L. Neil Smith's
Number 355, February 19, 2006

Farewell, Wendy, we will miss you!

Lovers of Liberty Take Heart
by Scott Kauzlarich

Special to TLE

It is no wonder that the contemporary Libertarian, seeing the world going socialistic and communistic, and believing himself virtually isolated and cut off from any prospect of united mass action, tends to be steeped in long-run pessimism.
—Murray Rothbard, 1965

The above quote from Murray Rothbard is as true today as when he first wrote it. Libertarians are pessimistic. Some are so pessimistic that they don't even call themselves Libertarian, preferring to join other groups or take on some other label.

John Stossel is a good example. There isn't anyone in the mainstream media more libertarian than Stossel, co-anchor of ABC's 20/20. Yet in his 2004 best-seller, Give Me A Break, Stossel throws the Libertarian Party under the bus:

"'Libertarian' is a better term for my beliefs. But it's a lousy word. People think it means 'libertine,' and the Libertarian Party has had flaky people like Howard Stern run for office. Maybe 'classical liberal' is a better term for what I am." (Stossel, p. 181)

Why would Stossel, who has devoted countless hours of national air-time advocating libertarian positions, shy away from the libertarian label? What is he so ashamed of? Was the Howard Stern incident really so bad? The Democrats and Republicans run stinkers all the time. I don't see those guys running for cover.

It's safe to assume that many viewers who admire Stossel's work will also read his book. Stossel could have given them further direction by pointing out a political home with the Libertarian Party. But he doesn't. Instead he casts them adrift to flounder somewhere between conservative and liberal, politically homeless. Why usher people away from the LP? Why are so many libertarians afraid of their ideology?

Rothbard provides an insightful answer. Since they are steeped in long-term pessimism, they instead gravitate towards short-term gain, which often means distancing themselves from official libertarianism. After all, you aren't going to win converts today by proclaiming your love for the Libertarian Party, a party so miniscule that Howard Stern once hijacked it to run for Governor of New York as a publicity stunt. You want to be taken seriously in the here and now. So you hedge. You call yourself a 'classical liberal' and distance yourself from the libertarian label.

On the other hand, someone with long-run optimism doesn't get thrown off track by bumps in the present road; they don't care how they look right now. To the optimist, there is a bigger fight in the future and the sooner one gets busy the sooner that fight will be won. It's like a fat person trying to hit the gym and lose weight—you have to be willing to look bad before you can start to look good.

The Libertarian Party's recent "Exit Strategy For Iraq" is another example of long-run pessimism leading to short-run pandering. The party's exit strategy, like Stossel's musings on what to call himself, was designed to curry favor from the people that dole out the magic elixir of legitimacy. In doing so, libertarians dig their own grave—Stossel wasted an opportunity to inspire thousands of potential libertarians; the LP's Exit Strategy For Iraq tries to achieve victory for libertarian principles by dampening them.

Stossel and the Libertarian Party have it all wrong. If Stossel wants to promote libertarianism with a small "L," (which I think he does) he serves his cause well by promoting Libertarianism with a capital "L." If the LP wants to see a shift to small government, then it should urge for non-intervention in the Middle East and a fundamental change in American policies there.

The worst thing they can do is sacrifice libertarian standards in hopes of gaining a minor victory in the present. There is no shame in standing up for liberty and no shame in standing up for the libertarian creed. To prevent more self-inflicted wounds and to keep from discarding principle at the first sign of trouble, libertarians must be long-term optimists.

This will not be easy. As Rothbard noted, the world is going socialistic; contemporary thinkers also predict an uncertain road ahead, especially in America. Are they wrong? Should we dismiss them as just being alarmist? Absolutely not. All around us liberty is groaning under the weight of the superstate now under construction. The threats to our freedom are real and they hurt, but they foretell stormy seas only in the near future. When one pulls back and takes a longer view of history, things look brighter. History appears to be marching in the right direction when one takes in the last 1,000 years rather than the last 100.

No, the government of the United States will not be returning to its Jeffersonian roots any time soon. And no, the Libertarian Party will not sweep to victory in the next election. But in the long run, such events appear to be far more inevitable than libertarians are apt to think.

Scott Kauzlarich is a professor of Social Science at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, IA. He can be reached at Scott.Kauzlarich@iavalley.edu


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