Why Libertarians (Big-L) Lose

This image showed up in my “memories” over on The Book of Faces and it really sums up why the big-L Libertarian types can’t get out of single digits in national elections.

Here’s the thing. Most people aren’t libertarian, let alone Libertarian. And, if you listen to Libertarians, most Libertarians aren’t Libertarian. Ask three different Libertarians and get five different views on what it is to be “Libertarian.” This cartoon, frankly, nails it:

Libetarians of the big-L variety seem to be unwilling to make common cause with folk they disagree with on some aspects in order to further things with which they do agree.

And that’s a large part of the reason they have been so very bad at spreading their ideas of individual freedom. (Note: I’m leaving aside questions of vote fraud–I’ve discussed some of that elsewhere–because it, frankly, isn’t needed for Libertarians to lose in the national arena. All the excuses they make pale behind the simple fact that they are really bad at outreach.) Consider someone who’s not anything close to libertarianism, but has decided that on some particular point, the government has gone too far and things should be dialed back, returning the liberty to the people. How do Libertarians react? Do they applaud the person’s increased understanding of the value of personal liberty? Do they rejoice at the cracks developing in the mirror of state power through which they had previously viewed the world–small cracks, perhaps, but maybe a start?

Nope. In my experience, the most common reaction is disdain that the person doesn’t go far enough. Instead of seeing a person taking the first steps on a journey toward libertarianism they see the person as still being “statist” and therefore a supporter of tyranny. After all, anything other than a pure voluntaryist society is simply tyranny in their eyes.

And when that happens the person who has taken those first steps usually turns right around and heads back. Congratulations. You’ve just driven somebody who might have been an ally in increasing liberty in the nation into being an opponent.

As somebody who is pretty far down that road, not quite voluntaryist but pretty far into minarchist, it’s enough to make you snatch your hat off, throw it on the ground, and stomp on it. As my grandmother used to say, “makes me so mad I could crush a grape.”

I understand the frustration when people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea of actual liberty, when perfectly reasonable, fact based arguments persistently bounce off or, as the old saying goes, “in one ear and out the other”. I get it. It’s frustrating and it’s all too easy to end up responding hotly. I’ve done it myself. I am, after all, only human. In the end, though, perhaps it’s not the best approach in most circumstances.

We want to see people supporting more liberty. To that end whenever we see someone making a step, even a tiny step, in that direction from where they were, we should be encouraging it, and not punishing it. Lambasting them for the “statist” views they still hold is counterproductive. This does not mean you can’t criticize those views but a gentle halter to guide rather than a whip and spurs might work better toward that end, particularly when combined with fulsome, and sincere, praise of the steps they have made in the “right” direction.

The old saw about catching flies, however flawed it might be (who wants to catch flies, really?) comes to mind.

9 thoughts on “Why Libertarians (Big-L) Lose”

  1. Nod.

    One thing that annoyed me in discussions in the past with any “pure” libertarians was the idea that “if you weren’t completely with their program, then you were a statist”.

    IE If I believed that a complete voluntaryist society is impossible but a minarchist society may be possible, then I’m the same (to them) as a believer in a completely totalitarian society. 😦

    It’s as if I’m talking to a religious fanatic. 😆


    1. I’m very much a “going my way” type. There are lots of people who believe government should be smaller and less intrusive. If we disagree on just how much smaller, well, we can worry about that later. If we can just get together to get it smaller and less intrusive than it is now then that’s a win. Hell, I’ll probably never live long enough to have the other argument.


  2. What I keep hitting is “Libertarians” who will go for allies first.

    That is, being slightly closer to what they want just means they’ll work with you for what they want…and use the time to get information to gut you like a fish at the first opportunity to work with totally opposed but powerful.

    Then they yell at you for lack of faith.




  3. Don’t forget “being a candidate for state office and showing up to your state convention wearing your Star Trek uniform”.

    Oh and should we mention “running as the Libertarian candidate for President and fully supporting forcing bakers to bake gay wedding cakes”, cause being gay is more Libertarian than baking cakes, or something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And don’t forget the Libertarian candidate debate strip show. In the end, I threw up my hands in disgust at 2016. “Bake the Cake” Johnson and “Ban the Guns” Weld as the Libertarian ticket? That was when I decided that the Libertarian Party isn’t a political party. It’s performance art. They’ve done nothing since to change my mind.

      Long before then I was already frustrated at how poorly it did at outreach and persuasion. But by 2016 it was clear that they weren’t even trying.


      1. Based on viewing multiple state conventions, a national one, and the candidate I think it is fair to think LP stands for “Legalize Pot” more than “Libertarian Party”. It seems to be the most consistently held and commonly advocated part of the party platform.

        This is sad as I’m old enough to remember the only national TV ads the party ran for President way back in 1980 which emphasized ending the income tax.


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