A Theory of the “Libertarian” Bernie Sanders Supporter


If you’re a libertarian who considers them self ideologically sound, you’re probably tearing your hair out at the sight of ostensibly libertarian friends sharing memes with the face of Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders. He is an avowed socialist, perhaps the ideology least likely to be associated with free-market libertarianism. It doesn’t seem to make sense — have they all misplaced their brains?

By:  James Smith

This article first appeared at Liberty.Me

If you think back to four years ago when the Ron Paul movement hit its zenith, you probably had friends of all stripes getting involved and excited about what he was saying. Even the raging liberals found something to like, and gave up on more mainstream candidates to pledge support to Paul.

It was an exciting time. Few candidates found supporters from all backgrounds and sympathies. But as the campaign ended and Mitt Romney was selected for the Republican nominee for President, the excitement dwindled.

Some of the Paul campaigners began calling themselves libertarians and were involved in the movement for a while, but without the urgency of an election, it was difficult to maintain the enthusiasm.

Now some of these same people that so passionately followed Ron Paul and advanced his ideas have switched allegiances. As per usual, there is no reasonable mainstream candidate, so many are now ‘feeling the Bern’ and acting as if they had never gone through that libertarian period.

I have a theory of why this happens.

I believe it is something to do with the fact that logic alone cannot convince people of liberty. Anti-liberty positions are fraught with contradictions and difficulties, but there’s little we can do to make people realize that if they are firmly convinced they are true.

Books like Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind have been invaluable in defining the moral tastebuds of different ideological persuasions. Libertarians are advanced systematisers and are therefore pre-disposed to receiving the argument, whereas liberals are more likely to be turned on by things like altruism, empathy and out-group preference. In turn, conservatives get persuaded by arguments for tradition and existing institutions.

Very few people, when presented with a logical argument, suddenly change their minds. They must first be persuaded by intuition or feeling.

Sanders is very good at this emotive populism, and his campaign is getting heaps of support from individuals donating small amounts, convinced by convincing allusions to fairness. He also presents himself as the anti-establishment type. This appeals to the mild Ron Paul supporters who were particularly interested by the fact that he said what he mean and was a bi-partisan critic of the established political class.

For these kinds of people, the substance of the ideas themselves are secondary. Those that did not follow up what Paul said with further research are particularly at risk of being persuaded back towards statism.

Thankfully this can happen in the opposite direction too. Maybe a new figure will arise that will inspire young people towards liberty. If trends are to continue, the movement will be much bigger than it is now, and there will therefore be a stronger base for solid ideological change. The movement is not getting smaller by people abandoning ship to get behind Bernie, as these people didn’t have their heart in it in the first place. They were only transient supporters of charismatic candidates, and they can be won back again, hopefully in a way that lasts.

Once the Bernie moment is over, we can work on bringing those people back on the right side by pointing out the self-evident heinousness of the current political system.

But this is important: we must remember that presenting this information in a populist way to persuade people towards liberty is only the first step. As we have seen by the rise of the “libertarian” Sandersbot, people are fickle, and can easily switch to the other side. One’s intuition can only take you so far — it is a gateway to the truth but not the truth itself.

Once they’re in the door, it is the job of writers and speakers to re-affirm the new libertarian’s convictions with tight thinking and sound economics so that they are equipped to deal with their friend’s objections.

That’s why I am a huge supporter of websites such as Liberty.me, which presents a community of like-minded people to welcome newcomers into an exciting new world. Here they can hone the ideas and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of why freedom is important whilst giving them their own voice, and opportunity for discussion.

I also endorse Liberty Classroom, a fantastic way to get the real history and economics that was not taught in school. Brilliant writers and teachers such as Tom Woods, Bob Murphy, Gerard Casey, and Brion McLanahan and others distill the key texts into advanced but digestible lectures for your commute. To listen to the Introduction to Austrian Economics module is to inoculate yourself against Keynesianism forever.

When the election is over (I’m counting the days), and your friends are all Bern’d out, do them a favour and swish them over to the sign-up pages and guide them back home — away from dull, insipid socialism and towards freedom and property rights.

This article first appeared at Liberty.Me