In a profound disagreement over philosophy, The Libertarian Party of Virginia has voted to dissolve itself. In a 7 to 5 vote, the state central committee contended that the national image of the party was now “functionally indistinct from other alt-right parties and movements.” But the national Libertarian Party declared that the dissolution did not meet the technical requirements of Virginia law and was illegal.
The decision in Virginia parallels a move among New Mexico libertarians to disassociate themselves from the national organization, and comes after a takeover of the national party by the Von Mises faction (named after Ludwig von Mises, founder of the free-market Austrian school of economics). Dissidents are threatening to launch a new national organization. (If you’re interested in the gory details, see this article in Reason.)
What a mess. Although I consider myself a libertarian-leaning Republican and flirted with joining the Libertarian Party, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I have paid no attention to the intense debate raging inside the party. Indeed, the libertarians’ fanatic dedication to ideological purity is what pushed me away.
I agree with libertarians that individual liberty is the highest and greatest political value, and share the view that we need less government, not more. But I also acknowledge that humans are governed by contradictory impulses, the world is a messy place, and a minimalist-government utopia is a fantasy no more practicable than the social-justice vision of “equity” for all.
I’m fine with the idea of holding up small government as an ideal towards which we should direct our energies, but I’m also cognizant that getting from A (where we are now) to B (where we’d like to be) is exceedingly difficult when most people have organized their lives around B. Libertarian-inspired ideas of abolishing the income tax or abolishing social security, for instance, would prove massively disruptive, even catastrophic, unless managed very carefully and phased in over a long period of time. It has taken the U.S. a century or more of creeping government growth to get where we are today. Rolling it back will require a century or more of work inventing new institutions to address the needs that government now does so inadequately.
Aside from my libertarian impulses, I am also a conservative in the Burkean sense of advocating change in measured increments. American society is now organized around Big Government. Big Government cannot be undone without precipitating unintended consequences (just as the implementation of Big Government itself created all manner of unintended consequences). If we are to rescue ourselves from the leviathan state, we must bring about change carefully, step by step, or the political backlash will put an end to our endeavors.
If the Libertarian Party wants to become more than a debating club that occasionally runs candidates for office, it must grapple with these realities.
The schism among Libertarians is a great shame, though, because we need a strong movement to champion individual liberty more than ever. American society has moved beyond the debate over the size of government — it’s big, getting bigger, we’re getting ever deeper in debt to pay for it, and both Republicans and Democrats seem fine with that. Now we’re debating even more fundamental issues — issues of personal identity.
The ascendant world view — the woke worldview — defines personal identity as first and foremost in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation. You’re White or Black, male or female, straight or LGBTQIA+, and the only question about your personal identity worth asking is where you stand in the intersection of group identities. This world view allows no room for just being who you are. No room for identifying first and foremost as, say… an artist who happens to be a straight Hispanic male who prefers the company of other artists. Or a triathlete. Or a bridge player. Or a teacher. Or a military veteran. Or an entrepreneur. Or a star gazer. There is no room in wokism to find common bonds that transcend race, gender and sexual orientation. Human existence is a never-ending power struggle between oppressors and victims.
Once upon a time, I could argue that most Virginians were “natural libertarians.” They weren’t well-versed in libertarian philosophy, but they had a live-and-let-live attitude. Don’t meddle in my business, and I won’t meddle in yours. I fear that is no longer true. Every sphere of human existence has become politicized and infected with the woke virus. We need a viable libertarian movement more than ever to inoculate ourselves from it.