Libertarian Purity

Welcome Instapundit readers!

Libertarians are ineffective in politics.  There, I’ve said it.  Of course, I’m not exactly breaking new ground here either.  Everyone who follows politics knows that libertarians are ineffective.  After all, it’s the worst kept secret in politics.  The question is: why?

Yesterday, I saw a video where noted libertarian/classical liberal Virginia Postrel sat down with Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, for a chat.  In it, she mentions in passing that there are libertarians who spend a great deal of time looking for ideological purity and denouncing those that don’t share it.  The idea isn’t new, I’ve heard the criticism before, but it is accurate.

Every ideological stripe has those people.  There are people who argue that Obama isn’t a true progressive because of X, or that so-and-so isn’t a true conservative because of Y.  The difference isn’t in the existence of these people, but the percentages of these people.  Libertarians seem to have a higher percentage than most other groups, and this may be why we are so ineffective.

Ideological purity sounds fine and good, but it also pushes luke-warm libertarians away.  They find themselves in less friendly terrain, often the Republican Party (but not always) where their support is mustered on some issues and ignored on others.  They’re told by libertarians that they aren’t real libertarians, so eventually some believe them.

Most ideologies have a spectrum of beliefs that aren’t necessarily the beliefs of all members of that group.  There are pro-life Democrats, and pro-gay marriage Republicans.  There are anti-gun Republicans and pro-gun Democrats.  They function within their respective groups just fine, but libertarians?  For some, they require absolute obedience to the ideology.

It’s kind of funny though.  Libertarians almost universally don’t want government to think for us, but some libertarians have no problem thinking for society as a whole by labeling some as “not libertarian”.  They don’t want to look at the whole and realize that no two people are going to think about the same things.

Some will say I’m not a real libertarian because I’m fine with public roads.  Others will point to my acceptance of regulations in a few instances – namely in the case of a true market failure (not the crap often called a market failure to justify regulation) – as proof I’m not a real libertarian.  Fine.  Honestly, I don’t really care what these folks think of me.  However, they’re not doing their own any favorites either.

There are very few ideologically pure people of any stripe.  Instead, there are variations.  Shades of gray, if you will.  This is where the majority of people find themselves sitting.  Many of them actually share libertarianism’s overall goal of less government, more freedom to some extent or another.  However, they’re not necessarily comfortable with the ideologically pure’s ideas of switching off government almost completely.  It scares them, and people don’t support what scares them.

In truth, we need the “moderate” libertarians even more than the ideologically pure ones, especially when running for office.  The moderates can win elections where pure candidates are going to have a tough time.  Like it or not, we need people winning elections if there’s going to be a hope in hell of reclaiming this nation.  It’s all fine and good to sit on blogs and have great debates about what all libertarians could accomplish if only they could win.  It’s quite another to step up and start making damn sure it actually happens, and like it or not that means accepting people who aren’t as pure as you may like.

Let’s face it folks.  We are not going to take this country in a libertarian direction overnight.  We may never reach what some call Libertopia.  I’m fine with that.  However, we have got to start making some waves in American politics if we’re going to start moving in that direction.  We can’t do that if we expect every libertarian candidate to be 100% pure.  We need to accept that Joe and Jane American isn’t comfortable with that just yet, and let’s back those who actually want to move us in a direction that gives us more freedom even if that isn’t perfect freedom.  We can boot them out later if they decide we’re free enough and we don’t agree.

It’s the only way we’re going to accomplish a thing.

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