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.