Taking Purist Libertarians Behind the Woodshed

sheepleTim West over at Liberty for Sale responded to a message from one of the various open LP mailing lists (I would venture to say it’s a Yahoo! group). David Macko, who wrote the original email in which he praises Michael Badnarik for not filing tax returns or having a driver’s license, isn’t the focus of West’s ire, yet he adequately personifies the mentality of some purist libertarians.

I suggest you read the entire response, but here’s my favorite part:

In my opinion ( and that’s all it is ) Michael’s conduct as a private citizen became an immediate negative as the LP’s representative. Like it or not, we dont have a choice about the so called mainstream media – we have to deal with them, or we sink like a stone – and so far my suggestions about starting our own media enterprises as libertarians haven’t gone anywhere, though maybe the Steven’s [sic] can do something there. Since we as libertarians haven’t really begun to establish any real alternative to the “establishment media” whose fault is it that we have to depend on them? We haven’t begun to do anything to get around them.

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.

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.

UPDATE by Stephen Gordon: Thomas Knapp provides his thoughts on the topic over in [email protected]:

Tim West writes at Liberty For Sale: “We [e.g. Libertarians] 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.”

Pretty good point — no argument from me. I do, however, want to point out that the whole discussion there (and it’s carried over to Hammer of Truth as well) is getting tangled up with the subject of Michael Badnarik’s 2004 presidential campaign … and he doesn’t deserve that.

19 Comments
  1. This is a good point. I’m guilty as hell of the “sheep” comments and should probably tone down my rhetoric. People need to be made aware of themselves, but we can certainly find a more amicable way to tell them.
    It is important, if we have any desire to win this fight that we bring people onboard. Language and topics can scare people off before they ever have a chance to hear what we’re offering. A good example is the exuberance over heavy firepower being discussed a few posts back. We should really make a concerted effort not to sound the way we’re already perceived. We aren’t going to win many hearts and minds spouting off like “militiamen” from Montana.

  2. Good one. I am as guilty as anyone. I am a newer Libertarian and still in the angry stage. I’m pissed about what has happened to much of our freedom and pissed at anyone who supports the taking away of that freedom. I am working on trying to be more diplomatic.

  3. When I met Michael Badnarik while he was campaigning for the presidency, I was impressed by his message but not how he came across. He was very condescendng and it would be difficult to picture him at least listening to other opinions, which is what people want their politicians to do. Only so many people will get something out of purist libertarian tactics. To have a real effect, libertarians to need convince others that they are as mainstream as anyone else.

  4. I must say that I’m not in complete agreement on this. It’s one thing to say that we’re not helping our cause by being condescending to those who aren’t (yet) embracing libertarian ideas, and I fully agree that we should always be tactful when discussing our viewpoints with others. But, I don’t think it’s fair to equate someone who takes a principled, albeit radical stand for ideas that are considered to be outside the mainstream. The fact that libertarian ideas are largely outside the mainstream doesn’t mean we should try to conceal them for fear of being viewed as radical or kooky, rather, as the author suggests, we just need to do a better job of selling the rational merit of these ideas.

  5. To have a real effect, libertarians to need convince others that they are as mainstream as anyone else.

    Libertarians are not and cannot be mainstream. What would possibly be the draw to a group who sounds exactly like everyone else? The mainstream are the two major parties calling for more and more government. By definition, we are well outside the mainstream.

  6. “Out of the mainstream” was one of the most popular attacks lobbed against political opponents in the 2004 election cycle. It’s funny 1.) because whoever said being out of the mainstream was bad 2.) they should be saying “not in tune with average Americans’ interests”. The thing is the Libertarians right now are in tune with American interests in a lot of ways. We need to do a better job as a party of explaning just how the dems and repubs are similar (think about Abramoff here). Do you really think Nancy Pelosi is going to turn around the “culture of corruption” if given the Speaker of the House position? We also need to highlight issues like domestic spying and the like. It would really upset me to watch this opportunity slip out of our hands…

  7. Badnarik’s claims that his stands are libertarian are highly dubious. See my extensive analysis of his book, posted on http://www.libertyforall.net . Many of his positions are ultrarightwing constitutionalist and not libertarian at all.

    In particular, his analysis of why you do not need a driver’s license in Texas is, well, completely wrong. The actual court ruling was that you did not need a Driver’s License because they are as term of art called “Operator’s” licenses, a critical distinction but not a difference.

    His claim that the Federal Reserve Banks are privately owned is, well, silly. If you believe this is true, tell me who I should approach about my planned leveraged buyout of the New York FRB.

    The right wing claim that the income tax does not exist is up there with the 1950 progressive claim that there are no concentration campus in Siberia: It’s a shame that it’s wrong, but it’s just plain silly.

  8. Quoth George:

    “Badnarik’s claims that his stands are libertarian are highly dubious.”

    Well … yes, they are. Given the complete lack of consensus as to what constitutes “libertarianism,” all such claims are highly dubious.

    However, with respect to the platform of the Libertarian Party, the two particular stands you cite aren’t dubious at all. The LP opposes the income tax. So does Michael Badnarik. The LP opposes government licensing schemes. So does Michael Badnarik. That he arrived at those positions by paths which you find questionable isn’t, strictly speaking, relevant — or at least not any more so than whether LP member A arrived at those positions via the ideas of Ayn Rand and LP member B arrived at those positions via the ideas of Immanuel Kant. You might regard the idea of Badnarik promoting the logic by which he arrived at those positions as potentially embarrassing; some would find a recitation of Atlas Shrugged or Critique of Pure Reason equally so.

  9. A first past the post electoral system will necessarily relegate ANY third party effort to one of ideology and frustration. Repackaging and branding those efforts will never change the fear the average voter feels when they are confronted with the prospect of a lessor of two inevitable evils. Badnarik’s abrasive tone towards anything outside his conception of Liberty hardly registers with the average voter trying to determine how not to waste their vote. He and Cobb both agreed that proportional representation would be one solution. Perhaps a digital plebiscite amongst all registered Libertarians instead of narrow and specific approaches at a limited convention would be a novel way to attract those who consider their vote wasted. The simple arete of a Greek like democracy might inspire rather than lead others to conspire. Less government, more freedom is a simple message, why spoil it rolling around with Rand, Rothbard or Rockwell ?

  10. Libertarians have no chance of winning national elections until they oust the libertarian royalty.

    Elections are not won with a small minority vote. As I see it, you elitist Party members will have to make concessions that will allow more voters to be comfortable within the Party.

    There are some issues that you seem to be inflexible on. I guess you are doomed to wish and dream of the power you want and will never achieve until you attract the votes.

    That is too bad because as a philosophy, libertarianism makes sense. It is analogous to communism as a philosophy, that too is an ideal that seems to open the door to utopia but just seems to be controlled by elitists and has never proven to be workable when applied to humanity.

    How are you going to solve the conundrum? Clean house of the old cronies and be attractive to the voters.

  11. Just so it’s known — Macko is the Libertarian wingnut delegate from NW Ohio who brought the LP disgrace by giving the nominating speech for Jeff Diket ( http://www.politics1.com/libt04a.htm ) at the 2004 LP Convention. Macko is the personification of a Libertarian who spends the utmost time scaring away potential LP members and making the LP look as unappealing as imaginable to the general public.

  12. The difference between the Badnarik position and the Libertarian position is: The Libertarian position is that the income tax should be reduced, for example to zero. The Badnarik position as invoked by Macko is that the income tax _does not exist as a tax_, i.e., you are not required to file.

    These positions are unrelated. If the nonfilers were correct, which they are not, there would be no need for a Libertairan platform plank calling for the reduction of the income tax, because there would be nothing to reduce.

    (The purist Libertarian position of course is that taxation is theft, and therefore all income taxes collected over the past century should be refunded in full with interest.)

  13. George, You are wrong about the Federal Reserve. It is in fact a private institution. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve is a government institution, the governors are appointed. The Federal Reserve system is a collection of private banks that are “locally controlled”. You can’t be a shareholder in the Federal Reserve banks because you do not own a bank in the Federal Reserve system. The Federal Reserve Banks are NOT publicly traded corporations. They are private held by their member banks.

    Boo-ya.

  14. For more info and evidence, check out the Supreme Court case Lewis v. United States. I also recommend Edward Griffins book “Creature from Jekyll Island”, which I haven’t had a chance to read but understand that it is about the creation of the Federal Reserve system.