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Opinion: The Liberal Party is the Wrong Answer

An Opinion Piece from Tom Rowlette

Organizing the Liberal Party is entirely destructive.

If you look at the history of third parties in the US, it’s when they splinter that they start to lose their effectiveness. It’s been a blessing of the libertarian movement that we’ve been able to stick together with one party for the last 50 years, unlike the myriad communist and socialist parties which split into many tiny slivers around the time that their philosophies were most popular. It’s been good for the people of the United States that those disasters happened to the socialists and communists, but I doubt that it will be good for my country that it’s being inflicted on the only movement really dedicated to set us free.

Let’s pretend for a second that the best case scenario happens for the new Liberal Party. That would be that every state affiliate decides to leave the Libertarian Party and join up. Let’s even assume that there’s no friction to that process. In the 0.01% of universes where that happens the only benefit that you’ve gained is a slightly different culture in the internal workings of the national movement. Even then, what odds do you think there are that everyone at the top will get along? In the entire history of politics, has there ever been a national committee of any party where there were no personality disputes and there was no rancor? It’s part of doing business, and entirely impossible to avoid.

Now let’s consider the most likely medium-case scenario. The Liberal Party sustains itself by siphoning off about 1/10th of the people who would otherwise join the Libertarian Party. States with difficult ballot access laws have both parties fall short. Competing candidates for President, Governor, and other important races make each other less influential. After 10 years most of the people in the Liberal Party run out of steam, and the remnant fade out over another 10.

Now let’s consider the worst case scenario. The Liberal Party becomes about as influential as the Libertarian Party right around the time that the original personality conflicts become irrelevant. There are now two parties with the same philosophy whose only difference is organizational structure. New 18 year olds coming into the movement have to choose which team to join and whose candidates to vote for, and there’s no end in sight because there are people entrenched at the top of both parties who are not incentivized to merge them. Another 100 years of the Democrats and Republicans.

If you don’t like the way the Libertarian Party is being run, the most correct solution which helps set the world free in our lifetime is to be patient and keep running candidates for LNC who see things your way. The least correct solution is to do what’s being done now, which has a huge chance of doing more harm than good.

[Editor: This message was raised from the comments because it appeared worthy of broader examination.]


  1. Trisha Butler Trisha Butler February 17, 2024

    [Editor: Comment has been elevated to Post status.]
    My Response to: An Opinion Piece from Tom Rowlette

    Organizing the Liberal Party was a desperate response to destruction.

    Believing that this splintering is novel is to purposely close ones eyes to the events of the past two years. The Libertarian party sticking together for 50 years has been a blessing, but moreso has been beyond miraculous. The amount of infighting that has perpetually plagued our “big tent” party had us so distracted that the Libertarian Party hasn’t capitalized on the multiple times our philosophies have been the most desirable, and sorely needed.

    In the event that the Liberal Party becomes the force you are so frightened of that you would write an opinion inciting fear of it, it will not be in the paltry numbers you arbitrarily cited. The Liberal Party USA will not be a “slightly different culture,” it will be completely different, or it deserves to wither and fail. Calling the issues within the current LP national leadership simply “personality disputes” and “rancor” while ignoring their dereliction, incompetence, and authoritarian corruption is paramountly destructive and naive. It’s not a part of “doing business,” as they are observably avoiding or subverting the accomplishment of anything.

    The incoming generation has grown up in a world where cannabis and same-sex marriage are legal. They are over outdated wailing about a pandemic that ruined their most impressionable years. They are tired of having to earn respect from elders who don’t respect anyone. They are sick of division, manipulation, complaining about pronouns, geriatrics making laws, and they don’t care about philosophical economics. They just want to know solutions for survival in this atrocious economy. You know what they do like? The word liberal and the freedom, acceptance, equality, and hope it represents. They don’t want to join a team or submit to the endless binary of D or R, red or blue. They want something of their own.
    The Liberal Party will incentivize them, by hearing them and acknowledging they are the future.

    Playing nice, patience, and complacency is what got us here. It is why we are stagnant and were easily surmountable and corruptible. Your “least correct solution” is one you assumed with absolutely no data, nothing more than the fear of change.

  2. ATBAFT ATBAFT February 15, 2024

    The last time I spoke with David Nolan (at the 2008 convention in Denver), he was still optimistic about the long term prospects for the LP. But he did express some concern about the nomination victory of “tepid libertarian” Bob Barr (and some support given to Sen. Mike Gravel), feeling it might cause a riff in the Party. He pointed out that the Bergland victory in 1983 caused many good people to leave the Party (but they did not end up starting their own third party) and he wondered if a Barr victory might lead to future “less than real libertarian” outsiders using the LP for their own ends and fracturing the “Dallas accord” that so far had been pretty successful. One wonders how the hard-line 1972-2009 Nolan would feel about these new developments?

    • Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp February 16, 2024

      My recollection is that he was not especially happy about the Boston Tea Party running a libertarian presidential ticket against Barr/Root. He didn’t get personal about it or anything — we got to know each other at that convention and became better friends after that election — but he definitely felt that saving the LP was better than creating an alternative to the LP.

    • TexMike TexMike February 16, 2024

      I joined the LP in 1973 and left when Barr was nominated. Chasing names made no sense to me. Ron Paul’s promise of big bucks never happened. I lived in Paul’s district but I fervently hoped Russell Means would win the nomination. As a native American candidate he would have gathered free press everywhere he went, way more beneficial than Paul’s money.

      I’m so glad I left before the Mises take over.

        • TexMike TexMike February 18, 2024

          Not yet. I feel the political process is crap. So I do not vote for any incumbents. I first vote for any third party or independent candidate. Then I vote for whatever major party candidate is the challenger. That is one easy way I voice my displeasure in the current system.

        • NewFederalist NewFederalist February 18, 2024

          That IS a good question.

  3. Root's Teeth Are Awesome Root's Teeth Are Awesome February 15, 2024

    New York already has a Liberal Party, a left-progressive party.

    According to its Wiki page, the Liberal Party was founded in 1944. It had ballot access for many decades, and even elected some candidates. John Lindsay was reelected mayor of New York City in 1969, running solely on the Liberal Party.

    It lost its ballot access in 2002, but still exists and has a website.

    Back in the 1970s, the Libertarian Party was forced to name itself the Free Libertarian Party on NY ballots, due to a lawsuit from the Liberal Party, which claimed their names were too similar and would cause voter confusion.

  4. Darryl W Perry Darryl W Perry February 15, 2024

    Whenever I see people complain about the fracturing of libertarianism; I can’t help but think of all the various splits of the socialists. I think there are at least 4 parties with “Socialist/Socialism”in their name.

  5. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp February 15, 2024

    “There are now two parties with the same philosophy whose only difference is organizational structure.”

    The Liberal Party hasn’t even issued a platform or set of policy proposals, so it’s too soon to tell if it and the Libertarian Party are part of “the same movement,” especially given the GOP “infiltrate and neuter” PAC’s Herculean, and at least partially effectual, efforts to sever any connection between the latter and either libertarianism or classical liberalism.

    IF the Liberal Party turns out to be somewhat libertarian, and IF the Libertarian Party can be turned back in a libertarian direction, there might be a plausible case for reunification. But at the moment, those are both IFs.

  6. Steve M Steve M February 15, 2024

    There are more than 2 possible outcomes. Here are a few of them.

    1. The Liberal Party could take over.
    2. The Liberal Party could fail
    3. The two parties could merge
    4. The two parties could compete

    The current leadership of the LNC has been very divisive. To prevent a split a neutral leadership would have to take over the LNC and state orgs and work hard to rebuild. Is there a slate of neutral inclusive candidates running for officer and at large positions?

    The split might be a mistake but it is the making of faction who took control in Reno and has done everything it could to cause a split.

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