Awesome Austin: The Most Progressive Libertarian City in America

by Travis Irvine
Libertarian candidate for Ohio’s 12th congressional district

It has often been said — though not often enough — that democracies cannot be empires, and empires cannot be democracies. This has never been more evident than now, when our own “democratic empire” has become less and less representative of the people in these United States. However, this is a fault of representative democracy — the larger it gets, the less representative it becomes. It may still represent the majority, but as the represented population gets larger and wider in scope and diversity, the majority does not always make correct decisions for everyone in the population. Hence, the fewer people a representative democracy represents, the more representative it will be.

That is why our Founding Fathers saw the importance of having a constitutional republic oversee this collection of representative democracies, and for this collection of democracies to be ruled by law. They established what freedoms the people would always be entitled to, and specifically limited the government’s powers, therefore always allowing people to have a certain amount of authority over their government. Anything not addressed within those guidelines could be left up to the local government, so the people living in those areas could be as happy as possible.

All of these thoughts came to me while I traveled to Austin, Texas in February. I was visiting for a national Libertarian Party conference in preparation for my U.S. Congress run in Ohio’s 12th District against Pat Tiberi and Paula Brooks, and was completely blown away by the unique culture, intelligence and overall freedom of the City of Austin. It is hands down the most progressive libertarian city I have ever been to — thanks to its progressive libertarian people and local government.

Now I hope people are not scared when I use the term “progressive libertarian”. On the contrary, I think we are in an age when this is exactly the type of thing we need. The current state chair of the Libertarian Party of Ohio has a nice coin of phrase I like to invoke when I can — “this is not your father’s Libertarian Party.” Because our culture has become more accepting of all kinds of people, libertarianism has become more about tolerating and accepting the individual, and less about invoking state’s rights just to restrict certain people’s freedoms.

Libertarianism is, and should continue to be, about allowing all individuals of a society to have their own personal freedoms, lives, properties and pursuits of happiness, as long as they do not impede upon other people’s personal freedoms, lives, properties and pursuits of happiness. When individuals are empowered in this way, they can fight unwanted powers at the local level as a collective people without always having to turn to the government for help.

Let me give you some examples from Austin. While there, I heard a story from a longtime resident about a condo complex being built downtown, that was so tall it was actually going to block the view of the Austin skyline for a large majority of the residents. Therefore, as the condo began to be built, residents raised a “big stink,” and protested at City Hall and in the local media.

Unfortunately, they lost their fight, but redemption eventually came their way. After the condos were finished, the economic crisis hit. This, coupled with widespread public scrutiny through the media and by word of mouth, made the condos an unsuccessful project which now can be dealt with accordingly.

This boycott was a completely free market solution that was brought about by individuals working together at the local level, proving that public scorn in a community can be just as effective as pieces of legislation that could actually limit positive growth down the road. From now on, condo developers will certainly be more careful about where they build in Austin.

However, that’s not to say that individuals in Austin place their scorn on other individuals who are just trying to be themselves.

Another episode that happened was during a visit to a restaurant on one of the city’s main roads, Congress Avenue, which leads to the Texas Statehouse. My buddy and I had stopped in to get a quick bite and some beers, and were waited on at the bar by a young man who wore long dangly earrings and make-up. He was clearly an openly gay man, but all the patrons, including myself, the elderly couples and the cowboys who wandered in, did not scrutinize him for being who he was.

Why should this individual hide who he is, or even be scorned by other individuals in the community? He is just as entitled to his personal freedom, life and pursuit of happiness as anyone else in Austin. And thankfully, that is just the way it is in Austin — there is no need for his life to be restricted by the government because of old biases and discriminations.

The other interesting respect the local government had for individuals and their property in Austin is how many businesses are allowed to operate out of private residences. After all, why should a local government harshly restrict where a business can be run, if it makes sense to run it from a home? Why should a business owner not be allowed to put a sign up for his company in his own front yard?

Obviously there are some safety and health issues to be dealt with, but this is a practice I also saw very often when I lived and worked abroad in The Bahamas — many people who have extraordinary skills don’t have the money to operate a business out of a building that has been specifically zoned as business. So are they just supposed to get on welfare and not share their entrepreneurial skills with society?

Absolutely not. In fact, some of the best and most honest businesses can be run out of private residences, and that was certainly the case in Austin — from coffee shops to hair dressers to landscapers and everything in between.

There’s a phrase in Texas about how people want to “keep Austin weird”, but in addition to that, the people of Austin keep their local government on a leash. It is definitely a much easier thing to do with a local democracy, and therefore they are capable of solving and dealing with most of their community’s problems themselves. And because each individual is a part of this collective embodiment of progressive libertarianism on a local scale, they have made their city one of the most free, unique and fascinating places in the world.

It is certainly not something to be scared of — just have a visit for yourself. The Founding Fathers would be proud.


  1. TX Libertarian

    June 10, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it here – come back anytime. Good luck in your Ohio run!

  2. politicaljules

    July 15, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Im sorry but you are full of cr@p. I live in Austin and people do not run businesses out of their homes. Austin has some of the strangest zoning laws I have ever seen. There are neighborhoods were you cannot find ANY KIND of business for miles and miles. There are businesses that buy old homes and run out of those in a business district ZONED for business but they are not individual homes!

    Additionally, letting someone wear long hair earrings and be themselves is NOT exclusively a progressive libertarian only way of life. Do you think only the patrons that enjoyed eating there were somehow all progressive libertarians? You think that all of Austin is THAT segregated?

    Your promotion of a set of condos failing is so far off the mark it is not even funny. There is no skyline in Austin to be blocked. You are misleading people. The fact that the condo failed HURT the city and the people that lived in the city more than you are willing to admit. If it were up to you though that long haired earring wearing free individual would be out of a job if all the big evil corporations in the city went out of business because no one would be in town to eat at that funky little restaurant.

    Austin has a history of making horrible decisions though. Being a sanctuary city is one that is decimating the education economy and the health care here. So many budget deficits in those areas that will never recover.

    Austin also lost when they did not allow Dell to bring his his company there. So, Dell went right outside the city limits to round rock and that little city THRIVED from the revenue, jobs, and home building. And Round Rock is still thriving!!!

    Fortunately, Texas continues to thrive despite Austin.

  3. Martin Elsass

    February 2, 2011 at 3:02 am

    I lived in Austin for the longest month of my life back in ’01. It took six weeks for the turn around, but as they say “everything’s bigger in Tejas”.. You failed to mention the near impossiblity of gaining employment anywhere Near Austin if you aren’t bi-lingual… I’d worked at an Autozone in Youngstown, OH for over a year, prior to being in Austin.. I walked into a store there and the one guy behind the counter was absolutely swamped with customers he couldn’t get to with a phone to each ear and tapping on a keyboard looking up parts.. Naturally, I jumped behind the counter and began serving the customers in front of it, our impromptu tag-team cleared the store when he said, “please tell me you can speak spanish”.. I couldn’t and because of it, he couldn’t hire me…. I found that to be the only “common theme” regardless of the business type, if you can’t speak the native language of at least one other specific freign country, you couldn’t get hired anywhere south of Waco….. At that same time – and this may have since changed – Austin touted a 3% unemployment rate.. but there was also a law which said if a cop pulled you over and you couldn’t prove you wwere either gainfully employed or had a stack of resumes with you, attempting to find gainful employment; You would be considered a vagrant, and immediately arrested for same… Some might call that fascist… and though we’re not our father’s Libertarian Party.. I’ve never heard of a Fascist Libertarian

  4. Steve Maring

    January 17, 2012 at 11:55 am

    “progressive libertarian” is like saying “statists for individual rights”. It makes no sense whatsoever. I have family in Austin. There are certainly many left leaning liberal Progressives there, and there are certainly quite a few Libertarian minded folks as well. However, they are COMPLETELY at odds with each other.

    I won’t move there because there are too many Californian type Progressives there bent and turning Austin into another Nanny State (and seem to be succeeding). I’d much rather go to a place where a larger majority of people savor their individual rights, like Key West, FL.

  5. Betsy Dewey

    March 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I’m running for US Congress this fall as a Libertarian in District 25. South Austin is part of my district. If people want smaller government (much smaller) and if people see the immediate need to cut federal spending as much as humanly/humanely possible, and if people would like to live freely and be responsible for themselves, they would do well to look into voting Libertarian this fall. Check out my website: for more information.

  6. Bill Herbert

    April 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Please do not use the term “Progressive Libertarian”. Progressives are the antithesis of Libertarians, and the enemy of Liberty.

    I have lived in Austin since 1988 and I can tell you that this place would be paradise if it were not for the “progressive” infestation that lives here.

    We need more liberty-loving people, not more “progressive”, statist-libtards who advocate an ever expanding government, endless debt, and currency debasement.

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