Though the Libertarian Party runs candidates for public office, almost never do they get elected to major positions. Sure, one fairly recent presidential ticket pulled in a few million votes more than in previous runnings, and Libertarian candidates around the country do sometimes poll in high enough numbers that they might seem they make the difference between the winner and loser major party candidates; but other than that, the “LP’s” effect on the general direction of American political life seems negligible.

Many argue that the Libertarian Party is a failure.

This weekend, at the party’s 50th anniversary national convention in Reno, Nevada, a major change took place. A group called “the Mises Caucus,” inspired by popular podcasters Dave Smith (a comedian) and Tom Woods (an historian), wrested control of the party from the previous cadre of activists.

There has been both jubilation and anguish about all this.

Basically, the LP, like the libertarian movement generally, is split into two major cultural groups, each with a range of opinion on matters of strategy. On “the left” we find Cato Institute types and the old mainstream of LP activists; on “the right” we find Mises Institute types and the new caucus named after the great Austrian economist and liberal social theorist, Ludwig von Mises, who died way back in the party’s second year.

I was active in the Libertarian Party from 1980 to 1982, but learned some lessons fast. I was studying economics at that time, and Public Choice arguments seemed persuasive: the LP could not easily gain a foothold in first-past-the-post electoral systems like America’s. Also, the Libertarians’ perennial hope for a “breakthrough” candidate when times seem ripe for a “third party candidate” proves illusory, for other, non-libertarian candidates also notice such opportunities and enter the fray. That happened in 1980, actually, with John Anderson, a liberal Republican, going rogue and “stealing” Ed Clark’s thunder.

Further, I reasoned that Americans not unreasonably give an upstart party a limited number of runs until they relegate the party to permanent also-ran status. Certainly, no presidential candidate after Ed Clark’s 1980 run did anything even marginally impressive until Gary Johnson’s 2012 run, where in percentage terms he put himself in Clark’s ballpark. Johnson’s second run, in 2016, was more impressive, but it seemed to me that it was lackluster compared to its potential, considering that the two major parties ran two extremely hated candidates. But getting over 3 percent of the vote was something like an achievement. For the LP. But the next outing, in 2020, saw the Jorgensen/Cohen ticket receive less than 2,000,000 votes for another pitiful low-percentage (1.18) result.

My general conclusion is that Libertarians over-estimate the libertarian tendencies of Americans, and too often fail to realize just how small a minority they constitute. Libertarians have a long row to hoe, especially if they think they have to construct a free world rather than a more humble and limited libertarian enclave. Or a vital and responsible mutual-aid libertarian network.

The LP is stuck. It has been stuck for some time.

How stuck?

Well, activists are hobbled at the starting line: I have never heard a good response from one of its candidates about “the wasted vote” argument — though such a response does exist. But it would take intellectual courage and cleverness to make it. It would take some lateral thinking and a different campaign tack. And Libertarians appear to be astoundingly unimaginative. Especially for such clever people — the average IQ of libertarians is much higher than the general populace, and higher even than “progressives.’”

But, as we all have reason to suspect, general intelligence g is not the same as robust rationality r or wisdom w.

I have believed for quite some time that the Libertarian Party should be dissolved for the good of the libertarian movement — or at least radically re-conceived. Maybe the Mises Caucus folks will apply some new intelligence to the problem of pushing liberty in a statist and servile society. But I doubt they will succeed. I guess I hope that they do.

The losers in the recent power struggle are of course calling the Mises folk “fascists/fascist adjacent,” which I regard as a stretch and an unnecessarily nasty calumny, and appears to be largely a result of that old Koch-Crane/Rothbard (Cato/Mises) split, an ugliness that I probably should avoid. Nevertheless, I got into it on Twitter over the weekend. The gulf between the “two cultures” is real, and it is strange to find myself closer to the Mises group, especially considering that I have never found reason to change my mind over my initial (and quite early) opposition to the “paleo” turn of Rothbard and Rockwell immediately after the disastrous Ron Paul campaign of 1987-8, and that movement is the historical forerunner to the current Mises Caucus. Yet here I am, feeling more at home with them. In part because, like them, I recognize that the Libertarian Party has been an embarrassment to the libertarian movement in recent times. And beyond that, we have our agreements and disagreements.

Unlike the losers in the takeover, I see little reason to prophesy disaster. Unlike the winners, I’ll refrain from huzzahs until real-world improvements become clear.