Blaming the Libertarian Party

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The too-few readers of my personal site know that while I support lower-case libertarianism to the extent possible, I don’t have a lot of use for the upper-case Libertarian Party. But this kind of Libertarian-blaming in The Wall Street Journal is pretty much stupid, because it is based on a false assumption:

Libertarians Spoil the Election

Jo Jorgensen exceeds Biden’s margin in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.

By Walter E. Block | November 8, 2020 3:34 PM EST

Did the Libertarian Party throw the election to Joe Biden? Maybe. At this writing nominee Jo Jorgensen’s vote total exceeds Mr. Biden’s margin over President Trump in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, enough to change the outcome.

In 2000 the Green Party was accused of ruining things for the Democrats. Did Ralph Nader throw the election from Al Gore to George W. Bush? The cognoscenti are still divided, but the 2020 parallels are strong. Probably most Green voters would have gone Democratic if forced into a binary choice. Similarly, on the Libertarian-O-Meter, Mr. Trump scores much higher than Mr. Biden.

In this, Walter Block, the writer, assumes that the vast majority of Miss Jorgensen’s votes would have gone to President Trump. But of the four states he mentioned, Nevada has been ‘blue’ for several election cycles, including 2016, and Arizona has been electing Democratic senators as well. It’s previous Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, were not exactly hard-line conservatives. Pennsylvania being carried by Mr Trump in 2016 was a surprise; no Republican had carried the Keystone State since the elder George Bush did it in 1988.

That these states were ‘battleground’ states was no surprise; the media had been pushing that seemingly forever. If those who voted for Miss Jorgensen were really preferred Mr Trump to Mr Biden, they knew that their votes mattered, in a way that Libertarian votes in Kentucky or California or New York did not, and could have chosen to vote for the President. That they did not, in a known-to-be-close election, where their votes really could make a difference, tells me that they didn’t want to vote for Mr Trump, period.

Yes, the Donald is a protectionist, and free trade is the preferred policy of those who favor economic and personal liberty. But when it comes to lowering taxes and easing regulations on business, the party of the elephant is far more closely aligned to the libertarian philosophy than that of the donkey. Mr. Trump has appointed conservatives to the Supreme Court, not libertarians like Randy Barnett, Clint Bolick, Jacob Huebert, Gregory Rome or Brandon Thibodeaux. But supporters of the freedom philosophy prefer judges who adhere to the U.S. Constitution over those who make things up as they go along.

In contrast, Mr. Biden is a puppet in the marionette hands of out-and-out socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yes, there are some issues on which libertarians are closer to Democrats, such as Oregon’s decriminalization of heroin and cocaine. But these are few and far between.

This is why I have said that, like the TEA Party, the future for libertarians, and the Libertarian Party, is to fold itself into the Republican Party.

The national Libertarian Party started in 1971, several state parties earlier. In 1969 I had the honor to run for the New York Assembly. My motto was “Disassemble the Assembly.” I didn’t win; I’m not sure my vote total reached triple digits. But I’ve been a staunch member of the party ever since.

If Dr Block believes that the GOP is far closer to libertarian ideals than the Democrats, he should, as “a staunch member of the party,” be working for exactly what I have advocated: getting the Libertarian Party involved in Republican politics. The purpose of a political party is to unify and get people with your particular policy views elected into government office, to put your views into governing policy. In that, the Libertarian Party has been a rather spectacular failure.

Of course, Dr Block might not be the best choice of a person to do this, and I am stunned that The Wall Street Journal provided him with print space. Why? Because Dr Block has defended racial segregation.

Now, he did that in typical libertarian fashion, stressing the right to free assembly and association includes the right to not associate with people with whom you do not wish to associate. It’s actually a reasonable argument, but certain arguments that are philosophically reasonable are simply so far out of the mainstream — and The Wall Street Journal is nothing if not mainstream — that making them in polite society is to excuse oneself from polite society. Dr Block wrote, in 2013:

What sticks in my craw here is that crack about Woolworth’s lunch counter. I cannot be 100% sure, I wish this man would write more clearly, but in my interpretation Selley is saying that this firm was not justified in refusing to serve black people; the implication is that the so called Civil Rights Act of 1964 was entirely justified. Of course, one of the basic tenets of libertarianism is the law of free association. No one should be compelled, at the point of a government gun, to associate with anyone else, against his will. Compelling Woolworths to seat blacks is thus incompatible with libertarianism. It was a violation of their private property rights over their establishment.

Free association is a very important aspect of liberty. It is crucial. Indeed, its lack was the major problem with slavery. The slaves could not quit. They were forced to “associate” with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory. It violated the law of free association, and that of the slaves’ private property rights in their own persons. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, then, to a much smaller degree of course, made partial slaves of the owners of establishments like Woolworths.

Emphasis mine.

One can make the argument that “the major problem with slavery” was its denial of free association only if one ignores that slaves were treated as property and not as human beings. Saying that “otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad” ignores the fact that slaves could be, and some were, beaten, raped or even killed, because the slaveowners could do so with impunity. He makes his arguments much as a college sophomore might at a drunken party — I know; I once was a college sophomore — with just enough education to know a few facts without any concept of the larger world around him. In the internet era, none of your philosophical discussions are truly private, and your past arguments will always be carried over to your present situation.

In one way, Dr Block is simply the Libertarian Party, writ small. The official Party’s strange combination of ideological purity on the part of some of its staunchest advocates combined with its willingness to nominate people like William Weld for Vice President in 2016 runs off people who might otherwise be more inclined to appreciate libertarian philosophy. It’s no wonder that Libertarian candidates always lose.
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