Recently, on his radio program at theblaze.com, conservative icon and media mogul Glenn Beck pleaded with libertarians to welcome and embrace newcomers into the movement. This was in response to comments made by Students for Liberty co-founder Alexander McCobin at this year’s International Students for Liberty Conference earlier this month. Tweet it: Tweet
In his opening remarks,McCobin stated:
“…if Glenn wants to call himself a libertarian, I am happy to accept him as one…on the condition…that he comes here to our community and proclaim ‘mea culpa’ for his past defenses of social and neo-conservatism…” (Emphasis original)
McCobin is right to call into question the sincerity of an individual who, for many years, advocated for policies contrary to libertarian ideals and in violation of the U.S. Constitution. He is wrong, however, in suggesting “the liberty movement” should only be associated with those who pass a purity litmus test and agree with every plank of the libertarian creed.
In his response, Beck admitted to having been wrong on certain issues in the past, mentioning his former support for the Patriot Act, provided it came with sunset provisions, saying, “Man,what a fool I was.”
The segment ended with Beck stressing his desire for libertarians to reach out to those who could become potential allies and unite on issues where they agree:
“…libertarians I’m begging you please, see the opportunity you have with about thirty percent of this nation; maybe sixty percent of this nation. They will come your way. They live in that space until you go and say, ‘There’s no other way but this way!’ No one wants to hear that. You don’t want to hear that from the people in Washington in the Republican or Democratic Party. Don’t give us another choice where it is all or nothing…” Tweet quote: Tweet
Those involved in the liberty movement should not find this startling considering the man most responsible for popularizing libertarian thought in recent years, former congressman Ron Paul, took this very same approach.
In fact, had Dr. Paul insisted that his presidential campaigns and the movement they spawned only be associated with purist libertarians, there would likely be no movement at all. In one of the 2008 Republican debates, Paul summarized his vision for the movement:
"The freedom message brings us together, it doesn't divide us." Share quote: Tweet
What both Paul and Beck are stressing is that it isn't necessary for libertarians or conservatives to compromise their beliefs in order for the movement to grow and be successful. Indeed, the strength of this "liberty movement" is that it's comprised of various factions, coming together to form coalitions where they agree so long as it's in an effort to promote individual freedom and constitutional government.
As a movement it's imperative we ask ourselves a serious question: Are we more interested in maintaining a personal sense of moral superiority to those who don't always agree with us or is our primary goal to substantively change policy and turn our ideals into tangible reality?
Principle is important. It's absolutely essential. However, what use is principle if it cannot be applied in a practical manner?
Some within the libertarian community have been less than satisfied with Senator Rand Paul's more pragmatic approach to policy, despite its effectiveness in bringing libertarian ideas into the mainstream. Senator Paul may utilize a different strategy than his father, but how many libertarians would not jump at the chance to have a dozen or more Rand Pauls in the Senate?
The same could be said for former Senator Jim DeMint (now president of The Heritage Foundation) and North Carolina Representative Walter Jones, both of whom have stressed their desire to see the Republican Party become more libertarian, despite neither of them being libertarians themselves.
I don't fault anyone for being suspect of pundits like Glenn Beck who claim to have had a change of heart. No one should be blindly trusted, not even Ron or Rand Paul.
By refusing to bring allies into the fold, however, we not only do ourselves a disservice by weakening our movement, but we actually betray the very essence of our principles. Share article: Tweet
Libertarianism, if anything, is a political philosophy rooted in humility. We tend to reject any "pretense of knowledge" and passionately defend the primacy of the individual. We believe in the marketplace of ideas, and yet somehow seem to abandon such concepts when it comes to engaging in politics. Insisting on a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all approach is not only counterproductive but runs counter to our convictions. Tweet it: Tweet
The purpose of the libertarian movement should be to change hearts and minds toward liberty. This inevitably involves forming alliances with those who agree with us on certain issues whether it be economic liberty, personal freedom, or foreign policy, even if they don't accept libertarianism wholesale.
Building a movement that seeks to meet with individuals where we can be united poses the greatest threat to the authoritarians in both parties.
A coalition of conservatives, libertarians, independents, and even disenfranchised leftists who seek to promote individual liberty is the establishment's greatest fear because it would illustrate that, despite our differences, we are more than capable of coming together and managing our own lives without the dictates of the state. What could be more libertarian than that?
UPDATE: Alexander McCobin wrote an open letter in response to Beck's radio segment.