I previously mentioned that although I have grave concerns about some of Gary Johnson’s ideas and about lending credence to libertarianism, I could end up supporting him in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, given the horrific alternatives of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Here’s my current thinking on the matter.
Generally speaking, the purpose of a presidential election is to put into office the best (or least-bad) candidate who can be elected at the time. Although the possibility of Johnson being elected is extremely slim, it does exist. And, in terms of his apparent moral character and his relatively pro-freedom ideas, Johnson is clearly the best candidate in the running today.
Unfortunately, Johnson is not only a candidate with better character and better ideas than his opponents. He is also a libertarian running as the nominee of the Libertarian Party (LP), which poses a serious problem.
Because the Libertarian Party is explicitly based on the ideology of libertarianism, support for the LP candidate—whether in the form of money, or campaign assistance, or a vote—entails support for libertarianism and implies that it is the way forward. But libertarianism is not the way forward.
As I show in “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism,” libertarianism is not a pro-liberty ideology. Rather, it is an ideology or a political movement that advocates “liberty” while ignoring or denying the moral and philosophic ideas on which liberty depends. This disregard for morality and philosophy explains why libertarians such as Gary Johnson can hold some good (or seemingly good) ideas while advocating horrific ideas and ignoring or denying important facts. Consider, for example, Johnson’s view that Jews should be forced to bake cakes for Nazis; his dismissal of “religious freedom” (i.e., freedom of conscience and freedom of association) as a “black hole”; and his inability or unwillingness to recognize the fact that the regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia are genuinely evil and fundamentally responsible for the jihad against America.
Although Johnson is, in important respects, less bad as a presidential candidate than Hillary or Trump, he is significantly bad in his own, libertarian ways.
Should Objectivists, radical capitalists, or lovers of liberty support Johnson for president?
I see reasonable arguments both for and against supporting him. And I don’t think that in this context there is a definitive right or wrong. Supporting Johnson serves to advance liberty in certain respects, and to throttle it in other respects.
On the one hand, supporting Johnson works toward averting the disaster of a Hillary or Trump presidency; toward reducing regulations, government spending, and taxes; toward dismantling certain statist aspects of government, such as the IRS and the federal Department of Education; and toward establishing better policies on so-called “social” issues. On the other hand, supporting him works toward placing a libertarian from the Libertarian Party in the White House; toward advancing libertarianism and the LP as the main third alternative in U.S. politics; toward signaling to the regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia that they no longer are even under suspicion as enemies of the United States; and his refusal to wipe out ISIS if doing so involves dropping bombs or flying drones.
On balance, given those and related matters, I think supporting Johnson can be a reasonable choice. But we must bear in mind that the chances of him winning the presidency and thus achieving any of the positives are close to zero. Thus, supporting him almost certainly will amount to advancing the notion that libertarianism and the LP are the way forward—and doing so without achieving any of the benefits. Whatever the potential upside in supporting Johnson, this actual downside remains: Supporting him advances libertarianism and the Libertarian Party as the main third alternative in U.S. politics. (If you don’t understand why that is a significant problem, please read the aforementioned “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism,” as I cannot improve on that explanation here.)
Yes, we need a third alternative. But if we want to advance and defend liberty in the long run, libertarianism and the LP are the wrong way to go. If a future of freedom is the goal, we need to advance the ideology of radical capitalism, and we need a political party rooted in and stemming from that ideology. (I’m hoping the nascent American Capitalist Party will blossom into a viable party in this vein, and I plan to interview its founders in the near future. Stay tuned.)
At this point, I’m conflicted about whether to support Johnson. Within the normal range of political circumstances, I wouldn’t even consider supporting a libertarian candidate, much less the nominee of the Libertarian Party. But we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Uncertain though I am about whether to support Johnson, however, I am certain about this: As lovers of liberty, regardless of whether we support Johnson, we should redouble our efforts to spread the moral and philosophic ideas on which a future of freedom depends.
My general recommendation on this matter is as follows: If you choose to support Johnson (an understandable choice), make clear whenever appropriate that, although you support him, you disagree with the unprincipled, anti-intellectual approach that libertarians take in their efforts to defend liberty. If you choose not to support Johnson (also understandable), make clear whenever appropriate that the reason (or at least a major reason) you don’t support him is that you oppose the unprincipled, anti-intellectual approach that libertarians take in their efforts to defend liberty.
Further, and regardless of whom you support (or whether you support anyone) in this election, do what you can to help more people discover and understand the moral and philosophical ideas on which individual rights and freedom depend. If we want to get off this ugly road to serfdom and onto the beautiful path toward liberty, we must help people to grasp Ayn Rand’s ideas—especially those concerning morality, rights, and capitalism.
That is the long-term solution to our political problems. And it’s something we can take action on right now.
- Hillary, Johnson, and Trump, Oh My!
- Liberal Right vs. Regressive Left and Religious “Right”
- How Conservatives Begat Trump, and What to Do About It
- An Interview with Governor Gary Johnson on What He Would Do as President