Libertarianism as a political philosophy, values liberty as its core principle. It believes in maximizing individual autonomy and freedom of choice. Like any other political philosophy, it exists on a spectrum from one extreme to another, but generally the modern Libertarian is socially liberal, i.e. supporting that people can do what they want to do as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else, and fiscally conservative, i.e. in favor of minimizing government involvement and expenditures. On the surface, this sounds pretty great and in most election cycles, the Libertarian Party is bandied about as a possibly viable third party in the USA’s overwhelmingly two-party system. Congressman Ron Paul has carried the Libertarian banner the last few election cycles and he has a core following that is very loyal and committed to the cause. In 2016, former Governor Gary Johnson will represent the Libertarian Party at the top of the ticket as candidate for President of the United States. He’s got another former Governor, William Weld, joining him as his VEEP. In recent polling, 13% of Americans preferred a Giant Meteor crashing into the Earth over Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump becoming President in 2017. Now 13% may not seem like much, but it’s still more support than the Libertarian Party received. Yes, more Americans chose probable mass extinction than Libertarianism.¹
The world is an unreasonable place. It makes no sense, and the human animal, having evolved higher levels of cognitive function, for better or worse, has trouble coping with this world that isn’t very orderly and doesn’t seem to care about us very much. Bad things seem to happen all the time, and the suffering of our fellow humans seems indiscriminate; with horrible things befalling perfectly nice people just as frequently as awful, despicable people have wonderful streaks of good fortune. On a larger scale–much, much larger–the Universe could be said to have #NoLivesMatter as its mantra.
You may be wondering what that has to do with the Libertarian Party, but bear with me as I tease this out. Human beings, distraught by the chaotic, callous and capricious world we live in, seek to bring order from disorder to resolve the uncomfortable dissonance. We see these attempts throughout the history of our species, and even in the closely related species like the Neanderthals who didn’t survive the battlefield of Spaceship Earth. They seemingly buried their dead and they likely decorated themselves using pigments, and wore jewelry made of feathers and colored shells, leading anthropologists to surmise that our Neanderthal cousins’ lives were filled with many rituals. This attempt to organize the chaotic world around us surely gave birth to the plethora of religions the world over, which 300 years after The Enlightenment, still flourish. Religions create explanations for the origins of the cosmos, and unsatisfied with the natural randomness of it all, gives all of creation a purpose. It tries to balance the scales by creating a system of reward and punishment based on judgment of our thoughts and deeds, so that somehow wrongs will be righted, justice will be served, and the wicked will pay for their heinous acts at some point, even if it isn’t apparent to us. Death is the ultimate shocker to the human psyche and yet no one escapes this inevitable conclusion to the game of life. Religion seeks to take the sting out of watching our peers fall by the wayside, as well as provide some solace for the living who are burdened with the knowledge of their coming turn at the funeral pyre, by creating an afterlife. We may be stunned and deeply saddened by the untimely passing of a loved one, but religion is there to tell us they live on in a celestial kingdom, or perhaps that they’re going to come back and live another life. When horrible people succeed, religion is there to tell us not to fret; they’ll get theirs in the end. Order from chaos.
The very large majority of humans subscribe to some form of religious belief. Sticking with the USA, since this discussion is really about politics in these United States, 83% of Americans describe themselves as some variant of Christian. Another 4% subscribe to a different religion, leaving a paltry 13% who don’t line up and worship someone, somewhere. The believing Christian has allowed religion to solve their woes regarding an uncaring, unfeeling world of madness and despair. Christianity though, has nothing in common with Libertarianism. Christianity is an authoritarian system of governance. In fact, it’s totalitarian in a way even the most talented dictator would be envious of. The believing Christian lives under continual surveillance, day and night, in deed and in thought. There is no hiding from the celestial dictatorship that sits in judgment of us, and there are significant rewards in store for the faithful, with harsh punishments to be doled out for any indiscretions, without an appeals process. Christianity’s survival mechanism is a spreading of the faith, and the Church’s mission is to bring salvation to the masses, in all parts of the globe, whether the people there want it or not. People cannot be left to their own devices; living in a manner they choose themselves. They must align with a strict code of church-guided morality and conduct.
This mindset best aligns with the conservative political mind. Political conservatives don’t really value individual freedom at all. They may say they do as it has a powerful connotation, but conservatives are supporters of the status quo. They don’t like change and they don’t like it when people act in ways they don’t approve of. Conservatives want social norms and see most government efforts as forcing them to accept others who aren’t aligned with their ideas of moral, decent society. It’s why conservatives fight against marriage equality for example, as they can’t accept a homosexual lifestyle. Over the decades they’ve been begrudgingly forced to acknowledge that there are homosexuals, but having them treated as equals under the law remains a contentious issue for them. Religion and conservatives go together like hands in gloves, and the conservative cannot align themselves with the Libertarian who thinks people should be able to smoke pot and have homosexual orgies if they want to. While the alleged fiscal conservatism of the Libertarian appeals to the conservative, they can’t get on board with social liberalism.
Speaking of liberals, they are by nature people who constantly think there must be a better way. Liberals are problem solvers and they tend to see government as an ally in the struggle to fix things. Liberals tend to be tinkerers; willing to try something to see if it improves the lives of as many people as possible, and then build on it or toss it and try something else. They love the Libertarians’ laissez-faire approach to social issues, but Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson’s position of shutting down basically any government agency you bring to his attention gives liberals nightmares. How can a liberal make things better if the damned Libertarians keep vetoing all their ideas? Keep in mind that the liberal political thinker lives in the same absurd world with the rest of us, which means they too want order and stability, justice and fairness. Religion solves that problem for them too, but liberals tend to cherry pick the parts of religion that cater to the poor, the tired, the miserable and the hungry. That suits their personality better than the reward and punishment for getting out of line aspects that conservatives are more fond of.
In essence, Libertarianism is a form of political anarchy for both the conservative and the liberal, no matter where they may fall on the continuum from extreme to moderate or centrist. The conservative cannot cope with the social free-for-all Libertarians find so exhilarating. The liberal cannot cope with the callous approach Libertarians take to using the power of the collective to improve the lives of everyone. What the Libertarian finds intrusive, meddling and expensive government, the liberal finds a balm for what ails them. Religion cannot abide by the mandate of individual autonomy that Libertarians insist upon, because religion craves and needs control, and people still cling to religion because it soothes the savagery we see around us. Under the surface of it all is the uncaring Universe, creating havoc the human inhabitants abhor. The end result is that Libertarianism cannot get a foothold in our collective psyche for the same reason religion still has a foothold in our collective psyche: Life, the Universe and Everything is too much for the human mind to bear, so while during the day we may cry out for freedom, at night, when we’re alone and afraid, we cry out for order.