The Libertarian banner is a broad one. Many who fit the label fit the Libertarian Party platform as well, but we all know an anarchist and or might even see the merits of anarchy ourselves.
In the American tradition, the entire reason that governments justly exist is to preserve and protect the rights of the people (“to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men” and whatnot), alongside a simultaneous belief that governments themselves historically have been the largest violators of the same rights.
At first blush, this may seem completely contradictory, especially if you believe, as I do, that governments inevitably violate rights, though I’m always reminded of the American proverb, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence– It is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master”
by… who knows, somebody.
There was a myth it came from Washington, but that was probably just a strategic lie to add to it’s legitimacy. In any case, obviously fire can either burn your house down or cook your food, technology can give us advances in medicine and land us on the moon, but it also gives us nuclear weapons and convinces us to stare down at our phones all day.
Governments have a tendency to both grow and increasingly violate rights along the way, but they also tend to keep some order aimed at preventing individuals from violating the rights of other individuals. Otherwise it forfeits its legal monopoly on force.
As a practical matter, the founders probably realized the absurdity of attempts to “outlaw” government, given that there’s no structure left to enforce such a law which would not be considered a government in it’s own right. Anarchists, who make up a fraction of a percent of the population, may respond with something about how once enough people have been educated in their worldview, moral individuals alone would be sufficient to prevent a government from quickly reforming in a power vacuum. Personally, I believe that particular hope gives human nature far too much credit, but I could always be wrong. After all, just a year or two ago, I was convinced, confident, even adamant that Donald Trump could never be elected President.
Regardless of these differences between minarchists and anarchists, the entire debate between minimal and zero government as an end goal is a huge waste of time for the broader libertarian movement in most respects (said the author that just spent a few paragraphs summarizing some differences and giving, what is probably, an obvious preference).
After all, if we’re entirely more optimistic than we should rationally be, we’re still at least generations away from where our differences actually matter in the real world. Arguing on the merits between the two when we could be trying to change the world as it exists only serves to keep the libertarian movement a philosophical debate club on the internet. And, to paraphrase racists, some of my best friends are anarchists.
In 1974, the Dallas Accord was agreed to, acting effectively either as a Libertarian in-party ceasefire or as a concession to the anarcho-capitalists. The compromise basically kept the wording in the Libertarian platform to read, essentially, “where governments exist”, they should not “x, y, z” rather than “government should not x, y, z”. In 2006, what many anarchists refer to as the “Portland Massacre”, the LP combined Locke’s Two Treatises on Government and Jefferson’s Declaration in their platform with “Government exists to protect the rights of every individual including life, liberty, and property”. Many in the Libertarian Party contend this effectively ended the Dallas Accord. But you know what? No one cares.
Party platforms are never actually binding on candidates, and this is especially true if nobody from your political party ever really gets elected running as a party member anyway. Many libertarian candidates are still anarchists. Many activists are. There are very few free-thinking individuals of any political persuasion who believe in the entirety of their party’s platform, and they don’t have to.
My advise to Libertarian Party members? Recognize differences and promote your ideals with as much good-natured zeal and snark as you can muster. But at the end of the day, remember… Gary Johnson got roughly 3% of the vote, which would have been really damn admirable in a year that wasn’t a contest between Hillary and Trump, and it still wasn’t enough to matter much. A portion of 3% is, obviously, even less.
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