The Limits of Libertarianism

By: May 02, 2011

A friend of mine, a prominent fixture in the conservative movement during the 1960s and beyond, once told me that he attended a convention of the Libertarian Party. “It reminded me,” he said, “of the bar scene in the Star Wars movie.”

That one line captures the essence of the problem of Libertarianism as a political force in modern America. On the one hand, most elements of the Libertarian philosophy–the emphasis on the importance of  individual liberty in opposition to the power of the state being the most significant–are entirely consistent with American Constitutionalism, and the three core values of the Tea Party movement. On the other hand, at the extreme, Libertarians can be very inflexible and unbending in their adherence to the sanctity of their principles. This tends to limit their ability to work cooperatively with others.

Since Libertarians have played such an important role in the growth and development of the Tea Party movement, this naturally suggests a few topics for the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series.

Why have Libertarians been able to participate more effectively in the Tea Party movement than in other political activities?

Does the success of Libertarian philosophy within the Tea Party movement today indicate a greater willingness to work with others in the future, or is it a one time event?

In the recent past, political operatives within the Republican Party have treated supporters of libertarian spokesman Ron Paul with contempt. Younger and more idealistic than the “Inside the Beltway” crowd, these Libertarian activists have fueled Paul’s online donations, spurred his consistent straw poll victories at CPAC … and delivered very little in the way of electoral results in presidential primaries. Now that it appears Ron Paul will again run for the Presidency, the 2012 primaries may tell us whether a new level of Libertarian political effectiveness has been reached.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, and the author of an upcoming book on the ideological origins of the Tea Party movement. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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