While reading Our Enemy, The State by Albert J. Nock a question dawned upon me, in the book it mentions that when Jefferson returned from his ambassadorship to France in 1789, he returned to an America alien from his previous experience. When he left, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, rooted in Lockean natural rights, had been abandoned for the cries for a larger and more centralized state. While some libertarians will not claim Jefferson, due to his flaws and abysmal record as president, I think that most will admit that the Declaration of Independence is largely a proto-libertarian manifesto.
This sudden shift in ideology from deeply distrustful of central government powers and an embracing of natural rights theory to the abandonment of those beliefs seemed all too familiar when compared to more recent events. For example, this quote by Ronald Reagan: “If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals — if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”. This from a man who basically created the drug war as we know it today, spent hand over fist on military budgets in an arms race against a foe that was already on its death bed, promoted gun control as governor of California in response to Black Panthers engaging in open carry protest against police abuse, and basically did what libertarians generally despise all while using messaging that is appealing to libertarian sentiments about the free market and government incompetence. Ron Paul even endorsed him in his 1976 bid for the GOP presidential nomination, mentioning that he lead the Pro-Reagan delegation from Texas in the 1976 GOP national convention.
But this is only one example, from the Tea Party originating from Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign and becoming the establishment Republican GOTV machine it is today, to Bob Barr being the LP nominee, to Rand Paul. Why do libertarians keep going along with these seemingly promising tasks, which consistently set us back?
I don’t have the answer, or better yet there isn’t one single answer, you could argue that we tend to hero worship too much and that blinds us to the problems of our high profile “promoters”(celebritarians in internet parlance), you could argue that our skepticism of the government is the only time most of us exercise our skeptical faculties, but given the track record of the libertarian movement being co-opted I think it is high time we became a tad more inquisitive when it comes to the policies and beliefs of those we put our support behind. If you want to accept the mantle of libertarian, you have to understand that you are proclaiming a belief and support for the principles that it embodies, your duty is to hold to task anyone who would ask for your help or support to discern if they truly want those ideals to become reality, or are they just trying to ride the liberty fad to further their own goals.
by Clayton Hunt