In talking about libertarians, it’s necessary to distinguish between those affiliated with the political party (spelled with a capital “L”) and those who “lean” libertarian (with a small “l”). Either way, this group is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in terms of the national discourse and decision making.
I’m no expert, but my sense is that in general, libertarians tend to be young, well-educated, and tech savvy. Highly resistant to being boxed and labeled, they fly beneath the radar of the mainstream media by communicating mostly on the Internet. Being generally anti-government, they tend not to brag about their influence; they seem to regard any necessary foray into politics the way a dairy farmer might think about mucking out the barn—as a distasteful but unavoidable part of the business of citizenry.
I find the rise of the libertarians both heartening and alarming. It is heartening because a viable third voice in this country may help us get past the colossal waste of time and energy represented by bipartisan posing and sniping. It’s alarming because I believe that the first principle of libertarianism—the primacy of the individual—is wrong. (More about that later, in what I hope will become a fruitful and mutually enlightening discussion.) The point here is that I, for one, will no longer talk about the American “two party” system. That expression is now antiquated and misleading.
No round-up of mainstream modern American thought would be complete without mention of a movement that is increasingly independent of traditional party affiliation and seems to be emerging as a new “party”: the fundamentalist Christian “conservatives.” With Sarah Palin as its standard-bearer, this group may eventually coalesce under the “Conservative Party” label, a group characterized by anti-intellectualism and magical thinking.
According to a recent biography, Ayn Rand, the ill-tempered, irascible defender of all things capitalist, often greeted new acquaintances with the question, “What are your premises?” Although based on her radical (and incorrect) belief that all decisions are based on reason, the question itself is important. Not knowing the answer is the basis of no end of pointless, existential conversations between people who think they’re talking about the same thing but really aren’t. (Case in point: When Republicans use the word “socialism,” they mean one thing; when Democrats use it, they mean something else entirely.)
Although her theories were greatly flawed by her ignorance and denial of the emotional aspects of decision making (a mistake that also created havoc in her personal life), Rand was correct in her belief that we can’t really understand “where people are coming from” if we don’t know the basic tenets of their philosophy—in other words, if we don’t know in what or whom they place their trust.
That said, for the sake of our ongoing discussion, here is a brief (and admittedly biased) summary of the main political movements in this country and their guiding principles:
- Democrats believe in the People—in the collective ability of a group of well-informed and well-intentioned individuals to band together to protect what they value and to progress.
- Republicans believe in the Market, which they believe to be impartial and benign but is really designed to empower and enrich the few at the expense of the many.
- Libertarians believe in the individual, not as a member of a community but rather as a sovereign decision-maker free to act, as much as possible, without reference to the concerns or mores of the larger society.
- Religious “Conservatives” believe in God, as well as in religious and political leaders who claim to speak for God.
Next: “We the People”