Introduction to the Libertarian Party

Note: This page was produced by members of the MIT Libertarians. To our knowledge, all factual information is correct. However, the Libertarian Party Home Page is far more official.

What is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism is a political philosphy. The term "libertarian" dates at least as far back as 1789, arising from the turbulence of both the American and French revolutions. There are probably as many "strict" definitions of the term as there are libertarians.

But in general, libertarians combine the strong defense of individual civil liberties, due process, social tolerance (religous, lifestyle choices, etc.), open immigration, and nonconformity espoused by modern day "liberals" with an equally strong defense of free markets, private property, free trade, radically reduced government and international noninterventionism often espoused by conservatives.

In the World's Smallest Political Quiz you can begin to see how this combination arises. The traditional left-right axis between liberal and conservative covers only part of the picture. Essentially both sides want government involved in a good deal of a priavte citizen's life, it's only a question of where. Liberals tend to favor government intervention and planning in economic matters, but leave social issues up to the individual. Conservatives tend to favor government direction of social issues, personal behavior, and "tough on crime" civil liberties intrusions, but leave economics to the private sector. Where does that leave people who want "free speech" AND "less taxes"? Or people who dislike both?

Clearly, a new axis is needed, the libertarian-authoritarian axis. This measures not WHERE you want government intrusion, but WHETHER or HOW MUCH you want government intrustion, not WHERE you want government planning but WHETHER or HOW MUCH you want it. Libertarians believe that people interacting cooperatively through persuasion, mutual respect, tolerance and free trade are the best architects of their society, and that government should only be used for those times when absolutely necessary, to defend against the aggression of those unwilling to leave peacefully with their neighbors. The smaller government gets, the more people are cooperating with one another and the better society is for it.

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Why a Libertarian Party?

Given the dominance of the two party system, its reasonable to wonder about the efficacy of a new political party. Many libertarians still think one or the other party can be reformed. But the main reason a new party is necessary is because the others fundamentally disagree with at least half of an average libertarian's ideology. When, no matter which party you vote for, you only get half of what you want at best, then you've got to start from scratch. Twenty years ago, that's what some people did.

In 1972, disillusioned Democrats and Republicans, including MIT graduate, David Nolan, founded the Libertarian Party (beginning an MIT tradition that was reaffirmed when LP nominated another MIT graduate, Andre Marrou, for its presidential candidate in 1992). They knew it would be a long term prospect, but they also new quick answers and shortsightedness weren't a solution to anyting as complex as a nation's political direction.

In the last twenty years the LP has found its feet, becoming the United States' third largest political party with affiliates in EVERY state and over 100 elected and appointed public office holders nationwide -- more than any other "third party" since 1914. The history of Libertarian Party milestones includes such things as the year the party became the first to garner an Electoral College vote for a female candidate for US Vice President, years before Geraldine Ferraro.

The Libertarian Party is founded on a strong commitment to principles. These principles are detailed in The Libertarian Party Statement of Principles. Only a 7/8 vote of the membership can alter these idealogical foundations. There are two main documents detailing party positions on the issues:

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The Libertarian Party On Line

Libertarianism is a natural for the cyberspace community. Cyberspace is spontaneous, cooperative, nonaggressive trade and information exchange in action. Further proof that where liberty is given a chance, it flourishes. Back to Table of Contents.

Why to Join the Libertarian Party

The importance of membership cannot be understated. It is the only way the party and the public can guage support for libertarian causes outside of elections. Further, for relatively small financial contributions, the LP gains the ability to really impact the political realm through supporting candidates, running advertisements, and producing direct lobbying efforts.

The LP is set up as a national political party with state and local affiliates. By joining at the the national level, you get party news and information updates for a nominal yearly fee. Join the state affiliate Massachussetts LP to get the local party news, usually at an even smaller fee or for free.

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Why to Register Libertarian

While membership in party based organizations helps build the clout of the LP, actually changing your voter registration to Libertarian may well be the biggest factor in helping the LP gain much needed ballot access. Most ballot access laws are based on the number of registered voters and/or votes cast for party candidates in one or more of the last elections. The more registered voting libertarians, the less money spent just getting on the ballot.

Check with the Massachussetts LP Home Page for the current registration status of the Libertarian Party in this state. Party affiliation during registration usually affects how one may vote in either of the major party "primaries." See the election rules in your state for information.

In states with "public parties," registering to vote as a Libertarian makes you a member automatically. In most cases, there is a party organization or association to collect dues and deliver membership benefits for paying members. If you registered Libertarian you should also join the party organization and become part of the active movement.

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Why to Vote Libertarian

This is the most basic -- and most important -- way to help the Libertarian Party. Far more than simply deciding the outcome of elections, votes are the lifeblood of political movements. Every vote cast for libertarians makes it that much easier to gain ballot access in the succeeding elections. Every vote that is not cast for the winning politician is a vote that discounts from any "mandate" the winner could claim. There must come a time, if you are at all serious about the prospects of liberty, when you decide that voting FOR a Libertarian is more important than voting AGAINST the lesser of two evils.

An important example of this was the 1992 election of Bill Clinton. Though Clinton won the election, many of the anti-Bush voters cast their votes for Ross Perot instead of Clinton. As a result, he was elected with only a 43% plurality and no real mandate. If those who had wanted to "vote Bush out" had not opted for a third party candidate, Clinton would have come to Washington with much more political support. The Republicans on the other hand, found out the hard way that they cannot be guaranteed all the anti-Democrat votes either. Because only one fifth of the voters went with a candidate they supported even though he had no real chance of winning, massive political shakeups were felt by both parties, drastically altering what either the Democrats or Republicans would be able to do whether they won or lost.

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