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LP vs. CP

We often get emails at Libertarian Party headquarters asking what exactly are the differences between the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party.  The confusion is understandable, especially for party outsiders who are just beginning to look at either as a new political home.  The question of the differences in the parties has become even more frequent as Ron Paul supporters are looking for a new home after Paul's announcement that he is discontinuing his campaign. 

After all, there is very little in the Republican Party or Democratic Parties that would make a Paul supporter feel welcome or at home.

On the surface, the LP and the CP appear to be quite similar.  The very name of the Constitution Party appeals to the libertarian-leaning voter looking for a political party dedicated towards returning to a government strictly bound by the Constitution--as the Libertarian Party wishes for also.  Additionally, the LP and the CP are very close on issues like foreign policy, Second Amendment rights, economic policy and health care.

However, beyond their initial similarities on the surface, a more in-depth look at the two parties shows profound differences in both platform and ideology.

The most acute difference between the two parties, and one that will explain much of the content in this article, can be found in the preambles of the two parties.

Constitution Party:

The Constitution Party gratefully acknowledges the blessing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as Creator, Preserver and Ruler of the Universe and of these United States. We hereby appeal to Him for mercy, aid, comfort, guidance and the protection of His Providence as we work to restore and preserve these United States.

This great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been and are afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.

The goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.


Libertarian Party:

As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.

We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships, and that only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized.

Consequently, we defend each person's right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings. The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.

From the get-go, the differences of the two parties are quite obvious.  At its very roots, the Constitution Party is unabashedly a party of Christian philosophy and spirituality, where as the Libertarian Party remains much more secular in its composition and values. 
The best example of this can be found in objectives of the CP and LP, which are "to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations" and "to build [a world] where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power," respectively.

Though the Constitution Party has a very real and intense dedication to Constitutional provisions--made clear by the fact that they support many of their platform planks with citations from both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence--their raison d'etre is to essentially establish a "Christian" nation, and somehow maintain religious tolerance (though this latter portion is never explained). 

Take for instance the CP's views on gambling: "Gambling promotes an increase in crime, destruction of family values, and a decline in the moral fiber of our country."  To their credit, the CP does not say that government should outlaw this behavior although their rhetoric strongly suggests they'd like to see it abolished.  Instead, the Constitution Party calls for government to refrain from officially participating in gambling--for apparent moral reasons--by eliminating lotteries and ceasing to subsidize "Indian casinos in the name of economic development." 

Other issues like pornography ("Pornography, at best, is a distortion of the true nature of sex created by God…We call on our local, state and federal governments to uphold our cherished First Amendment right to free speech by vigorously enforcing our laws against obscenity to maintain a degree of separation between that which is truly speech and that which only seeks to distort and destroy") and the judiciary ("We particularly support all the legislation which would remove from Federal appellate review jurisdiction matters involving acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government) diverge quite distinctly from the LP philosophy.

However, the biggest difference between the two parties, and one that is the best manifestation of the diametric difference of philosophies on the role of government in society, relates to the issue of gay rights.

The Constitution Party, in pursuit of their goal to "restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations," takes a very different approach towards homosexuality than that of the Libertarian Party.  The platform of the CP states that "the law of our Creator defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman," and "no government may legitimately authorize or define marriage or family relations contrary to what God has instituted."

The CP also does not believe the government should recognize civil unions for gay couples.

While Libertarians hold many different views on the issue of gay marriage, with some believing marriage, both straight and gay, should not be an issue for government and others believing that gay marriage should be recognized so long as straight marriage is recognized--Libertarians believe "government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships."

One might remember the saying in grade-school geometry that "all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares."  Well, the same can be said of libertarians and Constitution Party members.  Many Constitution Party members are libertarians, in some way, shape or form.  However, there are very few Libertarians--if any at all--that would comfortably identify themselves as ascribing to the Constitution Party platform. 

There is a simple explanation for this: Christian members of the Libertarian Party recognize that the basis of their religion is the idea of free will and volition, and that their morality does not need to be reinforced or supported by government laws or coercion.  The Constitution Party, for whatever reason, finds that government should be a model for morality--that is, Christian morality--and all semblances of behavior and lifestyles contrary to this behavioral model should be eliminated through "Constitutional" government methods, with the end goal of establishing a Christian nation.

Perhaps the Constitution Party has more optimism for the functionality of a quasi-theocracy in regards to respect for the Constitution and the freedom to live, but seeing the corruption of the "Christian right" in the Republican Party, their optimism seems far too romanticized.  While it is in the Christian ideology that followers of this faith should be testaments to the power of the message and should evangelize to all people of the earth, none (at least those who believe in a libertarian-element to the religion) believe this call to evangelize can be replaced by a call to legislate. 

This, indeed, is the tragic fallacy of most Christians in politics, and one that poisons the Constitution Party's platform.

For a party that believes so strongly in the Constitution and preserving its authority, it is puzzling that the CP takes the position that God's law is supreme to Constitutional authority in the government.  Many Christians, including myself, do believe that God's law always is supreme to the law of man when the two conflict; however, the difference is that this belief is made at a personal level, and would not expect the same to apply to government.

In order for the authority of the Constitution to remain intact, there can be nothing in government that undermines its supremacy.  It was this very problem that sparked the beginnings of the American Revolution.  When the British Constitution no longer was supreme, and parliament could pass laws that trumped the laws of this (unwritten) Constitution, the authority of that document was destroyed. 

This is one logical incongruity that the Constitution Party fails to answer when it comes to both religious freedom and the people's right to be free in their lives from government.  The problem is only amplified by the Constitution Party's lack of positions on privacy issues as it relates to how citizens live their lives. 

It should be said that there is some grounds for what the Constitution Party believes that can be traced back to the founding of the nation.  The role of religion and government together were widely discussed; however, the general conclusion of our founding fathers may be best encapsulated in this quotation from James Madison:

The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.

In order for a society to be free, and a religion to remain uncorrupt, there must be a distinct separation between the two.  While it is a mistake on one side to believe that our politicians must divorce themselves of all their religious and moral beliefs before taking office, it is another to suggest that our political leaders should use their own personal precept of morality as a template for laws that apply to an entire nation.

Thomas Jefferson said that truth would stand on its own regardless of whether it has the support of the government.  Therefore, there is no need for the government to define and establish what this truth is.

The Libertarian Party wants a world where all individual are free to live their lives in peace, without interference from the government or their fellow man.  This entails a tolerance of many other lifestyles, though not approval or acceptance (a key distinction), because it will be recognized that nobody should dictate anything else through law but freedom.  Should society turn into a Christian society through this freedom, then so be it.  It will at least be done through the volition and consent of all others.

There would be no element of coercion, and that is what any true Constitutionalist should strive to achieve.

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Author's Note: I would like to emphasize that this is not an attempt to distort or misconstrue any belief or position of the Constitution Party.  I have tried my best to remain objective and present their positions exactly how I believe the Party to stand based upon their platform and messaging.  This article is simply to illustrate the ideological differences between two political parties that are often associated together.  Comments on this article can be sent to Andrew.davis@lp.org.