Kieran Clark ’22
Since high school, I’ve been aware that neither of the labels Republican or Democrat quite fit me.
Despite being heavily involved in politics from a relatively young age, I’ve always found a certain discontent with the bipartisan system that has dominated our country for so long.
While I deeply admire and respect the social justice work done by Democrats, I’ve always been cautious of sweeping motions by a government that has so often failed us in the past. And while I ascribe to the economic freedom and small government values preached by Republicans, I cannot condone the continued presence of big corporations which increasingly set the party’s agenda.
Eventually, I encountered a third option: libertarianism. What I mean by libertarianism is a philosophy that embodies the non-aggression principle: if what you’re doing is not instigating an infringement on someone’s rights, it is permissible.
In practice, this principle permits a massive degree of personal freedom to lead one’s best life (no matter what that may mean to an individual) as long as that person does not harm anyone else.
While some may choose to paint libertarianism as a radical and unrealistic philosophy, many of the views are fundamentally appealing. And despite the increasingly louder, polarizing voices of the far left and far right, many Americans aren’t interested in being forced to pick from two options.
Despite the universal appeal of libertarian ideals like freedom and equality, the Libertarian Party, like all third parties, is currently in a credibility crisis. This is due to everything from pessimism about our chances in an inherently two-party system to the repeated gaffes of our leaders (see Gary Johnson, “What is Aleppo?”).
Indeed, even the members of the movement have a tension with the party; many members of our organization, myself included, are not registered Libertarians. Though the movement is strong, the party is admittedly flawed.
Even though many people sympathize with the libertarian movement, it has been consistently difficult for us to get respect or even serious notice in the national sphere.
Being a libertarian has given me a different vantage point on the current political crisis our nation is facing. For those who fall within the traditional two-party dynamic, our politics can often feel like a battle.
The nature of our two-party system makes it feel like your win must come at the other person’s loss, and vice versa.
As such, I hear many people, my Davidson peers included, resort to using language of good and evil rather than admitting that they merely disagree.
We no longer use the language of political compromise; instead, we call each other racists, bigots, and traitors.
I’m not writing this because I think it’s going to make more people libertarians. I’m writing because, as a libertarian, I’ve seen firsthand the value that plurality can have in our discourse.
Regarding politics, I constantly hear people talk about how doomed we are and how our country will never escape the vicious fighting between Democrats and Republicans. And on my worst days, I’m almost tempted to agree. However, on the aggregate, this has not been my experience.
Every week, I attend meetings at the Center for Political Engagement alongside my Democrat, Republican, and Democratic Socialist counterparts. Somehow, amidst all of the hatred and division in our country, we come together every week and have civilized and productive conversations, usually without so much as one unkind word.
We willingly come together and compromise, including making concessions to one another, without treating it as a zero-sum war.
I’m not going to claim that it’s all peaceful or friendly; disputes between the groups on this campus can run the gamut from annoying to occasionally even scary.
Be that as it may, my general experiences have shown me that plurality can work.
Davidson College is a place that prides itself on the development of humane instincts beyond academics, athletics, and the arts. The ideal is that we use this space not merely to learn Spanish or econ, but also to refine ourselves as citizens and moral agents.
I believe that we, as a college and as a society, cannot limit our imaginations in a country of nearly 330 million people to two inherently flawed choices, election after election.
In a country that calls itself the “greatest democracy in the world,” we need to set our standards higher than that.
In order for us to improve our democracy, both at our school and in the U.S. at large, we need to lean into plurality, not away from it.
From the beginning, we have strengthened our society by insisting that freedom of speech and expression engenders intellectual diversity and growth, and we must never let that fight die out.
If we want to truly grow during our four years here, then we need to hear not only from the two main parties, but also libertarians, socialists, greens, and even the countless people who feel that they don’t fit in anywhere.
We cannot be summarized by either a D or an R next to our names because we are all individuals with deeply intricate beliefs that rarely fall into one of two camps.
As a college and as a country that so proudly proclaim our commitment to freedom, equality, and diversity, we can all do better than checking one of two boxes.
Kieran Clark ’22 is a philosophy major from Asheville, North Carolina. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.