It’s an old debate within libertarian circles, but it keeps getting rehashed because it has never been truly resolved. This topic recently resurfaced as an offshoot about the controversy over the Libertarian Party Iraq Exit Strategy. Hopefully, the responses to this posting can be kept to the general issues, as opposed to the specific policy questions debated about the IES or immigration. Some of the related questions in the crossfire are:
Which subsets of the libertarian movement actually move the party (or the movement) forward and which ones hurt us? Are we to be a political organization or an educational one? Should the Libertarian Party be more engaged in political or educational issues? Is the Libertarian Party detrimental to libertarian election results which might be better obtained by Republicans or Democrats?
Last night, I made the following comment:
Some of the best political consultants (for Rs and Ds) that I know are closet anarcho-capitalists. I’m a consultant and an anarcho-capitalist. The two are not mutually exclusive.
B-psycho initially responded to my comment:
..Que? This would be news to me.
To Steve: how do these “closet anarcho-capitalists*” explain their job as seemingly working against their long-term interests? Are they just spying on their opposition, or do they think that the more that each “side” undermines the country the sooner a stateless society* will be accepted?
For the purpose of this debate (as the term is used several times by B-psycho and me), I’ll use the general Wiki definition of anarcho-capitalist. I prefer the term Free Market Anarchist. I should also make it clear that while this is my personal belief system, I don’t believe our society is immediately ready for such a utopian solution. It is clear to me that too many people are intellectually and financially dependent upon the nanny state for such a political system to be established without initially starting with some considerable educational efforts and incremental political changes — those preferring serious bloodbaths notwithstanding.
I’ll begin by stating there may be more anarcho-capitalist political consultants out there than people realize. Unlike me, most are “in the closet” — for obvious reasons. One name I think I can provide (as he is getting out of the political consulting business and shifting toward libertarian video production) is David McElroy. McElroy has worked behind the scenes on a variety of Alabama GOP races, yet is about as anarchistic as one can be. We had lunch together a few weeks ago and discussed this very topic (the primary topic was documentary video production and distribution) a bit. He asked for my opinion about distribution of his new documentary, “We’re the Government — and You’re Not” — a film which I thoroughly enjoyed viewing.
Both McElroy and I would agree that we are not working against our long-term interests if we are incrementally moving politics in a direction of less government. If America ever approaches the point that are politically inline with the signers of the Dallas Accord, we can rehash the issue. Until such time, we are all fellow travelers.
To me, the issue is simple. Which brings us closer to a libertarian solution — not being engaged in the political process or promotion of small government candidates who are opposed to the initiation of force?
It’s my view that B-Psycho covered some good ground and raised important questions with this statement:
The old guard sees their desired end result & thinks simply offering that to the public whole-hog is the best way to convince people, while the reformers think that’s a pipe dream.
In a way, I agree with both the anti-politics group AND the ones trying to get us “in the game” so to speak. As I’ve said in the past, I realize that the essential goal of libertarianism is to abolish politics-as-we-know-it.
Afteron this topic, I don’t see this as an old guard issue. Both anarchists and minarchists were involved in the reformation of the libertarian movement in the early seventies. After writing the article linked above, to determine if the division between the party could be better defined. I divided people into multiple potentially conflicting groups, and again missed the mark. These groups were:
- Ideologues v. Political players
Purists v. Pragmatists
Activists v. Institutionalists
Radical platform reformers v. No major platform overhaul supporters
Anarchists v. Minarchists
What came out of this conversation was an opinion by Thomas Knapp which I find generally compelling. While the topic was the LP’s IES, I believe the true dividing line within the libertarian movement was established.
It portends the LP jettisoning its ideological faction and becoming a political party. So far, it is engaging in incrementalism, but not compromise. This rubs the outgoing ideological faction the wrong way, because they regard accepting anything other than an instantaneous jump to the final state envisioned in the platform as a “compromise.”
The LP may experience increasing political success, or abject failure, if it begins to actually operate on a political model. But at least it will have the chance to succeed or fail instead of simply being held back from doing either (and thus failing by default).
It is possible that the ideological wing may be able to pull the political wing back from the edge of following the course it has obviously set for the party, which would mean a return to the status quo ante, albeit in a weakened position with respect to credibility. Parties of any type don’t release plans, and then denounce themselves for what they’ve just done, if they want to be taken seriously; sometimes you just have to have some balls and forge full speed ahead even at the expense of schism.
To put it more succinctly, as Knapp and I learned over the course of a few e-mails, the dividing line seems to be between those who wish to effectively engage in the political process and those who don’t. Both sides can include purists, pragmatists, incrementalists, anarchists, minarchists, constitutionalists, Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, activists, institutionalists and even philosophers.
There are some ideologues who can work well within the political system. These folks tend to (this is not a requirement) compromise some value from time to time as long as the general trend is incremental. As an example, I work with a local Republican city council member (there are currently no Libertarians on the council) who votes 99% libertarian (the local dominant newspaper even calls him “Dr. No”). When he is pushing an idea with which I disagree, I’ll either remain silent or oppose him on that idea — but not his entire candidacy.
There are other ideologues who won’t work with any political entity that is not 100% (by their own opinions) libertarian. There’s so much ongoing debate within libertarian circles that it is unlikely this sort of ideologue will ever find 100% agreement with any candidate or even multi-issue organization within the movement. For an ideologue to work within the political system, it seems they either have to be willing to compromise (it is rare, if not impossible, for one to ever find a group of libertarians in absolute agreement) or to accept incremental solutions.
As an anarcho-capitalist, I certainly support medical marijuana legislation, as it is an incremental step in the correct direction. Likewise, I don’t know any purist who would oppose a 50% cut in government spending. There are principled libertarians in other parties; Ron Paul and Frank Gonzalez serve as examples. Certainly there are many examples of activists and (probably fewer) philosphers who don’t find conflict between their ideas and engagement in real world politics.
B-psycho’s conflict between those who wish to engage politically within the system and those who are “anti-politics” is natural, and this is where he essentially states the same thing Thomas Knapp did. What’s interesting to me is there need not be such a conflict.
There are a variety of single issue organizations with which uncompromising or non-incrementalist ideologues can work. They can even pick a political issue(s) and work with MPP, IJ, NTU, GOA, KABA or others and do something positive without challenging their value system. Others who choose pushing ideas as opposed to politics can work with organizations like CATO, the Heartland Institute, Reason Foundation or the von Mises Institute. Other organizations communicate about libertarian politics, issues, causes and ideas. Reason and Liberty are the obvious examples, but the options are unlimited. This website, Free Talk Live and countless blogs serve as examples of libertarian communicators.
In addition to policy organizations and libertarian media, there are political parties. The general mission of a political party is to get its candidates and policies advanced. While there are a few examples of libertarians within the Democratic and Republican parties, I’ve not (yet — but getting close) lost hope in the potential of the Libertarian Party.
B-psycho perhaps stated it best:
While the political warriors get into the State & cut it down, libertarian culture warriors should be bringing up the people. In that way, we both give each other space to work. The sooner we stop thinking we’re at odds and realize we compliment each other, the sooner true progress can be made. Get on it.
My advice for each of you is to take a hard look at your personal value system and find the role or roles where you can best promote the issues you find most important to you. If you consider yourself “anti-politics” or don’t wish to be a political player, this role can’t logically be playing politics. If you can’t agree on enough of the issues, work with issue groups to effect political change in the arenas you find important.
We can truly succeed if we spend our time doing that at which we are best, spend less time fighting with our allies (especially the ones with whom we only agree 99.99997% of the time) and open the lines of communication between the various sorts of libertarian organizations which should be coordinating efforts in the fight for liberty. As long as we continue to fight among ourselves, we will only continue to fight one losing battle after another.