Libertarians Need To Engage With Politics If They Ever Wish To Go Forward

By Jadon Buzzard | United States

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to read Basic American Government, by Clarence B. Carson. I remember it like it was yesterday. I didn’t want to read that American government book; it seemed pretty boring. Yet I did, and it changed my life.

Eventually, I began to enjoy it immensely, leading me to pour over its pages for simple pleasure reading. The ideas expressed within it were new to me, and yet they made sense. The author spoke of the inefficiency and immorality of many modern governmental programs. Economically, the author took a stance I hadn’t been seriously exposed to until that moment: Libertarianism.

Clarence Carson reduced the role of government to the simple protection of natural rights, as tariffs, regulation, and subsidies were all proven to be both ineffective at bringing about their respective goals and directly violate basic natural rights.

After finishing the book, I began to explore different avenues to learn about this interesting subject. I began to think critically about current events, forming opinions and using argumentation to support my political stances. I began to read literature on Libertarianism, listening to podcasts, and engaging in discussion with my friends and family about many key issues. This period of my life was key, for it allowed me to get excited about this new subject, which would come to shape my worldview and many of my activities later on. Learning about Libertarianism pushed me to action, inspiring me to strive to make a difference in my community.

Yet certain individuals seem hesitant to take a strong stance when it comes to Libertarianism.

I have quite a few friends, many of whom share my political beliefs when it comes to governmental intervention in the economy and the drug war, who choose to keep silent. This phenomenon seems to reflect the nationwide perception among youth that their voices don’t matter, or that philosophy and politics are rather boring. They’d rather engage in activities other than those which involve the direct actions our government takes in the economy, actions that can have severe political and moral implications on those same youth.

Other, more “hardcore”, libertarians argue that we cannot engage with our political system because it is unjust. They remind us that government as an institution is inherently evil and will always violate individuals’ rights by its very nature.

I strongly disagree with both of these often-employed arguments involving political engagement, especially among libertarians. I contend that political engagement, whether at the federal, state, or local level, is a worthwhile goal, and ought to be the route every serious libertarian engages in at one level or another.

Let’s start with the idea that politics is boring, and that there are many other activities which may be more enjoyable. First, I argue politics is enjoyable no matter what your preferences are. Politics encompasses almost every single topic area, from food to video games to scientific discovery. Why? Because government intervention exists in every one of those areas, and a libertarian ought to oppose most of those regulations.

If you’re truly passionate about writing, for example, form an opinion about the government’s copyright and intellectual property laws. Whether you agree with these laws or not is virtually irrelevant at this point. If you are truly passionate about the subject, you ought to do everything in your power to see that it is more widely available and enjoyed. Government intervention is inherently tied to this, and thus politics provides you an avenue through which you can both learn about your favorite topic and allow it to flourish, no matter what it is.

My second argument here is that tastes and preferences are malleable. You are not restricted to one set of enjoyable activities from birth until death; preferences change with experience.

This has two implications: first, you can actually change your tastes and preferences to match activities which are better for you long-term. Political engagement, I argue, is beneficial in the long term because of the knowledge you glean and the effects that it has on the overall economy. Thus, even if you don’t enjoy politics now, you ought to work on changing your preferences to match that which will provide you with the most long-term happiness.

The second implication is that your preferences will naturally change as you discover new things. Give politics a try, you may end up enjoying it more than you thought you would. Read literature on political philosophy (The Ethics of Liberty, by Murray Rothbard, is a great start). Start talking with people about the different ideas you encounter. When you’re ready, bring it to the governmental level by calling your representatives and senators. Be vocal about policies you agree with, and challenge policies you believe are immoral or ineffective. Utilize effective argumentation here, especially when criticizing another person’s political beliefs or policy. As the saying goes, attack the argument, not person.

Ultimately, my contention here boils down to a key issue: politics is certainly not boring, and even if it is, it doesn’t have to be.

This brings me to the next set of libertarians that often oppose involvement in our governmental system. These individuals tend to employ a philosophical approach, arguing that any connection with government is wrong since government is inherently immoral. I have two separate responses to this argument, the first examining the alternatives to political engagement, the other involving a direct justification for engaging in the system.

Let’s start with the alternatives. If one does not engage with the system, he or she can either take no action or take violent action outside of normal means. The first results in, well, nothing. Keeping arguments and ideas inside, never allowing them to push you to action, violates the purpose of those ideas. Your political stances exist to motivate you to some sort of action. Even if you don’t want to run for office, you still ought to support and criticize policies in our current governmental system. Refusing to engage at all reveals a deeper fact: perhaps you don’t care as much about your beliefs as you originally thought. Either way, action is warranted.

This, however, brings us to the other alternative of violent action outside of the normal process of government. I’m not talking about civil disobedience or seceding from society, both of which are justifiable political actions. Rather, I’m speaking of a violent overthrow of the current government in order to institute a “truly libertarian” society.

This approach is flawed on many levels. A violent overthrow necessarily undermines the property rights and self-ownership of many individuals who have taken no coercive action. Violence always implicates bystanders, who could be harmed or killed in the process. This is extremely counter-intuitive; the violent “saviors” of property rights have transformed into the very tyrants they abhor. This approach also assumes that all of government is always unjust. Is this really the case? Even if it is, are you sure enough about your conclusion that you’re willing to expose innocent people to extreme risk simply to bring about your preferred political outcomes? It seems to me that such action does not logically follow, given the inherent risks involved.

The second critique I have against these individuals involves my justification for political engagement.

First, I argue that one is only implicated in the immorality of government system when either his policies undermine natural rights or he is directly profiting off of immoral governmental systems. Neither of these are necessarily the case. Libertarians’ policies often oppose governmental bureaucracy and many libertarian activists are currently supported by grassroots donations. One certainly does not have to accept money offered to them by the government, and even if they do accept it, they don’t have to accept all of it. Some can be donated back to the people it was taken from, or utilized in spreading the Libertarian message. The impact here is that it is possible for a true libertarian to work inside government without undermining his belief system.

Finally, even if we accept that all of government is immoral, working within government is the best way forward in light of the alternatives. Many libertarians don’t willingly support working within the government they oppose, but because the alternatives are counter-productive, they’ve been coerced into doing so. Political engagement is the only way to successfully implement libertarian ideology in a consistent and safe manner. Slow transitions will have to work, we must make them. It’s easy to lose motivation when there is no mob pushing us into a shootout with the government. But again, violence doesn’t solve, and it can often alienate individuals who would otherwise wholeheartedly join the movement. Thus, political engagement is justified because it is the result of coercion from the current government and the undesirability of the alternatives.

Policy debate, which I competed in at both the high school and collegiate levels, taught me that the impact of an argument is critical. What is the impact here? Young people need to get involved in both in local and state politics. They need to become familiarized with the arguments employed both for and against government intervention and a minimalist state. And how can we expect young people to engage in political discussion when adults often brush politics aside? Both young and old need to realize the importance of engaging with these arguments. This is especially important for libertarians, as we are often underrepresented in the legislatures and the judicial system. The only way that will change is through direct involvement in those bodies. Young people can have a huge influence on the government in upcoming years. The question is, will they take advantage of the opportunity?

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