OpinionPhilosophy

I’m a member of the Libertarian Party. A short articulation of why is “my body, my choice.” One might reasonably assume I’m referring to one’s right to choose regarding abortion or recreational drug use, and I do support both, but to claim that is the whole story would be a superficial reading of my commitment to liberty. “My body, my choice” as a maxim must extend to the choice to sell one’s own sexual services. Otherwise, it is a shallow refrain with little meaning and less impact.

It is perplexing when pro-choice advocates, with whom I largely agree, have boo to say regarding an individual’s natural right to sell their own body as a commodity. Or, even worse, when they reject that right.

Consider the positon of feminist scholar Andrea Dworkin. Regarding abortion, Dworkin claims the state has a duty to provide the legal option to terminate any pregnancy; she asserts abortion is, in fact, a civil right. This argument turns on two claims, one more controversial than the other.

The first claim is that because terminating a pregnancy is a medical procedure which only women can undergo, denying abortive services violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. The second, more provocative claim, is that the patriarchal culture in which we live and which is supported by the state, conditions toxic gender roles; men are trained and conditioned to be sexually dominant and women, against their own self-interest, to find pleasure in submission. Thus, Dworkin concludes sex is always a coercive act and becoming pregnant can never be interpreted as a free choice. Additionally, the state ought to be considered complicit in every unwanted pregnancy. Drawing again from the 14th amendment and a state’s obligation to promote gender equality, the state must provide legal means by which those pregnancies can be terminated.

Now, one can reasonably reject the premise that all sex is coercive and still recognize the fundamental right of individuals to bodily autonomy. Dworkin rightly points out the state is largely responsible for the systemic oppression and patriarchy in our society. However, when it comes to the question of whether a woman-or any individual-should be free from government reprisal for prostitution, she gives the state a pass.

Even though she argues the state must provide legal means of abortion, she contends prostitution ought to remain illegal and this puzzles me. Dworkin, a powerful communicator and writer of feminist ideas, seems to ignore the danger her theoretical arguments present to real sex workers, most of whom are women. Because the sexual marketplace remains illicit, prostitutes are left without the legal redress of monetary and physical damages incurred in their line of work. Not only are these individuals deprived of legal protections, their workplace itself is made exponentially more dangerous because it exists in the shadows.

Furthermore, those who argue for the continued prohibition of prostitution don’t seem to recognize that individuals with felony records are unlikely to break free from poverty and oppression. Having a felony diminishes the likelihood of obtaining employment and with no other means to support themselves or loved ones, individuals (again, mostly women) return to the sex trade, perpetually trapped.

Liberty is the solution to these problems, not institutionalized paternalism. The Libertarian Party recognizes, as Dworkin did, the state is culpable for perpetuating a cycle of oppression. But, by supporting an individual’s liberty to engage in the sex market with a legal safety net, the Libertarian

Party stands taller than those who simply want the freedom to terminate pregnancies or use drugs. The Libertarian Party is working to liberate those women forced into sexual slavery and to encourage voluntary individual entrepreneurship. That’s why I am a Libertarian.

Party Politics

On June 24th, Vice Chair of the South Carolina Libertarian Travis McCurry unexpectedly resigned. As a developing party, one might expect such a resignation to obstruct growth, outreach, and the business of winning elections. An experienced observer of Libertarian behavior might even assume fractures and schisms within party ranks because of our instinct to cling to minor points of logical argumentation and our on-again-off-again love affair with philosophical purity.

When I discovered the newly minted was Executive Committee Member C. James Brandmair, I expected there to be some riveting tales of Libertarian drama.

  1. James Brandmair was the single dissenting vote on the Executive Committee in early June when the SCLP voted 8-1 on a resolution of censure and disassociation against LNC Vice Chair Arvin Vohra following Vohra’s controversial remarks on current and former military members of the armed forces of the united states.

Having taken a principled and absolute minority position against the strong resolution, I imagined the debate over Brandmair and his opponent Alex Thornton (who was unable to attend the vote because of prior work commitments) to have been intensely contested.

What happened was in fact a reasoned and fruitful debate of ideas. While unable to speak herself, Thornton, a former Libertarian candidate in Charleston, was represented by members of the Executive Committee, including the state chair, Stewart Flood.

In the end, the race was decided during the second round of voting which Brandmair won 5-4, the first ending in a 5-5 tie.

Brandmair is clear in his vision for the South Carolina Libertarian Party.

“Our focus is on recruitment. Our numbers in South Carolina have been stagnant and I’ve been building a team to correct that. We will maintain C. Michael Pickens and his Libertarian Leadership Academy for mentorship and coaching of our party leaders and candidates. The State Party is currently developing five county affiliates and organize them in enough time they can be represented at the state convention.”

Brandmair’s outreach tactics have been effective for the SCLP.  In his recruiting trips across the state, he has been able to enlist young, passionate communicators for liberty.

JP Wilson, 18, of York County has been a registered Libertarian for 10 months. As the South Carolina State Coordinator for the Libertarian Youth Caucus, Wilson’s focus is on youth outreach.

“Right now, we are organizing five campus caucuses for the South Carolina LYC. These caucuses    will hit the ground running at the opening of the school year organizing youth outreach in South Carolina for the Libertarian Party.”

When I asked him how he became involved with the state LP, he told me he came from the Democratic Party and it was James who brought him into Libertarianism.

  1. Harper Sharp, 20, has only been a Libertarian for roughly 3 months and like JP Wilson, was brought in by Brandmair himself. For him, the election of Brandmair is an indication that the youth of South Carolina will have representation in Libertarian leadership.

“I’m looking forward to November and I’m looking forward to being the change I want to see in the party. We’re focused on our goal of 35 new members, new delegates, by November.”

Another young and passionate Libertarian member, Shane Sweeny, 25, likes to contrast his experience with the Libertarian Party while in college to his experience currently.

“While I was on the University of South Carolina campus, there was no outreach by the Republicans, but we know the Democrats worked for outreach on campuses across the nation and reaching young folks. Unfortunately, the Libertarian group on campus didn’t start up until I left. But meeting people like J.P., an 18-year-old working towards liberty up here even though he’s about go to college in Florida, seeing guys like Harper and James and people in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s actively reaching out to people shows me that it’s not just a club for old-white haired people. It’s a continuous and growing movement to be a part of.”

Shane has spent much of his career as a liberty activist on his own. As with both Wilson and Sharp, it was Brandmair acting independently to bring in an ardent, principled individual.

State Chair Stewart Flood expresses confidence in his state party and looks to goals already met as evidence of their success.

“The goal we set at the November 2015 convention when I was elected chairman was to double the number of counties this term. This required involvement by all of our party members, and they have been stepping up to the plate and working to accomplish our goal.  We are now at thirteen organized county [affiliates]…and [our goal] is to have all forty six counties organized and active before the 2020 presidential elections.”

The results in South Carolina are encouraging for a growing party. Despite differences in ideology and tactics, the Libertarian Party of South Carolina has been able to unite behind a vision of outreach and an electoral strategy to paint the entire state gold.

NewsParty Politics

The South Carolina Libertarian Party (SCLP) executive committee recently voted 8-1 to reject NLP Vice Chair Arvin Vohra as their representative in the LNC, to censure him for his comments regarding veterans and active soldiers, called for his immediate resignation, and, in the event he does not resign, called on the LNC to remove him before their next scheduled meeting.

I spoke with three individuals within the SCLP about the issue: executive committee member and the single dissenting vote on the resolution C. James Brandmair, Greenville County Chair and Marine combat veteran Matt Wavle, and SCLP member J. Harper Sharp. All disagreed with the resolution and attempted to offer language changes to soften the tone of the resolution and remove language asking for Mr. Vohra to resign, but none were passed.

When I asked Mr. Brandmair why he was the single dissent to the resolution because he has seen Vohra do more good than harm.

“This may have just been a mistake and we all make mistakes. [Arvin] is doing what he thinks is best for the Libertarian Party, as we all do.”

Mr. Brandmair, an anarchist and member of the Radical Caucus of the Libertarian Party, believes that while Arvin’s unique method of crafting arguments for maximum controversy may cool the passions of some moderate Libertarians and minarchists, his articulation of anarchist positions serve to “educate and open the eyes of many that the mission of the military has been corrupted and that the people should take accountability for that. It’s our responsibility to turn that around by voting and speaking our minds.”

Greenville County Chair Matt Wavle traveled an hour and a half to attend the meeting in Columbia, SC where the resolution was passed. While not a member of the executive committee, Mr. Wavle spoke at the meeting against the resolution. “The desire to censure someone for speaking their mind is something that belongs in the Republican or Democratic parties, but never in the Libertarian Party,” Mr. Wavle said. “We win by presenting a better option, a better solution. What we did in that resolution was an attempt to silence a voice we disagreed with.”

Arvin Vohra during a presentation
Arvin Vohra gives a presentation promoting his book: Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions.

Mr. Wavle was clear that when he says “we”, he uses the term loosely.

“This decision was far from unanimous within the state party. I spoke against this resolution because people don’t have the right to be unoffended. The Libertarian Party is great because we have diverse opinions. As a 12-year combat veteran in marine corps, silencing opinions is something I can’t support. I’ll stand against it every time. How can we even communicate if everyone needs a safe space?”

J. Harper Sharp, a new Libertarian, attending the meeting as well. It was his first state meeting and attended not just because he was interested in the process, but also because C. James Brandmair is a friend and Libertarian mentor.

“The decision was to reject Arvin’s representation of South Carolina. South Carolina is not a member of any region, so the representative duty falls to the Vice Chair. Furthermore, the state decided to push national to remove [Arvin] from his national position. I don’t think that’s what we should be doing. I don’t agree.”

In response to the resolution, Arvin Vohra said, “The fact that not a single state, and not the LNC, have put out resolutions opposing military policy says enough about where they are. They believe it’s their job, and mine, to pander. They are wrong. Our job is to fight the government, including the enforcement and propaganda arms.”

When reached for comment, State Chair of the SCLP declined to expand on the cover letter attached to the resolution. Both the cover letter and resolution can be found here.