It’s easy to see people as enemies, even when they are on your team. Libertarianism is no different. The movement is torn apart by in-house fighting and bullying, more so than any other movement or party. Some have said the conservatives and liberals are the same way, but those groups are large enough to survive infighting. More importantly, they are united in effort, despite their fighting. They may conflict over certain policies and ideas, but they unite against the common enemy in the end.
Republicans may fight a lot among each other, but they unite against the Democrats at the end of the day. The Democrats fight over themselves as well, but they unite against the Republicans all the same (cue the parties are the same jokes, and moving on). Libertarians? They won’t unite for any reason at all. A brick wall stands between each sector of our movement, dividing us.
It’s one thing to not give up your own personal beliefs and capitulating to the movement, it’s another to not unite against the enemy we all agree on. To allow tyranny to rule over us because we don’t want to stand beside someone who disagrees with us on a few interpretations of our philosophy is not the same as standing your ground honorably and refusing to give up your beliefs.
The Cause of the Problem
Libertarianism isn’t a set of policies or ideals. It’s a philosophical stance, built on key principles like the non-aggression principle, or the idea of states’ rights, a term meaning the states and their citizens have a right to self-governance and autonomy. Not that the state government have rights over its citizens.
Because it’s a philosophical stance – and isn’t mutually exclusive, meaning other consistent philosophies can be attached to it – it can be interpreted differently. This reality seems to anger many, but refusing to accept this fact can only hurt us. Let’s consider the following:
John Doe and Joe Dohn are both Libertarians. They believe that something should be illegal if it aggresses against another. The topic of abortion comes up and John Doe believes the fetus is not a living person. Therefore, abortion aggresses against no one, and so he is pro-choice. Joe Dohn believes that the fetus is a living person with rights, meaning abortion aggresses against the fetus, and therefore he is pro-life. Is one of them not libertarian simply because we disagree with that person? No.
Libertarianism can be interpreted differently, depending on how we view the world. Which studies you read, what theories you trust most, these define how you see the libertarian philosophy. Conservatism is defined as being ‘pro-life, anti-welfare, pro-military, anti-corporate tax,’ and such. It’s defined by a set of policies its members agree on. Libertarianism is purely philosophical, and so has no set opinion or belief.
Why the Problem Matters
Some have said the infighting keeps us safe from internal corruption. I don’t buy this. If anything, it stops the movement from facing corruption. Corruption can still show it’s face in the party and in each individual sector of the movement, regardless of how united the movement is or isn’t. Corruption can’t be stopped by dividing ourselves. Others have said it’s important because we should embrace our differences, that our differences benefit our movement. The problem is that fighting, calling each statists, and accusing other libertarians of being fake, is not the same as embracing our different beliefs. A look at any comment section will show it filled with everyone calling out ‘statist’ and ‘pretender’ whenever a disagreement occurs.
Tyranny can exist because we aren’t fighting it. We’re in comment sections fighting each other. But consider, somewhere between 19% of the country to 22% of the country identifies as libertarian. With such a large portion of the population being libertarian, why do we see no movement in our movement? It’s because we won’t work together.
Instead, we push each other out of the movement. We put an end to our ability to bring in new members. Imagine a new member who was of a different party prior. He finds that he agrees with a lot of our philosophy, but he’s new, so he isn’t 100% for privatizing roads, eliminating publics schools, and ending most welfare yet. To be fair, many long-time libertarians have varying opinions on these. Now, this new member spends the first month being called a statist, a fake, a commie, and so on, just for asking about it or stating his opinion. He leaves and doesn’t look back.
Infighting pushes out new and old members, disenfranchises most libertarians (that’s why so many libertarians vote Republican), and cause each variant of libertarianism to hate each other when they should see each other as allies.
How to Fix the Problem
The first step to fixing the problem is for us to start remembering these three simple things:
- Debating with each other is not the same as fighting each other. We can stand together as one movement while still expressing disagreement through debate and open discussion. Our options aren’t “concede your beliefs” or “fight each other.” If we replaced fighting with debating, we could unite while still standing by our individual beliefs.
- Calling a fellow libertarian a statist, authoritarian, or an equivalent term, is the libertarian version of a witch burning.
- Let go of our moral high ground. We are not morally superior to others, even non-libertarians. Everyone believes what they do because they think it’s best for everyone else. Your belief otherwise does not make them immoral. We must stop acting as though we are already right and everyone else is ignorant. We are not smarter than everyone else. I know conservatives and liberals who could destroy the arguments of most of the libertarians I know. We need to acknowledge that we are not smarter than each other.
The problem must be fixed. We can stand united while still holding onto and debating our disagreements. There is no libertarian movement if we stand divided. We share a common goal, and we should aim for that goal together.
The beauty of libertarianism is that it encompasses so many different spectrums. We can have so many diverse types of politicians, each with different views and ideas, while still having a completely libertarian Congress. We despise the two-party system, but libertarianism’s vast spectrum allows for the equivalent of many, many parties, each being libertarian in nature. Conservatarians, an-caps, left-leaning libertarians, paleolibertarians, each a libertarian equivalent of a separate party.
We should embrace our differences while standing together as 20% of the population, to end tyranny and socialism, and embracing our differences starts by no longer fighting over our differences.
* Donald Keller is the Admin and Head Editor for the Libertarian Coalition. He is a cook, artist, and writer in De Soto, Mo.
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