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Bennett, Dissenting

The first time I got to vote in a presidential election was in November 1988. I was a sophomore at Rice University, registered to vote in Texas. The race was between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. I voted for Ron Paul, who was running as the Libertarian candidate.

I believe that the answer to “how much government do we need” is, and probably always will be, “less,” but I am not an anarchist.

Do away with government, the anarchists say, and the market will fill the role of the state—keeping us free, protecting our property, keeping us safe.

I don’t share the anarchists’ rosy view of human nature. Do away with government, and for a while the strong will dominate the weak. Then the weak will band together and dominate the strong. Then the strong will band together and dominate the weak again. Some of the weak will join the strong until finally more than half of the collective power is dominating less than half. Whatever this dominant 50+% is called, it will be, for practical purposes, the state. Over the long term, anarchy is impossible.

Less government equals more freedom; I see it as a zero-sum game. I’m willing to give up some freedom to have fire protection and paved roads (for example), but we could do with less government, and every day we have more. More government and less freedom.

So: Ron Paul. Ran as a Libertarian in 1988. “Intellectual godfather of the Tea Party.” Running as a Republican now. Doing well for a Libertarian. But the Tea Partiers come out in droves for Rick Santorum, who is unabashedly opposed to personal liberty:

They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world, and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone, that there is no such society that I’m aware of where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

Santorum is half right. Most conservatives are, as Santorum says, authoritarian rather than libertarian. (He’s wrong about there not being a successful society with radical individualism.) Ron Paul runs as a Republican, I suppose, not because there’s anything inherently libertarian about the Republican Party, but because it’s somehow a better fit than the Democratic Party.

Libertarianism in national government serves authoritarianism in state and local government. Traditional conservatives—Santorum conservatives—if they favor less government, favor less federal government, as though state governments are benign. I suspect that their reasoning is that government is not dangerous when it is close to home. And for those in the majority, this may be true—it’s easier to remove a school board member who disagrees with you than to remove a senator. But for anyone who might not share the political views of the majority, the opposite is true: the nearer government is to us, the more it can intrude in our lives and interfere with our liberty.

I am cheered to see Ron Paul pulling down good numbers (maybe better than you’ve heard) in the Republican primaries. He may have some influence on the party’s platform, if not on its choice of candidate.

But libertarianism can’t be imposed from above. Libertarianism in federal government but not in state government is not libertarianism, but mere federalism. Libertarianism has to start at home and grow from there.

That, friends, is why I’m running for office.

“What office?,” you might ask.

My first thought was to seek a seat on the Texas legislature. But when I learned that the Libertarian Party of Texas needed a candidate for one statewide office to have a full ticket, and that the office was right in my bailiwick—not politics, but criminal law—an office that ought to be beyond partisan politics, an office that is polluted by the two-party system, and an office in which I could do real and lasting good, I knew that was the race for me.

And that’s why I’m running for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

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