A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago: what is the difference between a libertarian and a Republican (or conservative). I offered him a simple critique: while Republicans may deride big government at home, at least publicly, they applaud military adventurism abroad and reinforcing traditional values at home. Libertarians on the other hand are consistent in their advocacy of liberty from government intervention in all arenas.
We were talking about Ron Paul (R-TX) at the time and my friend was very confused (as is Rush Limbaugh) about why Ron Paul would run as a Republican, "He's not going to win" he assured me. I reminded my friend that I had heard that more than once, but also reminded him that, albeit Ron Paul hasn't come close to winning the presidency, he has greatly influenced American politics.
Additionally, Congressman Paul has infused the GOP with a viral dose of libertarianism, which has set brush fires in the minds of millions of young conservatives (and popular progressives) which will no doubt spread in the coming years. Ron Paul sparked the modern day Tea Party movement (which he receives little credit for) a fact some conservatives would love to bury.
He has shattered campaign fundraising records with spontaneously ordered (how wildly appropriate!) moneybombs, the most famous of which occurred on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party with 58,407 individual donations in one day, which undeniably anticipated the popular movement. Since 2008 Ron Paul has doubled his political visibility, almost won the '10 Iowa Straw Poll, brought two sons into politics and launched one, Rand Paul (an ostensible libertarian), into a higher office than Ron Paul ever attained!
While there has been much written on the difference between conservatives and libertarians Ron Paul has exemplified those differences. He has shown libertarians labor towards a fixed set of philosophical principles while Republicans tend to favor pragmatic principles informed by charismatic leaders and the varying political winds.
My friend reminded me of as much: "[Republicans] don't want to hear some of that stuff", referring to Dr. Paul's more controversial positions. This is because unlike libertarians, Republicans (very much like Democrats) are often swayed by demagoguery, according to Ron Paul in his recent book Liberty Defined:
"...[these] demagogues seek influence and political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, and expectations of the public. They do not enlighten; they browbeat and play rhetorical games."
Paul showed in Monday's CNN/Tea Party debate he wasn't afraid to offend the prejudices of neo-conized Tea Partiers when he claimed 9/11 was in part a likely result of over 900 bases (that we know of) in 130 countries around the world. He argued that 9/11 was arguably blowback from clandestine operations and overt intervention throughout the Middle East over the last 60+ years not merely because our culture is antithetical to fundamentalist Islam as Rick Santorum suggested - something conservatives in the audience expected to hear. Dr. Paul even went further, admonishing the crowd, "...if your not annoyed by this there is something wrong!"
Libertarians are an international bread, whereas Republicans are found only within the United States. They believe the Constitution was meant to extend beyond our borders as it defends "persons" not merely "citizens." Not only can one find libertarian strains within left wing and right wing circles here in the US they are found internationally, albeit mostly in English speaking countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
A Gallup poll (above) shows to me the most important synthesizing characteristic of the libertarian ideology. Whereas Republicans and Democrats believe respectively that "big government" or "big business" are the biggest threats to the United States it is the libertarian who understands how the collusion of both these vested interests including, to a much smaller degree "big labor", threatens to our country. Big government enables big business to buy political favor and cut down competition through regulation, barriers to entry and subsidies, which collectively raise prices, unemployment, profits and impoverishes the middle and lower classes.
Similarly, libertarians like Ron Paul understand like political winds the value of goods and services extend from the human mind alone! Prices aren't set in some ivory tower at Harvard or Stanford and planes, trains, gold, bottled water and iPods don't have an inherent value besides what social needs and circumstance dictate. Money is (or should be) the viewed the same way. Why do we allow a few people like Ben Bernanke and a dark consortium of private member mega-banks whom run the Federal Reserve to dictate the worth of the dollars we hold in our hand? For the same reason we don't allow them to decree what the tomatoes in our garden are worth.
It would seem in a democratic society, one that professes to have a free market, that the people should dictate the price of our currency transparently through Congress in accordance with the Constitution! Never mind the standard on which the money is based (gold, silver, toenail clippings, etc.) libertarians want abolish this financial dictatorship, Republicans are coming around (a little) and 74% of Americans want it audited. All signs the libertarian drum beat is being heard and felt.
|Image Source: Kevin Middleton at|
Lastly, there is something very special about libertarians and Ron Paul that America doesn't fully understand. Ron Paul wants to put the "States" back into the United States of America! Ask yourself an honest question: who is my state legislator? Who is my state senator? Who cares is probably the next question! With so many decisions going on in Washington DC all eyes are now refocused on that humid swamp passed on long ago for greener more temperate pastures.
Many refer with derision to our 50 states enacting their own laws as a patchwork, a hodgepodge or a mishmash of different laws, but that was the original beauty of America. In a phrase coined by Lord Bryce and popularized by Justice Louis Brandeis the separate states are seen as "laboratories of democracy" giving the United States a competition not only in the free market, but also in the market of governments, which generated fresh new ideas for public problems and therefore competed for citizens! After 1913 when states legislators no longer elected Senators to serve as their ambassadors to Washington DC "senators became substantially less responsive to the policy interests of the state legislature."
Besides the controversial legalization of drugs, dismantling of the FDA, EPA, CIA, FAA, etc. which bog down most debates over the libertarian ideology and Ron Paul's campaign there lies the magic we have lost in this country, respect for reason, life, liberty, property and most all limited government.