The Cost of Engagement: Politics and Participatory Practices in the U.S. Liberty Movement


In the past decade, young libertarians in the U.S., or members of the Liberty Movement as it is called, have utilized new media and technology along with more traditional modes of organizing to grow their movement, capitalizing on the participatory nature of the internet in particularly savvy and creative ways. Still, the Liberty Movement is quite unlike more progressive, grassroots movements, with its organizations and participants sometimes relying on established institutions for various forms of support. As this report highlights, the Liberty Movement represents a hybrid model, one that embraces participatory practices and interfaces with formal political organizations and other elite institutions. This case study outlines the:

  • Relationship between institutional supports and participatory modes of engagement in the Liberty Movement
  • Choices those in the Liberty Movement make about their use of online/offline spaces
  • Role of community in supporting learning and organizing through the Liberty Movement, despite members’ active embrace of individualism
  • Paths toward involvement in the Liberty Movement, including especially the roles of mentors and educators
  • Political rationales shaping the decisions of many movement participants to prioritize political education over voting as a mechanism for change
  • Internal debates around multiculturalism and diversity
  • Emergence of a libertarian fandom around theorists ranging from F.A. Hayek to Ayn Rand

 In a letter to Richard Rush dated October 20, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.” This report suggests that participants in the Liberty Movement would concur with respect to the challenges they encounter; largely ignored by mainstream media and pushed to the margins of the electoral process, libertarians have it tougher than many groups when it comes to the task of gaining voice and visibility in the mainstream political debate. This report examines how young libertarians confront such obstacles and presents readers with a detailed account of young libertarians and their relationship to the contemporary political landscape.

Liana Gamber Thompson, Ph.D
Publication Date: 
December 10, 2012