The Libertarian Party, the nation’s third-largest political party, has not presented a serious option over the years for most practicing Catholics. The party’s unofficial motto of “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” is in fact almost the polar opposite of the Catholic “Reagan Democrat,” who was in fact socially conservative but supported spending on numerous government programs.
Recently, however, the Libertarian Party underwent a radical change in leadership, and this metamorphosis should lead Catholics at least to revisit the question of whether this 50-year-old party is an option in future elections.
Since its founding in the early 1970’s, the Libertarian Party has evolved over time. It began with a group of activists who decried the Vietnam War and civil liberty violations but also embraced the free market. The act that most directly led to the creation of the Libertarian Party was President Nixon’s decision to take the country completely off the gold standard in 1971, a move the party rightly recognized as disastrous (and the foundation for today’s profligate money creation and rising price inflation).
In 1988 the party’s presidential candidate was Ron Paul, who later ran for the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 2008 and 2012, and who well represented the founding ethos of the Libertarian Party. During its first decades the party was mostly known (if known at all) as an eclectic group that advocated for less foreign interventionism and less overall government spending (reduce the “warfare state” and the “welfare state”).
In the 21st century, however, the Libertarian Party sought to attract what it felt was the political “center.” This is when the party leadership fully embraced the “socially liberal/fiscally conservative” label. The LP presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016, former Republican New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, popularized this label, and he represented that era’s model Libertarian Party candidate: the liberal Republican.
Under this model the LP pushed the “socially liberal” part of its identity far more than the “fiscally conservative” part. It was explicitly pro-abortion and vocally endorsed “sex work” (aka prostitution); it also began to advocate for much of the woke agenda, arguing that “trans rights are human rights” and actively pushing for “anti-racism” measures. And of course, we can’t forget weed. Nothing exemplified the Libertarian Party stereotype more than the marijuana-smoking, socially-inept man who just wanted to be left alone to his libertine lifestyle.
Needless to say, this was not exactly a party conducive to attracting practicing Catholics, who often are moms and dads worried about the direction of the country and how to fend off the anti-Catholic social forces—in the culture at large and specifically from the government—gathering strength all around them.
In the past few years, however, a revolt has been brewing within the Libertarian Party ranks. An internal group called the Mises Caucus (named after the economist Ludwig von Mises) began to push back against what it called the “Beltway Libertarian”—the type of Libertarian Party member who went along with the Woke Establishment and focused almost exclusively on libertine issues like marijuana, abortion, and prostitution. The Mises Caucus looked to Ron Paul as its inspiration. It wanted to return the LP to fighting the warfare state and the welfare state and move away from its identity as a soft alternative to the Democratic Party for liberal Republicans.
The nation’s primary enemy in the eyes of the Mises Caucus is the “progressive movement” that dates back to the early 20th century. This movement led to the massive increase in the size and scope of the federal government, including everything from the creation of the Federal Reserve to the New Deal policies that reshaped how our nation looks at the federal government.
The progressive movement is the antithesis of classic libertarianism. Progressives see the State as the source of all rights; whereas libertarians look to the individual as having natural rights which supersede the State and are based on the natural law. In recent years, however, the Libertarian Party abandoned those core principles in its implicit—and sometimes explicit—embrace of progressivism. A recent example of this was the Party’s acceptance of the category of “trans rights,” which in reality is the State granting special rights to certain individuals it prefers. Classic libertarianism would reject the State granting any special rights to certain collective groups, no matter how fashionable those groups might be.
In today’s world, the Democratic Party is the obvious standard-bearer for the progressive movement, but in the eyes of the Mises Caucus, the Republican Party has done little if anything to oppose the progressive movement. And it’s hard to argue with that, considering that the Republican Party has also supported massive government spending along with embracing, eventually and in its own way, progressive causes like the “gay rights” movement.
Many Catholics know that the needed attack on the progressive movement does not fall neatly into today’s right/left political dichotomy. This is where the new Libertarian Party fits in. One of the strategies of the Mises Caucus is to stop alienating social conservatives from the party, since many social conservatives are also rightly suspicious of the progressive movement. Instead of focusing on things like promoting “sex work,” the Mises Caucus believes the Party should zero in on issues like opposing the government’s massive inflationary money creation as well as its unconstitutional Covid lockdowns and mandates. A freer society would allow social conservatives to build stronger communities, without having to worry about the state or federal governments interfering.
For the past few years the Mises Caucus has been mostly a gadfly to the Libertarian Party’s leadership, but last month, the party held its annual national convention, and during the convention the Mises Caucus candidates won every single leadership position, effectively taking over the party. During the convention the Mises Caucus also successfully dropped the pro-abortion plank from the party platform (it was simply removed, so now abortion is not mentioned in the platform at all).
It’s hard to overestimate the immediate changes that have occurred to the Libertarian Party since the Mises Caucus takeover. Previously, LP leaders would proclaim support for Drag Queen Story Hours and the (communist) Black Lives Matter movement. Now, instead the party is setting its sights on toppling the whole progressive project. So how do these radical changes recast the party in the eyes of practicing Catholics?
First, it’s likely that many Catholics won’t vote third-party no matter what that party stands for. As a long-time third-party voter, I’ve received many harsh criticisms for my alternative voting. Any vote for a third party, according to this way of thinking, is actually a vote for the critic’s opposing party (over the years I’ve been accused of voting alternatively for Democrats and for Republicans when I voted third-party, depending on the critic). Obviously, these Catholics won’t consider the Libertarian Party, or any third party, a viable option.
For those Catholics who will consider third parties, is the Libertarian Party now a possibility? Historically, Catholics in this country have been generally supportive of the progressive movement and its resultant government programs. But many Catholics today have started to take a longer look at the impact those policies have had on our country, and on our practice of the Catholic Faith. After all, it is the progressive movement that led to legalized abortion, gay marriage, and an all-intrusive State.
One thing should be made clear: the Mises Caucus takeover of the Libertarian Party did not turn it into a “conservative” party. The LP is strongly opposed to U.S. foreign interventionism, and it added to its platform support for secession. It still endorses marijuana legalization throughout the land, and it wants government out of the marriage business altogether.
Yet there are indications that the Libertarian Party might now be more attractive to Catholics. The two front-runners for the 2024 LP Presidential nomination, former Congressman Justin Amash and comedian Dave Smith, are, like Ron Paul, both pro-life. The party in general no longer wants to focus on libertine issues, and it is firmly opposed to the Woke Axis which threatens the freedoms of Catholics to practice our faith. Further, the Libertarian Party doesn’t just give lip service to opposing government funding for Planned Parenthood, because it opposes government funding for just about everything. And, the traditional libertarian support for gun rights is stronger than ever in the party.
So is the Libertarian Party now welcoming to practicing Catholics? I think that’s for each Catholic to decide, but at the very least Catholics open to third parties should give it another look. If nothing else, it’s objectively a good thing when a political party abandons its pro-abortion stance and opposes today’s woke culture. Perhaps after decades of two bad choices—between the evil party and the stupid party—Catholics can start to form a new coalition, even with those they least expected…the Libertarian Party.
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