Are Libertarians Crazy?
By Pierre Lemieux
A story in the outgoing issue of The Economist, “Gary Johnson for Liberty” (September 3, 2018), describes a political meeting of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2016, who is now running for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico. After the meeting, the reporter suggested to Mr. Johnson that he seems to dislike campaigning, to which the candidate replied:
The bad part is you find yourself with people that have really bad breath. What comes out of their mouth is just as bad.
The second sentence is often true. It’s even truer for politicians. And Gary Johnson is not exactly the boy next door.
The first issue raised by the piece is to which extent libertarians are a bit crazy. The magazine also quotes Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky), talking about his putatively libertarian supporters:
After some soul-searching, I realized that when they voted for Rand and Ron [Paul] and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas—they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race.
There are certainly more eccentrics among libertarians than among adherents of mainstream political philosophies (or non-philosophies), if only because individuals who are most critical of the status quo will naturally appear strange. But isn’t there is also a large libertarian fringe of strange ideologues defending views that are not characterized by their realism and nuances? (As I have sinned, I am not casting the first stone.)
The second issue raised by the story is the political future of libertarianism in America. For sure, “we,” or some of us, have not always been very politically astute. The magazine recalls how many libertarians fell for the Tea Party movement, a precursor of Donald Trump’s populism. As usual, the magazine is a bit confused about liberty, but at least they know that libertarianism exists and their criticisms are not always wrong.
After further comments, mostly positive, about Mr. Johnson, The Economist adds, in relation to electoral politics:
Yet he may be the most prominent advocate of libertarian principles left standing. That illustrates how badly the ideology has recently fared.