Thursday, November 20, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 2 - the Libertarian Party

The self-proclaimed "Party of Principle" credits itself with being the fastest-growing political party in the United States. Between their laissez-faire market and small-government fiscal views and their liberal social and foreign policy views, it is understandable that the Libertarian Party is attractive to many Americans.

Membership: 115,401 (April 2004)

NOTE: Since the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971, they have maintained a "signature member" program, in which dues are not required. In fact, the issue of dues is very controversial within the party, as many members believe they shouldn't exist at all. The website,, encourages paying for membership by not really mentioning signature membership.

But it forces us to beg the question "is it really that difficult to be the fastest growing party in the country when you don't require members to pay?"

Members Holding Office: 439 (get full list here)

Although the Libertarians have successfully been elected to State Legislature positions since the 1970s, there are currently no members holding a partisan position. The list is made up of mayors, sheriffs, council members, etc.


The Libertarian Party was created in 1971 by the Committee to Form a Libertarian Party. This was, in part, a result of Richard Nixon ending the Gold Standard - an action that has been criticized by the Libertarians to this day.

The first Presidential candidate for the party ran the following year. Although the ticket of John Hospers and Theodora Nathan earned less than 3,000 votes, they did receive an electoral vote from an Elector pledged for Nixon.

By 1980, the Libertarian Party ticket was on the ballot in all fifty states - a seldom achieved victory for a Third Party. However, they were setback by inter-party riffs over the role of government (those who felt government was problematic versus those who thought government should be abolished). Since then, the Libertarian Party has always struggled with the question of pragmatism.

In 1983, several prominent members of the Libertarian Party abruptly resigned (including the first Executive Director, Ed Crane, and David Koch of the Cato Institute) because of the plurality of purists elected to the Libertarian National Committee.

In the mid-1990s, a similar debate came up when the Committee for a Libertarian Majority was formed to bring the party into the mainstream. The counter committee, PLEDGE, held them off. In 2004, another inter-party conflict started as the Libertarian Reform Caucus formed to make the party more pragmatic. In response, the Radical Caucus organized a majority of Libertarian activists to keep it "the Party of Principle".

Throughout the 1990s and current decade, the Libertarian Party continued to grow at a steady rate. This year, former Congressman Bob Barr ran as the Libertarian candidate and appeared on 46 state ballots.

On the Issues:

For the most part, the Libertarian Party is economically conservative and socially liberal - although there is a debate in the party over abortion. They tend to believe that government should completely stay out of the free-market, while supporting civil liberties and individual rights. They are also non-interventionist - even after September 11, they stood against intervention in Afghanistan.

The basic principle of the Libertarian Party is that "politics [should be] based on the moral principle of self-ownership. Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud." You can read the platform here.

Final Thoughts:

If any Third Party could come into the mainstream and achieve regular electoral victory, it is the Libertarian Party. However, the ideological dogma that prevails with the Radical Caucus continues to set back the party.

A party that supports neo-conservative economics can be successful - a party that supports strictly laissez-faire governance cannot. A party that supports civil liberties can be successful - a party that supports the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater cannot. A party that opposes the Iraq War can be successful - a party that opposes combating terrorism cannot.

Libertarian Party members would do well for themselves to support the goals of the Reform Caucus and make the party moderate. They would be able to pick up support from both Democrats that feel their own party is moving too far left as well as free-market Republicans that are disillusioned with the power of Evangelicals in their own party. After all, Freedom is a very powerful idea in American politics, and no party is more supportive of all-around Freedom than the Libertarians.

But until then, don't expect the "fastest-growing party" to grow into anything significant.

Coming Monday - the Constitution Party.

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