The Freeman's Burden:

To defend the principles of human liberty; to educate; to be vigilant against the ever expanding power of the state.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A New Dawn?

As many of you know, there has been a raging battle within libertarian circles about how to slow the drift away from Constitutional principles and personal liberties. I have been engaging in a series of rhetorical running gun battles with the purist wing of the party which seems content to continue to follow the same failed strategy of being there, waiting and ready, when the R's and D's make such a mess of things that everyone in America decides to buy a copy of "Why government Doesn't Work" and start voting Libertarian. I (and others) have argued that we must be relevant now and that means changing the party platform to promote practical libertarian solutions and engaging in realpolitik in a way that the purists find repugnant and corrupting. I ask, what is the point in having principles if one is impotent to advance them? It seems that the LP leadership has found some logic in this argument and has begun to implement a strategy consistent with making the party a player, rather then just a cynical spectator, in the political arena. For this they are to be commended. Below is a letter from Steven Gordon speaking to this point as well as my response. I encourage everyone to visit the LP BLOG and add your own voice to the debate.

Can Purism and Pragmatism Co-exist?
By Stephen Gordon

Can purism and pragmatism co-exist within the Libertarian Party? The question has been debated time and time again.
To begin, it is my belief that one can be simultaneously principled and practical. Contrary to some arguments, being practical does not necessarily involve "selling out." Likewise, being a "purist" does not automatically involve unwillingness to engage in real world politics. It seems that perhaps we are asking the wrong question.
Recent debate over the Iraq Exit Strategy has delivered to us the latest salvos in this never ending rhetorical war. However, I'd like to suggest that a phoenix may rise from the ashes of this particular battleground - a better understanding of ourselves, so we may better utilize our energies by fighting the real enemy.
After lengthy conversations on how best to define various factions within the LP, a friend suggested something to me in an e-mail. He stated that the conflicting sides in this internal conflict are between those who are ideologically driven and those who are politically driven. I believe he may be onto something important.
Recent debate over the exit strategy helped to define the line between the ideologues and those who wish to engage in politics. Lew Rockwell (whom I regard highly) perhaps summed up the ideological side best with, "Is it asking too much that the LP be part of the radical opposition, rather than aspire to be part of the inner circle of power?"
The short answer is "yes - it is too much to ask."
While the article was written about the LP Exit Strategy, I'd like to move beyond that specific issue to illustrate something more important that Rockwell revealed - that he, and many others, do not "get it" with respect to the proper role of the Libertarian Party.
To begin, the LP already is a radical organization, as viewed by most of the world. We also actively engage in activities to become part of the inner circle, as clearly directed in our bylaws: "… moving public policy in a libertarian direction by building a political party that elects Libertarians to public office; chartering affiliate parties throughout the United States and promoting their growth and activities; nominating candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States, and supporting Party and affiliate party candidates for political office; and, entering into public information activities."
The last time I checked, POTUS was still considered a powerful position. We are a political party, which means we must effectively engage in real world politics. Rockwell criticized us for having a "beltway mentality" - a point which Thomas Knapp effectively rebutted with,
"Newsflash: That is how America works now. On any given issue, the self-designated intellectual elites fight an ongoing internal war 'inside the Beltway,' attempting to capture the ears -- and minds -- of a few hundred 'movers and shakers' in government and media."
Even George Phillies, who maintains strong arguments for moving the national headquarters from the DC area, acknowledges that a press office would be required inside the beltway. The reason is obvious - the proximity to the circles of power is important when attempting to influence public opinion.
Rockwell then added, "What we need is not libertarianism with a plan."
It seems that we have been drifting aimlessly for far too many years precisely because we did not have a plan. Every time some sort of plan is introduced, ideologues of one variety or another attack it. As a case-in-point, even the recent LP press release critical of GOP meister-puppeteer Karl Rove is drawing fire on the LP blog.
Party organization requires a plan in order to be effective. Political campaigns crash and burn without proper planning. A comprehensive political strategy is, in effect, a plan. I prefer the rudder of a plan in order to someday actually reach the safe harbor of Liberty.
The Libertarian Party is beginning to engage in real politics in the real world. Like any person or organization which makes bold moves, it will make mistakes and will have failures. With experience comes wisdom - and the missteps should become fewer over time. Additionally, there will be some disagreement with anything the LP does. As libertarians, we don't march in lockstep.
I've got a request for my more ideological friends: Please give the LP the breathing room required to actually engage in the political arena. If you agree with a particular issue, feel free to jump on board. On the issues where you disagree, please don't impede the progress of the party. We will never reach total agreement on any issue - but we cannot continue to let this prevent us from engaging in politics. In most cases of disagreement, we will likely be closely aligned allies in whatever the issue may be - even if we disagree with each other on some nuances. Wouldn't it be preferable for us to fight a common enemy as allies -- as opposed to the current practice of fighting amongst ourselves while the enemy continues to gain ground?
Rockwell and many others do have a very important point to make. It is common for those in power to begin to abuse it. To my friends involved in the business of pragmatic politics, my message is that it is crucial for you to always maintain the ideals which separate the LP from other political parties. Once these important principles are disregarded, we become no better than our political opposition.
There is nothing wrong with being an ideologue - I consider myself one. However, in a conflict between ideology and politics - as a political party, the LP must act in a principled but political manner.
There is clearly room for both ideologues and political players within the libertarian movement. However, for movement to actually move, it is imperative that we work together instead of in opposition to one another.

I am heartened and excited to see the LP leadership giving this internal divide the attention and light of day that it needs and deserves. I don’t think being an absolutist is a necessary condition for being ideological.
Politics IS the art of compromise. To approach politics without a willingness to compromise is like trying to carve a turkey with a wrench, it’s just not the right tool for the job.
So let’s start with the things we all agree on. The government is to big and the nature of the beast is such that its natural tendency is self-perpetuation and growth with the rights of the individual being the most obvious victim of this fact. We are the last line of defense and we all want to be effective in providing that security to our liberties.
The history of the party has been, well, rich with opportunities for improvement. (I just blew all my tactfulness for the entire day in one sentence). I am excited that the leadership is doing things to make us a political force. With their efforts, I have grown more active within the party because it has offered me hope that my efforts will not be merely a futile exercise in self-delusion.
The R’s believe in economic freedom (so the conventional wisdom goes) and the D’s believe in personal freedom (ditto), we believe in both. That is a message that has resonance and is easy to articulate. It does not require a working knowledge of either The Wealth of Nations or For The New Intellectualsshouldn't shouldn’t be controversial within libertarian circles.
The national media has begun to crack open the door to our way of seeing the world. Mentions of libertarianism have become daily staples on FOX and MSNBC, I can’t help but assume that the efforts of the LP to raise our profile has something to do with this. It is up to us to seize this momentum and do something positive with it.
Millions of Americans are disillusioned with their choices and ready for a new message. Are we going to embrace this opportunity or are we going scare all those people who haven’t studied the history of libertarian thought back into the abusive arms of the major parties?
It all starts with a united fdoesn't That doesn’t mean we have too sell out or we can’t disagree on the fine points, but it does mean that we must agree that the purpose of a political party is to obtain and retain political power. Short of that, everything else is academic.


Anonymous Stephen Gordon said...

Thanks for the support, and I generally agree with your sentiments.

I feel compelled to clarify one point, however. I am not part of the established LP leadership, outside of my own state party.

Anything I post on the LP blog is my opinion, and not necessarily the opinion of the LNC or the national office. Often, I am at loggerheads with both of these bodies.

They just tolerate me on their blog, at the moment. Hopefully, some positive change may occur as a result.

5:18 PM  

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