The Question of Political Purity

Originally published on Third Party Watch on Sunday May 28, 2023

(Written in response to comments posted on

Saturday night I read a comment on Third Party Watch’s sister site that made my blood boil.  Yes, my blood pressure went through the roof, but for me these days that means 114/68 and not some number others normally consider high.  I thought about a quick and snappy response, but then thought better of it – knowing it needed to be neither quick or necessarily snappy.

But I thought about what was said and in what context.  The phrase “pure libertarian” was used in a comment regarding a caucus report internal to the Libertarian Party that Independent Political Report had reported on.  While I am no longer in that party, I consider their classical liberal caucus in general to be “fellow travelers”.  They published their position of the truth of the state of their party.  The comment made about the leadership that was the prime target of their report used the phrase “pure libertarian”, directly implying that classical liberals are not.

My initial reaction was to post a comment using a phrase in German, or perhaps referencing a person or cause we tend not to name, but I did not want to fall into the trap of Godwin’s law and don’t intend to here.

But why is this an important issue?  Is there such a thing as a “pure libertarian”?  A friend of mine reminded me that a “pure libertarian” is one who is always open to debate.  I think I repeated that correctly.  Debate.  Not dictate, not order, not censure, but debate.

But is debate still possible within the framework of most political parties?  Forty years ago, I was a member of the Republican Party.  My political beliefs were what they are now, and I recall openly disagreeing with the actions of the candidate we had just elected President over his failure to honor his campaign promise of dismantling the Department of Education.  I and others were mocked for not being “Real Republicans”.  But the Democrats were worse and other parties were so small that it didn’t seem worth the effort at the time to not stay and fight the internal battles.  I stayed, being labeled everything from a Goldwater Republican to RINO, to the day a very famous local politician (one HATED by Libertarians) shouted at me during a convention to leave the party.  Eventually I did.  Today, anyone opposed to the former President they hope to anoint again is mocked, ridiculed and where possible banned.  The Democrats have similar issues with their current resident of the White House.

So where am I going with this?  The Libertarian Party and the liberty movement face the same issues.

Many years ago there was a river in Cleveland that caught fire.  The Cuyahoga River had been polluted for a hundred years, burning at times and causing damage and loss of life.  But no one did anything about it.  A small fire in 1969 led to the event we know as Earth Day.  Unfortunately it also led to Federal regulation – some you might consider necessary and some not – and to endless arguments today over whether the environment is even a problem.  Unfortunately the river, while significantly less polluted than it was in 1969, is still a hazardous place and will probably be forever.  Some types of pollution just can’t be removed.

The Libertarian Party has had a similar path.  Nearly every convention and election cycle erupts in arguments and internal battles.  Small fires.  There have been many solutions attempted, such as the Dallas Accord, but that merely pushed issues aside and did not eliminate the root cause of the problem:  the Libertarian Party’s tent has become a five ring circus.

Even Ringling Brothers shrank their tent to a single ring.

Next:  Tent City


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