Libertarian Party: Time to Stop Barking at the Moon

I’m normally very proud of my Alabama libertarian homies. Despite egregious ballot access problems (link from an archived site), the Libertarian Party of Alabama still manages (major call and result, impactful call and result, and most recent call and still working on the result) to score significant political victories and has an activist base second to none. As home to the Ludwig von Mises Institute, small-l libertarianism is incredibly important locally, too.

Politically, I’m the sort of whore that will only bed the guy who turns me on the most, and I generally want free market cash (lots of it) for my actions. I’ve worked Libertarian, Republican and Democrat campaigns. I’ll take money from the cause I believe will take us closer to a state of liberty than what the competition has to offer. While I’m an outright anarcho-capitalist, I strongly push for short-term minarchistic solutions, as I believe that there are but two solutions to affect true freedom: outright and bloody revolution or incremental political change. As I’ve spent years in the military, for the moment I’ll choose the latter option. To the best of my knowledge, Thomas Knapp is my primary (and perhaps only) anarcho-capitalist ally actually engaged in realpolitik.

Very recent debate (view one, two and three) has surfaced over how libertarians treat the very people they wish to persuade.

Below are two significant quotes from the most recent arguments on this topic:

West:

Your post is only the latest in a string of posts and emails recently by various libertarians that talk shit about the voting public, which is the same voting public that we have to convince to vote libertarian, and the vast majority of them are NOT libertarians. This continues the “insult them because they can’t understand our principled greatness” attitude that is SO SMARMY it reeks of contempt for anyone outside the LP. You cant ask people to vote for us and then in the same breath call them stupid and sheeple.

We can’t win elective office when we as a party, our candidates, or our writers and thinkers in the LP have a attitude of contempt for the very people — the voters and the press — that determine the fate of our candidates.

VanDyke:

He’s absolutely right. Many Libertarians still don’t realize that the key to winning the political popularity contest in today’s society is the same method used by any company that sells a product well. Apple didn’t make iPods fly off the shelf by calling Walkman owners dumb shits; Instead, their marketing angle was to make their product a pop-culture icon desirable to anyone who was already on the MP3 bandwagon.

Libertarians my not realize it, but the goal of liberty is already a pop-culture icon, and all one has to do is push the marketing and branding of libertarianism. Liberty is already one of the easiest products in the world to sell, but some just need to learn how to not call the customer an idiot.

This brings me back to my compadres in Alabama. I recently posted a new poll on the updated Alabama LP site about medical marijuana. At the time of this posting (with a very small sample size and understanding the even international influence of the Internet) 17% of people currently think that “No, the government should have no control over what substance someone takes” is the preferable approach to a medicinal marijuana bill being passed in Alabama.

My belief is that a serious medical marijuana bill is preferable to absolute state prohibition. Apparently, some people would prefer the death of another Peter McWilliams to prove their point. I’ve put a lot of time, money and effort into this issue. If almost 2 of 5 think it should be dropped, perhaps I should quickly step down from the issue. If not, kindly please quit beating up on me.

The Libertarian Party has but two options. We can either be an evangelical body or a politicial player. My view is that antiwar.com, reason.com, and lewrockwell.com are doing their jobs just fine. Please let us continue with our part of the mission.

29 Comments
  1. I tend to agree, including on the reform of medical marijuana. But all libertarian reforms, we must ensure, are actually in a libertarian direction. Far too many of them are sideways reforms, such as the FairTax debacle, and the LP is often guilty of undue compromise. I tend to agree with Tom Knapp about 99% of the time, but on the Exit Strategy for Iraq, I agree with the hardliners in the movement: this plan is even more timid than what some Democrats are proposing!!

  2. Anthony,

    I agree with respect to the FairTax issue. Knapp and I were both very critical of the IES, but felt encouraged that the LP was 1) actually taking a stance on the war and 2) was engaging in real world politics.

    If the Democrats can push through a better plan, I’ll be happy to support it.

    Long time, no see! How ya’ been?

  3. In Colorado, which is one of about ten states already with Medical Marijuana laws (or a constitutional amendment?), a group called SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation) got an initiative passed in Denver permitting possession of small amounts of marijuana. It’s largely symbolic since prosecutors can still use state law.

    SAFER is planning a statewide initiative this year that would actually do away with the state prohibitions on possessing small amounts of marijuana. LP Colorado .org will work with SAFER to pass this initiative.

    NORML was intially against SAFER’s efforts. I don’t understand the politics involved between the two groups.

    Incrementalism seems to be the way to go politically to deal with drug prohibition, starting with legalization of medical marijuana, then legalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, then full legalization (with taxing and regulation of sales) of marijuana, etc.

  4. Since when is the LP ever unduly compromising on anything, leaving the IES aside for a minute? The entire notion of the LP is a contradiction: a political party that desires to field candidates for public office to FORM GOVERNMENTS should they win, running on principles of NO government.

    I think a LP that aligns itself with the Constitution and Bill of Rights can get to 2/3rds the way to the ultimate freedom those in the movement seek, and I’d sure like to help them get that far.

  5. I recently found you and I’m liking what I’m seeing.

    I have to disaggree with what Timothy West said about the LP being a contradiction. I don’t believe the LP is about NO goverment, just very limited government (the existance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and the LP’s mission to uphold them points in that direction) – and even limited goverment needs to be run by somebody.

    As for incrementalism – it’s very difficult to convince people of huge changes. Fear of the worst possibilities sets in and convincing people the sky won’t fall is difficult. When you make baby step, people realize the world didn’t come to an end so taking another baby step might not be so bad.

  6. I strongly agree with the idea of incremental changes. Even a sideways change may be useful as it gets people used to the idea of change. In an ideal world, we’d have complete freedom as long as we don’t infringe upon the freedom of others, but a good half-way point is the legalization and regulation of marijuana followed as soon as possible by similar reform for other drugs.

  7. I think what Tim is referring to is that the LP has had at the very least a vocal minority who do actually push for practically no government. If not anacho-capatilism then possibly outright anarchy might be the creed for some. It is some members of that group that make it seem as if the LP is the party of No Government, as opposed to the more pragmatic libertarian ideal of limited government. The folks here and Tim (as you can read over on Liberty for Sale) are some of the folks at the forefront of trying to steer the LP away from that particular image, which, as this set of posts points out, is likely a poor combination for political success, which in turn is a necesary component to truly achieve peacful change towards more liberty from within the system.

  8. Ahhhh, I see. My newbie status here certainly proved itself in my first comment.

    After skimming Liberty for Sale I get it. I think the shortness of his post and my lack of knowledge of the players (I’m pretty new to the libertarian community) fed into my misunderstanding.

    I certainly don’t think the LP is the only party with the problem of the fringe garnering the most attention. It’s people with the ideas the furthest from the mainstream that get people talking. The more talk the more likely “everyone” thinks thats the prevailing opinion of the party. However, since the LP is a “new” party those fringe ideas are likely to have a greater affect on popular opinion.

  9. Daniel,

    I’ve encounterd similar problems between various organizations in the legalization movement.

  10. Part of my point is that NO Government types shouldn’t impede the progress of the only political party likely to move the country in the direction they/we want.

  11. Reply to post #10 by SG – Would that more of us had the same attitude. I was heavily involved in LP activity for quite a few years (ran for local office, ran for LP nomination to US Senate, served as finance chair for another US Senate candidate). I tossed it all in when the Supreme Curt upheld most of McConnell vs FEC in Dec. 2003.

    My point is that I applaud and support financially those such as yourself who are still trying to get things done by means of a political party…even though I will not spend any of my own efforts that way because I now believe it to be sterile because of utter corruption of the election system. Who knows? I might be *gasp* wrong and somehow enough liberty-minded candidates will get elected to make a difference.

  12. One thing you might consider is simply the wording of the poll — you did not include an option to the effect of “Yes for now, but eventually the government should have no control”.

    Knowing the finicky & precise way the libertarian mind works, it would be hard not to choose “No, the government should have no control over what substance someone takes”. Since “Yes!” [pass medical] provides no way of expressing the complete thought, most of us will be inclined to choose D just to be antagonistic. It doesn’t necessarily mean we wouldn’t actually support a medical-only bill given the opportunity.

  13. Jon,

    I actually worded it that way on purpose. I was curious about how many would answer in the way discussed.

    The language used is clear, and their antagonistic inclination indicates that they would prefer additional deaths of medical mj users to an interim solution.

  14. Would you support a ban on smoking in public?
    Today many more would than 20 years ago (Sorry Stephen).
    But 20, or so years ago a group decided that
    they needed to ban smoking on airplanes. And they managed to get such regulations passed ( maybe it was a law. I don’t
    recall). Today bans on smoking are common in a number
    of different places.
    Sometimes you can jump over a wall in one leap.
    Sometimes you need a ladder and take one rung at a time.
    M.W.

  15. Steve, I agree with you for the most part. A few quibbles however…. “To the best of my knowledge, Thomas Knapp is my primary (and perhaps only) anarcho-capitalist ally actually engaged in realpolitik.” I’m a free market anarchist, and engage in realpolitik. I’m sure there are others (I don’t like the term anarcho-capitalist; I’ve explained my problems with the term capitalist at length elsewhere, as have a few other people).

    As for the poll, let’s be real….anyone can vote, as many times as they want, whether or not they are a libertarian. I don’t know that your poll on the website is really a measure of how libertarians feel about the issue; and even if it were, the wrong-headedness of a few in the party on any issue is hardly news, and hardly either constitues beating up on you OR a raeson to step away from your work on the issue, which a great majority of us (even according to your poll) appreciate, agree with, and hope you continue.

  16. Tim,

    There’s no inherent contradiction between anarchism and political action. Those anarchists who have not rejected political action consider it self-defense. Or, “just because you ignore the government does not mean it will ignore you”. So long as aggressive government exists, political self-defense is a justifiable strategy, although not all anarchists agree with it. In this sense, the LP can be considered an anti-political party (think: as antimatter is to matter).

    You may be looking for something more like the moderate party (modparty.net).

  17. Josh Davis,

    Not entirely correct. While many in the LP are in fact minarchists, a sizable minority (especially of long-time members) are anarchists. In fact, the LP pledge of membership is actually an explicitly anarchist pledge when examined closely: any involuntary taxation or any action by the government to shut down any competing organization offering the same services as it does if that organization has not initiated aggression, IS an initiation of aggression itself, and contradicts the pledge.

    This was purposely designed by LP architects such as Murray Rothbard, another realpolitikin’ free market anarchist.

  18. To use a football analogy, ideologues argue about where to place the end zones; realpolitik is about actually advancing the ball (liberty or freedom for us), and the battles are fought at the margin/in the trenches (incrementally; the long bomb is a low-percentage play).

  19. Paulie Cannoli,

    I understand what you mean, and I suppose it comes down to differences in interpretation of the definintion of anarchism:
    1. The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished.
    2. Rejection of all forms of coercive control and authority.

    Based on my interpretations of these definintions I think the excerpt from the LP pledge is pointing toward 2, where LP doesn’t want the goverment to coerce and control. However, it clearly recognizes the existance (and possibly the need) of a government which leads me to believe the LP doesn’t believe in the abolishment of governemnt (1) – which would in fact be a contradiction.

    I recognize that my interpretation may be incorrect and partly swayed by the fact that I’m a realist libertarian and doubt the U.S. will ever be a country without a government (wouldn’t such a country be a contradiction?) – and have a hard time believing anybody could think so.

  20. re: Paulie Cannoli

    Actually, what I’ve read is that the guy who originally wrote the pledge was just trying to make sure the Nixon Administration understood that the LP was not a front for an anarchist terrorist organization. The “no initiation of force for political goals” was simply a way of saying that the LP was for electoral change, and ONLY electoral change; not violent revolution.

  21. Pauli — oops, forgot about you. Sorry.

    I still fail to see how the most hardcore of libertarians would oppose a medical marijuana bill (unless mj was already totally decriminalized in their area).

  22. Well, I’m one of the people who voted for the “No…but” option, and the only reason is because the “Yes” option was unqualified. If the entire goal of our organization was to get MM through, I would have a problem with that. I would prefer a “Yes…but” option, that combines the two. Yes, we should push for medical marijuana, but ultimately the gov’t shouldn’t control the substances that people use.

    The devil is in the details.

  23. Paulie

    Your description of the pledge is historically erroneous.

    It was composed by David Nolan. The author views it as being an agreement that we will not blow up government buildings, and nothing else. We are here to change America by doing politics.

    Claims that it is anarchist are untrue.

    I will support anyone who says: The pledge is readily interpreted to mean X or Y or Z, which was not the intended meaning, but the correct response to that is to change the pledge, not to give it new meanings.

  24. Josh,

    The LP is not monolithic. Many of us do believe in abolishment of forcible government, which is not a contradiction at all. I would agree with your point #1 as well as # 2.

    A logical understanding of the pledge encompasses both # 1 and # 2, and I already explained the logic above: any involuntary taxation or any action by the government to shut down any competing organization offering the same services as it does if that organization has not initiated aggression, IS an initiation of aggression itself, and contradicts the pledge.

    Since this is pure logic, claims that it merely means we can’t blow up buildings are false, as are claims that it is not anarchist. It means we are against initiation of force, which is what forcible government is and does. Blowing up buildings is OK, but only in retaliation. Political partying can be OK too, but only as retaliation/defense against other political parties.

  25. “Your description of the pledge is historically erroneous.
    It was composed by David Nolan. The author views it as being an agreement that we will not blow up government buildings, and nothing else. We are here to change America by doing politics.Claims that it is anarchist are untrue.”
    MG: No. The pledge was developed in modern form by Pearl andrews in the mid 1800’s, and has been used continuosly by Libertarian anarchist communes and groups. it replicates the Freeman rights-respect oath used by Libertarian communities going back through King Canute to the ancient world’s citizen oaths, which Nolan has noted.Let’s also be clear on anarchy:it’s defined as a non-punitive form of government based on awarenesss of right (Proudhon) andwhere voluntary associations alone manage society (10th Britannica). However, anarchist doesn’t mean libertarian unless its run by Libertarians. Hoppe’s pointed out that Libertarian monarchies are also doable. The oath is what makes a community Libertarian.

  26. In addition, the LP has something called the Dallas accord, a directive for activists and leaders to neutrally present Libertarian alternatives–limited government and anarcho-capitalism, mini-archism, minimal government, anarchist community–neutrally. The idea is very sensibly that if it satisfies the users, they’re the best authority. These problems seem to stem from people idly arguing about the ‘best form’ and so showing they are still in the toils of the omnipotent state, to impose solutions, not present alternatives so people can act.

  27. “evangelical body or a politicial player.”
    MG: One of things that fell into disuse not happening in many parties is developing a Permanent Secretary or negotiator who matches programs and potential allies according to their predilections, and basically sees that we get something and move ahead as a team, completely obviating this problem. We need all sorts because the public is all sorts and at different stages of development. I would encourage Local LP’s to revive this position. At one point the national LP trained field directors to develop them but the same ‘practical’ Libertarians convinced LNC to abolish the position.