A meme has been making the social media circuit lately that depicts a group of gown laden girls taking what appears to be a prom photo with a long-haired, casually dressed boy in background shoving Cheetos into his gullet. The caption “Libertarian philosophy” graces the girls’ presence, while the snacking boy has the label “Libertarian candidates” as a joke that libertarian candidates are often odd or don’t present well.
On the surface, the meme is poking fun at the goofs of libertarian political candidates such as Gary Johnson’s infamous “What is Aleppo?” interview or Arvin Vohra’s joking on shooting school boards, but underneath is an attitude that I have seen many libertarians display. The image also gives the impression that libertarian philosophy is sleek and sexy, and that it’s just the presenters of the ideas that are getting in the way of everyone accepting them.
It’s a display of arrogance that imbues the content of libertarian writers, creators, and speakers, myself included. When Gary Johnson stated on the campaign trail “I do believe that the vast majority of the people in this country are libertarian; they just don’t know it yet,” it is the same idea of the ideals being wonderful, but that there’s a lack of capable or influential people who can give them. Ironically, Johnson stated this after finding on isidewith.com’s issues quiz, that he matched 73% with then seeker of the Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders.
Polls have shown that the majority of people who respond don’t feel that libertarian accurately describes them, and even in an attempt by FiveThirtyEight to poll people using issues instead of labels, it found that 22% could be libertarian, narrowly above the “Hardhat” label that was given to those who were socially conservative but fiscally liberal. Conservatism and American liberalism were more popular matches, contradicting Governor Johnson’s belief. Even if it is assumed that some of those liberals or conservatives might be slightly more libertarian inclined, it still wouldn’t be a majority of people.
This means, that there are people who have legitimate moral or practical reasons to reject libertarian ideas, and it’s not necessarily that they’re trying to display a chocolate cake using a Charles Manson display. There are definitely some image issues within the movement: there are far too many political figures who once described themselves as libertarian, but are now clearly right-wing populists, and too many prominent ones have questionable pasts leading to bad associations.
Those are all easily fixable, but the harder task is trying to sell an idea that the majority disagree not because they don’t understand or because they haven’t had the right person tell them, but for fleshed out reasons and interpretations. Libertarians simply cannot dismiss a disagreement because they feel someone is basing it off of a poor explanation, or allow an arrogant reverence to keep them from having the tough conversations and addressing the most hostile. This awareness will allow libertarians to better address their audience and perhaps even grow their own understanding as they accept where it might be flawed.
Perhaps by speaking with a Marxist, one can better adapt the freedom ideology to the cycle of the underclass overthrowing the upper class and how those goals match. Maybe someone who is more community-centered than individually based can learn to accept some libertarianism if it isn’t given as a sort of holy doctrine. Any situation one can ponder, they all benefit from having a truthful and critical view of a set of beliefs and not blaming its inadequacies on its followers.
You can read more from Luke Henderson on Think Liberty here.