How to Select a Libertarian Presidential Candidate (If You Must)

After every presidential election, libertarians of the political activist persuasion invariably critique and analyze, offering a variety of explanations for why so few voters found the Libertarian Party candidate worthy of their support. One recurring theme, among several, is that the Party needs to recruit a celebrity candidate, usually of the macho action hero type. Names that get mentioned include Jesse Ventura, the erstwhile one term governor of Minnesota, actor Clint Eastwood, and action movie hero, bodybuilder champion Arnold Schwarzenegger, now California governor. In the past, I have pooh-poohed such proposals, characterizing them as a futile and ultimately discouraging quest for a magic silver bullet. Although still skeptical, I am coming around to something near agreement. But the analysis on which I base my conclusions differs substantially from what other libertarians typically have to say on the subject.

There are four kinds of people in the world. Really. Beginning with Hippocrates in ancient Greece, scientists and philosophers interested in human nature (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Paracelsus) have made the same observation right up to the present day. In the late 20th Century, the theory was thoroughly developed by psychologist David Keirsey, who uses the term "temperament," to describe the phenomenon. One of these four temperaments is best suited for, and most successful at, political campaigning, particularly in this age of television. These are Keirsey's "Artisans." Jesse Ventura, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger are Artisans, as are some other notable political figures, e.g., Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

Let me summarize briefly the theory of Temperament and describe the four different temperaments. Then we'll get to the main question: What kind of person would make the most effective libertarian candidate?


There are observable differences in the ways people learn, communicate, lead, interact, choose careers, solve problems, perform their work, relate within the family, etc. These differences tend to fall into recognizable patterns. Think of them as patterns of personality organization. Although each individual is truly unique, four different temperament patterns are readily observable.

In the Keirsey model the four temperaments are named: Guardians, Artisans, Rationals and Idealists. Each temperament has its unique basic needs or motivations, values, special intelligence, talents and skills, elements of conduct and ways of communicating. Each of us tends to be most comfortable operating according to one of the four temperament patterns. It feels natural to us. Consequently, we each tend to develop the strengths associated with our temperament and to have the weaknesses and blind spots associated with that temperament.

People often ask if temperament, our personality, is set by heredity or by environment. The fundamentals are innate. Our basic needs, values and preferences are inborn (but don’t seem to be dictated by our parental genes). It is a matter of inclination or preference in certain directions. Naturally, how each person develops will be affected by family, culture, education, opportunity and experience. We are happiest and most effective when we have the greatest freedom and encouragement to develop in the directions called for by our innate needs and preferences.

A simple metaphor for understanding Temperament is to think of being right handed and having three left hands. From infancy you preferred using your right hand and through practice became quite skilled at using it. That’s your temperament, with all the strengths, talents and skills in that pattern. The other three temperament patterns are like left hands. You can become more skilled with your left hand if you practice with it. Similarly, you can work to change your behavior to be more like someone who is of a different temperament; but, it will be hard work and you will never be as good in that adopted role as you are in your natural temperament role. Although you can, with practice, acquire some of the strengths of the other three temperaments (left hands), you will always be more comfortable, and successful, using your innate temperament (right hand) strengths.

The Guardians

Guardians need to be responsible, to know their obligations and do their duty. They also need to be part of organizations and groups, like the family, church, volunteer groups, corporations and government. Guardians value order, security, stability and tradition. They truly are “pillars of the community.”

Each temperament has a unique type of intelligence. For the Guardians, it is logistics. Guardians excel at reliably getting the right stuff to the right place, at the right time, to the right people, in the right quantity and quality. They handle all relevant details and complete and file all paperwork. Any office manager, administrator or bureaucrat is probably a Guardian.

In communicating, Guardian language is factual and they rely on comparisons and measurements to make their point.

Organized, reliable, punctual and helpful, Guardians work hard and follow the rules. They expect others to do the same. Guardians want well organized lives and that things be planned in advance. They don’t like change for the sake of change, nor irresponsible risk-taking.

Guardians tend to seek work in civil service, teaching and school administration, accounting, banking, insurance, medicine and business. Some famous Guardians are former Presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon. Many corporate executives and managers are Guardians, as are most government regulators.

Guardians are more than 40 per cent of the population. By sheer weight of numbers, their views tend to dominate the setting of cultural standards, particularly in a conservative direction. They stick with the tried and true, seeking stability and security.

The Artisans

Artisans need to be free to act (Don't fence me in.) and to make an impact (Look at me; see what I did.). They value spontaneity, variety, excitement, virtuosity and beauty. Boredom, routine, or burdensome rules and regulations frustrate them. Artisans are uncomfortable in structured environments, such as the public schools and corporate situations (which Guardians dominate). Unfortunately, many brilliant Artisans drop out of both.

The Artisan's special intelligence is tactical. Tuned in to their environment, they perceive what’s happening, who is doing what with whom. They see opportunity, what needs to be done in the here and now, and move quickly to capitalize. Artisans like to act on impulse and it usually works for them. If they don’t succeed, they optimistically pick themselves up and get on to the next adventure.

Artisan language is colorful, full of anecdotes and questions.

Artisans are the premier tool users. “Tools” can be machinery, heavy equipment, musical instruments, art supplies, athletic equipment, weapons, aircraft, surgical instruments, computers, language, or even other people. The great performer, actors, musicians, comics, the sculptor, painter, designer, landscape architect, chef, trial lawyer or orthopedic surgeon is likely an Artisan. In business, he or she is the entrepreneur, the crisis manager, the top negotiator.

Many notable politicians, such as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, JFK and FDR, were Artisans. In the military, it’s the battlefield genius, such as George Patton. The writer Ernest Hemingway was an Artisan. Virtuosos all. Artisans do it with flair, style and audacity. No wonder they are so popular.

Somewhat less than 40 per cent of the population are Artisans.

The Rationals

Rationals need to be competent and to accumulate knowledge. They value science, theories, efficiency, ingenuity, logic and expertise. Rationals are ingenious and innovative, searching for the underlying systems and structures that explain events. They analyze everything and operate scientifically, applying principles to the facts to arrive at objective conclusions.

Rationals have a special strategic intelligence. They excel at identifying the material, manpower and methods needed to achieve ultimate objectives. They build the model or design the system that will lead to success. The Rational mind works best with concepts, theories and abstract principles.

Rational language tends to the scholarly and employs conditionals (if-then statements) and clear definitions in their communications.

Rationals prize precise, clear thinking and precise language. They do not like to repeat themselves. Rationals are independent thinkers, unimpressed by so-called established authority. Pragmatic and skeptical, they nonetheless can be persuaded by logic and evidence. Rationals tends to present a calm exterior, though their feelings run strong and deep.

Rationals are drawn to careers or projects that challenge the mind. They typically enter fields such as the sciences, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, economics and philosophy. In business, Rationals are often found at the executive level where strategic thinking is highly valued. Einstein is the classic example of a Rational. Other famous Rationals are presidents Jefferson, Lincoln and Eisenhower, author/philosopher Ayn Rand, and (gasp) Hillary Clinton.

The smallest temperament group, Rationals are less than ten percent of the population. Most libertarians are Rationals. Birds of a feather do flock together. People of other Temperaments tend to miss the point of Rational arguments. What is important to Rationals is not important to them. Do you begin to see why libertarian "outreach" is so difficult?

The Idealists

Idealists have a profound need to find meaning and significance in their lives. They highly value relationships. They seek empathic relationships where they can grow while nurturing others. Idealists are compassionate, imaginative and appreciate the uniqueness of, and potential in, each individual. They believe people should be authentic, showing their true selves.

The special intelligence of Idealists is diplomatic. They excel at bringing people together, helping them see the best in each other. They have unusual powers of insight or intuition and a talent for communication.

Idealist language is dramatic, and they tend to employ metaphors and universals in their communication.

Idealists value morality and ethical conduct and will speak out when their standards are violated. They have a vision of the ideal and believe that, by expecting the best from everyone, the world can make progress toward their vision. Idealists find discord and violence stressful. Accordingly, they work for consensus and avoid confrontation. Idealists are passionate, romantic and sometimes openly emotional.

Idealists are attracted to careers that involve communicating, teaching, counseling, mediation, psychology, the social sciences, guidance, mentoring, writing and journalism. In business, they are frequently found in Human Resources. Some famous Idealists are Mahatma Ghandi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. There has never been an Idealist President, but we came close with John Kerry.

Slightly more than 10 percent of the population are Idealists. Despite their relatively small number, Idealist views tend to be quite influential because so many journalists, writers and academics, those in the social sciences, are Idealists.

[Take a minute to reflect on the descriptions above and make your best educated guess as to your own temperament and the temperament of other libertarians you know. I have tested this informally at libertarian gatherings. I don't think you will be surprised to learn that easily more than half are Rationals. That's still considerably different than when I first started making such inquiries almost twenty years ago. Then the Rationals were about ninety per cent of the known (to me) libertarian population.]

Additional Refinements

Each temperament can be further divided into four sub-groups. In communication, all people, regardless of temperament, are either “directing” (comfortable telling others what to do) or “informing” (preferring to enroll others in the process by providing information). People also are either expressive and prefer initiating contact with others (think extraversion) or they are more reserved and prefer responding to contact initiated by others (think introversion). By applying these refinements to the four temperaments, the result is a total of 16 types. For those with some knowledge of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, this will look familiar, but the two models have very substantial differences.


As political campaigners Artisans have the advantage. This is especially so since the advent of television and televised debates. Some of us are old enough to recall that Kennedy (Artisan) trounced Nixon (Guardian) in the first televised Presidential debate in 1960. It wasn't because JFK was the better technical debater. He was simply more appealing on an emotional level, thus making a better connection with the television audience. They just naturally liked the guy.

Just consider what we all enjoy about Artisans. They are the performers, the ones who make us laugh and ooh and aah. They are spontaneous, fun-loving, risk-taking and generous. They know how to deal with people effectively. Bill Clinton, a warm-hearted, extraverted Artisan excelled at making everyone he met feel important. Artisans are also the tactical masters. And tactical mastery is the essence of campaigning. Something new every day, leaping from crisis to crisis, doing what it takes to get a positive outcome. Carpe Diem.

Since 1960, every time an Artisan ran for President, he won over the opposing candidate of a different temperament. Check it out. (Winners in Bold.)

Democrats Republicans 1960 Kennedy (Artisan) Nixon (Guardian) 1964 Johnson (Artisan) Goldwater (Rational) 1968 Humphrey (Guardian) Nixon (Guardian) 1972 McGovern (Guardian) Nixon (Guardian) 1976 Carter (Guardian) Ford (Guardian) 1980 Carter (Guardian) Reagan (Artisan) 1984 Mondale (Guardian) Reagan (Artisan) 1988 Dukakis (Guardian) Bush (Guardian) 1992 Clinton (Artisan) Bush (Guardian) 1996 Clinton (Artisan) Dole (Guardian) 2000 Gore (Rational) G.W. Bush (Artisan) 2004 Kerry (Idealist) G.W. Bush (Artisan)


The big problem with Artisan Presidents (or any Artisan in an executive position) is that they tend not to be strategic thinkers; their strength is tactics. They are more drawn to crisis management than to long-range planning. They attack whatever problem arises with whatever tool appears to be suitable, see how things come out, then go on to the next problematic situation. It has been said about Clinton that he conducted himself in office as if it were a continuation of the election campaign. Yes and No. Clinton simply ran the presidential office in his typical Artisan way. To others, it looked like he was still campaigning. I am reminded of the observation: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail." That is the essential blind spot of all four temperaments. Each of us falls back on our strengths (tactics, if you are an Artisan) and tend to overlook the need to use the strengths of the other three temperaments. That's understandable. None of us is practiced, skilled or comfortable relying on the strengths of temperaments other than our own.

Artisans, like the other three temperaments, have a characteristic way of dealing with stress and setbacks. The Artisan reaction is to retaliate. This helps us understand Dubya's response to the 9/11 attack. He was psychologically compelled to fight back, lash out and destroy the enemy. Of course, he had the support of a majority of the American people. And behind the scenes, his neocon advisers, who have their own strategic agenda, eagerly supported his approach. That approach continues on its original path. No long-term, comprehensive strategy, but rather, dealing with the emerging crises on a day-to-day basis and when it ends (who knows?), it will end. Or, as Yogi Berra so sagely observed: "It ain't over until it's over." The "war on terror" is, as defined by Bush and his neocon advisors, a war with no conceivable end. Which fits right into Bush's Artisan playbook. Whatever those evil terrorists do, we will retaliate – forever and ever.

Libertarians are invariably disappointed by Artisan political leaders. The reason comes primarily from Temperament differences. Most libertarians are Rationals. Thus, they think strategically, logically, consistently, with principle. When they hear an Artisan candidate, such as Jesse Ventura, talking about liberty (Artisans highly value personal freedom and hate intrusive regulation), libertarians think they are hearing someone like themselves. But, once in office, the Artisan typically thinks and acts tactically, solving problems as they arise with whatever tools are available, such as by raising taxes (Reagan in California; Ventura in Minnesota), or, as Dubya did, by imposing steel tariffs. Disappointed libertarians then call the Artisan executive "unprincipled." The Artisan probably won't have a clue as to why they are disappointed or what principles they have in mind. And he won't really care. There is always a new day and new crises to manage.


Should the political libertarians among us seek to run an Artisan presidential candidate? Or Artisans for any other offices? Yes; for a couple of reasons. As noted, Artisans are the natural performers. They are comfortable with doing the campaign performance schtick. If the campaign staff can pump the candidate full of facts (it may not be easy; Artisans like to act, not study) and keep him on the principled, libertarian message, so much the better. Such candidates are more likely to bring new people, especially young people, into the Party and the movement. Media are more likely to respond positively to warm, lively, and hopefully well-informed, libertarian Artisan candidates. With more Artisan candidates, libertarians of other temperaments (Guardians, Rationals and Idealists) can put their energies into efforts for which they are better suited.

Of course, the success of Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger in getting elected as governors was due largely to their existing celebrity. That does not diminish what they both brought to their election campaigns as accomplished Artisan performers. Indeed, their celebrity depends to some considerable degree on their Artisan strengths. A caveat: A celebrity candidate would not be a silver bullet for libertarians. At best, he or she would be a mixed blessing. Both the Ventura and Schwarzenegger campaigns energized young Artisans who probably would not otherwise have participated or even voted. That was particularly the case in Minnesota. The great majority of them have a great deal to learn about libertarianism. Anyone who is already a celebrity, and who is willing to be a Libertarian Party candidate, will want to do so on his own terms. What he or she might say on the campaign, or do, if elected, would not be easy to predict, or control.

Just remember: every libertarian was first the person he or she was born to be and, according to what we know about Temperament, each will continue to be that person. So, do not expect the Artisan libertarians among us (there are already a goodly number of them) to become the Rational libertarians with whom you would probably be more comfortable.

Ultimately, the libertarian movement will grow in numbers and influence only if the freedom philosophy is made palatable to persons of all four temperaments. The challenge, to all of us libertarians who care, is to learn how to communicate to people who have different psychological needs and values so that they can see that libertarianism will meet their needs and support their values better than any other political approach. It won't be easy; but it can be done.

November 12, 2004