Last year while I was working for the Rich Turvey for Congress campaign, we had the opportunity to participate in a candidate forum at a local university. During the forum, we met the director of the Political Science department, and I took the opportunity to ask if I can present to one of his classes sometime. This past week I was given that opportunity and spoke to a sophomore level Political Science Class.
Admittedly I was somewhat skeptical of how I would be received, especially after seeing the intolerance of leftist students on campuses around the country recently. To my surprise and delight the students were engaged, thoughtful, and respectful. For the presentation, I decided to keep things at a high-level and give them the foundation of what libertarianism and the Libertarian Party are.
Starting with libertarian philosophy I used David Boaz’s “Libertarianism: A Primer” as a resource (which is a great read and I encourage you to check it out). One of the earliest examples of libertarian thought we can find is in Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” which is more of a moral bible than a political manifesto. In Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu said:
“Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.”
After touching on Sophocles, Pluralism, and Thomas Paine I ended with Robert Nozick author of “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”. Nozick succinctly said
“…a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, [and] fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons’ rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right.”
These quotes, though great, prompted me to explain that libertarianism is not necessarily the complete absence of government. I also explained to the students the difference between libertarianism and anarchy and wanted to reinforce the idea that anarchy itself is not chaos.
Party history and structure was discussed from the national to local level. I did feel it was important to include the party’s statement of principles:
(1) the right to life—accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others;
(2) the right to liberty of speech and action—accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and
(3) the right to property—accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.
While discussing principle two, a student asked about child pornography and if libertarianism would allow its sale and distribution. After explaining that this principle opposes governmental abridging and censorship of speech, and that child pornography would most certainly be considered criminal and immoral, this was the perfect opportunity to explain the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It seems that as libertarians we are expected to have a working knowledge, if not be proficient in, several areas of politics and economics. However, I believe if you stick to the principles of liberty and the NAP, you can explain almost anything.
During the question and answer session (which I considered the best part of our time) I received questions ranging from immigration, Gary Johnson, the future of the party, to libertarian economics. A common theme began to develop from the student’s questions about libertarianism and the Libertarian Party:
- Are third parties taken seriously and what can they do to improve their image?
- What are the Libertarian Parties plans on building on the momentum of 2016?
- Why do you only hear about the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President? Wouldn’t it be better to run local candidates first?
These are excellent questions all of which I hope the National Party has already addressed or is in the process of addressing. Since becoming a Libertarian in 2008, it has always baffled me why we always put everything into the presidency when we haven’t even proved we can govern effectively. Though we got over 3% of the popular vote only less than 20 Libertarians were elected nation-wide and to my knowledge not to any office higher than mayor.
We have an eager audience and are at a critical time for the party. As one of the students said to me afterwards “I always thought of the libertarians as the rational ones”. Hopefully we don’t let this opportunity pass.