essays

Oct 1, 1977

The 1977 Libertarian Party National Convention

“To be successful, Rothbard stressed, we need not only undergo what he called the “baptism of intellect,” but the “baptism of will” as well.”

More than 1200 people attended the largest libertarian political gathering of modem times: the Sixth Annual National Convention of the Libertarian Party at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. From Tuesday, July 12, to Sunday, July 17, delegates and alternates from more than thirty states met to exchange ideas, enjoy the give-and-take of political discussion, socialize, and conduct the party’s business: by-laws were modified, the platform was revised, and new national officers were elected to carry further the party’s progress and growth. There were debates over issues of vital importance to libertarians, addresses to the convention by experts and libertarian notables, spirited discussions on the floor of the convention over which programs the party ought to advance, and a lively concern on everyone’s part with the advancement of liberty. There were lectures and seminars on everything from campaign management to community organizing, from the energy crisis to the use of the media, and there were meetings of most libertarian activist groups, including the Young Libertarian Alliance and the Association of Libertarian Feminists. Everywhere were signs of activity and growth, symbolized by the attendance itself: 100 people attended the first LP National Convention in Denver, in 1972; 200 showed up in Cleveland in 1973, followed by 300 in Dallas in 1974,500 in New York in 1975, and 600 in Washington, D.C. in 1976. The attendance of over 1200 at the San Francisco convention was a great leap forward, and the trend promises to continue into the future.

THE WORK BEGINS

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Credentials Committee and the Constitution and By-Laws Committee hammered out their reports to the delegates while the members of the Platform Committee spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday revising and improving the LP platform (LR will consider the platform in depth in a subsequent article).

But for most of those attending, the convention opened shortly after 9:00 a.m. on Thursday with a talk by Timothy Leary on “Terrestrial and Post-Terrestrial Freedom,” which proved to be highly controversial and quickly brought the attention of the San Francisco press to the convention, which attention was sustained until the convention’s close several days later. The former Harvard psychology professor discussed the past and future of human freedom, commenting on future space colonization, his newest field of interest.

The convention’s keynote address was by Murray Rothbard: “Turning Point 1777/1977.” Drawing on the parallels between the American revolution and our own time, Rothbard drew an important lesson: “The American Revolutionaries, our libertarian forefathers, were not only interested in setting forth a glorious set of principles,” he told the audience, “they were also interested in action, in putting these principles into practice in the real world.” To be successful, Rothbard stressed, we need not only undergo what he called the “baptism of intellect,” but the “baptism of will” as well. The leaders in the colonies adopted a policy of appealing to the mass of the colonists in their bid to arouse public opinion against the British; “we libertarians,” he stressed, “are not the spokesmen for any ethnic or economic class; we are the spokesmen for all classes, for all of the public; we strive to see all of these groups united, hand-in-hand, in opposition to the plundering and privileged minority that constitutes the rulers of the State.” The stirring call to arms, drawing on the memories and words of George Mason, Charles Lee and Thomas Paine, brought forth a standing ovation.

As if to stress the relevance of what Rothbard had said to our own time, the keynote address was followed immediately by two talks given concurrently in different rooms: Tony Sullivan, an gay Australian businessman, who told of his harassment by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the U.S. because of his sexual orientation, and Julia Boski,a Soviet emigre, who spoke about repression of liberties in the Soviet Union and her experience in the Russian underground. Seminars on tax resistance, community organizing and other topics of interest to libertarians peppered the afternoon while the first general convention session was held. There were seminars on the laetrile movement, life extension, and a debate on the single land tax proposal between Richard Ebeling, an NYU Ph.D. student in economics and LR contributor, and Terry Newland, a representative of the San Francisco Henry George School. (Henry George was a radical laissez-faire economist and advocate of free trade in the 19th century who was very much a libertarian—except for his advocacy of the “single tax” on land.)

But the two most important seminars Thursday were perhaps those to packed rooms of the young economist David Henderson and of frequent LR contributor Jeff Riggenbach. Dr. Henderson assailed Carter’s energy program, pointing out the myriad of ways in which the government has manipulated the economy to produce the very “energy crisis” which it now decries. Henderson pointed to the free market as the only way of solving problems. Riggenbach gave a long and interesting talk on why libertarians don’t make better use of the media, and concluded that it was because they didn’t understand either the media’s interests or its functioning. The bulk of his talk will appear in a future issue of LR.

More than 1200 people attended the largest libertarian political gathering of modern times

The varied and exciting sessions on Thursday came to a close as many libertarians scattered through San Francisco, to enjoy their host city, while the rest unwound on a specially chartered boat which sailed on a dinner cruise around San Francisco Bay, a cruise that ended in a gigantic party with hundreds of libertarians enjoying themselves with song and convention.

FRIDAY

The first of three convention breakfast talks was given on Friday morning by foreign policy expert and advocate of reduced military commitments, Dr. Earl C. Ravenal. A former Defense Department analyst, Dr. Ravenal is currently professor of American Foreign Policy a+ the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, and a recently-elected member of the Board of Directors of the CATO Institute. An advocate of a non-interventionist foreign policy, Ravenal spoke on “Carter’s Foreign Policy,” and examined certain aspects of the relationship between foreign policy and domestic policy, particularly the relationship between liberty and “national security.” Ravenal showed that there was a certain logic to the repressiveness and deception of the Nixon administration, and that extended foreign policy goals and commitments were incompatible with an “open presidency.” Ambitious foreign policy objectives, he claimed, in a complex world with goals crosscut by constraints, made covert operations—and all the attendant deception and secrecy—a necessary fact of political life. The only way to combat such repressiveness, was to reduce foreign policy commitments to the basic minimum. Carter’s foreign policy, he predicted, would not in the end be much different than that of Nixon, for Carter is trying to achieve the same ambitious foreign policy objectives without adopting the necessarily Nixonian methods. A lively question and answer period followed, with many libertarians pressing Dr. Ravenal further on his innovative approach to foreign policy questions. Libertarians are sure to hear more of him in the future.

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LIBERTARIAN PARTY NATIONAL
CONVENTION

SAN FRANCISCO / JULY 14-17, 1977 
A Resolution

WHEREAS the Libertarian Party condemns the use of government power to promote racial, religious and other forms of discrimination, including those directed against homosexuals and women, and

WHEREAS the Libertarian Party deplores the calculated incitement to hatred against homosexuals which is likely to lead to the use of government power and private violence against them, and

WHEREAS the Libertarian Party recognizes the rights of anti-gays, as well as gays, to pursue their own peaceful life-styles,

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Libertarian Party condemns the efforts of Ms. Anita Bryant and her associates and followers to create a climate of hatred against homosexuals, to continue the present systematic state oppression of gays, and to extend it, for instance by banning homosexual men and women from teaching in the public schools. While we did not, and do not now, support the principle of the Dade County anti-discrimination ordinance—clearly a violation of property rights and freedom of association—we unequivocally denounce the whipping up of anti-homosexual hysteria which is likely to lead to the infringement of the individual rights of homosexuals. We demand that homosexuals be accorded those rights in full and immediately.

—Adopted by the Libertarian Party National Convention, San Francisco, July 17, 1977, on the motion of David Bergland (Calif.), and seconded by Dr. Murray N. Rothbard (Calif.), and by Roger MacBride (Va.), Tonie Nathan (Ore.), and Dr. John Hospers (Calif.).

 

The general session reconvened soon after the breakfast talk, and seminars continued throughout the day as libertarian thinkers and activists exchanged views on such topics as abortion and military justice. One of the highlights of the afternoon was a talk by Prof. John Hospers, professor of Philosophy at USC, 1976 LP candidate for President, and author of the highly acclaimed work Libertarianism. Prof. Hospers gave a moving analysis of “Libertarianism and the Arts,” stressing the power of art to communicate moral and political situations and ideals. Hospers read a few stirring passages from the novels of Alexander Solzhenitsyn to drive home his point. The audience gave Dr. Hospers a warm standing ovation. Hospers’ talk was followed by panels and sessions devoted to involuntary psychiatric treatment, gay liberation, avoidance of government, and the perils of inflation.

Early Friday evening there was a cocktail party for the Libertarian Party’s 1972 and 1976 presidential and vice-presidential candidates emceed by LP founder David Nolan. John Hospers and Tonie Nathan (1972 candidates) and Roger MacBride and David Bergland (1976 standard bearers) all spoke to an informal gathering of libertarians in the garden court of the San Francisco hotel. Luminaries such as Murray Rothbard, Nathaniel Branden, former Senator Eugene McCarthy, former Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, and Dick Randolph, the former Republican who helped Roger MacBride and the LP to gather over six percent of the vote for President in Alaska, mingled with the assembled libertarians.

Later in the evening, Nathaniel Branden spoke to a massive number of libertarians gathered to hear him discuss his personal odyssey “From Objectivism to the Forty-Hour Intensive.” Branden discussed his relationship with Objectivism and Ayn Rand, and told how he had come to his present views and concerns. His Forty-Hour Intensive has ignited the interest of people all over the country, libertarians and non-libertarians alike. Dr. Branden received a warm and enthusiastic reception, and fielded questions long into the night.

The evening ended with a film on taxpayer organizing, and with countless parties.

TO THE BANQUET

The Saturday breakfast talk was given by former State Department staff assistant John Marks. Marks was co-author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, the only book ever legally censored by the U.S. government in advance of publication. He addressed himself to the foreign policy implications of CIA covert operations and to President Carter’s attitude toward the CIA. (During the convention both John Marks and Earl Ravenal held press conferences which were well attended by reporters.)

Several seminars and panel discussions were held on Saturday afternoon, including a seminar on gay rights and a panel discussion on “Women Versus the State: Alternatives to Paternalism,” sponsored by the Association of Libertarian Feminists. While delegates at the general session were debating the merits of various proposed platform amendments, other partisans were attending seminars on election law reform, fund raising and several other issues. In the late afternoon there was a debate on capital punishment.

But the major event of Saturday evening was a banquet featuring speeches by the two most successful “third party” candidates for President in 1976: Eugene McCarthy and Roger MacBride. McCarthy praised libertarians for their opposition to government oppressiveness, and lashed out at the Federal Election Campaign Act. Noting that this piece of “campaign reform” legislation places a straitjacket on independent parties and candidates, McCarthy had his audience of nearly a thousand listeners trying to imagine a Declaration of Independence that read “… we pledge our lives, our sacred honor and up to $1000.”

 

LIBERTARIAN PARTY 
NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

National ChairDavid Bergland (Calif.)
National Vice ChairMary Louise Hanson (Colo.)
National SecretaryGreg Clark (Mich.)
National TreasurerPaul Allen (Wash., D.C.)
National DirectorBob Meier (Wash., D.C.)
Past National ChairEd Crane (Calif.)

Other members (listed alphabetically) include: Jim Blanchard (La.), Roy Childs (N.Y.), Ed Clark (Calif.), Carol Cunningham (Calif.), Nathan Curland (Mass.), Porter Davis (Okla.), Bill Evers (Calif.), Mike Fieschko (N.J.), Eric Garris (Calif.), Bill Howell (Texas), Charles Koch (Kans.), Bernie Losching (Wis.), Steve Mariotti (Mich.), John Mason (Colo.), Tonie Nathan (Ore.), Ben Olson (Ind.), Dick Randolph (Alaska), Murray Rothbard (Calif.), Bill Webster (Calif.), Rick White (Nev.).

 

Roger MacBride followed with a broadside at the “suppression of political ideas in America,” by both the government and the national media. The 1976 LP standard bearer noted that the major parties had loaded the election law to shoot down the independent candidates. MacBride also accused the national news media of being interested solely in personalities rather than ideas. Nonetheless, he pointed out, libertarians have begun to break through to the American people with their ideas and programs, and he pledged to do everything he could to help facilitate that.

THE CONVENTION DRAWS TO A CLOSE

The last of the three breakfast talks was given on Sunday morning by Dr. Ron Paul, former U.S. Congressman from Texas. Dr. Paul spoke on the dilemmas facing libertarian candidates and elected officials working within the system to effect political change.

Back at the general session, delegates were busy electing officers and members of the National Executive Committee. Before the convention adjourned, the delegates adopted a strongly worded resolution on the subject of gay rights—the only national political party to have taken so forthright a stand on behalf of individual rights.

If this year’s convention is any indication, the Libertarian Party has matured greatly over the past few years, and shows signs of making rapid progress in the years to come. Most of those in attendance were serious activists who showed a high degree of sophistication in their approaches to advancing individual liberty. The level of sophistication on issues was greater than any other party on the scene today. A new dimension of earnest political savvy and dedication to reducing coercion in American political life has surfaced. Some of the projects the party has embarked on include serious races on the state and local level (e.g. the upcoming effort for the Governor’s seat in Alaska), and publication of activism kits on key topics, such as energy, local problems, and foreign policy. Also in the works are more active Political Action Committees (PACs), such as the recently-formed Libertarian Health Association headed by Dr. Dallas Cooley.

The new Libertarian Party national chairman David Bergland summed it up when he said that “statism and government coercion have never before been challenged as they are being challenged now. We have the ideas, the resources, the talent, and the enthusiasm. The next few years will be looked back on by historians as a key period in the resurgence of individual liberty in our time.”