Wednesday Open Thread: Time To Kill Off The Libertarian Party

Late last month Brad Spangler made the case for letting the Libertarian Party die:

The libertarian movement predates the Libertarian Party and will survive after it is gone. There was a time when radical libertarians like Samuel Edward Konkin III denounced formation of a “libertarian” politicial party as incompatible with libertarianism properly understood. With evisceration of the LP platform in recent years by “small government” statists longing to join the ruling class, the Ron Paul GOP presidential campaign has served not to shout out the irrelevancy of the Libertarian Party so much as serve as the heavy duty exclamation point punctuating that death cry that the LP already delivered to itself.

A shutdown of the Libertarian Party would get radicals and moderates out of each others hair. Radicals could pursue the long neglected non-electoral strategies for long-term radical change and moderates could apply their energies to seeking small reforms inside the major parties, as Ron Paul does. Sufficient social space for needed overlap between wings and their ideological cross-fertilization would exist organizationally in groups like ISIL and the Advocates for Self-Government, as well as out on the internet in political discussion forums of all sorts generally.

A look at how the world has really worked since the Libertarian Party was formed in the early 1970s would seem to add credence to Spanlger’s position. Aside from the Election of 1980, which was largely financed by the family fortune of the LP’s Vice-Presidential candidate, no Libertarian Party candidate for President has been able to gather anything close to 1,000,000 votes and none have garnered what would be considered a statistically significant amount of the vote in any election. And, except for one or two notable exceptions, no Libertarian Party candidate can be said to have had a significant impact on a contested election.

But winning elections, some people will say, is not real why the LP exists. It’s purpose, they contend, is to educate the public  about libertarian ideas.

Well, if that’s the case, then I don’t think it can be said that they’ve done a very good job there either. If they had, then 35 years of education should’ve been something that Ron Paul’s campaign could have tapped into. Instead, the major party candidate that came closest to libertarian ideas was soundly rejected by the members of his party.

You can blame that on the media. You can derisively call the voters “sheeple” — thereby insuinating that the reason they didn’t vote for your candidate is because they’re stupid. But, in the end, the fact of the matter is that the public wasn’t receptive to libertarian ideas. So much for the education I guess.

So, what do you think ? Time to let the LP die a merciful death ?

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  • Kevin Houston

    Just curious, Doug:

    Who are the notable exceptions that influenced a contested race?

    I honestly can’t think of any LP candidate who tipped the race to either party. It’s difficult under the best of circumstances to say with any degree of certainty who LP voters “would have” voted for if they were inclined to vote major party.

  • Doug Mataconis


    The one that comes to mind is a 2006 Senate Race in Montana where the LP candidate basically cost the Republican the race

    The Libetarian Party candidate also had an impact on a 1992 US Senate race in Georgia:

  • Jeff Molby

    You’re right that LP has had no significant impact with its educational efforts, but your interpretation of the “sheeple” meme is wrong.

    It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s just that they don’t take the time to question their assumptions. Most people don’t question the endless barrage of false dichotomies that the major parties put forth. The term criticizes effort, not intelligence.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Two points.

    One, the fact that someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them worthy of derison, and it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. The mistake that many Ron Paul supporters made was to consistently alienate people who disagreed with their candidate by calling them neocons, or just engaging in expletive-laden rants.

    Second, its the job of a political campaign to convince people that they’re right. The fact that the LP has failed to do this is an indictment of the institution.

  • Jeff Molby

    One, the fact that someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them worthy of derison, and it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. The mistake that many Ron Paul supporters made was to consistently alienate people who disagreed with their candidate by calling them neocons, or just engaging in expletive-laden rants.

    1. I’m not defending the people that clearly lack tact. You’re not going to convince anyone of anything if they feel they’re being insulted. I realize that and I realize that many RP supporters made that mistake frequently.

    2. That’s not to say the term is invalid. It is an accurate description of a large part of the electorate. You see, it has nothing to do with whatever conclusion a person comes to. You and I have disagreed on many things and I’d never consider you a “sheeple”. That’s because you do take the time explore many of the issues. The “sheeple” are the ones that run around parroting pre-packaged talking points; they never make any effort to look beneath the surface.

    Second, its the job of a political campaign to convince people that they’re right. The fact that the LP has failed to do this is an indictment of the institution.

    I don’t dispute that.

  • Brian T. Traylor


    I’d assert that ‘sheeple’ is a portmanteau of sheep and people, indicating that the term is used derisively (and, in my opinion, accurately) to indicate a herd mentality among the populace.

  • lpcowboy

    Nobody can ‘kill’ the LP. Individuals may refuse to join or remain in the LP because it isn’t radical enough, because it is too radical, or because it isn’t more effective. Others will join and remain in the party for the duration of their natural lives. The question is what course of action is more effective in achiving liberty.

    I believe Dr. Paul’s campaign showed that the Democrat and Republican parties are limited vehicles for enhancing liberty. Even if every LP member had joined the republicans at birth its unlikley that Dr. Paul would have been the nominee or that the party would have elected signifigantly more libertarian cantidates. Just as liberty cacus members attempt to make republicans more libertarian, many others work to make it more evangelical, serve their special interests, or even make it more socalist. Outside of the primaries, there is little to do besides justify support for statist administrations, cantidates, and policies. As many libertarians identify more closley with different major parties, libertarians would often find their contributions working at cross purposes.

    While ISIL and the Internet are useful, the LP provides an important mechanism for libertarians to meet and organize in person. One can walk into a room of Libertarians and trust they have similar ideals. That can’t be said for a room of Republicans.

    The LP could certainly stand more successes, but has won many local elections and ballot initatives. It took many years for the abolishinst parties to end slavery, but if they hadn’t tried over such a long period, they may not have ultimatley been successful. Even the major parties do poorly outside of their strongholds.

    The best chance for achiving liberty is to work primarily within the LP, while occasionally supporting libertarian cantidates within the major parties.

  • Kevin Houston

    Ah! Senate races – OK. I thought you were trying to suggest that the LP had an influence on a presidential race.

    As to the Stan Jones election: I don’t think people voted *for* Stan Jones so much as they voted *against* Conrad Burns. As one comment on the link you provided points out, Conrad Burns deserved to go. He was a lousy Senator.

    The “rule of thumb” in MT may be that LP *takes* votes from Republicans, but in this case I think that Sen. Burns handed them to the LP on a silver platter. If there had not been an LP candidate to vote for I’m sure the majority of those voters would not have voted at all (some might have voted Dem, but probably not many)

    In the second case (Paul Coverdell) I think the evidence you linked shows that the LP had *NO* effect on the race. True, there was a runoff due to the LP candidate getting 3%, but in that runoff, Coverdell won, which would seem to be pretty strong evidence that if there had not been an LP candidate, that those votes would gone to Coverdall in the first place.

    In both these cases, I think what we have is a prime example of the post hoc, ad propter hoc (after that, therefore because of that) fallacy. The Coverdell election is glaring. If the LP had not run a candidate, then Coverdell would have won (we know this because Coverdell won the run-off). It’s only because the LP ran a candidate that they are picked up as a reason that Coverdell won.

    I think this is true in most cases. Even if we aren’t talking LP. Most people naively credit Ross Perot with handing the election to Clinton. They merely line up the supposed positions of the 3 candidataes and say that since Ross Perot’s positions were closer to Bush, that Perot voters would therefore have voted for Bush.

    Many would not have voted at all. Many others (like myself in that election) would have voted Democrat rather than Republican (My vote for Ross Perot was therefore a proxy vote for Bush, if you are going to play that stupid game.)

    In the electoral college results, 92% of Ross Perot’s Ohio voters would have had to vote Republican before it would have changed the outcome. I don’t know about you, but I suspect that there were a lot more than 8% would-be Democrats in Perot’s supporters.

    Bush was going to lose that election regardless of the presence of Ross Perot. But because Ross was in the race, it makes it easy to say Ross Perot elected Bill Clinton.

    Coincidence isn’t causation.

  • libertynow

    nope. They ARE stupid. It is not that people reject libertarian ideas it is that IF the actually hear them (not the smeared MSM version but in a real informitive way)most are too brain washed by 13 years of public schooling where the learn to “socialize” So our job is tough to un-teach all of the crap they have been fed.

  • A Nonny Moose

    libertynow to assume that the general public are mostly turned off to libertarian ideals because they’re “stupid” or “brainwashed” is not only presumptious and arrogant but conterproductive to the entire cause as a whole. As for letting the LP just Die out, why should it? The whole point is so individuals who do share our views are given a voice as well as an Alternative come election day. Besides I don’t see the socialists packing their tents and practically NOBODY wants Socialism in this country.

  • Nitroadict

    Nonny, while people, if they are given the opportunity to see what socialism’s implications are, and/or are given the straight dope on what socialism actually is, then yes, I would agree that the vast majority of people in this country do not want socialism.

    However, that will not prevent the Democrats from dolling out socialism in small steps, just as Republicans ( I should say Neo-Conservatives) would give us a corporatist police state in small steps as well.

    It’s easier for socialism to take root when people don’t think it’s socialism, and it’s a point many of some of my liberal friends always miss, since many of them don’t see it as socialism, but rather “good capitalism” or “controlled capitalism”, or perhaps the possible future misnomer, “creative capitalism”. Sadly, my liberal friends also share the Democratic Party’s staple of knowing jack shit about economics, other than what they were taught, ironically, in NSL in high school.

    This is actually ironic, considering how Democrats would tout public schooling as some sort of achievement, when really all they have is an option that doesn’t work out for everyone, but is more or less implied to be the only way due to laws against homeschooling (or limiting it). Private schools are of course, another option, but not every private school is guaranteed to be a vast improvement over public.

    The main argument I see for the LP being dissolved is probably the one I think is the most effective, and that is concerning getting the moderates and radicals out of each other’s hair. That way, moderates and radicals can be more focused on their own agendas, and possible even make organizations and foundations (not necessarily political parties) to help further education, without having to sacrifice their ideals in order to appear more mainstream, in some very far away hope of getting things done nationally.

    Dissolving the LP party would not prevent more moderate Libertarians from participating in the political process; if RP showed us one thing, it’s that people who have Libertarian ideas and/or principles can make more national headway in the major parties than was possible with running under the LP party banner.

    If anything, I think Libertarians participating in the 2 party system, while pushing for possible reforms on the local level to help 3rd parties (especially with getting alternatives such as run-off voting and one member one vote into more discussions and/or the public consciousness), could greatly help the political process in this country. I think it would help restore balance to the 2 party system, which has essentially become, more or less, one giant party with different sides advocating their own brans of Statism.

    Not leaving the radicals (I would say those who frequent being radicals, while those at Cato being the most moderate) out of the process though, they can definitely help at the local levels or wherever certain people’s principles allow.

    At this point, I think we should consider that if the LP party were dissolved, we could develop a more united spirit of helping each other out, despite philosophical differences. By brothers, I mean all of us: Agorists, Anarcho-Capitalists, Minarchists, Anarchists, Libertarians, small l libertarians, etc. helping to spread all of our ideas as 1.) Not everyone is going to agree with all of them, but I bet people could find one type of philosphy, perhaps Agorism, that they could agree with the most.

    I suppose this would easier to imagine as some type of class, like “Underground Politics: Solutions to the Mainstream Paradigm”, where speakers or teachers or writers or whatever could help people understand different philosophies. Of course, I suppose paleo-libertarianism might be a controversial to include on this list, considering recent debates, but you get my point, I hope.

    I think it help a great deal if we stuck to our principles, but at the same time, helped each other out, based on the fact that whether it’s Agorism or Minarchy or whatever; it’s still education, it’s still new thoughts that could have positive impacts on the political process in America. It’s still helping to spread alternatives to the mainstream.

    I can’t tell you how many different things I thought I was when I began to read all about the branches of Libertarians. For a while I thought I was Left-Libertarian, but I began to understand economics a little bit more and cut off the Left prefix, then remained in the Minarchist realm, but realize that’s possibly being challenged by reading Rothbard. Now that I’m reading a little bit of Rand, at first for laughs, I find it ironic that I agree with some of what she writes, but I doubt I’ll become some blushing Objectiveist due to the head scratching some of her stuff evokes.

    I bet every time I finish a new book from a different author, I’ll consider myself differently.

    I dare not sound naive but rather hopeful & inventive, as my idea, again, sounds much better in a class / instructional course context, but my overall point is that the LP is not necessary at all. I could even see the party possibly just converting to some type of general, educational organization, or even a school. I could see an exclusively Libertarian school, one that encompasses the gamut of poltical thought, to be much more beneficial than the LP party.

    Of course, there is already the Mises Institute, and I can’t vouch for what is covered there as I’ve never visited, but I think a more accessible, general school (perhaps a small college of some sort) that could offer anywhere between Agorist to Objectivist to Anarchist-Capitalist to Left & Right Libertarianism classes, as well as alternative economics classes, from Austrian to Chicago to mechanism design to Neo-Classical schools, could be just what’s needed to help foster the needed education to supplement nation wide local gains into a more broad based national resurgence of interest and progress in the vein of Libertarian thought.

    In closing, I would also like to thank my 3rd cup of coffee for the above thoughts.

  • Wes Wagner

    The LP will go away the only way bureaucratic authoritarian organizations leave the world… kicking and screaming.

  • Clay Shentrup

    The existence of the Libertarian Party is destructive to the aims of libertarianism as long as we have the plurality voting system. We must get Range Voting for there to be any viability for third parties in this country.

    Clay Shentrup
    San Francisco, CA
    206 801 0484

  • Clay Shentrup
  • Akston

    Having been a big “L” Libertarian for nearly all that time since the early 70’s, I’d offer a libertarian response: The Libertarian Party will die when people stop wanting to be a part of it.

    Indeed, it has never been a real political force. I used to vote Libertarian hoping to “send a message” of dissatisfaction with the other alternatives. I now understand this to have been hopelessly naïve. The only “message” heard by politicians is the job security (or threat) of voting blocs large enough to affect the result. Libertarians have never been that large.

    It’s not that I no longer agree with libertarian principles, far from it. It’s just the Party is too minor, fragmented, and purist in a thousand directions to ever be effective.

    It’s a hobby, like posting on libertarian blogs. And just because your effort won’t result in viable offspring doesn’t mean that the masturbation can’t be fun.

    For those that want viable offspring, I recommend intercourse within a viable system.

  • Nitroadict

    @Akston: Best analogy ever. Why, I’d give you an internets, I would, I would.

  • WRR

    Having see the conservative-wannabes that are trying for the LP presidential nomination killing the party would be a mercy killing. What a batch! Phillies is bad on immigration and has all the personality of a wet noodly. Root comes across like a very loud, used car salesman who has just taken to selling “investments”. If Ruwart ran I might change my mind but based on the drift to the Loony Right among LP people I pray for the death of the party.

  • Rocketman

    Fold up the LP? Right. Let’s leave the field of battle solely to those who would strip us of our rights, liberties and possessions. Let’s show the media that there is no credible dissent to those power hungry Washington insiders who want us to have the same rights and privilages as a herd of cattle. If NOTHING else, the LP provides its members the gathering point to where they can decide what semi-libertarian country (Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican Republic?) to move to when this one become simply to socialistic for them to live in anymore.

  • Nitroadict

    @Rocketman: Why is the field of battle only on the Statist’s Terms? Moderates can do what they please, but the LP party itself is rife with an inherent contradiction of trying to elect someone who will govern least. There’s just as much in-fighting at the LP party as there are on the Internet amid the Libertarian “Movement”and/or”Community”.

    What your proposing doesn’t need a political party; it requires merely a foundation, organization, etc. if your intent was to provide members a gathering point to where they can decide to move on to a semi-Libertarian country to move to once things get worse.

    Honestly that option is just the same as leaving the field of battle that you earlier alluded to, so I hardly & fight behind, instead of “leaving” the fight but remaining in this country.

    Continuing metaphor, the LP Party,imo, by now, is shooting blanks.

    I would see an establishment of an educational institute (The Libertarian College, if you will) as more effective way in making in-roads towards education & long term change.

    A further coordination by existing sympathetic (officially & unofficially) institutes and organizations to aid in the process would be a good way of rallying the LP community together.

    Educating the masses, while putting aside as to which of our takes on Libertarianism (whether it be Konkian Agorism or Randian Minarchism, etc.) is the correct way to do things, an argument I see all the time, which I see as an inherently self-defeating action that serves as a dividing tactic even The State would be proud of.

    As silly as it seems, individuals in the mainstream politic would be more apt to listen to you, if you name dropped a college at which you either taught at/took classes from.

    If the LP party did it’s job in educating people, and being a political party first, and accepting that by even being a political party, they are watering down their ideals to a certain extent, and are kidding themselves if they can pursue radical ends by such mainstream means, then maybe it wouldn’t have to die.

    The LP party dying is not going to invalidate other possible Libertarian politicians (I haven’t seen a list of such at the LP party site, another error on their part). It would mean re-organization, re-evaluation of tactics.

    For all this talk about the market some Libertarians do, they seem to forget some of Marketing 101. The LP Party, as a brand, is *not* selling well. It is *not* making major, national in-roads, perhaps local progress, but overall, the forecast doesn’t look good. It’s selling a little, but not nearly enough to justify it’s existence.

    It’s time to make the call, drop the product while cutting loses and hopefully learning a few new things, and move on.

    I’m not advocating we make another LP Party, that would be an even bigger waste of time. It’s time we move on from the experiment that is the LP party, and realize that education is the only way we can ever hope to achieve long-term change. Either that, or the unlikely event that circumstances & events present an ideal opportunity for an armed rebellion that lasts more than 24hrs.

    The divide between moderate & radicals, cosmopolitan & hardcore, etc. etc. in the Libertarian community is ultimately arbitrary, and in fact, harmful, to the ends of achieving meaningful change in this nation. We could forever partake in intellectual titillation on forums, blogs, comments, but then the world around passes us by, leaving us to wonder where it all went wrong, why we were unable to stop it. Worst case scenario: The Remnant is asleep at the wheel.

    Our ideas are self-evident, and we should stick up for them and one another’s, for they are represent an unprecedented group of solutions that we know present better alternatives than The State, better yet, The Establishment, feeds to the people every day. All the while plundering them (including us) of sound mind, body, soul, & money.

  • Nitroadict

    ***edit: “Honestly that option is just the same as leaving the field of battle that you earlier alluded to, so I hardly see the difference, other than procrastinating action by avoiding the problem. Who is to say a semi-Libertarian country wouldn’t be invaded, overcome economically, by other dominant, Statist nations?”

    [I need to stop using gedit for response…]

  • mketcher

    There is also the Norman Thomas effect that the LP has had — and could have more in the future. Norman Thomas was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America from 1928-1948. He never came close to winning. Nevertheless, FDR ended up appropriating most of his ideas.

    The LP could — and may have already had to some extent — the same effect. Despite the low numbers of votes the LP candidate gets, in close elections (and recent elections have been pretty close), the LP could draw enough votes away from the Republicans to deny them the White House. Thus, it pays the Republicans to move closer to libertarian positions on key issues, in order to draw some of those LP voters who may be swayed to vote Republican.

    I believe this is what happened in 1980, when the LP was at its strongest. Reagan, who said that the “heart of conservatism is libertarianism” called for a return to the gold standard and the abolishing of the Dept. of HEW. These could have been taken right out of the LP platform. Unfortunately, RR didn’t follow through on a lot of these promises, even though he did lower the tax rates and de-regulate a fair amount.

    While I’m a non-voter, and not really all that enthralled with political activity, I do see the LP as being somewhat useful. It’s also a good “gateway drug” for introducing people to the harder-core libertarian ideas of Rothbard, etc.

  • Nitroadict

    I really don’t see why an inept, almost embarrassing Libertarian Party is needed to “get the word out” or be a “gateway drug” to get people interested. Something else that would be more successful, such as an organization devoted towards education of Libertarian and/or alternative political thought, would serve us all better.

    By the way, those who have worked with the LP Party; I do not call you inept, per se, by proxy: I merely state that the party itself is. Having no Libertarian Party, again, would *not* prevent people from being active in politics, nor from getting things done, be it they moderates or radicals.

  • Trude Blomsoy

    Nelson Hultberg proposes a new party, The Free
    American Party on his website. Could the name itself appeal to more people ? Many have problems
    with “libertarian” not understanding what it stands for or mean.

  • Nitroadict

    Possibly; the name does hit home at the objective of Libertarian principles, but would allow for a wider variety of ideas to represented, I would think.

    I do think it would help clear up misconceptions, and in fact, while possibly not as offical as the changes from Liberalism to classical liberalism to Libertarian, over the years, I do think it would be in the same vein, semantically at least.

    I also think such a party could help decrease this divide between moderates and radicals; although, then again, if it forced moderates and radicals to work together you would have similar problems the LP currently has.

    Overall, I think a possible Free american Party would be more sucessful if it:

    1.)Endorsed and/or encouraged the most Libertarian mainstream candidates and/or most Libertarian 3rd party candidate (amid the Greens, Independents, etc.).

    They could also at the same time put forth their own candidate; I could see the first option being a good way to get things done if the party couldn’t agree to a specific candidate.

    2.) Expressed that they, (a hypothetical Free American Party), do not exclusively represent Libertarians, nor any vein of Libertarians. The Free American Party could say they represent “principles & ideas that provide the most Liberty for americans”, or something along the lines of that (I’m sure someone could come up with something better).

    Further more, they could even provide a master list of philosophies in which each member of the party (maybe through a possible web 2.0 profile listing on an official site?) are interested in, study, or are followers and/or teachers of. For example, the master list could include: Agorism, Minarchism, Anarcho-Capitalism, Left-Libertarianism, Voluntaryism, maybe even soft-parentalism if such a member joined the FAP.

    3.) It wouldn’t hurt for the Free American Party to actually concentrate on being a good, well organized party, either. I suppose the LP might be trying at times, but their site for some reason never seems to encourage that view.

  • Ron Carcich

    Oh, please. The only problem the Libertarian Party has is the knuckle-headed idea that changing basic course every few years for the Next Big Plan will work. Until the purists get out of the way and let the pragmatists build a mainstream party that will actually get some elections won and some in-office personalities finally accepted as “normal human beings” in the political spectrum by the average mom on her way to the supermarket, the party will never get past being its own civic punchline and magnet for wierdos, Don Quixotes and misanthropes of society.