Working for Freedom


Almost four years ago to the day, I posted some hopeful thoughts about working for freedom within the Republican party, specifically within the framework of the Republican Liberty Caucus. I changed my voter registration to Republican, attended a few meetings and caucuses, and started to learn a bit about how electoral politics works at the local level (which, in the county where I live, mostly means Republican party politics).

The week after Donald Trump was selected as the 2016 presidential candidate of the Republican party, I changed my voter registration from Republican to Libertarian because I do not want to be associated with a party that sees fit to nominate a corrupt, narcissistic, irrational, utterly unqualified thug to be the leader of the free world.

Why Libertarian (again)? Do I now think, despite all evidence and personal experience to the contrary, that the Libertarian Party can be truly competitive in America's two-party political system?

No, I'm not delusional. 2016 will no more be the year of the Libertarian Party's electoral breakthrough than it will be the year of Linux on the desktop. Yet, just as I'm typing this on my System76 laptop running Ubuntu, so I have come to realize that it doesn't matter whether my political or economic choices are in the mainstream: what matters is that they are consistent with my personal values and principles.

Thus my views on this aspect of electoral politics are almost the exact opposite of a cynical, muddle-headed essay that Internet observer Clay Shirky posted recently, under the title There's No Such Thing As A Protest Vote. Shirky argument is that you can choose among the following three positions (I've modified his wording to show what I really think of them):

  1. By voting Republican, I indicate that I want Donald Trump to lord it over the American people.
  2. By voting Democratic, I indicate that want Hillary Clinton to lord it over the American people.
  3. By voting Green or Libertarian or whatever (or not voting at all), I indicate that I don't care about the outcome, so I'll leave it up to the American electorate to decide.


Let's consider a similar argument regarding, say, computer operating systems:

  1. By buying a Chromebook, I indicate that I want Google to be the universal agent of personal surveillance.
  2. By buying an Apple computer, I indicate that I want Apple to be the universal agent of personal surveillance.
  3. By buying a Windows computer, I indicate that I want Microsoft to be the universal agent of personal surveillance.
  4. By buying a Linux computer or whatever, I indicate that I don't care which computer company will be spying on us, so I'll leave it up the market to decide.

Also horsepuckey.

To see why, let's begin with the final assertion.

By living in a so-called representative democracy (actually an oligarchy, but I repeat myself), it's always the case that I leave it up to the American electorate to decide who will be president. I don't have a choice in the matter - that's how the system works. The same goes for our so-called free market economy - I don't have a choice in the matter of which products (such as personal computers) will dominate in the market. And it would delusional to expect otherwise, to believe that my individual vote or my individual purchase makes one whit of difference to political or economic outcomes.

Thus I wholeheartedly agree with those who observe that my vote doesn't matter - to society. But it does matter a great deal - to me. Do I want to give my sanction to the aforementioned thug who has been nominated by the Republican party, or to the equally corrupt criminal who has been nominated by the Democratic party? No, no, a thousand times no. Knowing full well that I have no voice in the matter, I hold ever more firmly to the one small voice that I do have: the inner voice of my principles and my own integrity, and the reflection of that voice in how I conduct myself in the world.

My political principles are effectively libertarian: freedom, liberty, individual rights, small government, local decision-making, a true populism in which the people hold the power, a form of government that is best because it governs least. Although I have no hope that the world or America or my own state or county will live up to these principles anytime soon, I can at least loudly proclaim my refusal to approve of those candidates and parties and organizations who violate these principles, and to align myself with those who do (even if they are imperfect or ineffective).

Perhaps I'm not thereby working for human freedom (because I still don't know how to do that); but at least I'm not actively working against it.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal