Achieving Liberty

October 20, 2012

One of the great things about Libertyfest-regardless of its faults-is that it brings together people who are willing to disagree with each other over substantive issues of political philosophy. It’s not a stage-managed affair crafted by its participants with the intent of obscuring differences and evading questions such as whence do rights derive, and how do we secure those rights? In other words, it’s reality, not a simulacrum of reality.  

Perhaps the main cleavage within the liberty movement is the divide between those who feel that engagement with traditional politics, e.g. registration, voting, party-building, is worthwhile and those who believe that it is a diversion of time and energy that can be put towards more useful endeavors. This dichotomy was on display throughout Libertyfest, particularly with respect to the presidential campaign of  former New Mexico governor, and current Libertarian Party presidential nominee, Gary Johnson.

While his running-mate, Orange County Superior Court judge Jim Gray, attempted to make the case that Gary Johnson’s campaign was merely an extension of the Ron Paul Revolution-and therefore should be embraced by liberty activists-other speakers were just as vociferous in their disavowal of electoral politics as it is currently practiced.

John Bush, the current head of Texans for Accountable Government and co-host of Live Free Now Radio, rejected the premise that liberty activists should be beholden to any party, especially the Libertarian Party, which has been utterly useless in both practice and principle since its inception. He highlighted the most recent Libertarian Party presidential nominee-who would go on to endorse the candidacy of Newt Gingrich under the mystifying notion that his presidency would help advance libertarianism-as an example of what happens when libertarians compromise their principles in pursuit of electoral gains.

He cautioned the audience that the LP was heading in a similar direction this year, as it rallied behind Governor Gary Johnson-an ostensibly popular ex-governor whose bid for the Republican nomination failed-in the elusive hope that the party would finally cross the threshold of national credibility. The fact that Governor Johnson is not consistent in his espousal of libertarian principle, as critics of his foreign and national security policy views, as well as his views on monetary and fiscal policy, have pointed out,  plays into the worst assumptions that his nomination is a result of his celebritarian status. Bush advised charting a Rothbardian path, i.e. allying with political figures on specific issues where government encroachment can be rolled back, opposing those figures-and the parties they represent-when they attempt to enhance the state at the expense of  individual liberties, but always holding firm to fixed principles which have guided rational individuals since the Enlightenment.

By contrast,  Darcy Van Orden Chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Utah and co-founder of the Austrian Economics Club in that state, advocated taking over the Republican Party from within. Much like Senator Rand Paul, who has criticized the Republican nominee and tried to change the dismal Republican establishment, even as he’s worked with institutional forces in the GOP, she has tried to alter the internal dynamics of the Republican Party and seize it from the Boehners, McConnells, and Huntsmans, emulating the example of Barry Goldwater and his followers.

In fairness to her, this approach has yielded some victories, such as a grassroots movement to nullify Obamacareousting Bob Bennett, as well as a nearly successful campaign to do the same to Senator Orrin Hatch. Political pressure does work, as illustrated by Hatch’s reversal on SOPA, one of the most comprehensive attempts on the part of the federal government to limit online speech, illustrates. It works not only here, but  in Europe, as well as in the Philippines. Although, as subsequent actions by Hatch demonstrate, it is no panacea.

Sheriff Mack also spoke, although not nearly as persuasively, judging by the reaction he elicited from the crowd. In addition to a lackluster speech, Richard Mack also has the baggage of an endorsement of Mitt Romney, which was not as persuasive as Rand Paul’s endorsement of the same candidate, or Murray Rothbard’s layered recommendation for libertarian voters during the 1992 presidential election. Even so, Mack must be commended for being largely responsible for the Supreme Court’s negation of a significant portion of the Brady Act, a decision which reaffirmed the concepts of dual sovereignty and federalism. Coming two years after United States v. Lopez, which represented the first significant limitation of the Interstate Commerce Clause since Wickard vs. Filburn, this decision should have represented a shift in how the federal government deals with the states and individuals.

We’ll examine why that wasn’t to be in our final post on LibertyFest.





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