Swayze: Progressive Libertarianism


Note: Read Greg’s post, “Libertarians Restoring Morality Through Choice”, which partly influenced this post.

I have struggled to really understand my problems with the Libertarian Party. Much of it had to do with the fact that I come from a left-leaning background and not a right-leaning background like some of the other contributors here on WAL. I have called myself a “Liberal Libertarian” for some time now. Only recently did I find out that my viewpoint actually has a name: Progressive Libertarianism. You can read the platform here.

Here are some of the questions that led me to where I am now, and why I don’t really care about labels.

What If….

What if Libertarian candidates were never elected? What if the Libertarian Party never grows? What if people do not, in the end, become Libertarians?  (With a capital L?)

Is the cause still worthwhile?

I would say yes. I believe that libertarianism (small L) has a purpose in society that is more important than elections. At least right now, anyway. I believe that our purpose as libertarians in this moment in American history is to educate so that change can happen. We may be the only ones who will say, “both sides are bad”. (Except for maybe the Conservatarians. Yes. I’m looking at you.) We as libertarians have a passion for Truth. We have a passion for liberty, justice, and equality. Many of us really do want to see America achieve good things. We want to succeed and see others succeed.

Is only pushing for Libertarian Party growth enough?

No. I completely agree with those who say that we must be involved in the legislative process. Absolutely. But that is not enough. It can’t be. In the end, our goal should be to change how people think about their government regardless of their party affiliation. Or abolish the party line of thinking altogether. Practically, I am not sure it is possible to convince the entire population to swing as far as we’d like. But in the end, I don’t really care. I’d just like it to swing. And frankly, I don’t want something worse than what we have to come about because of revolution.

Think about it. What is your “end goal?” It differs between us libertarian-minded individuals, but in general we can all probably agree on smaller government that stays within its budget, a government that isn’t run by corporations, a government that has the good of the people in mind, and a government that is truly representative. What if those means are eventually met without the Libertarian Party? Is such a thing possible? And if so, is it good?

Why Do We Need a Cultural Shift?

The problem liberty-minded individuals have right now, in my opinion, is that the public is 1) uneducated about politics and the truth of things, and 2) unwilling to see even when presented with facts. Facts are not going to change those who refuse to see them. I’m not sure what will, but it’s a fundamental problem that we have to address. What if taking the party out and replacing it with just the concepts is what is needed to make the end goals possible? People do not want to believe that their government is run by corporations and large donors/lobbyists that will take away personal liberties without qualms in order to achieve power/wealth/special favors. People see it all the time yet refuse to believe that it’s happening. Why? Because acceptance may require action. Acceptance may require embracing “the other side” (either liberal or conservative or both). Acceptance equals a loss of comfort. It’s comfortable to ignore the reports that speak of politicians being bought, the government spying and targeting normal civilians, and other atrocities. It’s comfortable to ignore the lack of justice. It’s comfortable to ignore real media and to instead only swallow what aligns with our views. It’s much more distressing to accept that we are not the constituents being represented (the lobbyists are) and that we are viewed as the enemy. It’s harder to accept that we may be purposefully dumbed down, and that we can change this.

In the end, we shouldn’t really care about party. At least I don’t. Party divisions, including the LP, are not in themselves a better solution. The fact that our movement is co-opted by large lobbyists in the form of the Koch brothers ignores that this is the problem with American government. We don’t have a meritocracy of representatives who have experience in their fields who also want to reason out the best answer. We don’t even have representatives that talk to each other. I care about results. I care about creating a nation that won’t give me nightmares. A nation that I’m not afraid to send my children into. I would like to see Americans as educated and enlightened as our European counterparts. I want to see a mainstream media that isn’t afraid to perform real journalism. (More on that later.) I would like to see the military complex turned down a few notches. I would like there to be more justice and equality in our country. (I mean really – why are we one of the last countries to allow same-sex marriage?) I would like to see the billions of dollars that are pumped into government thrown into other things, like eliminating poverty, creating jobs, and reducing educational costs for citizens (which, in turn, would help with poverty levels and other things).

The problem with our cause is that we are essentially fighting ourselves. American culture is an individualistic one that has a hard time accepting that some things are in the interest of the whole country. We’d rather tow some ideology than say, “this is good for us as a society.” Is allowing gay couples to marry a good thing? Yes. Is reducing the number of people incarcerated a good thing? Yes. Is making it so that everyone can get a low-cost secondary education a good thing? Yes! I hear so many say “Well, I don’t want to pay for other people.” Well guess what? You already are. You pay for high education costs in everything, especially in your medical bills and legal fees. You pay for the high cost of education when more people have to go on food stamps. You pay for it in its ripple effects on our economy. So go ahead, keep sounding like a jerk. I’m certainly not going to listen.

I believe that we libertarians sometimes confuse the real issue. We are so “anti-government” that we forget to be “for” anything. Corporations are not citizens and should not ask the government for favors and then promote injustice. People are citizens. We need to be for the people. If anything I am anti-corporatist more than I am anti-government. I am not an anarchist only because I don’t think it’s possible as a goal. Unlike conservative-leaning libertarians, I could give a rats behind about the good of Wal-Mart and its “right” to pay people as little as it likes or its “right” to discriminate against the LGBT community.

Okay, so let’s run with that. Instead of arguing that the government shouldn’t mandate wages or discrimination laws (maybe it shouldn’t), why not advocate what the solution is? And that solution is changing our culture. Why do we have a culture that accepts gratuitous violence, misogyny, racism, homophobia, uneducated media, and excessive litigation? Why? Would we be better off if as a people were we able to say, “this is wrong!” and then to have our representatives actually agree? If anything, liberals have it right. We need to challenge culture so that people don’t shop at Wal-Mart at all.  Or that at least people throw a stink about the Walton’s riches coming at the expense of the workers. We should at least pretend to care. People are not free if they are in poverty. People cannot rationally question their government as concerned citizens if they are in poverty. At least not without revolts. We need to care. And that is why I am a Progressive Libertarian and not a Conservatarian.

Why Change That Both “Sides” Can Accept?

In the end, I think our role as libertarians needs to be to that of a change culture. Because changing how American citizens think about issues will result in our end goals being met, at least somewhat. And somewhat is better than never in my opinion. I for one would love to at least see the pendulum swing in the right direction. We can worry about foreskins and other nonsense at another time, when laws are actually just and aren’t written by lobbyists with agendas that have nothing to do with the American people.

When the American people can say, “We do not want career politicians,” and do something about it, then we will have succeeded.

When the American people say, “We do not want media that is owned entirely by one group,” and do something about it, then we will have succeeded.

When the American people say, “this politician must go because they have special interests,” and do something about it, then we will have succeeded.

People are not taking to the streets because they are not yet enlightened. It is our job to enlighten them. Greg Lenz has good ideas about brainstorming solutions. In the end the people just need to stop swallowing the damn blue pill and wake up to reality before we can really implement any of the solutions we talk about. We are here to help. And in many ways I think we are helping, even if we aren’t seeing people convert to libertarianism. I, for one, am perfectly okay with that.

Progressive Libertarianism, for me, is the best mix of liberty and empathy. If we are not for justice, then who will be? Poverty is not just, especially when the system is rigged in favor of the rich by a bloated government. That favoritism is worse, in my opinion, than “stealing money” to give to the poor (through welfare systems). Anyone who argues more strongly against welfare systems than against tax loopholes and laws that favor the uber-rich do not see how truly unjust their rhetoric is. I agree with Greg that we need to encourage individual morality. Although if we could do it without sounding like jerks that’d be nice, too.

Contributor Lynn Swayze is a left-leaning libertarian and feminist. When she's not engaging in political discussion, she works as a freelance direct response copywriter, project manager, and marketing strategist for information marketers. Follow her on Twitter @LynnSwayze.