek the abolition of government, but believes that local government is best, as it is closest to the people impacted, and carries the fewest layers of bureaucracy. He believes there is a difference between the notion that a goal is a good one, and the insistence that the government must assert responsibility for achieving that goal. He concedes that government can and has been a positive factor in the lives of many, but insists on examining whether a non-governmental solution could work better. He believes any government effort, no matter how well-intended, must be considered in light of the unwilling person forced to fund it.
But while this libertarian is a republican, she is no Republican. She believes in the absolute right of the individual to do with his life and his body whatever he pleases, so long as he does not expect to compel others to aid him should his choices turn out to be bad ones. If a man wants to spend his life shooting up heroin, he has every right to do so — so long as he does not expect the rest of us to pay for his rehab. If a woman wants to cut through the hypocrisy of sexual politics that permit 89-year-old billionaires to marry 26-year-old aspiring models, but that toss people in jail for more directly exchanging funds for fun, she has that right as well.
This libertarian is not an isolationist but is a peaceful internationalist, believing that the best way to stop wars is to break down the economic and social barriers between nations. He knows that the best way to end wars is to keep them from starting, by declining to meddle in the affairs of other sovereign nations. He knows the next generation of terrorists is being created by today’s wars, just as those who strike against America today were created by America in the proxy wars against the Soviet Union.
But this libertarian differs from her purist peers. She accepts that government, like the poor, we will always have with us. She has no practical objection to things like government roads and parks, and is concerned by what would happen to the desperate if the “safety net” should completely disappear. It is her goal to make libertarian ideals achievable within the realities of the present day, by working to keep government as uninvasive and as local as possible, and prefers to focus on the expansion of freedoms rather than the contraction of the state — while bearing in mind that the two go hand-in-hand.
Do you see room for this breed of libertarian in your movement?
Peter Orvetti was an early political blogger in the United States, running his Orvetti.com political news report from 1997 through 2002. He is a past editorial writer for the Cato Institute, served as Deputy Director of Communications for the Libertarian Party in the lead-up to the 2000 party convention, and has published commentaries in several major newspapers. Contact Mr. Orvetti at email@example.com.