The Steel Curtain: The Pauls’ Attack on the Libertarian Party


The rise of Ron Paul and Rand Paul has brought great attention to such libertarian ideas as auditing the Fed and the need for an antiwar foreign policy. But because Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential bids were GOP primary attempts, their net effect was to bring libertarianism into the GOP fold. The phenomenon was confirmed by Rand Paul's Senate victory as a GOP candidate, and by the fact that many Americans now associate libertarian ideals with the Tea Party, with which the Pauls themselves are associated, and think of the Tea Party as a Republican group.

Things were simpler when the GOP was for conservatives and the Libertarian Party was for libertarians. If, now, the GOP steals a large number of libertarians away from the LP, the LP will be doomed. Worse, Ron Paul's efforts have made mainstream America think of libertarianism as a right-wing political philosophy, more extremely to the right than conservatism. This is a tendency that Murray Rothbard, for one, would certainly have deplored. Rothbard fiercely criticized Ayn Rand's idea that "the businessman is America's most persecuted minority," asserting instead that many businessmen were statist hacks who benefited from corporate welfare. Yes, Rothbard might have felt differently during his paleolibertarian phase, but liberty has always been an ideal that paralleled leftist positions on certain social issues: drugs, immigration, gay rights, limits on police authority, and others. The danger now is that this parallel will be forgotten. The GOP will simply consume the LP, and true libertarians will have no political home.

Conservatives will always control the American Right because they vastly outnumber libertarians. If, then, libertarianism is considered a rightwing movement, it will eventually dissolve into nothingness. I fear that a steel curtain is going to be built, cutting libertarians off from our socially liberal positions, and fencing libertarianism in on the side of the conservatives. The Libertarian Party's national leadership has never been particularly clever or smart. It has often been obsessed with ideological purity at the expense of practicality and the possibility of winning elections. I doubt the leadership will have what it takes to save the LP from the Pauls’ implicit attack. To paraphrase Caesar, "Et tu, Paule?"

Things were simpler when the GOP was for conservatives and the Libertarian Party was for libertarians. If, now, the GOP steals a large number of libertarians away from the LP, the LP will be doomed. Worse, Ron Paul

Share This


Jon Harrison

The comments on this piece are thoughtful and interesting; the quality is quite high. I wish we could see 15 or 20 (or more) comments of this caliber on every piece. My own sometimes idiosyncratic views may reduce the volume of comments on my pieces, but more comments like these in response to the mainline libertarian pieces would be refreshing.


The LP has been hopeless for many reasons and many years, the most obvious being ballot access. If libertarian ideas ever gained enough popularity to make the LP relevant, any political party would serve the purpose as well. It will be difficult to take over or establish a party that seriously seeks a reduction of government power, since power and patronage keep parties moving. Politicians and bureaucrats jump on new political bandwagons to enhance their power, budget, and prestige, not to reduce them.

So if the outlook for politics is so discouraging, what else is there? Fortunately, technology has presented us with new opportunities for creating social change. Unfortunately, libertarians have made very limited use of the opportunities, besides the explosion of web sites and podcasts available. But I think time is on our side - no one who really understands how the Internet works can take top-down government solutions very seriously.

Joshua Katz

I am an LP stalwart. I've run for office, and currently hold office (in CT) as a Libertarian. I'm secretary of the LPCT. I've run for at-large, endorsed by Starchild and George Phillies. I say, though, that my first and only allegiance is to Freedom, that Platonic ideal. I support and work with the LP as a means to an end. If others wish to promote it elsewhere, and succeed, I applaud.

I was very, very skeptical of Rand. Then he filibustered on the drone issue, and very intelligently manuevered the GOP head-honchos into supporting a liberty issue - one that is considered 'left wing.' This doesn't mean that the GOP is becoming libertarian, nor that libertarianism is right-wing, just that, on this issue, he did what he could to get an alliance together.

That's how we defend freedom. We cannot do it on our own. There are too few libertarians, and there will always be too few. We cannot tie Freedom's fortunes to our getting a governing coalition of libertarians. What we can do is be Freedom's Remnant, take the lead on all freedom issues, and assemble coalitions on each issue that can win.

I understand the branding issue, with the American public viewing libertarianism as right wing. However, branding assumes that people can and should be brought to have good feelings about libertarianism. I don't think that's possible. Their core beliefs won't change. No one will support drones because they think Liberty is on the right.

What about forming coalitions on economics? We are the true economic liberals. Form priorities and assemble coalitions on those. Assemble a coalition on corporate welfare, on subsidies, on bailouts. This will take a lot out of the sails of liberals who support welfare.

The branding is, ultimately, the LP's fault. We had our chance to truly show that we are neither of the left nor the right in 2008. We blew it. We knew that people consider us pot-smoking Republicans, then we ran a pot-smoking Republican for President. I can understand taking the Big Name - but we had a bigger name, we had a former Senator who killed the draft and released the Pentagon Papers, and we turned him down. Let's hear no more, then, about Ron Paul killing our left-wing credentials.

Michael Pierone

Individually I love the members of the Libertarian Party, but the success of the LP has been rather limited. The goal of course is that the ideas of Liberty succeed. I care not if the Democrat, the Republican or the Whig party becomes the vehicle.

If the LP disappears because there is a more effective vehicle, that is fine. Our ideas are becoming more mainstream. This will tend to water them down a bit. I believe the Voluntary-ists will become what the LP was. Though obviously not as a political party. There will always be a principled group to hew more closely to the ideas of liberty, the name doesn't matter. The ideas do. Nostalgia has its place. But lets not fear our success.

Robert K Stock

The quicker the Libertarian Party is gone, the quicker libertarian ideas will be adopted by larger groups of voters. The existence of the LP has held back the cause of liberty instead of advancing it.

Those who cannot get along with conservatives should work in the Democratic party. With active libertarians in both Republican and Democratic parties the country may have a chance.


I think this editorial is a little off track. The conservative movement has little momentum, while the libertarians are energized. Who's more energized and cutting edge, Rand Paul or Carl Rove? It's high time the libertarians co-opt the Republican Party. Once having done so successfully, no one will miss either the conservatives or the Libertarian Party.

What's your real complaint? Is Rand Paul not "libertarian" enough for you? Let's take advantage of this moment in time to become the party, under whatever label, that is truly pro-choice .... on everything. Will there be points of disagreement? Surely there will, and that's what happens in an effective political party. If the Republican Party adopts libertarian ideals then the Libertarians will have accomplished a great achievement. When Gary Johnson, Rand Paul and Chris Christie are in debates for the Republican nomination in 2016 then we'll be pretty damned happy that we've got a couple of players in the game.

Jon Harrison

Chris Christie has no chance of becoming the Republican nominee in 2016; in my opinion he won't even run. And I doubt Gary Johnson will be able to raise enough money, even if he wants to run as a Republican.

The Republicans to watch in 2016 are Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul. It's too early to predict what the state of the nation will be in four years, but I believe there's a chance Paul the Younger could mount an insurgent campaign that will bury the establishment favorite, i.e., Bush. The question in my mind is: can Paul win over enough social conservatives to put Santorum out of the race? If not, then Bush will emerge the winner, because Paul and Santorum will split the anti-Bush vote. Watch these three in any case as the campaign unfolds.

Actually, it doesn't really matter who the Republican nominee is; the Democrat (likely Hillary) will defeat him. A big crack-up is likely coming in America at some point, but probably not by 2016. And if it does come the voters will turn to government, rather than away from it, for succor.

So don't hold your breath waiting for a libertarian-leaning president or Congress. But don't despair, either. There are opportunities (at the state level especially) to bring about postive change on taxes, to some extent on regulation, and especially on issues involving individual freedom (drugs, gay marriage, assisted suicide, etc.). These opportunities should (IMO) form the focus of political effort for libertarians.

If there is no big crackup coming (leading to martial law and/or a government-run economy), then fiscal dilemmas will dictate a shrinking of government, whether the people and their elected representatives will it or not. At some point the printing of money has to end; at some point government must shrink or die.

Sean Alexander

There will be blizzards in Hell before the Republican party or any conservative entity embraces Libertarian ideas, as the Libertarian does not support the same ideas on government power.
More precisely, the limits of government power.

I do not know the political content of the State of Indiana, but I am pretty sure I read a ruling from that state's Supreme Court that allowed law enforcement to enter any home without any cause and resistance from the homeowner would be considered a criminal offense.

Since it barely made the news, I may have missed the uproar from the Republican and conservative groups railing against judicial activism.

The NDAA that allows for the indefinite and incommunicado detention sans due process that was supported by Republicans.

The most recent headlines about drones come to mind as well.

These are items that had the support of both parties.

That is why I feel that the Libertarian will always have a political home. If only for one reason; because the two parties we currently have will never cede any control, only aggressively add to it.

It will be interesting to see how Rand Paul fares in such an environment.


Ron Paul (and to a far lesser extent, Rand Paul) have brought libertarian ideas to the masses. Instead of celebrating, all this author can think to do is whine that they didn't speak from the totally ineffective stage of the Libertarian Party.

I couldn't disagree more.

Jon Harrison

To the masses? Don't kid yourself. Libertarian ideology is still supported by an infinitesimally small number of people. On certain issues the libertarian take has more support. It's those issues that libertarians should focus on. Better to have a small piece of pie than none at all.

© Copyright 2020 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.