Libertarians & Term Limits: A Contradiction in Principle

I’m still shocked every time I see a libertarian preaching the value of arbitrary term limit. Someone just posted this to a Voluntaryist / Anarchist group I’m in, along with a Gary Johnson video–ugh:

Want to do one thing that will help end tyranny? Force incumbents to have term limits. Vote them OUT!

Okay, well… See? This is self-contradictory.

For one, if you’re forcing incumbents out, then you’re hardly moving away from tyranny. In fact, you’re moving toward tyranny, by purposely creating legislation that is specifically designed to limit voters’ choices and, in some cases, to override their expressed wishes. This is the libertarian position? I honestly don’t see how.

“Oh, sorry! I’d love a third term of Jesus / Gandhi. But term limits.”

It’s nonsense.

If American voters wish to give Barack Obama a third time, then by what right does anyone step up and say, “No, I’m sorry you all voted for him, but I’m not going to let him have a third term”? If the majority has elected the candidate for a third time, then, ipso facto, only a minority wishes the candidate to not get a third term. How presumptuous to say, “No, I don’t care that you’re the majority and we’re the minority. We’re making a law that overrules you.”

And this is the libertarian position?

Isn’t the whole idea of individual responsibility and autonomy kinda a critical part of libertarianism? The idea is that a person should be able to use their resources in whatever way they want, as long as they don’t use aggression against others. I can choose to “vote for Wal-Mart” by purchasing from them, and that’s fine. They may become corrupt and establish an effective monopoly in rural areas, whatever. For you to come along and say, “No, you’ve supported Wal-Mart long enough. You can’t support them any longer. You have to support Dollar General now,” is the height of absurdity, and is a clear example of tyranny.

You are, in every sense, attempting to make my decisions for me. If I want to vote for Barack Obama and 51% of Americans want to vote for Barack Obama and the dude wins a third term, then who in the hell are you to say “No” to that?

Either you’re on board with the idea of a populace educating themselves and making decisions for themselves, or you’re not.

I totally agree that we should make some sort of attempt to vote out the corruption. In fact, I do that. But look–if we vote out the corruption, then we don’t need you coming along and using force, violence, and coercion to force out incumbents. If we vote for the corrupt politicians, then that is our right. In the end, the Senators and Representatives we have… They’re there because we voted for them–a majority of the people who voted… did so for the standing Representatives and Senators.

I don’t like any of them. Justin Amash is pretty good, and there are a few others that are decent. However, I certainly didn’t vote for any of them. If I want to see them replaced, then I can campaign against them, spread knowledge about their corruption, and raise awareness about them. In the end, though, the decision must be in the hands of the people when they go to vote. If they vote for those corrupt Senators and Representatives, then that is their decision.

You cannot tell them, “No, you can’t vote for this Senator again.”

Attempting to use arbitrary term limits to fix the corruption problem is the equivalent of using legislation to force your will onto others. If we have these politicians in office, then that means that Americans put them there. I don’t like it, either, but I would not dare presume to suggest that I know better than everyone else, and that it doesn’t matter what they want, that it doesn’t matter if they want Barack Obama for a third term, and that it doesn’t matter if they want Congressman W. for a sixth term. That is what you are arguing when you argue for term limits:

I don’t care what other people have voted for, would vote for, or are voting for. They shouldn’t even have the option to vote for these people again. Since they can’t make the right decision to vote these people out, I will have to make that decision for them, using term limits.

It doesn’t matter to me if term limits would minimize corruption. Lots of things would minimize corruption. Hell, charging into Washington armed to the teeth with weapons and forcefully taking over the capital under the Libertarian flag would minimize corruption. But that doesn’t make it right to just piss all over the will of voters and tell them who they can and can’t vote for. We could turn this into a socialist prison society built on rations and carefully controlled human interactions, with everyone under CCTV 24 hours a day, being monitored by everyone else, and that would also minimize corruption. That doesn’t mean we should do it.

The position put forward by Johnson and his un-libertarian stooges is exactly that: “The end justifies the means.” Because it would minimize corruption, it is okay to limit the choices that voters have. Meanwhile, they criticize the Commission on Presidential Debates for effectively limiting the choices that voters have. Can you imagine if Republicans or Democrats tried to pass legislation that third parties couldn’t appear on ballots at all? We would probably revolt. Yet that’s almost precisely what Johnson and his cassette tapes are proposing; it’s all the same thing: limiting voter choices.

Gary Johnson likes talking about black holes.

Well, what about that black hole? Once you start limiting people’s choices, unilaterally making decisions on their behalf because they can’t be trusted to make the decision that you want them to make, you jump right on that slippery slope of tyranny. That’s what I hear from the people who propose term limits:

“But I can’t trust the masses to vote out the corrupt politicians! I don’t want these politicians, and the majority just keeps voting for them! It’s not fair! We need a law so that they have to vote these people out!!!!11!!one!!”

For fuck’s sake, this person even used the word “force” in their post.

A libertarian… advocating the use of force… to achieve a political end. Once more, for the record, the Libertarian Pledge–the pledge you must take in order to officially call yourself a Libertarian–the pledge that is the crux of Libertarianism:

I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.

Gary Johnson and his supporters need to revisit the Libertarian Pledge. It is as I just wrote. It is not:

I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals… unless I really, REALLY want to achieve that goal.

The Non Aggression Principle. That is where it’s at. That is the heart of the matter and the heart of libertarianism. If you believe that there are occasions where it is justified to use force as a means of achieving a political or social goal, then you are NOT a libertarian. Calling yourself a libertarian when you believe it’s sometimes okay to use force to achieve a goal is like calling yourself a Christian even though you don’t believe there’s a god. Sure, you can call yourself whatever you want, but calling yourself something doesn’t make you that something.

You are, more than likely, a classical liberal. I would absolutely call Austin Petersen a classical liberal, and Gary Johnson, too. Actually, I would say that Johnson is stuck somewhere between “classical liberal” and “liberty-leaning conservative.” But there’s no reason to put that fine a point on it.

There is a reason that the Libertarian Pledge is a vow to reject the use of force to achieve goals. If you reject that pledge, then you are not a libertarian.

If you think the end justifies the means, then you’re a classical liberal at best.

But certainly not a libertarian.


7 thoughts on “Libertarians & Term Limits: A Contradiction in Principle

  1. It’s no secret Johnson isn’t really a Libertarian. I don’t really see why that is an issue though. In my lifetime, I’ve not seen a candidate of any party that fits their platform. Political parties a huge part of the problem in this country anyway. People blindly vote based on party rather than candidate and actual issues.

    As for term limits, Americans are so apathetic and so lazy when it comes to actually researching issues that with no term limots we’d end up a dictatorship if someone just promised a bunch of free stuff every 4 years. They are still reelecting people based on the same promises they never actually tried to fulfull.

    Not only are term limits a good idea (unless Americans can learn to pull their head out), it’s become clear this year that everyone shouldn’t have the right to vote.

  2. I do realize the contradiction in saying that Americans need to pull their heads out, but need government enforced term limits, so here’s clarification.

    Politicians have treated Americans like children for over a century now. As a result so many are dependent upon or think they are dependent upon government and government knows best. We need to be allowed to grow up and need the RIGHT type of guidance and teaching to do so.

    This still leaves a huge problem. Americans choose their own government “parents”. That’s not working, but neither does letting someone else pick or someone else choose. Maybe anarchy is the answer. Let everyone “sink or swim” and they’ll eventually figure it out.

    All the laws protecting people from their own stupidity have led to the dumbing down of the gene pool. I often say every family should be issued lawn darts, glass marbles, etc. when they have children and everything will work itself out. I’m only half joking when I say that.

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  4. OK, I’ll agree that term limits are anti-libertarian. I wish, though, that the column had acknowledged that ANY sort of legislator in today’s America is anti-libertarian. They all try to run our lives in completely illegitimate ways. They all make campaign pledges that sound good, then do the exact opposite once they’re in office, and voters have no recourse other than the fantasy that maybe the NEXT guy/gal they elect won’t be a complete lying asshole. The entire edifice is rotten, and arguing about term limits is about as useful as arguing about how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    • It’s definitely a glaring omission. I’ve been meaning to write about the false equivalence that “Voting is immoral,” but was distracted with that Facebook post. About a fifth of the things I write here are reactionary like that. I don’t think I’ve really gone into how futile voting is anyway, except that it works well as a pacifier, though I’ve alluded to it a few times:

      It’s a huge part of the problem that we don’t remove politicians from office for lying, but that itself is part of another problem: we can’t prove they lied because we can’t prove what words mean. Simple, simple things, and they get lost in a web of doublethink and cognitive dissonance. I once called out Trump by pointing out that he says he is against having guns in the classroom, while he’s for teachers having guns, and the contradiction there is so obvious it shouldn’t have needed to be said. Yet Trump supporters came forward to tell me how wrong I was, that teachers having guns in the classroom totally does not mean there would be guns in the classroom. Politicians being able to lie is a reflection of how we’ve come to believe that truth is malleable and subjective to the individual. We care about “my truth,” rather than “the truth.” A scary portion of the population totally trusts Hillary and doesn’t believe she has lied. 🙁

  5. No political platform or idea can be perfect in that it cannot please everyone.

    But career politicians have always been, currently are, and always will be the biggest threat to this once free nation. Politics is all about power over others, and that power feeds a tremendous ego that tends to serve itself at the expense of all others. And once that ego gets the power, it does not want to relinquish it.

    I believe one’s political career should be limited to one level of government, one particular office within that level of government, and ONE term in that office. When your term expires, so does your political career. Go back to the private sector and produce something!

    Unless something better comes along and very soon, the Libertarian Party is the last, best, and only hope this country has to survive. The one-party politics of the Ds ad Rs can’t be expected to turn it around; they’re the ones who’ve brought us to the edge of the proverbial cliff. But nitpickiness like yours causes divisiveness and is but one problem that prevents the Libertarian Party from becoming a cohesive unit, as well as causing independents to ridicule or ignore it. Just like what the republican party is doing to themselves.

    • Arguing for the right of an individual to vote for whoever they think is best is “nit-picking.”

      As to the idea that the Libertarian Party can achieve anything *without* the people like me demanding that it stay true to its principles…

      Your argument is basically that the Libertarian Party can only take on the Republican and Democratic parties by becoming just like them. The LP has long abandoned the principles of liberty in its quest for the White House, and very little libertarianism actually remains in the official Libertarian Party ticket. I’ll leave you to ponder how one might defeat authoritarianism by moving closer to authoritarianism.

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