On Jan. 24, Christopher Cantwell published an article arguing that libertarians should support Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis how the case for supporting Trump is flawed.
It is true that democracy is a terrible system of governance. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, it is a soft variant of communism, and only rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else. But because this system is almost certainly not going to be abolished before November 2016, someone will almost certainly be elected President of the United States. According to Cantwell, this leaves a libertarian with four options:
- Support a candidate who will do things which are unlibertarian, but is less harmful than the other candidates.
- Support a candidate who will do things which are so unlibertarian that society will be irreparably harmed and the government will collapse that we might rule the wasteland.
- Support a libertarian candidate who has absolutely no chance of winning.
- Renounce elections as unprincipled, wield zero influence, and remain in a powerless echo chamber of libertarian autism.
Cantwell argues for the first option, and expresses contempt for the latter three. There is another option, but let us deal with these four first by exploring the problems with the first option and the benefits of the next three. By engaging in the political process to support a candidate, one helps to legitimize the political system in the eyes of onlookers as a means of affecting libertarian change. Supporting Trump as the best of a bunch of bad candidates, or as the best candidate with a reasonable chance of winning a presidential election, is just typical “lesser of two evils” nonsense extended to a larger number of candidates. Also, any money donated to or effort expended for Trump’s political candidacy is money and effort that cannot be put to another use. In other words, focus put on politics is focus lost to anti-politics. Who knows what innovations that increase liberty by creating a way to ignore or fight the state will be lost because the efforts needed for those innovations were instead put toward the Trump campaign?
On the other hand, supporting a candidate whose policies are so bad that they will collapse the system could make the necessary revolution more likely. To quote from the Declaration of Independence, mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. While this may seem to be a pernicious deed in the moment, electing the worst candidates over a period of time could be the best long-term use of the political system by libertarians if it makes the revolution occur sooner. There is also the matter that states always collapse in time because people inevitably fall victim to their perverse incentives and steer the system toward ruin, so this outcome will occur eventually regardless of election results absent a libertarian revolution.
Supporting the Libertarian Party candidate in 2016 is not necessarily a worthless endeavor, especially if the election results are favorable enough to ease ballot access efforts in 2020, when a well-known anarchist activist plans to run. Even though victory would still be nearly impossible, such a campaign has the potential to convert more people to libertarian thought than even the Ron Paul presidential campaigns, and that is the most useful role that the Libertarian Party can play.
When one votes, one is helping to impose violent rulers upon peaceful people and give the appearance of legitimacy to institutions which deserve none. Voters are effectively asking a particular person who seeks to violently dominate society to command government agents to commit actions on their behalf which would be considered criminal by any objective standard, and which are considered criminal if an ordinary person commits them. The idea that voting can be an act of self-defense is false because voting harms bystanders who are not innocent shields. Also, renouncing elections as unprincipled need not result in wielding zero influence and remaining in a powerless echo chamber of libertarian autism. It depends upon what one does instead of voting on Election Day. If one sits at home and rants online in a libertarian chat room, then this will occur. But if one goes out to the polls not to participate in the election, but to protest against statism in general and democracy in particular, then there is an opportunity to engage with and convert new people to libertarian thought.
Finally, there is one more basic option to consider:
- Use force to shut down polling places and repel voters from them.
Because voting is an aggressive act, using force to stop it is morally justifiable. But it is tactically unwise on three counts. First, given the number of polling places, the manpower and resources needed to shut down each one, the possibility of alternative polling places, the length of early voting periods, and the possibility of voting by mail, it is safe to say that the election will continue despite any such efforts. Second, if libertarians actually had the means to stop a presidential election by force in just some parts of the nation, then it would be far more effective to use force to expel government agents from our lands and continue to use force to resist any government agents, terrorists, warlords, mafiosos, or common criminals that attempt to cause trouble afterward. Third, using force against voters and election personnel is likely to bring people into the fight between anarchists and statists on the statist side, as they will view the revolutionaries as an existential threat which must be quashed rather than a movement which they could join.
On the issue of dealing with aggressors, it is necessary to use both force and reason. One has a right to defend oneself by escalating the use of force as far as necessary to subdue the aggressors. After this is done, one should ready one’s argumentation ethics and denounce the aggressors as moral criminals in order to justify one’s use of force to one’s peers. The same must be done regardless of whether the aggressors consist of a lone common criminal, all government agents in a geographical area, or anything in between.
The crux of Cantwell’s argument for supporting Donald Trump is that years of arguing for revolution have proven fruitless because there are prerequisites for revolution which have yet to be met, and Trump will help to meet those prerequisites, the most important of which is the suppression of the political left. While it is true that left-wing influence is threatening the very survival of humanity, we must not be blind to threats to liberty from the right-wing. Ludwig von Mises wrote of European fascism in 1927, “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” Immediately afterward, he wrote, “But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.” Mises would learn the hard way just what a fatal error this was, as it was ultimately fascists who forced him out of his academic position in Vienna and away to America to basically start over at the age of 60. He would go on to write Omnipotent Government in 1944, which remains one of the best anti-authoritarian works ever penned.
While the desire to do something besides making calls for revolution that land on deaf ears is certainly understandable, the installation of reactionary figures atop the democratic statist apparatus has been similarly fruitless. All historical examples have ended in failure for a variety of reasons. The reactionaries can over-correct, taking society backward beyond the point at which they believe mistakes were made, causing needless damage in the process; they can take society off of one wrong path and put it onto another, even worse path; or they can make changes only to lose power and see their changes reversed by a counter-reactionary movement. Most importantly, as Cantwell correctly recognizes, democracies inherently move leftward over time. The deep state is generally impervious to elections. Never has there been a reactionary movement that could achieve its goals and maintain them against attempts at reversal. The aforementioned failures also suggest that supporting Trump could be the second option listed above rather than the first one.
A useful metaphor for the appeal of a figure like Trump among anarcho-capitalists may be found in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. While Tolkien always strongly held that his works should not be seen as a metaphor for anything, there is scarcely a better metaphor in all of literature for state power than The One Ring, and Tolkien self-identifies as an anarchist in his letters. What Sauron expected was for a champion of men to wear the Ring in battle against him, and he knew that his vast military might could overwhelm the forces of men, take the Ring, and restore his full power to him. He could not foresee that the forces of good would have Frodo Baggins to sneak the Ring into Mount Doom to destroy it there until it was too late. But this almost did not happen. Had Faramir chosen to take the Ring from Frodo when they met in Osgiliath, the former outcome would have eventually occurred. Those who seek to wield state power against the leftist enemy through Trump are playing the part of Faramir, and they risk making the terrible mistake that Faramir avoided. The state itself is the primary problem; to instead try to use its power against the leftists who currently use it does nothing to prevent its power from eventually falling back into their hands, as it always has.
Cantwell mentions several behaviors as social negatives; drug use, sexual promiscuity, feminism, homosexuality, and racial and cultural diversity. But for many centuries, these behaviors were discouraged not by the market, but by theocratic states and the religions enforced by them. There are many examples of other societies throughout history where such behaviors were common, although one could argue that such societies experienced turmoil more frequently on average. Free markets would not necessarily discourage such behaviors; they would only prevent them from running rampant, as there would be no entity that could force people to associate or integrate against their wills or force the economic consequences of unbridled degeneracy onto the rest of society, as states do. This would mean that people would either have to learn to handle their vices or be destroyed by them, which would have a positive effect on a civilization.
While Donald Trump does offset leftist influence to a greater extent than anyone else in recent memory, this has been accomplished solely by his presence as a presidential candidate and public figure. He need not win the presidency in order to do this. Now that he has proven that the politically correct media machine is a paper tiger and the cuckservative and cuckertarian establishment has been repeatedly discredited, other candidates and public figures can and do speak uncomfortable truths without fear.
It is true that absent a democracy, we are left with a choice between anarchism and unelected government. But as Cantwell previously recognized, “A 17th century British monarchy may seem preferable by comparison (to democracy), but we can look at countries like North Korea to get our measure of liberty in a modern dictatorship, and cross that option off of our list.” This is because there are two factors of importance in citizen response to government: voice and exit. The reactionary seeks a system of no voice and free exit, and a world full of micro-nations operating in this manner would certainly be preferable to the current system of democratic nation-states, which offers only an illusion of voice coupled with significant barriers to exit. But this is not the likely outcome of a collapse of democracy that does not also collapse the statist system. The likely result of no voice and no exit is the worst of all possible worlds. At least in a stateless world guided by the likes of Cato, Reason, and C4SS, the market could sort out their nonsense and return us to better practices. To quote Cantwell, “Anarcho-capitalism does not require any number of people to agree with it, only that the system of coercion impeding it be rendered ineffective. Remove the systemic coercion, and economics will take care of the rest.”
The idea that the left should face political opposition from a true right-wing movement is appealing on its face, as this would make leftists deal with a political threat rather than focus their attacks solely upon libertarianism. But state power need not be used for this. A resurgence of right-wing libertarianism would be sufficient to repel the toxic influence of the new crop of left-libertarians, and Cantwell’s own efforts on this front have been quite valuable. Also, the danger of the right-wing movement coming to power and inflicting its own brand of statism upon us cannot be ignored.
To conclude, the struggle for liberty is a local, anti-political effort. Looking for a strongman to save us will only lead to further ruin, even if that ruin is of a different sort. Bleak though the outlook is at this point, the path to a free society is revolution or bust.