Thomas Jefferson vs. the Libertarian Party

By Ilana Mercer

Not allowing the clouds to cap one’s vision is an admirable quality, but allowing them to cloud reality is hardly praiseworthy. The principled positions of the Libertarian Party should have the potential to unite America in a common political purpose. Not the current Libertarian Party, however. Not after nominating a presidential candidate who refuses to see the perils of free, unfettered immigration.

For the first time in an eternity, libertarians can begin to make political inroads. The libertarian opposition to unprovoked wars of aggression appeals to a sizeable anti-war constituency, left and right, for which the invasion of Iraq was a watershed event.

The LP’s stellar stands on civil liberties, and privacy, and its firm opposition to the war on drugs – these are bound to attract yet more liberals and some conservatives who rightly believe that government has no place in the nation’s medicine cabinets, snuff boxes, or hovering over their deathbeds.

The Patriot Act, tariffs, First Amendment infringements, the unparalleled expansion of Medicare entitlements, and the scrofulous spending are making it hard for neoconservatives to continue to pretend that Emperor George is clothed.

Ideologically, Kerry is also naked.

When Howard Dean primal screamed his way out of the race, left-of-center Democrats were left homeless. John Kerry will not capture these disaffected voters. The LP has the potential to so do. Considering its candidate’s strong commitment to the actual defense of America (as opposed to gratuitous foreign offensives), the LP might even manage to woo neoconservatively inclined Democrats.

Why, the sky could be the limit. The chaos neoconservatives leave in their wake may just prime Americans for an awakening.

The canonical William F. Buckley recently apostatized over the invasion of Iraq, prompting other Big Government conservatives (or neoconservatives) to do a double take: “If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war.” Buckley also confessed to being enormously bothered by the growth of government under Bush.

With a vital program that promises to beat back government and reinvigorate civil society, the LP is well positioned to return America to the vision of the founders: a free society founded on individual rights and responsibilities.

Yet hardly any of my readers will cast a vote for this party.

As traditional Taft Republicans, they are the natural allies of libertarians. But like most Americans, left and right, they desire greatly reduced legal immigration and a swift end to the illegal influx. What an opportunity for the LP to fill the void and become the only party to respect the people’s leave-me-alone (negative) rights.

On immigration, however, the LP is no better, and perhaps much worse, than the Democrats and the Republicans. “Inviting an invasion by foreigners and instigating one against them,” I wrote, “are two sides of the same neoconservative coin.” A Libertarian government may never invade, but it’ll definitely invite an invasion.

Against such an eventuality Thomas Jefferson famously cautioned in “Notes on Virginia” (Q.VIII, 1782. ME 2:118):

[Is] rapid population [growth] by as great importations of foreigners as possible … founded in good policy? … They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty.

These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their number, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass … If they come of themselves, they are entitled to all the rights of citizenship: but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements …

Alas, the LP has selectively picked and chosen from the richly textured words of Jefferson, and turned this classical liberal into their Emma Lazarus.” But somehow, our state-planned, multicultural, egalitarian quota system, which divides visas between nations with an emphasis on mass importation of people from the Third World – the short and sweet of our immigration system – didn’t enter Jefferson’s consciousness.

And not because his was not an extremely advanced consciousness.

Writing of immigration to George Flower in 1817, Jefferson worried about “consecrat[ing] a sanctuary for those whom the misrule of Europe [my emphasis] may compel to seek happiness in other climes.” And to J. Lithgow in 1805, “A first question is, whether it is desirable for us to receive at present the dissolute and demoralized handicraftsmen of the old cities of Europe [my emphasis].” Jefferson feared that immigrants under “the maxims of absolute monarchies” – again, he was not talking about the monarchies of Buganda or Ethiopia – may not acclimatize to “the freest principles of the English constitution.”

What would he say about arrivals from Wahhabi-worshiping wastelands whose customs not only preclude “natural right and natural reason,” but include killing their hosts? That would have appalled Jefferson, and again, not because of his limitations, but because of ours; because of how low we have sunk.

The greatest-ever American (no, it’s not Tamar Jacoby”) would not have “lower[ed] the requirements for coming to the U.S.,” as the LP proposes, but would have raised them to impossible heights. And most Americans share his standards.

In order to complete the construction of a serious alternative to the current “Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber” electoral alternatives, the Libertarian Party must heed Jefferson on immigration and scatter the clouds of unreason.