Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Interview: Nicholas Sarwark says "the right is no longer a natural ally" of libertarianism, explains why

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in March 2017.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

Libertarianism has seen better days.

A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, however, protectionism surged -- not only in the GOP, but among Democratic ranks as well. Now, amid the age of Donald Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory.

"I fear that the classical liberal/libertarian idea and ideal will be seriously tarnished by the policies and politics of the Trump Administration," Dr. Richard Ebeling, one of our time's greatest Austrian School thinkers, recently told me.

He continued: "Virtually all of Trump’s proposed policies involve a continuation or an intensification of government involvement in social and economic life. He acts as the all-knowing government central planner when he calls in business executives and tells them where to invest and what products they should make to 'create jobs.' He undermines respect for and protection of essential civil liberties when he ridicules the freedom of the press and their way of reporting on his administration’s actions and his words."
Ebeling went on to state his worry "that with the assistance of the mainstream media the Trump Administration’s anti-freedom policies will tarnish the real case for a free society and a free market. That is, people who want lower taxes and fewer regulations on business will be identified as the people who also believe in torture, discrimination against immigrants, violations of civil liberties, and the instigation of trade wars because of aggressive nationalist attitudes."

Perhaps we should hear more about libertarianism's brass tacks -- namely how it functions real-time in American politics. Few people can better explain this than Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian Party's national committee.

According to his LNC biography, Sarwark "is an unabashed, second generation Libertarian" who "has been an active member of the Libertarian Party since 1999" in which he "served as chair of the Libertarian Party of Maryland and as vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado where he .... supported the passage of Colorado’s historic marijuana legalization initiative in 2012.

"Professionally, Nicholas Sarwark has been a criminal defense attorney and has worked over ten years in the private sector. He served as a deputy public defender in Colorado, trying more than 30 cases before a jury and arguing in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. He also has more than a decade of experience in computer consulting and sales. In 2014 he moved to Arizona with his wife and two children to join in the operations of a family business, the oldest independent auto dealership in Phoenix, founded in 1942."

Sarwark recently spoke with me about libertarianism's role amid the American landscape. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, protectionism has surged in both major parties. Now, in the age of Donald Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory. Would you say that libertarian Republican politics have any serious potential under Trump?

Nicholas Sarwark: The association of libertarianism with the right is an artifact of the political climate of the Cold War, when communism was seen as a common enemy of both libertarians and conservatives.  With the collapse of communism as a political force and the decline of conservatism within the Republican party, the right is no longer a natural ally, if indeed it ever was.

There is also an observed tendency for Republicans (and Democrats) to speak in libertarian terms when out of power, but forget whatever libertarianism they may have had once in power. Historical spending patterns under Democratic and Republican presidents show that government spending, that issue Republicans claim to be a libertarian strength, increases at a faster rate under Republican administrations.

Libertarian politics is about reducing the power of government and increasing the freedom of the individual to run their own life. I will be surprised if there is much appetite to do that from the Republicans while they control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Cotto: With the Democratic Party increasingly under the hold of social justice warriors and, more broadly, identity politics and the collectivism inherent to it, what chance does left-libertarianism have within America's partisan duopoly?
Sarwark: With the haphazard primary process and the lack of a coherent leadership, I'd challenge the assumption that the Democratic Party is under the hold of anyone, let alone some nebulous group of "social justice warriors." The rise of the alt-right, economic populism, and immigration restrictionism within the Trump campaign is a much clearer picture of identity politics and collectivism than the muddled positions of the Democrats.

With the Democrats being out of power and lacking a clear direction to get back into it, there are opportunities for brave members of that party to return to its historical positions in support of individual liberties against government overreach. The actions of the current administration may shift those opportunities into necessities to preserve what freedoms we have.