Swansonism is Not Libertarianism: Why A Good Actor Plays A Bad Libertarian


Parks and Recreation is one of the most beloved sitcoms in the past ten years. Taking its cues from the office with its mockumentary style, the show focused on a small set of government employees, their daily hijinks, and their heart-warming relationships. But one character, Ron Swanson, truly stole the hearts of many fans with his stone-like demeanor, comical cynicism, and alpha-male actions.

And though Nick Offerman plays a wonderful part, his character has one major flaw; he’s a very bad libertarian. Though many champion him as the poster-man of the party or use his outlandish quotes as fodder against it, a deeper look shows some holes in his apparent political views. So, the next time you need to clarify the difference between Swansonism and true libertarianism, below are some helpful thoughts.

“All government crumbling to the ground.”

First, libertarians do not oppose the government. It’s true, the libertarian’s rep in the national consciousness is often one of governmental-disdain, but the liberty and individual independence that libertarians so value does not necessitate an anti-governmental stance.

While they are in favor of limited government (and liberty for an individual may necessitate small government), the argument can be made that these concepts and liberties also requires the existence of a government to help ensure that all people are given a fair chance.

Political stances do exist on a spectrum, and this is often the reason for the confusion that many have towards the libertarian party. But just as all liberals do not adhere to far left policies and all conservatives are not far-right neo-nazis, so the majority of those who adhere to true libertarian values are not crypto-anarchists. Libertarians do not want to do-away with the existence of government, but rather regulate it to its rightful place so it can function, at least idealistically, in its most efficient and proper function.

“I have many ideas … take down traffic lights and eliminate the post office.”

Chances are, you’re not an NBA all-star (which is fine, by the way). If I asked you to shoot a couple of free throws, you could probably stumble your feet up to the free throw line, figure out which hand to dribble with, and throw the basketball into the air and hope for the best. Sure, you may miss a few times, but you’ll eventually get it. But to think that the standard pickup player can perform the task of carrying a professional team to the championships as well as a Michael Jordan or a Lebron James is simply nonsensical.

This is essentially the underlying sentiment that grounds libertarianism. Libertarians don’t hate government; they simply don’t think it’s very good at what it does. Libertarians are not against law enforcement, courts, or healthcare; they rather question if the government is the best man for the job.

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