Two giants in the libertarian and Libertarian world fought in Manhattan this week. The capital L is for the political party; the other represents the ideology. It wasn’t a fight for leadership or voting control of the party – that will come next year. This battle at the SoHo Forum was for the very soul of the party. Are the people in the room about winning political offices, or winning people to the cause, or, perhaps, both?
Blood and Soil
The Libertarian vs. libertarian war broke hot after the weekend of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA, back in August of 2017. After that infamous weekend – which featured the murder of progressive activist Heather Heyer – Nick Sarwark, Chairman of the Libertarian Party (LP), took the opportunity to sign a statement disavowing fascism and imploring Tom Woods to do the same. Woods is an Ivy League-educated Ph.D. historian and prominent libertarian author and podcaster, as well as a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He was also the target of thinly veiled accusations of racism by establishment Libertarians, including Mr. Sarwark, over his involvement in the League of the South, an organization that participated in the Charlottesville rally.
Mr. Woods responded to the petition with scorn. Having made no racist claims or statements, Woods has proclaimed the petitioners drama queens who had no right to a disavowal of a position that couldn’t be credited to him.
Them: "Woods, you must sign this statement disavowing fascism!" Me: "Go jump in a lake, drama queen." Them: "The extreme Right is a growing threat." Me: "It's a sliver of marginalized people with no influence."
News in 2018: 25 people rally on anniversary of Charlottesville.
— Tom Woods (@ThomasEWoods) August 13, 2018
Sarwark sent out a tweet calling the Mises Institute “the preferred choice of actual Nazis.” The attack on Woods and his allies aligned as an attack against an entire wing of the LP – the Mises Caucus, which values fidelity to core principles over much else, including electoral success – becoming a formalized group within the party. They aligned not just in support of Woods but in opposition to an LP that chose Gary Johnson and William Weld as Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees, respectively, in 2016.
As they were both former Republican governors, Johnson and Weld were hard for many libertarians to swallow – this writer included, who contributed a piece critical of the pair and their fidelity to libertarian ideas. From support for drug war proposals to praising Hillary Clinton, the duo gave rise to massive opposition. While Sarwark has control of the party and improved it in the first election after the controversy erupted – his position and that of his allies is far from secure. He came to state his case for the future of the party inclusive of candidates like Bill Weld, who, Sarwark argues, raised money and gained members for the LP – something Ron Paul and many “small l” libertarians do not do.
Jews For Racists?
If you were a neo-Nazi, it would be a curious choice to name your think-tank after a Jewish economist who fled the Nazi’s march across Europe to come to the United States. Dave Smith likes to point that out, as well as how so many from this branch of libertarians approach with worship the works of another Jew, Murray Rothbard. Woods was not present to debate Sarwark, but his side was well represented by a kind of anti-Woods in background and training. Smith has been to many of the Soho Forum events as a pre-show comedian. The series, run by economist Gene Epstein for the Reason Foundation, features debates of special concern to libertarians and free marketeers.
While Smith has little formal training in policy, law, or economics, his razor-sharp intellect, enthusiasm for libertarian ideas, and penchant for slaying statist ones with precision – all while being very funny – made him a formidable opponent for Sarwark. Ron Paul’s presidential bit brought Mr. Smith to libertarianism, and he had the home-field advantage against the LP Chairman.
Mr. Sarwark was introduced to libertarian ideas as a very young man by his father and is an attorney who has been involved in LP leadership at the state and national levels since he was an undergraduate. He now sits as the first LP Chairman to hold the office for three consecutive terms, and he has not said whether he will seek a fourth. Bill Weld praised Hillary Clinton during the campaign as the Libertarian nominee – how libertarians reacted to that is indicative of where they think the party should move. Read part two to hear about the debate, its results, and the fight in the green-room before the debate about John Bolton.