Should Libertarians Vote Libertarian?

Should libertarians vote Libertarian?  You will never see a similar question seriously considered for any other political party.  A person who identifies himself as a "republican" is, by definition, someone who is engaged in the political process and will vote for the Republican Party.  Likewise for the self-identified democrat.  Democrats vote for the Democratic Party, and republicans vote for the Republican Party.  That's what they do.

Things aren't so simple for "small l" libertarians.  For a libertarian to join, promote, and vote for the Libertarian Party, both pragmatic and moral objections must be overcome.  A sampling of those objections could be found any day this October on Lewrockwell.com, the best-read libertarian website in the world.  "Vote for Liberty by Not Voting", "Voting, A Fool's Game!", and "Libertarians Should Vote for… No One" are all recent articles by libertarians I admire, and they all make excellent points that every thoughtful libertarian should consider before choosing whether or not to go to the ballot box this November.

Nevertheless, I have chosen to ironically take the characteristically libertarian minority position on this libertarian voting issue.  At the risk of failing a future libertarian purity test, I believe, with a few qualifications, that libertarians should vote for candidates of the Libertarian Party.

As hard as it is to group and categorize libertarians, I will target my message towards two distinct groups: the minarchists who are planning to vote for Mitt Romney or write in Ron Paul, and the anarchists who plan to abstain from voting altogether in order to sleep well at night knowing they did not give their endorsement to the state nor bring it additional legitimacy.

A Message to Ron Paul Revolutionaries and Libertarian Minarchists Working in the Republican Party

Libertarians are split into two camps, anarchists and minarchists.  The minarchists, believing in the legitimacy or expediency of a night-watchmen state, have no objection to engaging in the political process to work for smaller government.  For the minarchist, the biggest decision to make is where to get the most bang for your political activism buck.  Do you work to reform one of the two major parties to make it more liberty-friendly, or do you work to grow the Libertarian Party?

Forget the slogan, "liberty in our lifetime"; there are some that want liberty as soon as possible, preferably this election.  With that kind of goal, building up a no-compromise liberty-oriented party of principle by changing hearts and minds one at a time over years, if not decades, just isn't very attractive.  Ruling out a political party that has not received more than 1% of the presidential vote leaves these libertarian political activists with one real alternative: take over the Republican Party.

There are several appealing reasons that libertarians choose to work within the Republican Party instead of the Libertarian Party.  For many newcomers to libertarianism the reason is simple, the man that woke them up, Dr. Ron Paul, has used the Republican Party machinery very effectively to spread the message of liberty.  Inventing the "money bomb", starting the Tea Party, passing "Audit the Fed", breaking fundraising records and drawing crowds of thousands at college campuses are all praise-worthy accomplishments of Dr. Paul's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.  However, these quantitative achievements are mere reflections of the real reason to be excited: the thousands of people that have been converted to the libertarian cause or are at least more sympathetic to these ideas as a result of Dr. Paul's engagement in the political process.

So what shall we do after accomplishing so much? After the 2008 election Dr. Paul encouraged his followers to get involved in their local Republican Party, play by the rules, and make a difference in the next election.  In a fair and just world Dr. Paul would have been recognized for having achieved wins in several primary states, but instead, we saw the red team break every rule of their party platform and common decency in order to keep Ron from gaining momentum and causing division in their party.

So what now?  Some Ron Paul revolutionaries have become so wedded to the idea of taking over the red team that they are planning to vote for the red candidate, even if he's barely distinguishable from the dreaded blue candidate.  Maybe those that have begrudgingly joined team Romney don't want to seem like "sore losers", maybe some have endorsed Mitt to strengthen their future political careers, or maybe they really think that Mitt will be slightly better than Obama on some issues.

Whatever "lesser of two evils" logic some have adopted, let's keep in mind that it hasn't worked on Ron.  Dr. Paul has heroically abstained from endorsing his party's candidate, and at the same time has said some very nice things about Gary Johnson's campaign and encouraged his supporters to make their own choice this November.

I'm hoping you consider my message when you make this choice, and for you, my message is harsh but simple: Dr. Paul woke you up by using the Republican Party as a communication platform.  You were intrigued by his unique ideas during the debates, and maybe he turned you on to a few books on libertarianism and Austrian economics.  But do not confuse your admiration of Dr. Paul with allegiance to the Republican Party.  Remember that it is Lincoln's Party: a party of war, corporatism, and big government.

The Republican Party doesn't want your ideas of liberty or small government, and just forget about a non-interventionist foreign policy.  Yes they want your vote, but they don't want you.  They pay lip service to libertarian slogans and then make us all look like fools as they vote in bigger government then democrats could ever get away with.  The republicans are gambling that you fear Obama more than you love integrity.  They are hoping that you'd rather take the long road to serfdom rather than a principled stance that a slick-talking, flip-flopping, big-government republican will never get your vote.

So come home.  Come home to the Libertarian Party.  It's an uphill battle, but it will be a fun ride.  You'll be amongst like-minded people and won't have to rub shoulders with neo-cons and war-mongers.  Join a party that actually believes what you believe.  Don't get suckered into the empty promises of the red team.  They are playing you all for fools.

Now, for those minarchists who are planning on writing in 'Ron Paul'... What are you thinking?  If we had only the two major parties on the ballot then yes, I'd write in "Ron Paul", "Donald Duck", or "Lysander Spooner".  In that scenario I have no problem siding with H.L. Mencken and "vot[ing] on Artemus Ward's principle that if we can't have a live man who amounts to anything, by all means let's have a first-class corpse."

But we don't have only two choices.  We do have a sincere libertarian who will be on the ballot in all 50 states.  You don't need to throw your vote away in order to protest a corrupt and blatantly unfair election process.  If you want to cast a protest vote, by all means, cast that vote by voting against both sides of the big-government party, against the two wings of the same bird of prey, against the left and right boots stomping your face into the mud... vote for Gary Johnson.

Damn right we did.

A Message to Principled Anarchists

A friend who volunteers for the Libertarian Party once asked me, "if libertarians make up 5 - 10% of the United States population, then why can we never get more than 1% of the vote for the presidential election?".  I can answer his question with a joke, "What is the difference between a minarchist and an anarchist?"  "About 6 months."

In other words, just as fast as we gain new libertarians, those new converts become stricken with a disease of logical consistency.  At some point along the libertarian journey one comes to the realization that if private voluntary transactions on the free-market can bring us cell-phones, vegetables, and health-care better than theft, coercion, and organized violence, then perhaps security and arbitration services are additional candidates for privatization.  Now the last excuses for the night-watchmen state fall apart, and a man must make a choice between intellectual integrity and the risk of being labeled a Molotov-cocktail-throwing, v-for-vendetta-mask-wearing social delinquent.

Once you accept that the government that governs least governs best, and the least amount of governing is zero, then you have practical and moral considerations to make when it comes to engaging in the political process.  The moral question asks if one can be a principled and consistent libertarian anarchist while engaging in the political process.  The practical question is one of tactics: does my political activism support, endorse, legitimize, or provide a mandate for the very system that I would like to see eventually dismantled?  If I support a bill that will lower taxes, am I acknowledging that the state has a right to steal from me?  If I vote for a candidate who pledges to lower taxes, is my vote for a lower amount of theft endorsing theft nonetheless?

Many prominent libertarians certainly think so.  Consider this passage from "Vote for Liberty by Not Voting" by Daniel J Sanchez:
"...your vote helps provide a mandate for all of the elected officer’s policies, whether you support those policies or not.  As one author has said, voting "just encourages the bastards."

Furthermore, every vote for a federal office is a vote for the hyper-state known as the U.S. federal government, and for hyper-states in general.  It is effectively an endorsement of centralized power and a vote of no confidence in localism.  And yes, this would be true of a vote for a middling libertarian like Gary Johnson, or even an exceptionally heroic individual like Ron Paul.  True progress toward liberty cannot be achieved through the offices of a gargantuan state."

In "Voting: A Fool's Game!", Gary Barnett flips the conventional wisdom on its head, and argues that not only does voting legitimize the state, but it also forces you to accept the results and invalidates your grounds for complaining.
"Many libertarians think that voting is acceptable only if one votes for someone other than those in the two major parties, or someone who is a Democrat or Republican that is accepted by a majority of "libertarian type" individuals.  I disagree with this thinking entirely.  I disagree because even if a good man might run for high office, regardless of who wins, every single vote cast legitimizes not only the outcome, but also the very flawed political system itself.  This is not an option to my way of thinking, because libertarianism is based upon individual rights, and when voting is evident, the individual is abandoned.

Because voting supports the system, those who vote are obligated to accept the results.  To accept the results means to accept the system, and to accept the system, means to accept what that system produces.  What is produced in the governing system in the U.S. is based upon theft, coercion, police state force, and imprisonment, all for political gain.  The laws of the land written by those elected officials in this same system support this criminal activity, so by voting, one’s ability to complain is eliminated.  I do realize that this is the reverse of how many think, but it is the only logical position to take.

In my mind, not voting is the only way to denounce entirely the current political system, and to not give consent, implied or otherwise, to its evil ways."

Joel Poindexter's article "Libertarians Should Vote for… No One" mainly argues against voting for either of the two major candidates, which I am in perfect agreement with.  However, he seems to believe that voting for the Libertarian Party candidate won't accomplish as much as abstaining from voting entirely.
"... it should be noted that voting for another candidate – even one nominated by the Libertarian party – does little to stall, rollback, or smash the state, as should be every libertarian's goal.  Libertarians should instead avoid the polls, and convince as many others to do likewise."

While these are all thoughtful reason to abstain from voting, the best arguments against engaging in the sacrament of the political religion that I've read were in Larken Rose's excellent book The Most Dangerous Superstition.

On page 144 Mr. Rose gives us "The Libertarian Contradiction":
" trying to make it [the non-aggression principle] a reality via any political process is completely self-contradictory, because "government" and non-aggression are utterly incompatible.
Trying to convert libertarianism into a political movement requires a mangled, perverted hybrid of the two options: the idea that a system of domination ("government") can be used to achieve individual freedom.  Whenever a "libertarian" lobbies for legislation or runs for office, he is, by his own actions, conceding that "authority" and man-made "law" is legitimate.
There is a fundamental difference between arguing about what the master should do - which is what all "politics" consists of - and declaring that the master has no right to rule at all.  To be a libertarian candidate is to try to do both of these conflicting things.  It obviously legitimizes the office the candidate seeks to hold, even while the candidate is claiming to believe in the principles of non-aggression and self-ownership, which completely rule out the possibility of any legitimate "public office."  In short, if the goal is individual freedom, "political action" is not only worthless, it is hugely counter-productive, because the main thing it accomplishes is to legitimize the ruling class's power.
If enough people recognize and let go of the "authority" myth, there is no need for any election, any political action, or any revolution."

Answering the common objections in these passages in order from easiest to hardest, I'll first respond to the challenge that abstaining from voting is a more effective means of resistance to the state than voting for the Libertarian Candidate.

While it may make one feel warm and fuzzy to stay home on election day, the reality is this decision only hampers our ability to reach the masses.  Remember that the news cycle will not report that of the 36% of eligible voters that stayed at home, 8% of them were principled anarchists that have rejected the state and refuse to endorse it.  Instead they will report only the percentages of those that choose to vote, and the collective decision of libertarian non-voters to remain silent means that instead of getting 5%-10% and becoming a force to be reckoned with, we may never pass that embarrassing 1% barrier and our ideas will never be considered by the common man because of that stigma.

Next we have the argument of providing aid and comfort to the enemy.  The act of voting for anyone, even a libertarian, provides a mandate for all government officials, legitimizes their illegitimate power, provides endorsement of their crimes against humanity, and obligates you to accept the state in all of its horror.

If the choice were between the lesser of two evils, then I would absolutely agree.  But remember, we have a Libertarian Party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states!  Is Gary Johnson the reincarnation of Murray Rothbard?  He's far from it.  In fact, when I went to Las Vegas as a delegate I supported R. Lee Wrights because I felt he was a more principled candidate.  But that being admitted, it is grossly unfair to lump the LP in the same group as the blue and red wings of the big government party.  How better can you denounce the system then by voting for a candidate who has the polar opposite beliefs of that system's front men?  Everything they want to promote and expand, be it war, taxes, or the power of government itself, we want to decrease, eliminate, and roll back.

Agreed.  So vote for a candidate who wants to get rid of the masters, break the chains, and set the slaves free!

And if the objection is that Gary Johnson isn't a pure enough libertarian to earn the anarchist vote, you frankly have no one to blame but yourself.  Just as there has been an ideological battle in the Republican Party, there has been a similar struggle in the Libertarian Party.  The forces aligned with Wayne Alan Root fought for a "big-tent" libertarian party, which was code for watering down our beautifully radical platform to become the Republican-lite party.  Those forces succeeded in 2008, but in 2012 I am proud to say that the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party heroically fought them off and succeeded in defeating their attempt to completely take over the party and disenfranchise the anarchists.  We were able to fill the Libertarian Party Executive Committee completely with radicals, and that setback is a big reason we were finally able to run off Wayne Alan Root himself, as he has formally left the LP, endorsed Romney, and announced his intention to run for office as a Republican.

So can we answer the hardest objection of them all?  Do I have an answer for Mr. Rose's libertarian contradiction?  Having run for office on the LP ticket myself, I was taken aback by his challenge. Did my campaign do more harm than good?  Ask the question another way, is it possible to be a libertarian candidate and not bring legitimacy to the state?

I think it is possible, and while I can't speak for the minarchist candidates of the LP, you can definitely imagine an anarchist campaign that would not violate Mr. Rose's objections.  Imagine a campaign where every voter questionnaire, every interview, and every chance to speak centered around an educational message denouncing the system of government itself and encouraging people to free themselves from their masters.  If every campaign message was about not only dismantling the state, but encouraging people to actively resist the state to help bring that about, then Mr. Rose's objections wouldn't hold water.

And now I am left in an awkward position.  If a principled anarchist could only vote for a principled anarchist candidate, then am I not admitting that some should not vote for the LP because Gary Johnson's campaign does not meet the criteria that I just laid out?

Thankfully, I have at least one prominent libertarian hero on my side, Dr. Walter Block, who has provided me with the perfect reductio ad absurdum rebuttal.  Yes, Gary Johnson's campaign does not meet the qualifications necessary to earn the vote of a principled anarchist...  Luckily, I am not a principled anarchist.

I accept federal reserve notes for payment, which legitimizes the government's theft and fraud through a fractional reserve fiat money system enforced through violence.  I use government roads and other public services, even though I know they were paid for with blood money stolen at the point of a gun.  I have abandoned my unalienable and natural right to self-defense, and instead I have sheepishly applied for a concealed carry permit.  And long before I traded that right for a privilege, I acknowledged that I have no right to travel without the state's permission, as I possess a driver's license.

My list of transgressions against my anarchist principles could go on forever.  The point being, don't throw stones if you live in a glass house.  One of the most hardcore libertarians I know, Michael Badnarik, really walks the walk.  He drives without a driver's license and he will never get a permit to exercise his natural right to bear arms.  The guy is hard-core principled.  And considering that he was the LP's 2004 presidential candidate, I think we can deduce where he falls on the voting issue.  If he can make the sacrifice, what is your excuse?


The Libertarian Party is not perfect.  Our pathetic choice for our presidential candidate in 2008 is testament to that.  However, our party platform is still something a radical libertarian can be proud of, and our recent reversal of the Wayne Alan Root forces is also a great victory for every hardcore libertarian.

Every time I hear "this is the election cycle that can change everything" I shake my head.  It is counter-productive to have delusions of grandeur and set yourself up for failure.  But that being said... this is the year that can change everything.  Not to win, but to finally pass that dreaded 1% mark.  We are not only in a position to break 1%, but we have a real chance of passing the 5% mark.  This means that all of the time, money, and energy that is spent every election in every state to qualify or re-qualify the Libertarian Party for ballot access will no longer be necessary.

With 5%, we get automatic ballot access.  All of the lawsuits, all of the petition gathering, the tens of thousands of dollars… all of it can finally go towards promoting our candidates and more importantly, promoting our message.

One of Gary Johnson's campaign slogans is "Be libertarian with me for one election".  My slogan is "libertarians, vote libertarian with me for one election!"

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