Libertarianism as a philosophy may perhaps be witnessing its modern heyday. Its influence in shaping policy positions of new candidates has grown and the pressure on incumbent Republicans to oppose new forms of government intrusion into the economic and personal affairs of individuals is stronger now than it has been in the past. Social conservatism has been relegated to its deathbed by a youthful tolerance. Polls find a growing trend among self-identified libertarians. The Libertarian Candidate, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, is enjoying a huge surge in polling relative to his third-party predecessors, indicating a dissatisfaction with the status quo of mainstream politics.
But is it genuine, and will it last?
The recent presidential campaigns of Congressman Ron Paul have undoubtedly served to bring a more libertarian political philosophy to the mainstream and have attracted many to this alternative. Ron Paul supporters, which comprise a sizable segment of the “liberty movement,” simultaneously contribute to the growth and detriment of libertarianism. While some of the congressman’s advocates are genuine adherents to a libertarian philosophy, many have fallen into idolatry and are married to Ron Paul the man and refuse to stray from the cult. To bring the deification of Ron Paul full circle, many of his followers have accused Rand Paul of acting in the manner of Judas Iscariot for his endorsement of Mitt Romney. Additionally, most of the conspiracy theories that ail the “liberty movement” originate from Ron Paul supporters. What is to become of this group now that Congressman Paul is retiring from his political career remains to be seen. Many people drawn to Paul for his ideas, not the fad that he has become, have gravitated to Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign, while those obsessed with the “revolution” vow to write in Ron Paul in the 2012 election – an exercise in futility. This latter segment will likely sway from conspiracy to conspiracy in an attempt to remain exclusive yet relevant, while contributing nothing of substance to the growth of libertarianism.
Of the remaining libertarian-leaning crowd, much of the perceived opposition to government is merely opposition to a Democratic president. With their ideological professions contingent upon The Other Party occupying the presidency, like the anti-war left that vanished upon Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, this group will cease to exist once the partisan affiliation of the White House changes; Their sudden anger over a profligate government expiring, they will commence a rhetorical about-face and retreat to the Bush-era vacuum from whence they came. Until then, conservatives will continue to ally with libertarians under false pretenses. This association with the rigid nature of conservative principles will serve only to taint and inhibit the growth of libertarianism.
It is vital that philosophical libertarianism maintains its own identity, divorced from idolatry, conspiracy, and partisan devotion. The importance of this ideological independence was illustrated in the battle for control of the Cato Institute – an episode that nearly resulted in the libertarian think-tank becoming a political machine for the Koch brothers. Cato survived the debacle, and its independent voice, of cardinal importance to the libertarian philosophy, remains untainted. So, too, must the other voices stay. For this reason, a Mitt Romney presidency would serve the growth of libertarianism much greater than four more years of our current administration. It is not because Mitt Romney is friendly to libertarianism, but precisely because he lies in stark contrast to it, that his election would do more for its growth and independence.
Here, at this crux, we must provide that the libertarian philosophy is an independent one, not reliant on the current powers that be. We are the constant, the steady, the immutable defenders of freedom.