Libertarianism Must Assert Itself As A Viable Alternative To The Status Quo [Opinion]

For a political philosophy that upholds liberty -- an inherently attractive concept -- as a core principle, libertarianism is terrible at selling itself to the masses.

The Statue of Liberty, illustrated.
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For a political philosophy that upholds liberty -- an inherently attractive concept -- as a core principle, libertarianism is terrible at selling itself to the masses.

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is the second most popular party in Germany, according to a recent poll published by Politico.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro — a proponent of military dictatorship — is heading toward victory.

Preceding Bolsonaro and AfD’s alarming and rapid rise are the twin victories of Trump and Brexit. These phenomena are not signs of temporary civic disenfranchisement, they are not a product of reactionaries, nor are they soon-to-be-forgotten fringe political movements destined to fade to the background. They are symptoms of a broken system.

Discussing the rise of the populist right in Europe, Germany’s Sahra Wagenknecht told Jacobin — a New York based magazine with socialist leanings — that the left needs to “fight to win back AfD voters, many of whom more or less constitute the left’s classical constituency.”

“Often,” Wagenknecht said, “these people are poorer, work unattractive jobs, receive lousy pensions, and feel left behind by politics in this country for good reason — they don’t just feel this way, it’s their reality.”

This “needs to be seen as a failure of the broader left that they’ve moved to the right in the first place. In many European countries where right-wing parties are gaining on left-wing ones, it’s due to a failure of the left,” she concluded.

Wagenknecht’s champagne socialism aside, her diagnosis of a largely mischaracterized, intentionally ignored, and exponentially growing societal shift is spot on — when establishments fail, populists thrive.

Brexit, Bolsonaro, AfD, Trump, and other similar populist manifestations are more than merely reflexive rejections of the status quo. They are what occurs when capable leaders tap into the the most visceral and repressed of collective anxieties.

The surprising success of these movements is not a product of conscious accelerationism — but it is a threat to liberty.

Seemingly incoherent and inarticulate, populist movements exploding around the world today are not mere cyclical fluctuations on the global political scene. They are obnoxiously loud announcements of a paradigm shift. As far-left and far-right groups obtain and cement power worldwide, authoritarianism is threatening to become ubiquitous.

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The establishment is drowning in elitism, failing to address the very tsunami of populism that is threatening to obliterate it.

What better example is there than the utterly ridiculous refusal of the Democratic Party — evident in career politician Hillary Clinton’s eternal and looming presence — to reform and reinvent itself — as Trump remakes the Republican Party in his own nationalist image?

Now, more than ever, the need for libertarianism to launch itself into the epicenter of the global consciousness is substantial, a vital component for potential human progress if a grand restart is inevitable — which it seems to be. Instead of letting populists and authoritarians take advantage of neoliberalism’s crumbling ideological infrastructure, libertarianism must assert itself as an alternative to the status quo.

Unlike populist movements sweeping Europe and the United States, libertarianism has failed to capitalize on the individual citizen’s pent up frustrations — remaining a fringe political philosophy — while right wing authoritarians and social conservatives masquerade in their place.

Libertarians have failed to effectively convey the message of libertarianism.

For a political philosophy that upholds liberty — an inherently attractive concept — as a core principle, libertarianism is terrible at selling itself to the masses.

In order to assert itself as a viable system of governance, libertarianism needs to borrow from the successes of populism. Instead of viewing the imminent descent into authoritarianism as merely a threat to the status quo, libertarians — libertarian politicians and political operatives in particular — need to view it as an opening, an opportunity to propel libertarianism into the political mainstream.

Humanity is slipping into authoritarianism. If offered libertarianism, it could ascend.