Showing posts with label minarchism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label minarchism. Show all posts

5/31/2014

A Libertarian Party Platform for Libertarians

I recently spent a weekend locked in an Indianapolis Hotel with 20 other libertarians from around the country.  We were either appointed by the Libertarian National Committee or sent as delegates from our state parties to create a report of recommended changes to the Libertarian Party Platform to be submitted to the delegates at the upcoming national convention.  Organized within the framework of Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure, we debated how libertarian principles, policy recommendations and marketing strategy should guide our party platform.  While serious points of contention revolved around grammar, style and the use of oxford commas, there were many fierce debates that got to the heart of what libertarianism is and isn't, putting our very name on the line.

I volunteered to be the representative for the Texas Libertarian Party not because I feel passionate about any particular planks I want to see changed in the current platform, but because I pretty much like it the way it is.  I've previously written on the dilemma that many principled libertarians face, which is whether or not to vote or otherwise engage in the political process.  The authors that contribute to the best-read libertarian website in the world seem to be almost unanimous in condemning political action, even within the LP.  I'm of the opinion that as long as the Libertarian Party does not misrepresent their core message to appeal to the masses and truly deserves the name "the party of principle" then the majority of the arguments against joining and supporting the LP don't hold water.

This gets to the heart of another topic on which I've written, whether the Libertarian Party should take a principled or a practical approach in the political process.  This foundational decision has many implications that don't always fall down the anarchist vs. minarchist party line.  What is the primary purpose of the Libertarian Party, to spread libertarianism or to get candidates elected?  Who is our target audience, libertarians or non-libertarians?  God help us, there are some that even disagree on what libertarianism is!  Only when those questions are answered do you have the framework for creating a cohesive and consistent Libertarian Party Platform - and when the delegates and leaders of the party are sharply divided on these issues we are setting ourselves up for some interesting debates in June.

What is Libertarianism?

George Orwell prophetically wrote on how language and the meaning of words can be used as a weapon in the political arena.  If you are able to influence culture enough to change or confuse the meaning of words you can thereby narrow the spectrum of allowable opinion and guide the masses without them ever realizing it.  One example of this phenomenon is the term liberal.  Thomas Jefferson's liberalism aligned to small governments, free markets, and natural rights while today's liberal supports big government, economic regulations, and privileges granted by "society".

Taking this lesson from history to heart, it is vitally important for the libertarian movement to not allow our brand to be misrepresented.  Without assigning motives to people I don't know, there are some trying to expand the term libertarianism to include things with which it has no concern, thereby diluting the core message into meaninglessness and creating contradictions where there should be none.

Quoting from a recent article by Laurence Vance on this very topic, "Libertarianism is a political philosophy concerned with the permissible use of force or violence."  But that can be said of all forms of government, as government is defined as a monopoly on the use of violence, and therefore the type of government you have guides how violence may be legally used.  Democracies adhere to majority rule, such that 51 people can vote to use violence against 49 others.  A Monarch can use violence against any of his subjects with impunity.  Under communist rule any individual can be aggressed upon if it benefits the commune in the eyes of the communist leadership.

Thus, Murray Rothbard defines libertarianism within this context:
“The only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal.  Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another.” 
That is all libertarianism is about: when you can and cannot use violence or the threat of violence.  Because of this limitation some criticize libertarianism for not being what it is not and has not ever been: a comprehensive moral philosophy.  Libertarians are typically characterized as sexists, racists, bigots, homophobes and elitists because we do not believe in outlawing these types of behaviors.  Libertarianism says what you must not do, not what you should do.  We stand for the freedom of association, including the freedom not to associate.  We stand for the freedom of speech, including unpopular speech.  We stand for self-ownership, including the right to do things to your body that may be harmful.  Because of our principled stance to always protect individual liberty, even when liberty is used in ways some may disagree with, we are painted as endorsing these vices.  However, libertarians have a wide range of non-aggressive responses to vices.  Unfortunately, in this day of omnipotent government there are only two options for any given behavior, it should either be forced or forbidden, both carrying the threat of being locked in a cage or worse for disobedience to the state.

It is one thing to find this misunderstanding to be pervasive among the average voter, but it is far more serious and disappointing when people calling themselves libertarians display this same ignorance towards the most fundamental concepts of their professed ideology.  Sometimes it may be from lack of knowledge but at other times it is a deliberate misrepresentation.  At the Libertarian Platform Committee meeting suggestions were made to add and remove language to our platform planks to make them more appealing to the voters.  There is nothing wrong with being brief instead of wordy, using plain words instead of libertarian-insider words, and using proven salesmanship approaches - but only as long as you do not distort your message in the process.

One misguided idea that came up several times was to add qualifying terms in reference to who could and could not exercise certain rights.  For instance, plank 1.6 Self-Defense very boldly defends the right of individuals to own and use firearms in self-defense and correctly calls out our opposition to all laws that would infringe upon this right.  This is as libertarian as it gets - the right to own property, including firearms, is only limited by the duty not to infringe on the equal rights of others and any action to pre-emptively violate this right is itself an aggressive, unjust, and criminal action. Despite my best protests the committee voted to recommend a change in the current language from "individual" to "peaceful adult".  This might seem like a sensible substitution that doesn't materially change the plank, but let's explore the ramifications of this seemingly innocuous appeal to common-sense.

When we say that a right can only be exercised by a "peaceful adult" or use any other qualification it ceases to be a right and becomes a privilege.  The new language didn't say the use of firearms must be peaceful, that would be implied by the term "self-defense".  It described the type of individual who may exercise this right without prior-restraint through law.  Now we must define what is "peaceful" and what makes someone an "adult".  We are a political party concerned with the use of violence, so when we qualify a right in our capacity as libertarians we are not strictly speaking of the criteria we would impose in our private lives.  We're not simply saying, "it's a good idea for gun owners to have a history of being peaceful and mature enough to know the impacts of their decisions with firearms."  We are saying that only "peaceful adults" may exercise the "right" to gun-ownership, and others will be violently prevented from doing so.  When we beg the question of what is peaceful and don’t define it ourselves we are implying that government will define the answer - and today that answer is non-felons. When scholars report that the average person commits 3 felonies a day, tens of thousands of which are non-violent, we end up nullifying our entire plank with those two simple adjectives.  But even if we narrow our lens to felons with a history of violence, I believe that once they are freed from their cages they regain their right to own firearms and use them in self-defense.  In other words, I think that the current system whereby a mistake when you're 18 means you can't defend yourself or your family for the rest of your life is unjust and patently un-libertarian.  When you don't defend the rights of the marginal groups of society you strip those rights from everyone.  If this change is adopted it amounts to us saying that we defend the right of gun-ownership for some individuals, as long as the government says it's OK.  That is hardly a stance worthy of the name "the party of principle".


What is the Libertarian Party?

When all the libertarians in the LP understand the implications of our principles and are willing to defend them, even the unpopular ones, we still have some big questions to answer in the realm of tactics and strategy.  How do we market ourselves?  Who do we market to?  What are our goals?  These questions have very real impacts to how one constructs a party platform.

I believe that our primary goal is to spread libertarianism.  Unlike other libertarian groups that share this same goal, we explicitly use the political process, the political party, and candidates for political office as the channels for our message.  Every voting season there are millions of dollars worth of free publicity in newspapers, radio, and television.  Considering that libertarians are characterized for annoyingly pushing their message to unreceptive hosts at social gatherings, we must take advantage of every opportunity when we have an invitation to talk about libertarianism.  Journalists and special interest groups will invite libertarian candidates to speak to them and explain what libertarianism is and how it would solve our problems - and the only cost for this unprecedented opportunity is the time to fill out some paper work!

With our primary goal of spreading libertarianism and our means of the political process established our secondary goals naturally follow.  First, we need brave souls willing to run for office.  Candidates can spread libertarianism by speaking to voter groups, being interviewed by the press, and participating in debates.  In order to magnify the candidate's impact libertarian activists can help with their time and money.  This can take the form of block-walking a voting district, helping with a phone banking initiative, writing letters to the editor, or merely talking to friends and co-workers about why they are voting for the libertarian candidate when that question naturally arises.  For those that are short on time to donate, money can be used to buy advertising, mailers, yard signs, voter lists, and automated calling services.  Unfortunately, both time and money are needed in many states to collect signatures and fight lawsuits to get libertarians on the ballet, but this is worthwhile because it is a prerequisite to our means of engaging in the political process to achieve our goal of spreading libertarianism.

In order for the LP to do justice to the term libertarianism this prioritization of goals must be adhered to.  Unfortunately, a sizable number disagree with this approach.  During the Platform Committee meeting one member stated "I don't care about educating people, I want to get elected so I can make a difference."  Another member explicitly stated that the #1 goal of the LP should be to get candidates elected and pointed to the Indiana LP's "purpose and principles" as a reference, which states, "The mission of the Libertarian Party is to move public policy in a libertarian direction by electing candidates of the Libertarian Party to public office."

Let's consider the implication of this reversal of priority.  If the primary mission is to get candidates elected then any secondary goals must necessarily align with the primary goal or be sacrificed, by definition.  So if the voting population is not ready to accept the message of libertarianism, if a candidate who promotes a libertarian message cannot win a majority vote, then the candidate's message must be "softened" to increase the odds of electability.  But now we find ourselves indistinguishable from candidates of the two major parties - power hungry office-seekers who have no core beliefs but will modify their positions at the drop of a hat based on the latest polls.

Maybe that's a little harsh, but it is the logical implication of setting the primary goal as "winning".  As the saying goes, if we sacrifice our message we are more likely to lose twice, first because we won't win the election and second because we won't get our message out.

But let's suppose we do elect candidates with this "sneak attack" method.  Assume we have candidates who will adhere to their libertarian principles once in office but will water down their message when electioneering in order to trick the majority into giving them their vote.  In this scenario the elected closet-libertarians reveal their true intentions after taking office, after which they immediately roll back government excess and increase liberty in their district, in other words, "making a difference".  Based on the prosperity, peace, and other social goods that libertarianism provides, the voters then reflect that libertarianism is pretty great after all and are converted based on the experience of libertarianism, rather than by rhetoric and logic in the abstract.

In the best case scenario we can see this is a short term victory.  If we gain libertarians that like the utilitarian benefits of liberty but do not understand how the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression are the logical and economic pre-requisites, then have we really created an ally that's in for the long haul?  What happens when the opposing party promises more goodies?  Without the foundational understanding and truly creating a change in thinking and culture the best we could hope for is a few years of material improvement before regressing back to our current predicament.

But that thought experiment assumed something that would never happen in the first place.  A "liberty friendly" message that avoids the logical consequences of libertarianism for reasons of political expediency will never win under the banner of the Libertarian Party.  Wayne Alan Root was the most visible proponent of this "big tent" strategy, where he openly called for only appealing to disgruntled republicans and avoiding our beliefs that would not align with this voter block.  I attended Freedom Summit in 2009 where Judge John Buttrick debated this strategy head-on and pointed out its flaws.

Judge Buttrick's most compelling argument appealed to common sense and asked us to put ourselves in the position of a liberty-friendly disgruntled-republican.  Given all the options for spending one's time and energy, in what vehicle will such a person get the greatest returns for their activism buck?  Will they go to a party that fights to get more than 1% of the vote in a Presidential election and hasn't earned an electoral vote since 1972? Clearly not.  They will join Ron Paul and work to reform the Republican Party from the inside.

Making the primary goal of the LP to "get candidates elected" is a death-sentence for our party.  Not only will it cause us to fail in what our mission should be, to spread our message and increase the number of libertarians, but it will also never be successful in getting candidates elected by misleading the public into giving us their vote.  As Lew Rockwell pointed out in his essay what libertarianism is and isn't, "if we expect to trick people into becoming libertarians, we will fail."  Instead of trying to appeal to the masses we should stick to our principles, even the unpopular ones.  This leads me to a novel idea: the Libertarian Party should focus on libertarians.

Guiding Principles for a Libertarian Party Platform

Some believe libertarianism should include things that don't pertain to the permissible use of violence but fall in the category of fairness and egalitarianism.  A sizable number of LP leaders believe the primary goal of the Libertarian Party is to get candidates elected so we can pass bills and "get things done".  Both of these beliefs directly impact how one approaches what the LP party platform should contain, how it should be written, and who it should cater to.  For those that share my position about libertarianism and the Libertarian Party, I offer the following principles that drove my thought process when serving on the LP platform committee and will guide my voting at the convention this June.

Platform planks should logically flow from self-ownership and non-aggression.  Why do we oppose the war on drugs?  For the same reason we oppose taxation.  It's the same reason we support freedom of speech, the right to contract, and the right to associate: self-ownership and non-aggression.  There are plenty of causes, beliefs, and opinions that libertarians hold in their private lives but if they do not pertain to the use of violence in society they should be left out of our platform.  Yes, individual libertarians may believe that it is moral to donate to charity, offer fair wages, and operate without discrimination, but unless we are opposing government violence from forcing us to do these things we have nothing to say in our capacity as libertarians concerning what individuals should do in their private lives.

Platform planks should speak to timeless principles, not to specific policies or bills.  We are against aggression, and therefore theft, and therefore taxation.  We are not for "the fair tax", the "50 payer tax", excise taxes, or other taxes that would be less bad than what we currently have.  As individuals or even as candidates we might support these half-measures to ease our suffering.  However, we'd support them not in our capacity as libertarians, but as victims of current aggression that we would like to be relieved of, if even partially.  We are in the position of a concentration camp victim that would gladly take the opportunity to sign up for work under the supervision of a sympathetic guard instead of a psychopathic one known for his cruelty.  In this way we are not confusing the libertarian message by claiming that we are for "low taxes" when libertarianism is logically opposed to all forms of taxation.

Platform planks may be aligned with the Constitution, but that is not why we support them.  We are not the Constitution Party, we are the Libertarian Party.  It is one thing to say "Libertarians support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment", it is another to say that we support the Constitution unilaterally or to imply that we support a right because it is in the Constitution.  We don't need a piece of paper to guide our decisions, we have something far more powerful.

Abide by the Dallas Accord.  Frankly, non-aggression and government are polar opposites.  The only permissible "government" that would be logically consistent with libertarian principles is one where all services would be paid for voluntarily and any violence executed would be defensive in nature.  Of course, one could argue that in that case you are no longer describing governments but private businesses that are in the defense and arbitration industry.  It seems a fair compromise to ignore this bit of double-think in exchange for remaining silent on the need or "legitimate purpose" of governments and always allowing for an interpretation of no government without saying so explicitly.  Not everyone is ready to go full-blown an-cap so we should welcome the minarchists by allowing for the fantasy of the non-coercive "government".  At the same time, we should not turn away our most logically-consistent and principled demographic, the anarchists.

Golden rule: don't make candidates oppose the platform.  Some candidates might only support a bill that would repeal a tax completely, some might vote for one that would reduce taxation, but both operate under the same principle that taxation is inherently immoral and un-libertarian.  Some candidates might rest easy with a night-watchman state and others may not be satisfied until we live in our anarcho-capitalist paradise, but both can agree on the maximum role of government, because technically, a maximum without a minimum can give us a role of nothing.  The goal is to give libertarians a platform that teaches by example how our principles of self-ownership and non-aggression logically guide us to all of our policy positions, and from there give candidates the freedom to get more specific within the guidelines we've set.  Because the principles of liberty are timeless, an ideal platform would be as relevant and powerful 100 years from now as today.

Conclusion

The positions I've set forth would cause some to label me a "purist".  While I proudly wear that badge of honor, there is unfortunately some truth to the negative connotation that comes with it.  Many of the "purists" lack basic tact and social skills to such an extent that it seems they might actually enjoy arguing with people just for the sake of disagreeing.  If talking to a democrat they'll talk about gun rights, if talking to a republican they'll bring up gay marriage.  Instead of finding common ground and educating, they will latch on to the biggest point of contention and revel in being marginalized.

It doesn't have to be this way.  This is not a black or white issue.  It is a false choice between upholding a pure and consistent libertarian message and adhering to basic social etiquette.  We can utilize proven persuasion and marketing skills when speaking to the public without watering down our message and confusing our brand.

Having spent two years as a door to door salesman, and currently working in the consulting field, I have a few suggestions that apply to all areas of sales, including selling the message of libertarianism.

Instead of talking, listen.  Try to do twice as much listening as talking.  Then three times as much, then four.  The harder this is for you, the more important it is to work on it.  If your goal is truly to wake up minds and change people's perspective, you first need to make them feel understood before they will actually hear your feedback.

Speak their language.  In other words, be adaptive to their interests.  It's perfectly alright to talk about "fiscally conservative" issues with republicans and "socially tolerant" issues with democrats.  The opportunity to educate comes with first finding that common ground and using that as an opportunity to explain how the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression align with their beliefs.

People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.  This has a lot to do with listening instead of talking.  Don’t push your ideas on people.  You may be 100% correct, but if the other person isn't listening to you because they feel like they are being sold something against their will then what good does it do?.  Ask questions, then listen to what the other person has to say.  What do they think about a certain problem that they are passionate about?  Why do they think it occurs?  What do they think should be done about it?  If the answer is "there should be a law against it" then the answer isn't to call them a statist.  Ultimately this person has the same end goals as everyone else - peace, prosperity and a higher standard of living.  When you find the opportunity to answer a question and explain how libertarian principles result in these social goods, you have created the condition where they might just want to buy what you have to sell.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson I've learned in my activism career is that the only person I can educate is myself.  Oftentimes when someone "wakes up" to the libertarian message they are so excited by this new world view that nothing seems more important than sharing this epiphany with everyone, all the time. This urge, while commendable, should be resisted.  The first step is to educate yourself, not just on your pet issue that aligns with libertarianism, but on all of the hard cases too.  Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable is a classic libertarian book that takes up this challenge head-on.  Of course, Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty are must-reads for setting the foundation and exploring the full spectrum of libertarianism.  When hard topics like environmental protection and child-labor comes up, we have the shoulders of intellectual giants at our disposal, and we would be foolish not to use them.

8/13/2013

The Libertarian Debate: Principled or Practical?

The big and powerful political parties must always guard themselves from being taken over by hostile elements.  Decades ago, small "s" socialists had a strategic decision to make: do we work to build the Socialist Party of America, or do we infiltrate the Democratic Party and take it over?  They made their decision.  Similarly, many small "l" libertarians have chosen to work with Dr. Paul on an outright takeover of the Republican Party.  Time will tell whether the Ron Paul Republicans will be as successful as the socialists have been.

Within the Libertarian Party we don't have as much to worry about from coup d'états and power grabs, but rather our infighting is like an honest and good-faith difference of opinion amongst old friends.  We don't like to air our dirty laundry to the public, but within the "big tent" Libertarian Party, where we may agree on 95% of everything worth talking about, that last 5% is a doozy.  Minarchism vs. Anarchism.

As I first found out at the 2012 LP National Convention in Las Vegas, an understanding was reached at the 1974 Libertarian National Convention regarding this divisive issue.  Known as the Dallas Accord, it was a agreement that would satisfy both the minarchist and anarchist factions within the LP by keeping the platform purposefully vague as to whether a state should exist at all.  The thinking behind the truce was that all libertarians can agree our present government needs to get dramatically smaller, so let's join together in that common goal where we have that 95% agreement.  Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.  With a slogan like "Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom", each libertarian can define that minimum in his own mind, whether it be the minarchist "night watchmen state" or the true minimum of zero, a society that lacks an institution with a monopoly on aggressive violence.  As more conservative and constitutional leaning libertarians have joined the party in the last decade, 2006 and 2008 saw a swing in the LP power structure in favor of the minarchists, where our choice of candidates and changes to our platform disenchanted many an-cap libertarians.

The 2012 national convention saw a partial reversal of this power swing, making it an excellent time for the party to have an honest conversation with itself and revisit the reasons the Dallas Accord was made in the first place.  The Libertarian Party of Texas decided to host such a conversation in the form of a 2 on 2 debate this summer titled "The Ultimate Debate: Low Tax versus No Tax".  Since there are some that don't want libertarians to say the word "anarchism", let alone acknowledge such forces exist within the party, "no taxes" was chosen as a suitable marketing substitute for the "A" word.

One of the participants on the "No Tax" side could not attend due to a family emergency, and I was asked to take his place 2 hours before the debate.  "The show must go on".


Going into the debate I planned to focus on three lines of attack: the moral argument against taxation, the economic argument against taxation, and the naiveté of expecting "low taxes" to stay low in the long run.  My opponents were very clever.  They didn't challenge me that taxation was theft - they agreed.  They didn't challenge me that our ultimate aim should be to get rid of taxes altogether, they agreed that was a worthwhile goal.  One of my opponents didn't even resort to the "what about the roads" argument, he acknowledged that services like roads, defense, and arbitration could be supplied in a free and voluntary market.

So where did they get me?  The real debate came down to this: do we take the principled or the practical route on this journey to freedom?  A "no taxes" / anarcho-capitalist platform is not currently practical.  Can I get elected on this platform?  Could I get any bills passed?  Are the American people ready to entertain these ideas, let alone vote for someone openly advocating them?  I admit the answer is "no".  This is not a question of beliefs, but one of tactics and strategy.  More or less, the debate came down to, "Yes, I agree that "no taxes" is the correct moral choice, and I may even acknowledge it could work economically, but the people just aren't ready for it, so let's be reasonable or they won't take us seriously."

I didn't have a satisfactory answer to that line of attack during the debate, but now I offer a story followed by a few arguments for why libertarians should stick to our principled beliefs rather than water-down our platform or message to what is expedient or currently practical.  In short, why we should live up to the name "The Party of Principle".

The Story of the Practical Abolitionist

It's pre-civil war America, and a small minority of people have come to a radical conclusion: the institution of slavery is wretched, indefensible, and morally wrong.  They call themselves abolitionists, and their common goal is to end slavery.  They have quite an uphill battle.  Most of their countrymen do not agree with the abolitionists, either believing that slavery is a good thing (at least for the non-slaves) or that slavery is a necessary feature of this imperfect life.  Like death and taxes, you may not like it, but there is no escaping it.  The best you can hope for is to be on the right side of the whip.

We have established the abolitionist's common purpose, their goal, the vision that unites them and defines them as "abolitionists": the end of slavery.  Now comes the question of tactics and strategy, which is a topic that divides the abolitionists into different camps.  Some believe that education and persuasion is the right course of action.  Abolitionists should write letters, give speeches, and utilize every non-coercive means available to spread their message and change the hearts of their brethren one at a time.

Other abolitionists are not patient enough for this line of thinking.  Slavery is horrible, and people are suffering every day.  There is simply no time to wait for a slow conversion of hearts and minds.  Direct action must be taken to show these slave masters that we mean business.  Run-away slaves should be protected and transported to free lands.  Slave insurrections should be encouraged and nurtured.  Every law that protects this evil institution should be resisted and openly broken.  Anything less makes you nothing but an "Ivory Tower Abolitionist".

The abolitionists have a wide range of options in pursuit of their common goal.  Everything from peaceful persuasion to violent rebellion is a conceivable option in the fight against slavery.  But what is the right strategy in the short term vs. the long term?  The two may not be the same.

Another group of abolitionists recognize that their government's policy is a major contributor to the institution of slavery.  Fugitive slave laws make it a crime to assist run-away slaves, even when their masters are in far away states.  Since none of the major parties would risk going against the majority of the voters by taking a principled stand against slavery, this group wants to use the political mechanisms available to them to promote their cause.  By creating the "Abolitionist Party" they can not only use this vehicle to educate their countrymen when they go to the polls, but it is conceivable that they could influence other parties as they take away votes, and perhaps even someday win and implement abolitionist policies to end slavery.

Within this politically oriented group there is another question that divides them: how do we craft our message?  The "hardcore" and "radical" elements of the Abolitionist Party want to openly promote the complete end of slavery.  They boldly proclaim, "No man should be owned as the property of another.  The way to interact with each other is through commerce and voluntary association, not with chains and whips."

But another faction thinks otherwise.  The people will never take our party seriously if we advocate completely ending slavery over-night.  Yes, it's a worthwhile goal in the long run, but for the next election it would be disastrous!  Number one, it would destroy the economy that is built upon the institution of slavery.  Second, these slaves are not equipped with the responsibilities that freedom requires; who would take care of them?  Or maybe taking care of them is the last thing to be worried about, maybe some will be angry and we'll have violent riots on our hands!  "Don't get me wrong", says the practical abolitionist, "I'm with you on ending slavery, but let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  How about we endorse a measure to decrease slavery by 29%?  Today we have slavery 7 days a week, so if we grant 2 days of freedom a week, say on Saturday and Sunday, then that would certainly be an improvement over current conditions.  Once we have 2 days of freedom, we can work on a 3rd, 4th, etc.  That is certainly a more practical strategy given current conditions, right?"

Lessons from the Practical Abolitionist

How do we respond to the practical abolitionist?  With knowledge of how the past played itself out we can easily point out the error of his ways.  In fact, knowing that the abolitionist cause ultimately succeeds makes this story a little silly.  But the point isn't whether it's silly or not from our vantage point, but whether the parallel is a valid one.  If so, then perhaps the practical elements of our own party will seem silly to our descendants in the utopic libertarian future.

With 20/20 hindsight vision, it's clear that the "practical abolitionist" is his own worst enemy by endorsing a goal of "reducing slavery by 29%".  Given the conditions of that time, it may be more realistic to reduce slavery then to end it, but he is making the mistake of sacrificing the integrity of his long-term goal for a short-term win.  He is playing into the hands of his opponents.  Why should anyone else adopt the long term goal of "ending slavery completely" when even the so-called abolitionists seem to endorse slavery for 5 days a week? If slavery is a moral outrage, a crime against humanity, and a sin under god, then it must be totally wiped out.  But if the group that is most publicly denouncing slavery is satisfied with a mere reduction in this great sin, then there must be some flaw in the arguments.  Now the abolitionist brand has been compromised.  As "purists" in the Libertarian Party have been known to point out, when we water down our message we lose twice, first by not winning the election, and second because we didn't even get our message out.  By focusing too much on short-term wins in the political arena we forget about the long term goal of education and spreading the message.  Without that the big political wins can never be accomplished.

While it might bring charges ranging from rudeness to being a proponent of "abolition purity tests", the impact of the "practical abolitionist" is so disastrous to the Abolitionist Party that it may be prudent to question the sincerity of his beliefs.  After all, the practical abolitionist is confusing the abolitionist message in the minds of the voter, he is giving his opponents an easy line of attack with charges of hypocrisy and insincerity, and in some cases he even gives lip service to his enemy's propaganda rather than combating it when he uses it as the excuse for why people aren't ready for the "hard-core" message.

We should always advocate breaking the chains of slavery, never to make the chains more comfortable.  When we take the practical route we inadvertently advocate the very system we claim to fight.

It gets even worse than this.  If slavery is the evil that the abolitionists claim, why would they support any goal that would make slavery more tolerable to live under?  The more obvious the evil is, the easier it will be to recruit new abolitionists to combat it.  But if they are successful at "reducing slavery" then they will also be taking the wind out of the sails of their movement.  Those that were at the edge of pledging their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" will now be placated with this bone thrown at them.  From this perspective, the message of the practical abolitionist isn't so different from the deviously clever strategy of "Mr. Smith" in Larken Rose's parable of "The Jones Plantation".

This brings up the next point, what inspires people to join a movement?  When you're up against the odds and looking to change hearts and minds, it's not prudency or the ability to compromise that converts people to your cause.  From my own perspective I can say with confidence it was the opposite; I fell in love with the logical consistency and principled stance of the libertarian message.  Here are people that when they say something, they really mean it.  But beyond my personal anecdote, which may be a fluke, we can look to the man who has undoubtedly turned more people onto the libertarian message than anyone else, Dr. Ron Paul.  When new converts speak of him, they don't get into the details of the libertarian message, they talk about his consistency.  Here is a man that I can trust because he stands for something; he says what he believes and he believes what he says.

Back to the abolitionist analogy, we see the same respect for the man of principle and disgust with the compromisers and hypocrites.  Say anything positive about the constitution or the libertarian beliefs of the founding fathers and the msm talking point is immediately relayed like a dog salivating to the ring of a bell: "The founders were hypocrites!  A bunch of white men that talked about freedom and equality but owned slaves, why should I trust anything they said?"

And the worst part is… they are right.  It was hypocritical to talk about freedom being an unalienable right granted by a creator from one side of your mouth while defending the ownership of slaves with the other.  It is cognitive dissonance, doublethink, and schizophrenic thinking at its worst.  Now the opponents of freedom can denigrate the idea completely.  If these so-called founders didn't even believe in freedom, then surely no one did… well, except for someone named Lysander Spooner.

A tribute to this heroic man deserves its own post, but long story short, here is an abolitionist that walked the walk.  He used every action available to him to further the abolitionist cause.  He wrote pamphlets and books to spread the message, including the very influential "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery."  He promoted plans for guerrilla warfare against slave holders and conspired with the "activist" members of his group to plot insurrections, even participating in one himself to free a fellow abolitionist.  And most obviously, he didn't own any slaves.  Today Lysander is a hero to principled libertarians.  His writings did not debate the petty issues of his day, instead he wrote about broad principles of liberty and justice that transcend space and time; hence his legacy will live on forever.  We want to be the Lysander Spooners of the freedom movement, not the "practical abolitionists".

No one remembers the practical abolitionists, but Lysander's memes will live in the internet forever.

Conclusion

The most compelling part of the practical argument for low taxes is painting the picture of what would happen to the less fortunate if we ended taxation tomorrow.  Most obviously, goods and services that have been monopolized by the government would take time to transition to being run by the private sector.  So think of all of the people dependent on these government services, including welfare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  These programs are paid via taxation, so what happens to them if that revenue stream no longer has a gun to keep it flowing?

Going back to the slavery / abolitionist theme, it reminds me of the following quote from the great British abolitionist Thomas Macaulay:
"There is only one cure for evils which newly acquired freedom produces, and that cure is freedom.  When a prisoner first leaves his cell, he cannot bear the light of day, he is unable to discriminate colors, or recognize faces.  The remedy is to accustom him to the rays of the sun.

The blaze of truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become half blind in the house of bondage.  But let them gaze on, and they will soon be able to bear it,…

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people out to be free till they are fit to use their freedom.  The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim.  If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever."
This quote is the ultimate answer to the "practical abolitionist" of the 19th century and to his descendants within the Libertarian Party today.  The flip side to freedom is responsibility, and the ability to take responsibility for your actions is a muscle that must be flexed from regular use or it will atrophy and decay to a shadow of its potential.  The "practical abolitionist" says the people aren't ready for freedom, so let's be reasonable and promote practical measures.  History tells us he was wrong.  If Dr. Martin Luther King was correct, and “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, then we should look to the optimist within and have confidence that in time our message will succeed.  And when that day comes, we want to be standing on the right side of history.  The next viral video shouldn't be "Ron Paul was Right" or "Peter Schiff was Right", but "The Libertarians were Right!"

10/31/2012

Should Libertarians Vote Libertarian?

Should libertarians vote Libertarian?  You will never see a similar question seriously considered for any other political party.  A person who identifies himself as a "republican" is, by definition, someone who is engaged in the political process and will vote for the Republican Party.  Likewise for the self-identified democrat.  Democrats vote for the Democratic Party, and republicans vote for the Republican Party.  That's what they do.

Things aren't so simple for "small l" libertarians.  For a libertarian to join, promote, and vote for the Libertarian Party, both pragmatic and moral objections must be overcome.  A sampling of those objections could be found any day this October on Lewrockwell.com, the best-read libertarian website in the world.  "Vote for Liberty by Not Voting", "Voting, A Fool's Game!", and "Libertarians Should Vote for… No One" are all recent articles by libertarians I admire, and they all make excellent points that every thoughtful libertarian should consider before choosing whether or not to go to the ballot box this November.

Nevertheless, I have chosen to ironically take the characteristically libertarian minority position on this libertarian voting issue.  At the risk of failing a future libertarian purity test, I believe, with a few qualifications, that libertarians should vote for candidates of the Libertarian Party.

As hard as it is to group and categorize libertarians, I will target my message towards two distinct groups: the minarchists who are planning to vote for Mitt Romney or write in Ron Paul, and the anarchists who plan to abstain from voting altogether in order to sleep well at night knowing they did not give their endorsement to the state nor bring it additional legitimacy.

A Message to Ron Paul Revolutionaries and Libertarian Minarchists Working in the Republican Party

Libertarians are split into two camps, anarchists and minarchists.  The minarchists, believing in the legitimacy or expediency of a night-watchmen state, have no objection to engaging in the political process to work for smaller government.  For the minarchist, the biggest decision to make is where to get the most bang for your political activism buck.  Do you work to reform one of the two major parties to make it more liberty-friendly, or do you work to grow the Libertarian Party?

Forget the slogan, "liberty in our lifetime"; there are some that want liberty as soon as possible, preferably this election.  With that kind of goal, building up a no-compromise liberty-oriented party of principle by changing hearts and minds one at a time over years, if not decades, just isn't very attractive.  Ruling out a political party that has not received more than 1% of the presidential vote leaves these libertarian political activists with one real alternative: take over the Republican Party.

There are several appealing reasons that libertarians choose to work within the Republican Party instead of the Libertarian Party.  For many newcomers to libertarianism the reason is simple, the man that woke them up, Dr. Ron Paul, has used the Republican Party machinery very effectively to spread the message of liberty.  Inventing the "money bomb", starting the Tea Party, passing "Audit the Fed", breaking fundraising records and drawing crowds of thousands at college campuses are all praise-worthy accomplishments of Dr. Paul's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.  However, these quantitative achievements are mere reflections of the real reason to be excited: the thousands of people that have been converted to the libertarian cause or are at least more sympathetic to these ideas as a result of Dr. Paul's engagement in the political process.

So what shall we do after accomplishing so much? After the 2008 election Dr. Paul encouraged his followers to get involved in their local Republican Party, play by the rules, and make a difference in the next election.  In a fair and just world Dr. Paul would have been recognized for having achieved wins in several primary states, but instead, we saw the red team break every rule of their party platform and common decency in order to keep Ron from gaining momentum and causing division in their party.

So what now?  Some Ron Paul revolutionaries have become so wedded to the idea of taking over the red team that they are planning to vote for the red candidate, even if he's barely distinguishable from the dreaded blue candidate.  Maybe those that have begrudgingly joined team Romney don't want to seem like "sore losers", maybe some have endorsed Mitt to strengthen their future political careers, or maybe they really think that Mitt will be slightly better than Obama on some issues.

Whatever "lesser of two evils" logic some have adopted, let's keep in mind that it hasn't worked on Ron.  Dr. Paul has heroically abstained from endorsing his party's candidate, and at the same time has said some very nice things about Gary Johnson's campaign and encouraged his supporters to make their own choice this November.

I'm hoping you consider my message when you make this choice, and for you, my message is harsh but simple: Dr. Paul woke you up by using the Republican Party as a communication platform.  You were intrigued by his unique ideas during the debates, and maybe he turned you on to a few books on libertarianism and Austrian economics.  But do not confuse your admiration of Dr. Paul with allegiance to the Republican Party.  Remember that it is Lincoln's Party: a party of war, corporatism, and big government.

The Republican Party doesn't want your ideas of liberty or small government, and just forget about a non-interventionist foreign policy.  Yes they want your vote, but they don't want you.  They pay lip service to libertarian slogans and then make us all look like fools as they vote in bigger government then democrats could ever get away with.  The republicans are gambling that you fear Obama more than you love integrity.  They are hoping that you'd rather take the long road to serfdom rather than a principled stance that a slick-talking, flip-flopping, big-government republican will never get your vote.

So come home.  Come home to the Libertarian Party.  It's an uphill battle, but it will be a fun ride.  You'll be amongst like-minded people and won't have to rub shoulders with neo-cons and war-mongers.  Join a party that actually believes what you believe.  Don't get suckered into the empty promises of the red team.  They are playing you all for fools.

Now, for those minarchists who are planning on writing in 'Ron Paul'... What are you thinking?  If we had only the two major parties on the ballot then yes, I'd write in "Ron Paul", "Donald Duck", or "Lysander Spooner".  In that scenario I have no problem siding with H.L. Mencken and "vot[ing] on Artemus Ward's principle that if we can't have a live man who amounts to anything, by all means let's have a first-class corpse."

But we don't have only two choices.  We do have a sincere libertarian who will be on the ballot in all 50 states.  You don't need to throw your vote away in order to protest a corrupt and blatantly unfair election process.  If you want to cast a protest vote, by all means, cast that vote by voting against both sides of the big-government party, against the two wings of the same bird of prey, against the left and right boots stomping your face into the mud... vote for Gary Johnson.

Damn right we did.

A Message to Principled Anarchists

A friend who volunteers for the Libertarian Party once asked me, "if libertarians make up 5 - 10% of the United States population, then why can we never get more than 1% of the vote for the presidential election?".  I can answer his question with a joke, "What is the difference between a minarchist and an anarchist?"  "About 6 months."

In other words, just as fast as we gain new libertarians, those new converts become stricken with a disease of logical consistency.  At some point along the libertarian journey one comes to the realization that if private voluntary transactions on the free-market can bring us cell-phones, vegetables, and health-care better than theft, coercion, and organized violence, then perhaps security and arbitration services are additional candidates for privatization.  Now the last excuses for the night-watchmen state fall apart, and a man must make a choice between intellectual integrity and the risk of being labeled a Molotov-cocktail-throwing, v-for-vendetta-mask-wearing social delinquent.

Once you accept that the government that governs least governs best, and the least amount of governing is zero, then you have practical and moral considerations to make when it comes to engaging in the political process.  The moral question asks if one can be a principled and consistent libertarian anarchist while engaging in the political process.  The practical question is one of tactics: does my political activism support, endorse, legitimize, or provide a mandate for the very system that I would like to see eventually dismantled?  If I support a bill that will lower taxes, am I acknowledging that the state has a right to steal from me?  If I vote for a candidate who pledges to lower taxes, is my vote for a lower amount of theft endorsing theft nonetheless?

Many prominent libertarians certainly think so.  Consider this passage from "Vote for Liberty by Not Voting" by Daniel J Sanchez:
"...your vote helps provide a mandate for all of the elected officer’s policies, whether you support those policies or not.  As one author has said, voting "just encourages the bastards."

Furthermore, every vote for a federal office is a vote for the hyper-state known as the U.S. federal government, and for hyper-states in general.  It is effectively an endorsement of centralized power and a vote of no confidence in localism.  And yes, this would be true of a vote for a middling libertarian like Gary Johnson, or even an exceptionally heroic individual like Ron Paul.  True progress toward liberty cannot be achieved through the offices of a gargantuan state."

In "Voting: A Fool's Game!", Gary Barnett flips the conventional wisdom on its head, and argues that not only does voting legitimize the state, but it also forces you to accept the results and invalidates your grounds for complaining.
"Many libertarians think that voting is acceptable only if one votes for someone other than those in the two major parties, or someone who is a Democrat or Republican that is accepted by a majority of "libertarian type" individuals.  I disagree with this thinking entirely.  I disagree because even if a good man might run for high office, regardless of who wins, every single vote cast legitimizes not only the outcome, but also the very flawed political system itself.  This is not an option to my way of thinking, because libertarianism is based upon individual rights, and when voting is evident, the individual is abandoned.

Because voting supports the system, those who vote are obligated to accept the results.  To accept the results means to accept the system, and to accept the system, means to accept what that system produces.  What is produced in the governing system in the U.S. is based upon theft, coercion, police state force, and imprisonment, all for political gain.  The laws of the land written by those elected officials in this same system support this criminal activity, so by voting, one’s ability to complain is eliminated.  I do realize that this is the reverse of how many think, but it is the only logical position to take.

In my mind, not voting is the only way to denounce entirely the current political system, and to not give consent, implied or otherwise, to its evil ways."

Joel Poindexter's article "Libertarians Should Vote for… No One" mainly argues against voting for either of the two major candidates, which I am in perfect agreement with.  However, he seems to believe that voting for the Libertarian Party candidate won't accomplish as much as abstaining from voting entirely.
"... it should be noted that voting for another candidate – even one nominated by the Libertarian party – does little to stall, rollback, or smash the state, as should be every libertarian's goal.  Libertarians should instead avoid the polls, and convince as many others to do likewise."

While these are all thoughtful reason to abstain from voting, the best arguments against engaging in the sacrament of the political religion that I've read were in Larken Rose's excellent book The Most Dangerous Superstition.

On page 144 Mr. Rose gives us "The Libertarian Contradiction":
" trying to make it [the non-aggression principle] a reality via any political process is completely self-contradictory, because "government" and non-aggression are utterly incompatible.
...
Trying to convert libertarianism into a political movement requires a mangled, perverted hybrid of the two options: the idea that a system of domination ("government") can be used to achieve individual freedom.  Whenever a "libertarian" lobbies for legislation or runs for office, he is, by his own actions, conceding that "authority" and man-made "law" is legitimate.
...
There is a fundamental difference between arguing about what the master should do - which is what all "politics" consists of - and declaring that the master has no right to rule at all.  To be a libertarian candidate is to try to do both of these conflicting things.  It obviously legitimizes the office the candidate seeks to hold, even while the candidate is claiming to believe in the principles of non-aggression and self-ownership, which completely rule out the possibility of any legitimate "public office."  In short, if the goal is individual freedom, "political action" is not only worthless, it is hugely counter-productive, because the main thing it accomplishes is to legitimize the ruling class's power.
...
If enough people recognize and let go of the "authority" myth, there is no need for any election, any political action, or any revolution."

Answering the common objections in these passages in order from easiest to hardest, I'll first respond to the challenge that abstaining from voting is a more effective means of resistance to the state than voting for the Libertarian Candidate.

While it may make one feel warm and fuzzy to stay home on election day, the reality is this decision only hampers our ability to reach the masses.  Remember that the news cycle will not report that of the 36% of eligible voters that stayed at home, 8% of them were principled anarchists that have rejected the state and refuse to endorse it.  Instead they will report only the percentages of those that choose to vote, and the collective decision of libertarian non-voters to remain silent means that instead of getting 5%-10% and becoming a force to be reckoned with, we may never pass that embarrassing 1% barrier and our ideas will never be considered by the common man because of that stigma.

Next we have the argument of providing aid and comfort to the enemy.  The act of voting for anyone, even a libertarian, provides a mandate for all government officials, legitimizes their illegitimate power, provides endorsement of their crimes against humanity, and obligates you to accept the state in all of its horror.

If the choice were between the lesser of two evils, then I would absolutely agree.  But remember, we have a Libertarian Party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states!  Is Gary Johnson the reincarnation of Murray Rothbard?  He's far from it.  In fact, when I went to Las Vegas as a delegate I supported R. Lee Wrights because I felt he was a more principled candidate.  But that being admitted, it is grossly unfair to lump the LP in the same group as the blue and red wings of the big government party.  How better can you denounce the system then by voting for a candidate who has the polar opposite beliefs of that system's front men?  Everything they want to promote and expand, be it war, taxes, or the power of government itself, we want to decrease, eliminate, and roll back.

Agreed.  So vote for a candidate who wants to get rid of the masters, break the chains, and set the slaves free!

And if the objection is that Gary Johnson isn't a pure enough libertarian to earn the anarchist vote, you frankly have no one to blame but yourself.  Just as there has been an ideological battle in the Republican Party, there has been a similar struggle in the Libertarian Party.  The forces aligned with Wayne Alan Root fought for a "big-tent" libertarian party, which was code for watering down our beautifully radical platform to become the Republican-lite party.  Those forces succeeded in 2008, but in 2012 I am proud to say that the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party heroically fought them off and succeeded in defeating their attempt to completely take over the party and disenfranchise the anarchists.  We were able to fill the Libertarian Party Executive Committee completely with radicals, and that setback is a big reason we were finally able to run off Wayne Alan Root himself, as he has formally left the LP, endorsed Romney, and announced his intention to run for office as a Republican.

So can we answer the hardest objection of them all?  Do I have an answer for Mr. Rose's libertarian contradiction?  Having run for office on the LP ticket myself, I was taken aback by his challenge. Did my campaign do more harm than good?  Ask the question another way, is it possible to be a libertarian candidate and not bring legitimacy to the state?

I think it is possible, and while I can't speak for the minarchist candidates of the LP, you can definitely imagine an anarchist campaign that would not violate Mr. Rose's objections.  Imagine a campaign where every voter questionnaire, every interview, and every chance to speak centered around an educational message denouncing the system of government itself and encouraging people to free themselves from their masters.  If every campaign message was about not only dismantling the state, but encouraging people to actively resist the state to help bring that about, then Mr. Rose's objections wouldn't hold water.

And now I am left in an awkward position.  If a principled anarchist could only vote for a principled anarchist candidate, then am I not admitting that some should not vote for the LP because Gary Johnson's campaign does not meet the criteria that I just laid out?

Thankfully, I have at least one prominent libertarian hero on my side, Dr. Walter Block, who has provided me with the perfect reductio ad absurdum rebuttal.  Yes, Gary Johnson's campaign does not meet the qualifications necessary to earn the vote of a principled anarchist...  Luckily, I am not a principled anarchist.

I accept federal reserve notes for payment, which legitimizes the government's theft and fraud through a fractional reserve fiat money system enforced through violence.  I use government roads and other public services, even though I know they were paid for with blood money stolen at the point of a gun.  I have abandoned my unalienable and natural right to self-defense, and instead I have sheepishly applied for a concealed carry permit.  And long before I traded that right for a privilege, I acknowledged that I have no right to travel without the state's permission, as I possess a driver's license.

My list of transgressions against my anarchist principles could go on forever.  The point being, don't throw stones if you live in a glass house.  One of the most hardcore libertarians I know, Michael Badnarik, really walks the walk.  He drives without a driver's license and he will never get a permit to exercise his natural right to bear arms.  The guy is hard-core principled.  And considering that he was the LP's 2004 presidential candidate, I think we can deduce where he falls on the voting issue.  If he can make the sacrifice, what is your excuse?

Conclusion

The Libertarian Party is not perfect.  Our pathetic choice for our presidential candidate in 2008 is testament to that.  However, our party platform is still something a radical libertarian can be proud of, and our recent reversal of the Wayne Alan Root forces is also a great victory for every hardcore libertarian.

Every time I hear "this is the election cycle that can change everything" I shake my head.  It is counter-productive to have delusions of grandeur and set yourself up for failure.  But that being said... this is the year that can change everything.  Not to win, but to finally pass that dreaded 1% mark.  We are not only in a position to break 1%, but we have a real chance of passing the 5% mark.  This means that all of the time, money, and energy that is spent every election in every state to qualify or re-qualify the Libertarian Party for ballot access will no longer be necessary.

With 5%, we get automatic ballot access.  All of the lawsuits, all of the petition gathering, the tens of thousands of dollars… all of it can finally go towards promoting our candidates and more importantly, promoting our message.

One of Gary Johnson's campaign slogans is "Be libertarian with me for one election".  My slogan is "libertarians, vote libertarian with me for one election!"

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