The Case for Liberalism: An Interview with Joshua Reed Eakle
I talk with the co-founder of Project Liberal about his mission to restore liberalism, his work in Tennessee politics, and the rise of alt-right factions within the Libertarian Party.
I have been closely following the disturbing and embarrassing rise of the alt-right contingent within the Libertarian Party, also known as the Mises Caucus. This faction, which took over the party in 2022, is responsible for several racist, anti-LGBTQ, antisemitic, and xenophobic Tweets. It has also compared Ukrainian President Zelensky to Hitler, echoed Marjorie Taylor Greene in calling for a “National Divorce,” and promoted a racist, anti-immigrant philosopher named Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
I recently asked Joshua Reed Eakle, a Tennessee native and former chairman of the state Libertarian Party, to shed some additional light on these developments and to discuss his broader efforts to reassert libertarianism’s liberal origins.
Joshua currently serves as the director of marketing of Students For Liberty and a board member of the Classical Liberal Caucus. He is also the co-founder of Project Liberal, an organization that’s advocating to resurrect true liberalism in American politics. Joshua is an entrepreneur, marketing executive, and libertarian organizer. His career as a business growth consultant has spanned industries from transportation to manufacturing to retail.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Joshua Reed Eakle:
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Justin Hayes: You are currently the Global Marketing Director for Students for Liberty (SFL). For those who may be unfamiliar, what is SFL, and why do you think it is an important organization?
Joshua Reed Eakle: Students For Liberty is a very unique organization. What makes SFL different from other groups is its focus on making a generational impact. SFL is not focused on reacting to today's news or making loud statements but on building a global network of leaders advancing liberty in all aspects of society.
SFL has been around for a short time (15 years), but it has already done some amazing things. They've gathered a group of bright, driven young leaders from all over the world, from schools to businesses, politics, and the media. These leaders are all working hard to spread the idea of liberty in ways you might not even think of in over 100 countries.
If you're a young person who cares about liberty, SFL is there to help you. They give you the tools you need, powerful global connections, and the resources you’ll need to unlock your potential as a leader.
I'm proud to be a member of the Students For Liberty team. I can't think of anything more important than helping them grow.
J.H.: Let’s talk about your involvement with the Libertarian Party. You were previously Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee. Why do you think it’s important to have third parties in politics, especially on the state level? What was the most challenging aspect of that experience? What was the most rewarding?
J.R.E.: I've dedicated my life to challenging the two-party stronghold on American politics. Being part of a third party like the Libertarian Party can feel a bit like the Greek tale of Sisyphus, always pushing a boulder uphill only for it to roll back down again. But I believe it's essential to offer a different choice and to keep the two main parties accountable. This is particularly important when the results of an election are so close that a third party could tip the scales.
In Tennessee, where I was Chairman of the Libertarian Party, the fight for political representation is a steep uphill battle. To illustrate, if someone wants to run for office as a Republican or a Democrat, they only need 25 signatures to get on the ballot. But if you're a Libertarian, you need around 43,000 signatures. This makes it harder for us than almost any other state. So our first battle is always about getting a fair chance to run.
Leading the Libertarian Party was like trying to "herd cats." It's a volunteer organization, and sometimes keeping everyone focused and coordinated can be tough. The county leaders are passionate, and sometimes they can resist direction.
But don't get me wrong. Despite the challenges, being part of a third party is deeply rewarding. Each signature we gather, each vote we earn, and each policy we influence is a step toward a more diverse political landscape. And that is worth every bit of the struggle.
J.H.: Lately, it seems that certain LP members on Twitter don’t care for you that much, particularly members of the Mises Caucus, which now controls the party. They have even made several parody accounts of you on Twitter. What do you think you have done or said that has made them so angry?
J.R.E.: It's challenging to pinpoint exactly who's behind the parody accounts, but it's clear that some people aren't particularly fond of me. My hunch is that this might have something to do with my involvement in launching the Classical Liberal Caucus last year. This new group has quickly grown to become the second-largest caucus within the Libertarian Party. Not only that, we've become the main challenge to the control of the Mises Caucus, which currently dominates the party.
Our growth has been astounding, and I believe we are in a strong position to shift the balance of power within the party in the next few election cycles. This rapid rise and our potential to bring about change could possibly be causing some friction or unease.
If you're someone who believes in what we're doing and wants to be part of this exciting journey, I invite you to join us at lpclc.org.
J.H. Why did you name it the Classical Liberal Caucus? Do you believe that your “side” has enough momentum to take back the party, or is it a lost cause?
J.R.E.: We've named ourselves the Classical Liberal Caucus because our principles align with the ideas of great classical liberal thinkers from history. The beliefs of people like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Frederick Douglass, and Frédéric Bastiat, centered on personal freedom and limited government, form the bedrock of our caucus.
Whether we can muster the momentum necessary to shift the direction of the party remains to be seen. Currently, the Mises Caucus appears to be pursuing a strategy that, metaphorically speaking, could be compared to "polluting the pool" to dissuade others from joining. This refers to their use of hateful rhetoric and name-calling towards anyone not part of their caucus online, creating an environment that can feel quite hostile for those who don't agree with them. This approach has proven effective in deterring many potential members from associating with the Libertarian Party.
However, our strategy is a counter to this. We aim to create an atmosphere that's both welcoming and professional within the caucus. We want to provide a space where differing opinions can be heard and debated constructively without fear of reprisal or hostility. This, we hope, will attract more people to our cause and the Libertarian Party in general.
As for the future, only time will tell. The next two election cycles will be crucial in determining whether our approach is effective. We remain optimistic and committed to our cause.
J.H.: I published a three-part primer on some of the ideas underpinning the rise of the Mises Caucus within the Libertarian Party. What are some other aspects of the Mises Caucus’s role in the LP that you think are important for readers to know and understand?
J.R.E.: The rise of the Mises Caucus within the Libertarian Party is a complex issue, and there are several facets to their involvement that are critical to understand. Some of the key areas that might raise questions include a large amount of dark money and its suspicious connections to many individuals associated with the "MAGA" movement. These factors combined have left some party members concerned. The former Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania put together a Twitter thread on this that’s worth reading.
However, since the Mises Caucus gained control in 2022, the party has faced significant challenges. Membership has seen a steep decline, and the party's financial health has been severely impacted. Moreover, we have lost the 50-state ballot access that the Libertarian Party was proud to have. Looking at party revenue, the takeover has sent the party back 30 years.
While it's crucial to avoid baseless accusations, one can't help but observe that if there were a deliberate attempt to destabilize the Libertarian Party, the current scenario wouldn't look much different.
J.H.: You have also started something called Project Liberal and changed your political views to “Liberal” in your Twitter bio. Why do you think reclaiming the word liberal is important for the liberty movement? What do you hope to accomplish with Project Liberal?
J.R.E.: We're living in a time where polarization and hostility seem to be the norm in politics. Many people are looking for a way out of this tense climate, hoping to find a return to more civil and reasoned discussions. This is where the concept of liberalism can serve as a guiding light.
Despite its original meaning, the term "liberal" today can sometimes feel disconnected from its foundational values, replaced instead by more statist ideologies. But if we revisit its roots, we'll find principles that have always advocated for individual rights, democracy, free movement, and enterprise. These ideals have stood the test of time, and for centuries, they've been at the heart of some of the world's most thriving societies.
Project Liberal aims to remind us of these core values and to bring liberalism back to the forefront of mainstream political discourse. Our goal is not to create more division but to build bridges between different political factions that currently feel unrepresented or sidelined. We hope to foster a political movement that not only champions these values but also serves to unite a substantial portion of the public around them.
In essence, we want a political movement that stands up for liberal values, and we want to ensure that the ideals of liberalism are not just remembered but continue to be relevant in today's political landscape.
J.H.: In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” I tend to think that liberalism or “classical liberalism” is a continuation of the Smithian project of figuring out the institutional arrangements and policies that uplift the most people from hardship, idleness, ignorance, and predation. Do you agree with this? Do you think this is (or should be) a mission of the Libertarian Party and libertarian thought leaders? If it isn’t a focus, why do you think that is?
J.R.E.: Absolutely, I wholeheartedly agree. The primary objective of liberalism must be to promote prosperity for all. This principle isn't just essential for practical reasons, but it's also pivotal in our communications. By showing people how certain policies may hinder their path to wealth, health, and overall prosperity, we can persuade them to embrace liberal ideals and join our movement.
The Libertarian Party and libertarian thought leaders should indeed focus on this mission. Yet, it seems that currently, they are often distracted by divisive culture wars and grievance politics, losing sight of this fundamental goal.
As to why this is the case, it's difficult for me to provide a clear answer. Politics can often become entangled in immediate conflicts and controversies, drawing focus away from the overarching vision. However, it's crucial for us to remember the long-term objectives, namely, creating an environment that enables the most people to lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.
J.H.: What do you think is the greatest threat to liberty?
J.R.E.: In my view, the greatest threat to liberty is the growing trend of illiberalism, a phenomenon we're witnessing on both the political left and right. This shift away from core liberal values in our societal discourse is deeply concerning.
Liberal values have been the backbone of our nation, driving the prosperity and freedom that make the USA great. Abandoning these principles could lead us down a dangerous path. Without these guiding values, we risk descending into despotism, economic instability, and even violence.
And let's not be naive. Such drastic changes can happen faster than we might expect. This is why we need more people championing liberal values that have brought us this far, and I’m trying to do my part in this fight.
J.H.: What is the biggest misconception people have about libertarians?
J.R.E.: One common misconception about libertarians is the notion that we're indifferent, self-centered, or lacking in empathy. Given some of the more extreme voices in the movement or those leading the party, it's not hard to see how this misunderstanding could arise.
However, my experience in the movement tells a different story. Libertarians are often deeply invested in the well-being of others. We advocate for a society where individuals can prosper without fear of force or coercion. We're passionate about ensuring everyone has the freedom to chart their own course, not only out of self-interest but from a genuine desire to see all people thrive.
J.H.: You were previously the Executive Director of For All Tennessee. Can you talk about the mission of that organization, its policy objectives, and your involvement?
J.R.E.: For All Tennessee was established with the aim of uniting people around policies that strengthen individual freedom and limit government intervention. In essence, we were striving to find common ground between different political factions, to discover policies both left and right could agree on. We would then take these initiatives to the Tennessee statehouse, fighting for their implementation directly on the legislative floor.
Each year, our members would vote on the policy agenda, determining our focus for the upcoming legislative session. Then our lobbyists would dedicate their efforts during that session to pushing these chosen policies forward.
As for my personal involvement, I served as the executive director, contributing significantly to the organization's direction and strategy. However, I eventually had to step away from both my board duties and my role as director due to some differences in vision with the president. Despite this, I continue to support the cause, and I sincerely hope for its success in the future.
J.H.: As a fellow Nashvillian, how do you think we could implement some libertarian or “classically liberal” policy ideas to make Nashville (and other cities) a more prosperous and welcoming place?
J.R.E.: To make Nashville, and other cities, a more prosperous and welcoming place, there are a handful of "classically liberal" policy ideas that come to mind:
The city should ease its grip on development. Easing up on zoning restrictions or even going so far as to abolish single-family zoning would pave the way for the city to grow without facing ridiculous increases in the cost of housing.
We should focus on decriminalizing drugs and shifting our attention toward creating infrastructure that provides help to those struggling with addiction. An overall approach that places emphasis on health and recovery rather than punishment would go a long way to fight addiction within the city limits.
Overall, it’s crucial that we end unnecessarily strict licensing requirements and embrace a general deregulation approach. By doing this, we encourage growth and development, positioning Nashville to stand out among other southern cities.
J.H.: Where can people follow you on social media or find out more about your work?
J.R.E.: An easy place to find a link to all of my social profiles is www.joshuaeakle.com.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.