After teaching American politics for several years, I began to wonder why so many libertarians emerge from or are a part of the Republican Party. Of course, not all libertarians can be described as such, but virtually every libertarian I know prefers the Republican over the Democratic Party. Ron Paul is currently the best known libertarian, and he emerges from Republican ranks. You may be asking yourself, “So, what’s the big deal?”
For what it’s worth, here’s my take on why this is a relevant ideological issue. By definition, libertarians oppose government action except where absolutely necessary to protect life and property. Just one step to the left of anarchy on the ideological spectrum, libertarians support virtually complete liberty or freedom from government. It is a very consistent ideology (similar to its ideological opposite, communitarianism) in that it supports liberty in the market place AND liberty related to individual lifestyles and choices. It is true that Republicans espouse greater liberty in the marketplace and are, therefore, consistent with libertarian ideology. (I realize that in practice, Republicans often favor government involvement in the economy despite their political rhetoric.) However, this is the extent of the Republican and Libertarian’s sojourn.
Contemporary Republicans, for example, through the influence of neo-conservatives, accept extensive government regulation of and oversight over individual behaviors and lifestyles. Republicans, more so than Democrats, overwhelmingly oppose a woman’s right to choose, they tend to oppose the decriminalization of drug laws, and they overwhelmingly oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions. And one only need be vaguely knowledgeable of the recent attempts by Republicans to control women’s bodies, their access to contraceptives, and their attempts to diminish women’s liberty to make reproductive choices generally. While Republicans oppose these liberties, Democrats overwhelmingly support them (and many others).
Despite the fact that Republicans overwhelmingly oppose individual liberty with regard to lifestyle choices and personal freedom outside the market, libertarians have emerged from or had more in common with Republican ideology today. My question boils down to this: If you are in favor of liberty and freedom, and if you had to prioritize market liberty or freedom over your own lifestyle choices, why would you opt for the former? It is true that libertarians prefer complete liberty in every area aside from protecting life and property, but if they are left with choosing one of the two major political parties, why do they overwhelmingly choose the Republican over the Democratic Party? It is clearly a matter of preference, but I’m more than a bit surprised that Libertarians overwhelmingly choose to associate with the modern Republican Party since its political platform supports greater regulation of personal liberties that are uncoupled from the market. Why does liberty in the market place take priority over lifestyle choices? Market freedoms do not affect our every-day lives nearly as much as regulation of our ability to choose a partner or to make contraceptive choices, to choose a religious belief system or to choose to smoke marijuana, and so on.
Finally, this has led me to conclude that many (not all) libertarians are really not libertarians, but Republicans who model themselves in libertarian clothing not only because they prefer neo-liberal markets cast in the wool of a Milton Freidman, but also because they oppose the expansion of government witnessed during the Lyndon Johnson years. Libertarianism is an old ideology, but it appears to have grown rapidly in America as a response to the 1960s war on poverty and its perceived racial context. I wonder to what extent American libertarianism serves as a façade for some of its members today, allowing them to hide their racist stereotypes in the name of market liberalism? In other words, was the expansion of the Libertarian Party in the 1960s not simply a response to big government, but a response to the perception that big government was for the first time in its history providing government benefits to non-whites? Unlike FDR’s New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was focused largely (but not solely) on poorer groups in America, which included Whites, but also included non-Whites since the latter were disproportionately poor as a result of the political-economic system in the U.S. While I’m sure many libertarians hold true to their ideological canon, I cannot help but to think that libertarianism has become a façade for a few (perhaps many), a subterfuge that hides an ugly racism deeply rooted and still present in America.
It would be interesting to know the percentage of “Libertarians/Republicans” who refer to themselves as libertarian simply because they oppose federal policies that they view through a racial lens. Does this answer my initial question related to why so many contemporary Libertarians are really Republicans? Not only have contemporary Republicans increasingly opposed personal liberty outside the market, but they also have supported many racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, and Islamophobic policies to say the least. Is this the new libertarianism in America? If liberty is a priority, why not choose to join or identify with the Party that favors multiple and extensive liberties beyond the marketplace?
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