Gary Johnson Can’t Save the Libertarian Party

The Objective Standard has released my latest article, “Even with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party Undermines Liberty.” My main argument is that the libertarian movement is overrun with moral subjectivism and anarchism, and Johnson will not be able to escape that association. My fear is that, to the extent Johnson gets any traction, that will only serve to link free markets with libertarian kookiness in public debate.

As I have argued before, while the ideology of the LP is the main problem, strictly on grounds of electoral strategy supporting Johnson makes little sense. See my previous two articles about that:

Paul-Johnson 2012: The Libertarians’ Best-Case Scenario

The Delusional Gary Johnson

3 thoughts on “Gary Johnson Can’t Save the Libertarian Party”

  1. Comment by bil_dJanuary 11, 2012 12:39 PM

    (Note: revised for length)
    Ari’s thesis/premise is that it is “impossible” to support Gary Johnson (GJ) in the general election, as a Libertarian candidate, without promoting the Libertarian Party; a political party that “undermines the very foundation of individual rights.” The clear implication being that if one holds individual rights as sacrosanct, in fact inviolable, then support of any candidate who runs under the Libertarian banner is therefore inconsistent and would be maintaining a contradiction. If this argument is valid, then if one does hold individual rights as inviolable one cannot support GJ and must therefore vote for either the Republican or Democrat candidate. However, Ari would necessarily have to apply the same rationale to both the Republican and Democrat candidates and would, therefore, have to abstain in the general election – I assert this as it goes without saying that neither of the other two major parties, nor any of their candidates, can survive the same standard. By making this argument Ari has done two things: conflated individual candidates inextricably with party, and instituted individual rights as THE litmus test for support of any political party/candidate.

    The support that Ari gives for this thesis includes positions from individual libertarians, as well as official positions of the LP, that can be interpreted (correctly) to undermine not just individual rights, but the American founders purpose and precepts, and (I would inject) reason and rationality. Ari points this out quite accurately, stating: “the Libertarian Party (LP) has always been laced with moral subjectivism, the notion that right and wrong are matters of opinion or social consensus; and anarchy, the notion that the ideal society is one without a government. Although not every self-identified libertarian today embraces subjectivism or anarchy, these elements continue to characterize the Libertarian Party and the broader libertarian movement.” By going down this path in an inductive reasoning method Ari is attempting to move from isolated specifics, albeit stunning, to a general conclusion that makes it: “ impossible to support Johnson as a Libertarian candidate without promoting the Libertarian Party.”

    And this is where I disagree with Ari. It appears that he is implying that if individual rights, properly understood in Objectivist terms, are inviolable then there cannot be any candidate from any party currently configured that an Objectivist could rationally support–regardless of the individual’s stated and public policy positions. The problem here as I see it is that it is not valid that we specifically elect, per se, a political party; if that was the case then we would be holding elections for parties and not candidates-but we do vote for individuals in general elections (primaries are arguably different), not specifically parties. This is not to say that parties, their platforms, or the ideologies embedded or implicit in those platforms are not important, nor that they do not have impact. But what they are is the mechanism which we have become used to (but is clearly not fundamentally required) by which a politician gains the ability to have his or her name on the ballot, appear in televised debates, effectively raise money, etc. The conclusion Ari has reached at the outset does not seem to follow from the induction of the specifics that he illustrates – correct as those individual aspects may be. I would argue that the generalization of “impossible” doesn’t follow from a conflation of instances of anti-individual rights positions by libertarians at large, the LP, and then the LP candidate (GJ in this case). Because those instances are irreconcilable with individual rights it does not follow that GJ’s positions, as an individual candidate, can be conflated with them necessarily.
    Ari’s argument here is important to contemplate – it sets out the idea of individual rights as an inviolable in politics, coupled with the conflation of a candidate with the party he or she happens to be running under.

  2. Comment by Eric PriceJanuary 25, 2012 9:08 AM

    I appreciate Ari’s background, experience and knowledge. He’s clearly a smart man who’s trying to make some sense of and make a difference in the world.

    Nevertheless, Ari makes correlations to the LP here that aren’t correct. Let’s just take the first example. He states, “Although not every self-identified libertarian today embraces subjectivism or anarchy, these elements continue to characterize the Libertarian Party and the broader libertarian movement.” These elements continue to characterize the Libertarian Party? According to whom?

    Not according to the Libertarian Party. The party clearly identifies its position on many of the issues that Ari contests are problematic for the libertarians. It is spelled out clearly in the party’s platform: http://www.lp.org/platform

    “Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent.”

    The mistake that is made here is one of association. For example, in the Republican Party, there are groups who would end the ability for gays to hold teaching positions in public schools. Yet there are also groups in the Republican Party that push the party to legalize same-sex marriage. These two groups are at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet they both exist in the party.

    While you may intellectually or philosophically disagree with the premise of the LP’s stated ideals, to wholesale reject the party based on a diversity of views that you do not agree with AND are not embraced by the party’s platform is a common mistake that many have made.

    I look forward to reading more of Mr. Armstrong’s articles on the topic of freedom. It appears that some bad experiences with individuals within the LP may have caused him to throw the baby out with the bathwater…our loss.

  3. My comment of January 25, 2012 10:57 AM
    Eric, The quote you provide hardly rebuts my claims that the LP is overrun with moral subjectivism and anarchism. Indeed, that very quote, while not explicitly anarchistic, heads in that direction. My argument is not merely that *some* people in the LP are moral subjectivists and anarchists, but rather that those are the overriding trend lines of the LP. -Ari

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