Nothing to Fear? Are You Kidding?

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I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and hoping that my thoughts would go away. They haven’t.

On December 27, before the Georgia runoff election that gave Democrats power over the Senate as well as the presidency and the House of Representatives, the Associated Press ran an article mentioning the Libertarian Party candidate whose vote share in the first-round Senate race had denied a majority to both the Democrat and the Republican. The Democrat would go on to win in the runoff, which was held without the Libertarian.

With the runoff in view, the AP reported:

Shane Hazel, the Libertarian who won the key sliver of votes that forced Perdue and Ossoff into a runoff, said his voters may sit the runoff out, telling Hazel “they will never vote for anybody out of fear again.”

When I read that, I gasped. I shivered. I dragged out my laptop to respond. But I had to keep coming back to the story, just to make sure I was reading it right. It took almost two months for the sense of horror and alienation to diminish and for me to be certain that, yes, a human being had said that. A libertarian human being.

Hazel’s views appear to be hardcore, root and branch libertarian. He is an adamant supporter of the Second Amendment, originalist limited government, freedom from COVID imprisoners, and so on. But which of the two parties that actually win elections do you think is even marginally more likely to support his views? Right, you guessed it. So why didn’t he endorse the Republican Party, while repeating, I hope, the criticisms we all make of it? Why didn’t he do that at a time when all eyes were focused on him? Did he think he would have more influence by sitting the election out? People who don’t vote are really in the driver’s seat, aren’t they? Just ask the Amish.

Libertarianism results — or so I thought — from another motive, the desire to keep government under control.

What do you think — isn’t refusal to vote for the lesser of the two evils equivalent to voting for the greater of the two evils? And is a political party that persists in denial of that question worthy of support?

I said, denial of the question. If Mr. Hazel or the Libertarian Party has an answer, let us have it — but first the question needs to be recognized. And there’s a more basic question: What do you think you’re doing?

I speak as a registered Libertarian, a Libertarian (and much more important, libertarian) who is as tired as any decent Democrat or Republican of his party’s antics.

But here’s the thing that really made me feel that something very, very bad had happened to the LP’s already tenuous connection with life: “They will never vote for anybody out of fear again.”

Just travelin’ along, singin’ a song, believing that in some way your vote for the LP will (after a mere five decades of trying) generate a potent political movement.

Well, for God’s sake! What other reason do you have for voting? Do you vote for some ideal program that you think your candidates will manage to fulfill? Maybe you do, if you believe that government is some great creative force, energized by your vote. But libertarianism results — or so I thought — from another motive, the desire to keep government under control, to cut government back, to say No to government, because . . . we are afraid of government, and government is to be feared, because government is overwhelmingly destructive. Isn’t it? And when you identify the political party that is most to be feared, you vote for the other one — don’t you?

Or do you vote for the Libertarian Party, because it’s a Good Thing, filled with Good People, and you have no fear of Bad Things? Just travelin’ along, singin’ a song, believing that in some way your vote for the LP will (after a mere five decades of trying) generate a potent political movement that will put one or both of the major parties out of business — and, pending that, believing that your vote will proclaim to the world that you’re not trying to bargain with those decadent old parties; you’re going to vote Libertarian no matter what they do. So there! What, you — worry? You’re not like those other people, who are doing their best to keep their lives from being ruined, and therefore cast their votes out of fear. You are above it all.

All right — above or below. But if there’s one thing I fear, it’s this kind of naivete, naivete impregnable in the armor of its self-righteousness.


  1. Elizabeth Weiss

    Ronald Reagan was far from the perfect president, but one of my favorite quotes from him sums up my perspective on government:

    “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

    – President Reagan Aug. 12, 1986

  2. Having been a Libertarian Party member since 1974, it has become increasingly evident to me that the Party will not have electoral success in my lifetime. That hardly means running LP candidates is useless. Running candidates and especially racking up significant vote totals points out how many (more) votes there are out there for a candidate who will call for and work for smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom. But this strategy will only work if when there is a non-libertarian candidate on the ballot who can further the cause of more freedom and/or less government the Libertarian Party not run against him. Better a “dirty” improvement than a “pure” waste.

  3. Paul Grant

    Different people have different views of how best to promote, defend, and exercise their liberty. Apparently, Stephen Cox thinks that voting for the lesser of two evils will somehow lessen evil, and that libertarians should follow his thinking. What if he is wrong (and I think he is)?

    What if the most effective strategy is to do everything one can to expose politics for what it is – an arena where petit and mega tyrants compete for power and stolen wealth by telling lies and by pretending to believe that they believe that government is there to help us. After 40 years of watching politics and politicians do their worst, and after decades of fighting them in the trenches, in campaign debates as a libertarian candidate; in campaign strategies as an LP state and national chairman; in courtrooms as a successful litigant (in the Supreme Court) fighting for First Amendment rights to exercise political speech without threat of criminal prosecution; in state and federal trial and appellate courtrooms as a criminal defense lawyer protecting jury rights (Laura Kriho) and the rights of any defendant, I am convinced that politics always corrupts anyone involved in political processes, and that governments are inherently destructive.

    It may seem tempting, in the short run, to compromise on principle and vote for someone who might get elected and who might then vote against a bad bill, but my vote has never decided the outcome of an election and I have never met or seen a politician who hasn’t lied to gain an advantage. Politicians lie to raise money and get votes. Judges lie to get appointed and to show that they are loyal to the system that empowers them. I am convinced, after a lifetime of confronting politicians, judges, police, and their allies, that political action will be ineffective, that exposing political lies, hypocrisy and the corruption and destruction that politics produces, and living my life as freely as I can, will be the most effective strategies that I can employ to further the cause of freedom and the cause of my happiness. When more people open their eyes and abandon their belief in the myth that governments are there to help them, and abandon their support for political solutions, freedom will have a fighting chance.

  4. Robert

    “But which of the two parties that actually win elections do you think is even marginally more likely to support his views?”

    The correct answer is: Neither.

    The Demopublicans and Republicrats will both take my money without my consent. They will both spend it on their pet projects. They will both support legislation which asserts government control over my life and property. They will both fund foreign interventionism. They will both vote for millions and billions and trillions of dollars of wasteful spending. They will both support un-Constitutional federal departments and agencies.

    When presented with a choice between two representatives of the legacy duopoly, the only proper thing for a Libertarian to do is abstain. Loudly abstain. Tell everyone what horrendous choices they have been given so that next time, they may be more inclined to support alternative candidates.

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