Austin Petersen, Ambassador for Liberty
As a South African citizen, I am the first to recognize that libertarianism needs many more, high quality representatives. While Americans debate who can use which toilet, South Africans are debating whether the government should criminalize expressions of racism – and, this is going to happen soon – and whether the government should be able to expropriate property without compensation from white people. I find American political debates refreshing; indeed, they are an ideal for me. It is a place where differences are often so petty and insignificant that you can legitimately just say “let’s agree to disagree”. Where I live, if I “agree to disagree” with my opponent, I am more often than not perceived to accept his premise and thus contribute to the increasing leftward down-spiral of this society. Indeed, South Africa has self-describing Marxist-Leninist cabinet ministers and has no substantive free market (or even pretend free market) opposition party.
Our libertarian movement is insignificant, and it is thus that we South African libertarians must rely on foreign libertarian influences. This is how I stumbled upon Austin Petersen’s The Libertarian Republic. It was one of the first libertarian websites I started actively browsing as a new convert after I read Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty. Even in those days when it was relatively young, it produced high quality, relevant, and interesting material. I used to read TLR more than I do nowadays, but despite this, what Austin emphasized on many of his podcasts and articles has stuck with me: TLR was not specifically a platform to preach to the already converted libertarian crowd, but rather a resource for non-libertarians to get the libertarian perspective, and perhaps themselves eventually become libertarians.
Intuitively many would expect me as the Editor-in-Chief of BeingLibertarian.com to consider TLR as our direct competitor. While this is true in many respects, this is a friendly competitive relationship. Both platforms broadly serve the same purpose. But TLR was certainly a kind of pioneer in existing in part for the purpose of appealing to non-libertarians for which I will certainly shower it with praise.
Ambassadors, as we politically-conscious folk understand them, are representatives of our governments sent to foreign governments to represent the interests of our state. Ambassadors can also be representatives of particular brands. With this in mind I find it apt to describe Austin Petersen not only as a leader for liberty but, more specifically, an ambassador for liberty. His rationale for founding TLR appears broadly for it to function as an embassy for ideological foreigners (rather than a consulate for libertarians exclusively), with him as ambassador. His campaign for the presidency under the Libertarian Party banner has been marked by his extensive constitutional, historical, and philosophical knowledge, but also by his ability to articulate this knowledge in such a way that it appeals to American conservatives. Already, especially in the wake of Ted Cruz’s exit from the campaign, it appears that conservatives are taking Petersen seriously. Even if this is a minuscule amount of them, it is certainly something worth lauding.
Petersen knows he is not going to be sitting in the White House in a year’s time. He was already making money with TLR and has been involved with the Libertarian Party for years. I highly doubt this campaign is his attempt at getting attention for himself or his site. His purpose, to me, is clear, and is perhaps the most important thing that twenty-first century libertarians must busy themselves with: making libertarianism an acceptable position to hold in the eyes of the moderate majority. This has certainly been an important aspect of my libertarian activism in South Africa, where libertarianism is not only considered a fringe cult, but is virtually unknown to basically everyone, including the intelligentsia.
I am not part of the ‘End Gary Johnson’ campaign, which I think has been an unfortunate part (intended or not) of both the Petersen and McAfee campaigns. I think Johnson is owed a debt of gratitude for what he did for the libertarian movement in general and the Libertarian Party in particular. Gary Johnson should be considered to still be a leader within the libertarian movement; indeed, one of the leaders with actual political experience under his belt. Johnson’s suing of the Presidential Debates Commission and his activism for marijuana law liberalization can hardly be attributed to his own campaign or interest. The man is genuinely trying to do good for the movement, and for the most part, he is succeeding.
But Petersen is a breath of fresh air for the Libertarian Party. The Libertarians have been notoriously weak on public image and campaigning. Some candidates even use Microsoft Paint to create their posters and banners. Petersen, however, being the first serious candidate to declare his candidacy, has run a professional campaign from the beginning. It is virtually indistinguishable from that of any other competent major party candidate’s campaign (present candidates notwithstanding!). While Petersen won’t be winning any general elections any time soon, he will, if nominated, be a de facto leader within the Libertarian Party and can exert much influence in bringing that party into the present century.
As someone who is always looking for instances and innovations where libertarianism can be marketed to the broader public I can assuredly say that Austin Petersen is the best for the brand, and I personally hope he is nominated at the Libertarian National Convention. However, even if he does not, I hope that won’t deter him from remaining involved with the Libertarian Party, as he represents the inevitable future of the party if it hopes to survive, either way.
* Martin is the Editor-in-Chief of Being Libertarian.