Monday, May 7, 2012

Fellow Travelers and Purity Tests

Author's Note: I'm not a big fan of the whole "voting" thing, agreeing in large part with those ideological purists who consider voting a validation of the system. Nor am I seriously convinced that political action will ever reverse the current course of government. As an agorist, I think that replacing the functions of government one piece at a time in our own lives and focusing locally will have more long-term impact.

That said, I'm philosophically a pacifist, too, but in self-defense I'd certainly be willing to pull the trigger. Thus my pragmatic approach to politics, and voting. Read on and you'll understand why this explanation was necessary. I'm simply laying out a game plan for those who are convinced political action can still turn the tide. I consider them fellow travelers too, regardless of what label they self-declare, and I write for the whole "more freedom, less coercion" movement, not just those most closely aligned with my beliefs.

P.S. In this essay, I use the term libertarian in as "big-tent" a context as is possible... excluding Bob Barr, of course.

This weekend, two-time New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson won the Presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party, kicking off quite likely the most successful of Libertarian Presidential runs to date. The Ron Paul Revolution cleaned up in Nevada and Maine, claiming 22 of the 28 national delegate slots in Nevada and 21 of the 24 of the slots in Maine. While 20 of the Nevada delegates must vote for Romney on the first ballot at the convention, the Maine contingent is free to vote their conscience, since the Maine "primary" was nothing more than an unbound beauty contest staged for the press.

In a recent column, The Underground is Surfacing, we discussed The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, by Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie. The book's thesis is that "we are in fact living at the cusp of what can only be called the libertarian moment." Independents are now the largest voting block in the country, their 41% share outstripping both Democrats and Republicans, and they hold political positions very similar to those reported for Millennials (18-to-29-year-olds) surveyed in a recent Harvard study.
In general terms, only 20% of Millennials feel the nation is generally headed in the right direction, opposed to 43% who think it's off on the wrong track and 36% who aren't sure. Only 15% disagree with the statement "Politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing."

The economy is the top national issue for 58%, compared to 7% for healthcare, 5% for immigration and education, and 4% for national security and energy. All other issues showed lower levels of concern. Contrast these issues with those that seem to occupy center stage in the media. These voters are ripe for serious solutions to runaway Washington.
Yet in spite of all that positive news, it's safe to predict that either the Red One-Percenter Goldman-Sachs candidate, Mitt Romney, or the Blue One-Percenter Goldman-Sachs candidate, Barack Obama, will be sworn in as President next January.

Supporters of Gary Johnson will blame it on their candidate being ignored by the major media, his exclusion from the national debates, the failure of the voters to understand how they're being manipulated -- and those damned crazy Paul supporters, who either failed to turn up at the polls or did something crazy that turned off some moderate friend of theirs.

Supporters of the Ron Paul Revolution will blame it on their candidate being marginalized and/or ignored by the major media during the Republican primaries, the obstructionist efforts of the Republican party establishment, the failure of the voters to understand how they're being manipulated -- and the failure of Libertarian party libertarians to cross party lines and help out.

Those last arguments are the ones I'd like to address.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

In all areas save one, libertarians are fiercely individualistic and tolerant. This surfaced during another one of those infamous discussions on the Politics & Current Events forum at the premier writer's site, Absolute Write. In response to a comment about some of the colorful characters that inhabited the convention floor at the Libertarian National Convention, including those adorned in Guy Fawkes masks and tri-corn hats, I sarcastically pointed out the broad streak of individualism and tolerance that results in crazies in the rafters and complaints of unsavory supporters.
"This country is just not ready for an individual in the White House. There's a particular cookie-cutter labeled "Presidential" and that's what's required to take up residency in the oval office.

"The problem with libertarian philosophy is it's too inclusive and tolerant. They don't judge people by anything but their ideas. That's no damn way to run a political party, obviously, 'cause you get funny-lookin' candidates and people who actually mock the political process, right along with the serious pols; it brings the whole image down."
At which point, my compatriot over at The Ponds of Happenstance delivered a smack-down.
"Members of the Libertarian Party are, in fact, the least tolerant sorts out there, with respect to ideology."
My response was patented weak sauce, heavily slanted to defend my own personal tolerance, but failing to address the wider issue of the lack of ideological tolerance among members of the Libertarian Party and many other "real" libertarians, whoever they claim to be. A personal experience made his case.
"Hey, I'm with you on sticking to ideas, for the most part. The problem I run into with the Libertarian Party--and even with my friends at Cato--is the condescension and contempt for ideas that are "wrong," condescension and contempt that often seems to spill over for the person, as much as the idea.

"As an example, Rand Paul spoke at a Cato event I was at. Everyone was appreciative and applauded when he hit the right, the libertarian, notes. But after he was done, there was a great deal of talk about how he had some things so wrong, to the extent that he wasn't a "real" libertarian."
And thus this post.

That those at Cato and other "beltway libertarian" organizations marginalize the Paul movement, both father and son, as the quote illustrates, is hardly a surprise to those who know a bit of Libertarian Party history. Nor is it limited to the folks at Cato. I've kept a foot in both the Paul and Johnson grassroots during the primary season, and even the casual observer would note a real similarity to the Republicrat divide. There's the No One But Paul (NOBP) movement in the Ron Paul Revolution, with members swearing that if Ron Paul is not the Republican nominee, they'll stay home. Within the Gary Johnson camp are those who paint the Paul supporters with the same broad brushes used by the Hannities and Limbaughs four years ago and consider reaching out to that large and passionate movement a bad idea, apparently worried that the zaniness, passion and enthusiasm might be contagious.

Everybody seems more concerned with who represents the "real libertarians" than with whether real change comes in our lifetime, and candidates who are orders of magnitude better than the Republicrat One Percent Turkeys are dismissed for lack of ideological purity. Get a clue, people.

Nobody can pass the libertarian litmus test.

Meanwhile, the Republicrat Bird of Prey continues its feast, with ever-growing deficits, ever-growing infringements on personal liberty, and an ever-growing, increasingly unaffordable empire. Two of those items are strongly opposed by both "libertarian" camps, while the third has long been unpopular with the Ron Paul Revolution. Now some "beltway libertarians" are showing signs of empire fatigue and recognition of the untenable financial situation of being the world's policemen.

And this tirade has so far totally ignored the segment of libertarians represented by a whole laundry-list of smaller "libertarian" movements, a number of which can count me as a member, all just as guilty of judging other liberty-minded fellow travelers' ideological purity.

Maybe, just for a while, we need to ditch all the arguments over the definition of "libertarian" and focus instead on hacking and slashing at the weeds of government until we can at least see outline of the Tree of Liberty again. That seems to be a platform that could actually attract the majority of the voting electorate, not just an irate, tireless minority.

The way I figure it, when we get government to 10% of its current size, concerned with purely malum in se violations, and with only a smattering of remaining infrastructure and public goods involvement, then we can argue about what needs to be done next. In the meantime, anybody who seriously thinks government is too big and too out of control is traveling in my general direction, and I'm glad to share a ride. They are all my fellow travelers.

If libertarians ever learn that, they'll learn how to appeal to the moderates, and then the Bipartisan Bird of Prey will have a problem in its claws.

...and that's all I have to say about that.


  1. You definitely should read Maddow's Drift, Don. There are a number of points she makes about the enormous cost (both monetary and cultural) of maintaining our state of perpetual war that will strike a chord for you, I think.

    1. Added to my list. I'm a fan. She's often worth hearing from.

  2. [Standing ovation]

    It's so discouraging to be, for all practical purposes, an impotent fringe element in American politics, in light of the fact that so many core libertarian values are greatly appealing to mainstream. I'm on board with ANY liberty-minded individual who can put together a platform that will pull these like-minded (yet disparate) ideological elements together into a viable political force. Hope I don't have to wait too long.

  3. Great post. I especially like your opinion on "easing in" the libertarian mindset rather than force feeding the pure concept.

    I hope you don't mind- I linked and quoted this article from my thread about the Libertarian nomination at TMM. I have been reading your blog since it was first mentioned there. Keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks. It took me years of study to make it all the way to agorism as a solution. Expecting people to see the obviousness of any form of libertarian thought from one blog post borders on the insane. Education in any subject is a gradual process. And anybody who's on the downsize elevator when it comes to government is going my way. We can chat on the way down.

      I don't mind quoting a few paragraphs and linking at all; I hope what I write is worth sharing around.

  4. "The way I figure it, when we get government to 10% of its current size, concerned with purely malum in se violations..."

    As long as some people have power over other people, this is a pipe dream approximately as likely as carving a small lizard out of Godzilla using a butter knife.

    The "libertarians" have no more hope of doing that "politically" than anyone else. Those who have the power will always use it to destroy anyone who challenges that power. Playing political musical chairs will never eliminate that power.

    And no, I will never compromise or "tolerate" anyone who is threatening my life or stealing/destroying my property and productivity. Not even 10%.

  5. MamaLiberty,

    You won't tolerate anyone who is threatening your life or stealing/destroying your property and productivity? How do you get along in your daily life? Do you just fail to abide by every law on the books? Do you not pay your taxes? Are you writing me from inside of a prison?

    The simple fact of the matter is that, if you are not writing from prison, you are definitely tolerating at lost some threat to your life and/or property. And you will continue to do so by voting for "pure" libertarian candidates with no ability to be elected. Why is it better to vote for a candidate who's perfectly aligned with your conscience (or abstain from voting) than it is to vote for a candidate who agrees with many of your views. In the first case, you get a Republicrat who is just going to further threaten your life and property. In the second, you might actually have a prayer of incremental (or more) improvements.

    Regardless of the outcome, you're implicitly tolerating the threats to life and property.

    1. We need to clarify the definitions.

      1. to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.
      2. to endure without repugnance; put up with:

      Then look at endure:
      4. to continue to exist; last: These words will endure as long as people live who love freedom.
      5. to support adverse force or influence of any kind; suffer without yielding; suffer patiently: Even in the darkest ages humanity has endured.
      6. to have or gain continued or lasting acknowledgment or recognition, as of worth, merit or greatness

      There are many things, such as taxes and irrational "laws" which I must live with - since there is a gun to my head and the penalty for resistance is usually death. I endure them, not tolerate them - and certainly never accept them as being right or good in any measure. The last thing I want to do is participate in this evil.

      And I view "voting" as an act of surrender, of compromise with evil. I do not vote. I want none of it, ever. There has very seldom been a "candidate" for anything who shared my views. They almost invariably want to wield the ring of power and control. The "lesser evil" remains EVIL.

      I am not any kind of "libertarian." I am a sovereign individual and my law is the law of non-aggression. Period.

      You, of course, do as you will. It's no business of mine unless you join the looters and murderers.

  6. I had to look up "agorist." Yup, just another way to say "anarchist." Good luck with that. Anarchists are so utterly despised and discredited that even the political left won't have them, and libertarians only barely tolerate them. Not that libertarianism itself is not comically inept, hopelessly adolescent in tone and philosophically bankrupt.