Libertarianism: Next Left

If Libertarians of days past enjoyed an alliance with small-government, free-market proponents within the American right wing, they must surely now be scratching their heads. For in today's Republican-dominated America, where state capitalism is considered "essential," freedom of the press and other Constitutional rights are under attack, and the welfare/warfare state is not only accepted but defended, Libertarians are left wondering if they aren't in Kansas anymore.

Such a state of affairs begs the question: Can Libertarians find new allies in the mainstream political arena?

I'm not going to overextend my reach by pretending that a trove of Libertarians awaits us among rank-and-file Democrats. From a Libertarian viewpoint, there is little real distinction between the Republicans and the Democrats. The parties do not, for example, disagree that the United States ought to play the role of World Policeman — only whether or not troops in Iraq should start coming home next year, or the year after that. Nor do they disagree that it is the job of government to provide public education — only whether or not evolution or intelligent design ought to be part of the curriculum. And ask either party where they stand on the War on Drugs, and you will hear the same tired, empty, chest-thumping rhetoric from both.

But there is a movement stirring among Democrat voters that indicates not all is merry and well. Anti-war activists are undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and, if she wins the nomination for the party in 2008, will surely take her to task on her pro-war positions on Iraq and Iran. Senator Joe Lieberman is readying himself to run as an independent, if and when he loses his party's support. And if the blogosphere is any indication, formerly loyal Democrat voters are appalled by the lack of party opposition to the usurpation of power and trampling of civil liberties by the current Administration in the name of "National Security."

And so it is this group — this anti-war, pro-civil liberties faction of Democrat voters tired of their party's lack of principle and strength — to whom Libertarians must appeal. This is the group that can toss the Republicans from their war-loving, flag-waving perch, restore the dignity of the First Amendment, prevent the rise of a hawkish Democrat, and make it more difficult for the current President to continue his path to a monarchic Executive.

For Libertarians, this November's elections are a great opportunity to expand the base. Former Republicans who long ago realized that their party cared not one whit about small government are already on our side. The remaining card-carrying Republicans have become the most insidious of big-government statists: Nationalists who will apologize for any and all government tyranny in the name of "National Security."

In short, the Republican Party, from the perspective of a Libertarian, is a tapped market — there are few new recruits to court.

And so it is with this understanding that Libertarians must accept that they no longer have a serious ally in the Republican Party. This is not to say that the Democrat Party is a more promising ally, only that the anti-war, pro-civil liberties movement among Democrat voters is a pre-packaged niche market ready to be swayed — if ever so gently — to the Libertarian view.

Does this sound impossible?

Well, allow me to confess: I am a former leftist.

I live in Canada. Like most Canadians, I was proud of our socialist tradition, and wary of American conservatism. When I first became interested in American politics — in the months following 9/11 — I found myself increasingly confused by everyday Republicans apologizing for government overreach, corporatism, and assaults on individual liberty. And that the Democrats did not embrace an anti-war position when the war in Iraq failed to produce evidence of WMD stockpiles, baffled me as well.

It became increasingly clear that the anti-war movement was more or less independent of mainstream American politics. The true anti-war movement was found among Libertarians and anarcho-capitalists. And so it began…

Perhaps inevitably, I stumbled upon sites such as Lew Rockwell, Reason, Antiwar.com, and others. As I learned more about past and present American foreign policy — and her wars, interventions, human rights violations, etc. — and came to understand that the cause of such wrongs was government itself (as opposed to "bad" government), I was convinced.

To people like me, for whom an anti-war position is unwavering, the economic argument in favor of Libertarianism over modern Liberalism must be presented as such: If governments are choked of their ability to tax its people without limit, to control the money supply, to govern from a federal rather than state throne, they are, inevitably, choked of their ability to wage war.

It is a simple argument — though one that may require a little background education on fiat money, wealth redistribution schemes, and state capitalism — but it is an argument that is nonetheless rationally made. To an anti-war, pro-civil liberties voter, there is no greater evil than a government who would murder in your name.

It is time for Libertarians to accept that they have few allies left among Republicans. Many Democrats, caught between what is right and what is familiar, are ripe for conversion to Libertarian thought. Stay the course, as they say, and embrace your common ground. For convincing them of the rest — free markets, individualism, private property rights, and limited government — is a matter of demonstrating the connection between government overreach, collectivism, and war.

July 5, 2006