Why the Libertarian Party Continues to Fail

After being immersed in the Libertarian Party at a local level for years, I think I know the reason why the LP has little effect on anything. I was instrumental in the creation of the local Libertarian Party back in 2000 here in Sarasota, FL. I was the “membership director” and I happen to think I did a decent job. I personally funded, organized, and recruited volunteers for Operation Politically Homeless booths at the County Fair, Gun Shows, the Flea Market, Protests, Gay & Lesbian Pridefests, and more.

The reason I was successful at recruiting is because I took the initiative to just *do*. I never asked the LP for money or permission. I only asked the members to volunteer for what I was organizing.

I don’t bother with the Sarasota LP anymore. The meetings are bureaucratic and slow. Why? It’s because of the method of organization. Most LPs are run with “bylaws” in effect as well as the LP’s worshipped “Roberts Rules of Order.” Since I helped found the Sarasota LP, I was part of the bylaws creation process.

I will never be part of that process again! It took weeks of debate to hammer out the bylaws. This is time the group could have spent planning and executing outreach.

In 2005 I founded the Suncoast Free State Project Local Group. The group was totally mine. I administrated the yahoo group. I had the membership list. It was my creation. After gathering a tremendous percentage of the Suncoast area FSP members together, we started doing outreach. (By the way, one of the reasons FSP meeting turnout is so great is because the FSP members are the cream of the crop of Liberty activists.) In 2005 the FSP group easily did more outreach than did the five-year-old LP. In fact, FSP members were the ones running Operation Politically Homeless booths that the LP was paying for!

If you’re a Libertarian and you want to see your party succeed, especially at a local level, you need to decentralize. If the people in your local LP are not up to par, and your meetings are bureaucratic, throw out the bylaws and start your own group.

In short, the Libertarian Party needs competition for itself. Local LPs should be owned by an individual. If you don’t like the way that individual is running his LP, start your own group.

Competition makes everyone better, and that certainly applies to the LP. Stop the centralized decision making. Stop the bureaucracy. Private property and competition are the only things that can save the LP from a future of dreadfully slow, if any progress.

As an aside, and to the LP’s credit, the national LP has taken a step in the right direction by eliminating dues and the Unified Membership Program, which was centralized wealth distribution to the state LPs.

[Ian Bernard is the host of Free Talk Live, an internationally syndicated pro-Liberty radio show airing live six nights a week and on in 13 markets nationwide. The show is also the #1 Political Cultural Podcast in the world.]

28 Comments
  1. It’s funny how much we don’t apply our own principles to our internal politics. We win the war in our backyards first, guys.

    I think that on some level, this is a great idea. There needs to be some sort of LP coordinator for every level of geographic area (city, county, state) but there are active groups that need more support and moribund ones that need to be pruned. I think that having separate-but-affiliated groups accomplishes this much more easily; for example Stephen Gordon is vice chair for the Alabama LP but he’s also president of Alabamians for Compassionate Use, a marijuana-legalization group. And there’s countless other similar organizations out there.

    Chances are that if you lead one of those and are highly successful with it, you have a good shot at being elected the leader of your local LP organization and can change things around.

  2. I’m on my third term as vice chair, and I’ll add that I won’t run for state chair because it would tie me down. As vice chair, I have the relative authority to do almost anything I want without the bureaucratic drag.

    My requests to organizations generally take this form: Follow Me!

  3. I understand the need for order so that people can determine when to NOT talk over you. I am a fairly soft spoken guy myself so I could see the benefit.

    However, from a libertarian perspective I would assume we would ALWAYS conduct our meetings in an open forum…

    Perhaps it is a size issue? We only have 5 people in our “local” branch.

  4. Yes we need competition within. May I suggest that one way to bring this about is for the National LP NEWS to rate the state parties on a few simple points, say five to get started and take a serious look at how those state parties are run. To the best of my knowledge there is little outside analysis of what is going on within. Thus when there are problems they get swept under the rug and when articles are written about what is going on they are too often just self flattering.
    Michael

  5. Part of why I like being a libertarian is people like Ian, who show that we can succeed in spite of the beaurocracy entanglements of the LP. More people should just *do* instead of trying to get LP approval for their ideas.

    Part of what this site exists for is to compete in the dissemination of libertarian opinion and commentary (and campaign news), something that had been sorely been lacking from the LP (and is still rather tepid).

    The result is that we’re well on our way to displacing them and setting the focal agenda ourselves, which they often then tag along with. And frankly, in the free market of ideas this is the most ideal scenario.

  6. I have been in the Libertarian circles for 15 years. I live in a state where there is very little libertarian activity and ballot access is really bad. I’m currently in college and in order to complete my bachelor’s degree I have to complete an internship. The problem is that LPI is so disfunctionaal that I have seperated myself from that organization. I have to rely on that maybe perhaps there is a pro-freedom candidate within the big boys so I can complete my internship. When I orginally joined the LP back in 1991, activism was still very high. I will continue supporting LP candidates across the country.

  7. Chris,

    We we had the tax bill in Alabama, I had just moved to the state and was not active with the party leadership. I went to an EC meeting and told them I was going to spearhead LP efforts to defeat the bill. They could support me or not, and I merely asked them for what tools they could provide that would help.

    Follow me seems to work better than a board room, in my experiences, at least.

  8. I’ll add that HoT (and my LP political campaigns) are other examples of “follow me”.

  9. All – there is hope and it is the Libertarian Party of Indiana.

    The Indiana LP is politically influencial in Indiana because it is focused on electing candidates – and not on bylaws and treatises. We spend very little time on bylaws.

    And we leave treatise writing to CATO, Indiana Policy Review, Heartland, etc. It is far easier to borrow their good ideas then to recreate them ourselves.

  10. Mark,

    We do much the same in Alabama. With von Mises in state, we don’t concern ourselves with treatises. Bylaws generally only come up at comventions (and then only as necessary).

    I still hate board meetings, and avoid them as much as possible. For the three hours spent in such a meeting, I generally could have actually done something that makes the world a freer place.

  11. I have to agree with Ian, and use the Nike slogan “Just do it.”

    Too many libertarians just wait for things to happen, or take orders. You have to make things happen by organizing, planning, and executing events or campaigns.

    I happen to volunteer for the Libertarian Party of Minnesota. Instead of waiting for people, I just created events. I put together a super convention in 2005 with about 6 other libertarians. We used this as a way to advertise the party. This year we will do the same. We are doing a tax rally at the St. Paul capitol on Saturday, April 15th, followed by our convention.

    I also post articles or opinion on non-libertarian message boards, do online advertising (which is now at 2.6 million people), volunteer every Wednesday at our Liberty Center, host monthly Freedom Movies (http://movies.meetup.com/203), help candidates, and more.

    It just takes a little creativity, passion, and effort.

    Just do it.

  12. After the Howard Stern debacle in 1994, the NYLP has not been able to acheive party status. It requires 50K votes. In 2003 a ruling provided that a blank line on the registration form was not a burden to the BOE, so that like minded individuals might somehow organize. My attendance at NYLP functions so far indicate a desire to get a candidate that can acheive 50K. Presumably this is so they can ‘officially’ be on the ballot. They reason that then they will get a bigger party somehow. The reality on the ground is that you can register NOW and not worry to much about the insular club that directs things now. At some point or level a majority will determine matters of policy approach, etc. Get the power first and let the think tanks duke it out after an immediate reduction of any budget by 50%. My little county in upstate NY has doubled its enrollment (from 6 to 12) simply by converting people in other parties. That total exceeds both Queens and the Bronx. That’s ridiculous.

  13. OK, Seth. I put the link in there because I like you so much, and not at all because you have the power to shut the server down on us. :)

  14. Oops, hey Stephen or Steve: edit that post please.

    Should read: tons here in NH! Why _aren’t_ the

    That’ll teach me to comment right after spending 2 days straight at the State House working with the NH Liberty Alliance till I’m dog tired.

  15. Seth,

    Fixed.

    Are y’all having sex with cattle in NH, too? If not, please explain the “doing tons” line.

    I think I’ll stay in ‘bama where we may still date our second cousin but never the livestock. :)

  16. I registered with the board of elections in North Carolina. At first I was registered as a Republican, but after taking a political quiz, I discovered that I was actually a Libertarian. So, I changed my party to LIB and they would not allow that. It has been 3 months and they still have not returned my voter registration card. This is so damn frustrating!

    For some reason the lady on the phone told me that there is no longer a Libertarian party in North Carolina. Does anyone know of a petition that I can sign to fight for the libertarian party? Thanks.

  17. David,

    I passed your message on to the Executive Director of the North Carolina Libertarian Party. His name is Sean Haugh.

    I’m sure he will be in touch with you on this issue.

  18. Canjo: Yes, that’s correct
    except that it’s beside the point…

    1) Very few FSPers had moved to NH yet in 2004.
    2) Paid collectors collecting _Nader_ and _Badnarik_ signatures together (and getting sigs from people for both) violated NH Ballot Access laws which when challenged by Democrats, were invalidated. This was not the local LPs people’s fault, but caused by outsiders who didn’t understand the law hiring more outsiders to ‘help out’.

    Rest assured, far more good is happening in NH than ballot access issues.

  19. “Why the Libertarian Party Continues to Fail”

    Because it uses bylaws? Gimmee a break.

    First of all, I challenge the premise of the title. Here in Pennsylvania we just elected 26 Libertarians to local offices. The LPPa is basically a bottom up organization where local chapters pick their own candidates, do their own fundraising etc. Our state party is mostly concerned with ballot access, dealing with the Department of State, facilitating new chapter formation, communications, convention planning, etc. Even decentralists can benefit from an economy of scale from time to time.

    I hate Robert’s Rules too (almost as much as I hate whiners and babies), thats why I prefer to run for office and volunteer for special projects, rather than serve as an officer. The campaigns are where all the fun is.

  20. “Just do it” has been my personal philosophy for years in Libertarian stuff. I don’t worry about what national is doing. I focus on Vermont. I’ve run outreach booths by myself for a week straight. The problem with the “just do it” is that after a while you get burned out if others don’t join in to help. We have a great crop of libertarians in Vermont now, and they are taking the personal initiative to work on projects without hand holding from the state or national parties. Seeing other Libertarians active creates more energy and reduces the burn out effect.

    We recently started our own funding raising project in Vermont and raised almost $10k. So, best of luck on your 10k goal.

    Vermont’s goal is to elect Libertarians to the State House in Vermont in 2006. This is an achievable goal in Vermont. All it takes is focusing energy, money and resources on the project. $5k funds one state house race. Our goal is to fund and run 10 races. http://www.vtlp.org/

    – Hardy

  21. This might also be entitled ” Why the LP Florida works.” It has an open statewide action group process called “IMP Teams” and also encourages people to form local clubs parallel to LP action. Ian benefited from this process and ethic. However, not everyone takes the time to understand what is already there or why things are set the way they are.

    The LP has always been a bottom up party encouraging solo action. Many people often think nothing is happening because they expect top down structures and ‘national must do something’ and in due course rediscover the wheel.