Anyone of good sense, or with a political sensibility placing them to the right of Lenin, couldn’t help but celebrate on Saturday 7 September. Electoral defeat of a disintegrating and duplicitous Labor government was a glorious event. But for Australians whose souls burn with the flame of liberty, that day delivered an additional and more important victory: the election of David Leyonhjelm to the senate.
The real significance of the Liberal Democrat’s senate seat win was lost in the media furore. Stories and interviews hammered home a few points: the novelty of new independent parties achieving representation; the preference deals that got them there; the ‘donkey vote’ position of the Liberal Democratic party on the ballot; the confusion of some voters who may have mistaken the Liberal Democrats for the Liberals.
The only Liberal Democrat policy repeatedly referenced by the media — always out of context — was the party’s support of the right of citizens to own firearms for self-defence. This has long been dismissed by most Australian pundits as some loopy idea imported from the US by home-grown ‘gun nuts’. But when America’s Founding Fathers drafted the second amendment to the US constitution — unlike most of today’s commentariat — they were not operating in an historical nor an intellectual vacuum. The Founders were aware that the right to keep and bear arms was an ancient one, long established in British common law, and finally codified in England’s 1689 Bill of Rights. They had read Aristotle, Locke, Machiavelli and scores of other western thinkers who all understood that this right was indivisible from the absolute right of the individual to self-defence. Moreover, America had just won a war of independence, a conflict sparked by the British Empire’s attempt to disarm American colonists at Concord and Lexington. The Founders knew first hand that abdicating force to an overreaching government would spell the death of liberty.
What struck me when I spoke to senator-elect Leyonhjelm this week was that like America’s Founders, he too was not living in a vacuum. His political philosophy had taken decades of thought — and decades of real world experience — to form. In youth, his nascent distaste for authority was further informed by the Vietnam era draft. Imbued with the bright-eyed socialistic leanings shared by many young men and women, he’d travelled behind the Iron Curtain and to communist countries in Africa. Witnessing the hideous realities of collectivism soon cured him of leftist delusions. Later in life, the works of free-market economist Milton Friedman helped cement his philosophical move to classical liberalism.
While the Liberal Democrats’ firearms policy is unique in this country, so is their entire platform. They are the only party upholding the ideals of classical liberalism. They support your right to smoke what you want, marry who you want, gamble when you want, own what you want, trade with whom you want, run your business the way you want, defend yourself when threatened and pay as little tax as possible (so don’t worry Libs, Leyonhjelm won’t oppose the scrapping of carbon, mining, or any other taxes). The party’s website outlines an extensive platform, informed by a powerful philosophy: folks should be free to live unhindered by senseless and despotic government regulations.
If you believe in liberty, you can’t pick and choose rights. You can’t just support those individual rights that complement your temperament and taste, but spit on those that don’t. Denying the freedom of others makes you a tyrant. This applies even in a democracy. Even if you are in the majority, if you disagree with a certain right and your vote helps outlaw it, that doesn’t make you justified, it just means you belong to the tyranny of the majority. Shame on you if you do. More so if you pay lip-service to the ideals of liberalism.
Being a true liberal — today the term libertarian better reflects this position — means that you are often embattled by both the Right and Left establishment (intrusive government is a blight long nurtured by both sides of mainstream politics). It also means yours is a voice of reason in a world where ‘bipartisanship’ has become code for a two-party duopoly introducing overreaching policies that only benefit power-broking special interests and a control-hungry bureaucratic machine. In a recent internet panel discussion, Julian Assange recognised this trend in America: ‘The only hope as far as electoral politics is concerned in the United States presently is the libertarian section of the Republican party… It will be the driver that shifts the United States around. It’s not going to come from the Democrats. It’s not going to come from Ralph Nader. It’s not going to come from the co-opted parts of the Republican party.’
This resurgence of libertarianism among Republicans owes much to Ron Paul. The retired Texas congressman’s steadfast philosophy was marginalised for decades, but paved the way not just for his son Rand Paul (Republican Senator from Kentucky, and 2016 presidential hope for liberty-minded Americans), but a growing cadre of other libertarians.
Leyonhjelm acknowledges the influence or Ron Paul on Liberal Democratic policy. Indeed, when the senator-elect speaks — ‘There are two guiding principles that determine our approach to legislation: We would never vote for an increase in taxes and we would never vote for a reduction in liberty’ — you can hear the spirit of freedom channelled not just from Paul, but from centuries of liberal thought. All too often Australia’s Liberal party loses sight of this original mandate. ‘The political middle ground is now left of where it once was’, Leyonhjelm tells me. ‘We have to shame the Liberal party into moving in our direction.’ And while aware he is now just ‘one voice’ in the senate, the Liberal Democrat’s ‘aspiration’ is that his will be ‘the first of many’.
Just as the once solitary figure of Ron Paul paved the way for what is now the only alternative in American politics, David Leyonhjelm may well spark a libertarian renaissance here. This is the real significance of his election to the senate. As George Washington once recognised, ‘Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 21 September 2013 Aus