With the retirement of Ron Paul from Congress at the end of this term, the libertarian movement Paul helped ignite is likely at a crossroads. Paul was the unreluctant leader and voice for so many frustrated Americans who possibly didn't even know they were libertarians, using his platform in Congress to denounce unconstitutional government action on the House floor, write articles, and author bestsellers on libertarian philosophy and principles.
Although he likely will not be the Republican nominee or president (though keep your eyes on Nebraska this weekend) and will retire from public life, Paul can rest well knowing that the libertarian movement in this country will only grow and progress, thanks in no small part to his legacy.
It is fairly commonplace for many in the media and the blogosphere to label Ron Paul supporters as "cult-like," and even from my biased perspective, there might be an element of truth to that. But the only reason his supporters have been labeled in this manner is because of Paul himself and what he represents: the ultimate un-politician who tells you the truth, doesn't sugarcoat or change his message to fit the crowd, and has a voting record that would make Madison and Jefferson blush.
Paul is the exception to the rule that governs politicians — that is, lies, lies, and more lies — and if Paul ever steered from his principles or compromised, most of his supporters would abandon him in a heartbeat (just ask his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul). Paul effectively introduced millions of people to a philosophy that they had never heard before, a practical and moral radicalism tempered by Paul's soft demeanor and consistency.
Paul avoids the Beltway-esque "low-tax liberalism" and "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" watered-down rhetoric that is much too prevalent in those calling themselves libertarians, arguing instead the moral, historical, and philosophical case for individual liberty, strictly limited government, a free economy, sound money, and peace.
Without him travelling across the country giving a libertarian speaking tour, predicting economic crises, and the follies of interventionism abroad, it might be easy for libertarians and classical liberals to hang their heads. But thanks to the grassroots organization, the ease of spreading information, and seeds he's left behind, there is nothing to worry about.
For nearly every movement in history, there have been multiple strategies to effect change. The most tempting seems to be the political method. There are now dozens and dozens of libertarian-leaning candidates running for state and national office within the GOP, and Paul has endorsed many of them. Thousands of brave people have witnessed intimidation, hostility, and outright violence becoming GOP delegates the last two presidential elections. Their activism and dedication has been admirable, and watching them throw wrenches in the primary circus has been so much fun.
But politics is a dirty game. I would be the first one to cheer any principled libertarian winning an election, and no disrespect to the liberty candidates, but which is more likely: that they will change Washington or that Washington will change them? The temptation of unprincipled compromise, bribes, and lobbyists in order to get anything done (or more appropriately, undone) is so enticing. Power and politics corrupt.
This is why the future of libertarianism will not come from the political arena, but from circumventing it. It is fitting that the internet — the greatest example of the free market and ordered anarchy ever — will undoubtedly be the safe haven for libertarianism that it has been for the last decade. When Paul and other libertarian greats were young, literature and connections were nearly impossible to come by. Now, all one has to do is go to Mises.org and find hundreds of free pdfs, articles, and books at their disposal.
Knowledge and an understanding of economics and history will be the greatest strength for the future of libertarianism. It isn't easy at first saying goodbye to right-wing or left-wing statism; there are many objections to such a radical idea as a free society when all one knows are government schools, income taxes, central banking, a police state, and perpetual war. But every day, brilliant minds are beginning to change this, standing on the shoulders of giants in order to synthesize a moral defense of liberty with its practical applications.
I have only been a libertarian for about seven years, and even I can see the power the internet has had since then. Professor Thomas Woods offers a low-cost "Liberty Classroom" that teaches libertarianism. Bitcoin has revolutionized alternative currencies. Forums, blogs, and websites help us find light from the darkness of government power. As the world becomes flat and horizontal, communication of ideas becomes easier.
This is the real key behind the future of libertarianism, and the fact that the internet is only growing in accessibility means libertarianism will too.
A comprehension of libertarian principles opens up a myriad of ways to effect the type of change that the political process will likely deny. Jury nullification, agorism, spreading alternative currencies, and peaceful resistance and defiance will be the future of libertarian activism. Whatever decentralizes authority and delivers power as close to the individual as possible should be the goal of libertarians, and thanks to the web, these solutions become more and more practical.
Maybe I'm wrong and a wave of libertarians become senators and start repealing federal laws; I'm young, and perhaps a little wild-eyed and naive. I am not discouraging anybody from using whatever medium of change they see fit, only seeking to offer society one improved unit. Remember that Paul, however, laid down the groundwork not from any legislation, but because he encouraged people to read and study the works of Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and Murray Rothbard as well as the Western liberalism of our ancestors.
The battle for the future of the country, international peace, and economic prosperity is and will continue to be a battle of ideas. Violent revolutions tend to leave power vaccuums that create Napoleons and Hitlers. The spread of libertarian ideas which strike at the heart of the building blocks of societal cooperation and civilization, combined with a peaceful resistance to the state, is the future of libertarianism and how it will effect real, concrete change.