Sectarianism 201: Fusionism is a Trap

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Last week, Crissy Brown wrote an excellent piece detailing why she thinks libertarians should calm the fuck down and stop fighting so much. As is so common in TOL, I’m writing here to disagree.

As a person who has a tendency to rouse rabbles, cause controversy, and who is no stranger to criticizing people in my own movement, I have to say that above all the comments I get on my work, the most annoying are the ones that claim I should shut up about whatever it is that I’m talking about, because I am “splitting the party” or “participating in infighting” or “distracting from the issues libertarians should care about.”

The truth is, I love libertarian “sectarianism,” and I think it only helps our cause, because libertarians, by and large, do it the right way. Like a freed market, open libertarianism offers people a range of options to choose from, and, where we are in our fight for liberty right now, all of those options broadly further liberty.

Anti-sectarianism really falls flat for me because it inevitably narrows down a plethora of liberty-advancing options to only a handful. It almost uniformly means that we should all align under a small-government-only platform (“thin” libertarianism to some) and ally ourselves with Republicans. In order to fuse with them, we must necessarily give up discussions of race, class, and privilege. We must put aside our more “radical” proposals like privatizing education and roads—things that we are unlikely to obtain any time soon. That is how the political game is played: you sacrifice things that are not as important to you to get gains that are important to you. In the end, playing the political game only benefits those in power; it does not benefit those outside of it.

This seems like such an easy thing for many libertarians. Who cares, really, about the people at the margins of our society? We should favor policies and ideas that benefit everyone (at least in theory…), not just those on the outskirts. Besides, we all agree that government isn’t the solution to those problems—end of discussion, right? Let’s move on.

No, thank you.

While that may be true for those who lead “normal” lives, who have little if anything to lose if our society’s power structures stay the way they do, these issues are front and center for millions of people in the world, and they want and need solutions to those problems, not just a blanket statement that the government shouldn’t do anything. While lowering taxes may help everyone, it certainly does not help everyone the same way, not with institutional and systemic power differentials as the norm in our society.

A society with low taxes where people do not have control over their own destinies is not really free at all. Libertarians should advance a society that is wholly free.

Equally important is the fact that this line of thinking also assumes that politics is the way to enact change. I am sorry to inform everyone that this is not the case. Liberty will never be popular with those in government. If you think that you can use those who have power to actively craft policies that give them less power, I have a few books you should read. That’s not how the world works. The view that we can get a few principled candidates in Congress and shake the boat is a trap.

What we gain, however, by “infighting” is the chance to show the many facets of what it means to be a libertarian and what it means to advocate for freedom. We get a chance to show people that, whatever conception of liberty they want to advocate for, there’s a place in our movement for them. We show people that we do not fear debate and disagreement, and that, despite our many differences, we are united for the cause of liberty in the long run, because, frankly, we have a long way to go before most of our quibbles are even real world policy fights.

In short, fusionism is not a win for liberty. It’s a win for Republicans and conservatives. The more we play their game, the farther and farther away we get from true liberty.