Sectarianism 101: Why it’s Bad for Winning


Sectarian – Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect/Adhering or confined to the dogmatic limits of a sect or denomination; partisan/ Narrow-minded; parochial.

When you hear someone say they are a libertarian, that word presumably (and usually) begins with a small “L.” The difference between being libertarian and a Libertarian is the same separating a conservative from a Republican; a liberal and a Democrat. It’s the difference between ideology and party affiliation.

Within the broad pitch of the libertarian tent, there are so many people believing different things it is often easy to wonder how we all find home in the same movement. The major divisions occur between practical/pragmatic libertarians and ideological/educational libertarians; the left-leaning libertarians who concern mostly with social policy and the right-leaning who focus more on fiscal issues.

Though mountains of ideological variance may separate people within the movement, if libertarians can’t agree on anything else, there is always commonality in the belief of personal sovereignty. And the movement is growing in number, but our scope of influence doesn’t seem to be changing as quickly. Sure, we’ve had victories with elected officials like Justin Amash, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Thomas Massie, but there is still a long way to go.

One only needs to remember Gary Johnson’s presidential run in 2012: he received one percent of the vote, and many libertarians considered this a victory. Regardless of brand of libertarianism, Johnson was the candidate most ideologically in line with the liberty movement. Had Johnson received a sizeable portion of the vote (say, the percentage that Romney lost by) the public and the media would have had to address the growing influence of libertarianism. Instead, we the movement people, remain statistically irrelevant.

What sort of candidate could bring together conservatarians, liberaltarians, purists, libertines, anarcho-capitalists, paleotarians, and the voting-is-aggression-tarians? If Ron Paul – the man who recharged this movement – couldn’t unite everyone on team liberty, I don’t hold out for someone who can. Not until the movement unites on commonalities rather than splinters on steadfast dogmas can there be real substantial political change.

“The tragic outcome of this internal state of affairs in the liberty movement is worse than the usual ‘echo chamber’ in which libertarians tend to only preach to the choir,” Alex Lee wrote in an article posted in DL Magazine, “Libertarians are now not only preaching to the choir; they’re scolding and berating the choir, who are yelling right back.”

The amount of sectarian infighting within the liberty movement can partially be attributed to how deeply our convictions run (typically). It is rare to meet a libertarian who doesn’t have strong, well-thought out opinions. Because of this we often make the perfect enemy of the good; trading the advantage of numbers for the sake of few ideological differences.

Being of strong and passionate convictions is admirable, and a constant among libertarians. But when strong convictions interfere or prevent the expansion of liberty in any capacity, where is the gratification in that? If a pro-liberty candidate were to run for office on either major ticket, and I chose not to vote for her because I disagreed with her party on one major issue, I haven’t really done my philosophy any good. How good are convictions when they keep you from winning – or making any progress at all?

So libertarians, don’t make it easier for leftist ideology to persevere because you can’t make nice with each other. Don’t let your concept of what libertarian means become the enemy of a freer state.