Lenz: The Problem of Trust in Libertarianism

Recently, I was asked to address the Henry, Rush, Wayne, and Delaware Libertarian Party County convention as their keynote speaker. Below is a transcript of the speech.


I’d like to thank Jeremiah Morrell, and the rest of the you fine folks, for inviting me to speak at your convention. I hate to begin on a sad note, but originally I had planned an 83 slide powerpoint presentation titled Libertarianism: A History in Internet Memes…

Due to Jeremiah’s inability to track down a projector for this evening, you will all be missing out on that much anticipated presentation.

All kidding aside, I’m humbled to be asked to speak before such a committed group of libertarians.

For those unfamiliar with me or the credentials allowing me to speak to you tonight, within libertarian circles, I’m probably best known as the guy who makes all those embarrassing photos of former Libertarian Party of Indiana Executive Director, Chris Spangle, on Facebook.

You’re welcome.

While Chris is responsible for my descent into the liberty movement and my current status, as your fellow party member, you can blame Jeremiah Morell for tonight.

On a Saturday 4 years ago, Chris invited me to fill in as a guest scumbag Republican commentator (with libertarian leanings) on a podcast he had started after leaving his position with the party: We Are Libertarians. Much to his chagrin and those of our listeners, that one time invitation turned into me becoming his involuntary co-host.

So let that serve as a warning to those of you hoping my stay in the LPIN will be short lived…

When I look back on the last four years and think about my philosophical development, I can’t get over how quickly it’s gone and how much libertarianism has grown in reach and influence.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the most common response in telling someone I was a libertarian was:

Libertarian? I’ve heard of it, but what do guys believe?

In 4 short years, that response has changed to:

Oh cool. I actually agree with a lot of your positions and I LOVE Ron Paul!

When I reflect upon the growth of just the word “libertarian” and its surge in popularity within the American lexicon, it’s impossible not to be excited about what lies ahead.

That being said, we must acknowledge the role context has played in our rapid ascent into the arena of political conversation. It’s hard to imagine a more favorable sequence of events for our inclusion into policy discussions.

Think about what we experienced over the last 4 years:

  • Edward Snowden exposing the warrantless spying of the US government on it’s citizens
  • The complete suspension of Posse Comitatus in Boston during the manhunt for the Tsaernev brothers
  • Rand Paul’s filibuster in response to President Obama’s droning of two American citizens in Anwar al-Aliki and his son in Yemen
  • The horrifying military occupation of Ferguson and Baltimore in response to riots
  • The unconscionable suffocation of Chris Garner in New York over selling homemade cigarettes without a license by a member of the NYPD. An organization whose mission is embodied by the words: Protect and Serve

Perhaps no event opened the minds of those opposed to libertarianism’s call for reform and accountability to police brutality than the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. I hate to say we’ve had good luck over the last 4 years, especially given the disturbing loss of human life and liberty, but the uncomfortable truth is:

We may not get a better opportunity to present our message and policy reforms. The context of the last 4 years has resulted in American voters with sympathetic ears.

In considering that, the questions which persistently gnaw at me in thinking about the road ahead are:

How can we continue to open minds in our newfound position of relevance and influence?

How can we best persuade voters that our suggestions of restriction, and in some cases outright repeal of government functions are the path to a better life?

In considering those questions, I find myself butting up against the same objection and road block to libertarian reforms: the element of trust.

In an offering of solutions between a statist and a libertarian, the voter is going to choose the statist offering each time. Why?

The false sense of security from a government guarantee.

Now we all know, whether or not the government’s guarantee will be honored, is another issue. Yet, for a voter making a buying decision, that guarantee is all the justification he or she needs in pulling the lever at the voting booth.

We are unwilling to offer such a guarantee, and unlike the government, will not pretend to be able to do so.

With that being the case, how can we overcome objections stemming from a lack of guarantee? How can we overcome such a deficit in trust?

Lucky for us, libertarianism is entirely built up on trust. The non-aggression principle may be the pledge we all take, but the very act of taking the pledge, is a decision entirely based upon trust. We TRUST that our pledge creates a mutually binding and reciprocal obligation.

As Libertarians, we choose to TRUST that people are inherently good and as a result, we TRUST each person to decide how best to live their lives, as long as it does not harm another or their property.

We TRUST that when left up to individuals, and the communities they choose to live in, systems for addressing issues like:

-the application of justice

-the alleviation of poverty

-or dealing with matters of personal health and safety

will develop in place of the systems currently being ILL tended to by government. What evidence do we have for entrusting such systems to a process of organic bottom up creation?

We TRUST that surely a system will develop in place of a welfare agency who keeps roughly 40 cents of every dollar it takes in via taxation.

We TRUST, that in the absence of agencies like the Department of Education and FDA, children and adults will receive an education better suited to their needs and for a lower cost, than one with a Department of Education.

We TRUST, than in the absence of the FDA, the quality of goods and services will be of equal or better quality in a system where individuals are making choices based upon the earned reputation of provider.

We do so, because surely our current system, where agency directors are appointed not on their expertise or competence, but according to their ability to fundraise for the politicians who appoint them, is one that is less safe than one where with each apple sold, the seller’s reputation and very livelihood are at stake.

You see, as Libertarians, each one of us readily sees that in the absence of government departments and agencies, solutions to issues facing communities either already exists, or a better one will develop out of necessity.

Our job, is to shine a light on and point out these hidden bonds of trust which exist among us as neighbors and fellow community members.

I’m a bit of an oddity within libertarian circles in that I struggle to think in terms of the individual. I’ve always been someone who first, has a vision of the concept and then can make sense of its individual parts.

You could say, I start with the forest, then work my way down to each tree, or a single principle. 

The paradox of libertarianism is that it’s growth is entirely dependent on the strength of these hidden bonds of trust that tie us together.

Far too often the metaphor of America as a melting pot is repeated as true. I disagree.

We are not melted down into a single substance.

I see America as a patched quilt bound together by a social fabric of distinct parts. That fabric is coming apart.

America’s coarsening political rhetoric is the result of impersonal interactions in a digital world. The wear and tear show up most in a lack of civic and social engagement.

The digital world is a lonely one. We are digitally connected to our friends and well informed about the events of their life, but it is through a looking glass. We are a voyeur society.

We are, more and more, like an art history student who can tell you all about a painting and its history, but because we have not seen it in person, we do not experience it’s moving impact.

Why is that harmful to libertarianism?

As these bonds break down, and the fabric frays, each patch of the quilt dangles with uncertainty. If we look deeper at that quilt, those patches are individual threads, and they are growing less and less secure.

It should come as no shock that in a world of fewer and fewer social interactions, we have seen the growth of the welfare state.

In the absence of these hidden bonds, each thread and patch within our social quilt becomes more desperate for reinforcement. For the purposes of this metaphor, that reinforcement, is the guarantee of government.

If libertarianism and our party are to succeed, we must rebuild and recreate these hidden bonds.

When an environment of trust exists, neighbor calls neighbor. And when neighbors are calling neighbors, more and more people will discover these bonds and begin to draw their sense of security not from a faceless agency, but from the familiar hand they know to be less intrusive and more readily available than government.

When neighbor is there for neighbor, there is not room for government necessity.

Libertarians may not be able to control the news cycle, and its ability to propel our solutions into the mainstream, we can further our cause step by step, day by day.

Maybe you have a neighbor whose a single mother of three children working two jobs, and she just got called in to cover a shift.

If she does not go in, she puts her livelihood at stake. However, she does not have the money for a babysitter. In situations like these, we should jump to her aid.

Put an arm around her shoulder and say,

“No worries. I got it. I’ll watch them tonight. Happy to help.”

Or maybe there’s someone in your neighborhood who had a major expense pop up, and because of it that, their family is not able to eat for a day or two. In such an instance, call a neighbor or two and head over to the house with a car full of groceries, so your neighbor knows that they are not in this alone.

As libertarians, as neighbors, and as friends, these small acts of human kindness compound over time. They reinforce the hidden bonds lost to a world of fewer and fewer social interactions.

As these bonds are rediscovered by those who currently look to the government for help in times of need, the threads of the social fabric will grow stronger and as they do, we will close the deficit of trust which currently inhibits our growth.

Libertarianism will not grow by pointing out the inefficiencies and atrocities of government.

It will grow by cultivating an environment of trust between individuals and from that point, our elected Libertarian politicians will be able to enact the legislative reforms necessary to extract government from every corner of our lives.

In being our brother’s keeper, we are spreading the torch of liberty.

In closing, I will leave you with an old Japanese saying,

“A society grows rich, when men plant trees knowing they will never enjoy their shade.”

What I see tonight, and have witnessed in the past by through kind acts of our party members, are seeds of liberty being planted by individuals, who may never enjoy their shade.

I cannot promise any of you the guarantee of shade from your efforts, but I can promise you that someday, someone will be sitting under the tree you planted tonight and express gratitude for your willingness to ignore an army of skeptics in an era of isolation and cynicism.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak this evening and I look forward to planting seeds with each one of you.

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Greg Lenz is a reformed Conservative. I've slowly evolved my position from Conservative Republican to it's current status of Libertarian Republican. I'm aware people hate the Libertarian Republican label, but ultimately I'm a pragmatist. Economic issues are my primary concern therefore I do support Republican candidates from time to time (Rand Paul 2016). As of late, I find myself flirting with Minarchism. The writings of William F. Buckley, Ayn Rand, and Thomas Jefferson have played the biggest role in shaping my beliefs.

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