The Libertarian Party: Cause for Hope or Trojan Horse?
A roundtable on ideals and tactics.
Three Views: Jim Toole, Samuel Edward Konkin III, and Edward H. Crane III
Jim Toole is State Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida.
The Libertarian Party: Cause for Hope or Trojan Horse ?
Three Views: Jim Toole, Samuel Edward Konkin III, and Edward H. Crane III
Reflections on a Convention By Jim Toole
A funny thing happened to the Libertarian Party on the way to credibility as an alternative to the trend to complete collectivism. Remember the 1972 LP platform? I remember it fondly, for it (along with the magnificent statement of principles) was the primary reason that I joined the LP and worked for the formation of the Florida affiliate in 1973. Remember the references to capitalism, limited government and its legitimate functions, and the concept of the United States as a country strong in its resolve to protect individual rights from domestic criminals and from foreign aggressors?
You will no longer find the word capitalism in official LP literature—it has been replaced since 1974 by the nebulous term “free market,” which apparently is preferred because it does not arouse negative emotions and, perhaps, because it is more difficult to define.
The former ideal of limited government has become a “nonconcept” in the 1975 platform. Quite simply, those of us who advocate limited government are no longer in the “mainstream” of the LP as represented by the 1975 platform; our ideal of a government existing only for the protection of individual rights is not given any recognition or standing in the official literature of the Libertarian Party. Perhaps without our realizing it, the black flag of anarchy has been unfurled as the standard for all of us.
The 1975 plank on unionism completely ignores the major problem in labor relations—that of the initiation of force or coercion by unions or companies, usually with the acquiescence of government. The property rights plank contains balm for all libertarians who carry a burden of guilt about their ancestor’s treatment of the Indians. But guilt is not inheritable; whatever should be done to bring Indians to full equality of opportunity should not be done at the expense of innocent individuals who own property in what was once almost unpopulated wilderness.
Concerning the Middle East, if there is any need at all for an LP position, it seems to me that it ought to reject intervention with troops while expressing the moral stance that it is in the best interests of mankind that the people of Israel continue to exist and that it is both right and proper for us to support Israel by selling her arms. For the LP to advocate (in essence) “moral neutrality” is to abandon any concern with justice in the affairs of other peoples.
Most libertarians are deeply concerned about the revelations of misdeeds perpetrated by government agencies such as the IRS, CIA, and the FBI. The new LP plank on internal security advocates abolishing all federal secret police agencies, specifically the CIA and the FBI. To advocate both protection of individual rights and abolishment of the FBI is, to some extent, contradictory. In various violations of individual rights such as kidnapping and terrorism the FBI has been the most effective single example of a legitimate function of government. Also, the FBI has a seldom matched history of competence in civil rights cases.
The platform section on justice makes some good points concerning restitution to victims, but leaves unanswered the questions of appropriate punishment for really serious crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, et cetera, where restitution would make little sense. One must be grateful that this plank does not elaborate on some of the bizarre ideas about justice that are being espoused currently by some libertarians, both in and outside the LP. There is one convention experience that I’ll never forget: I asked one of the candidates a question about justice. “What would be your idea of appropriate justice for, say, Richard Speck (the Chicago mass‐murderer)?” The candidate answered, “Exile him.” If this is representative of any significant body of libertarian thought, a self‐destructive move away from rationality has taken hold in the Libertarian Party.
The most serious difference between the LP that I joined enthusiastically in 1973 and the LP of today is reflected in the attitude toward relations with other governments. Many of the delegates seemed incredibly naive with respect to Russia and China, apparently accepting on faith that these dictatorships will live at peace with the other peoples of the world on other than Communist terms. If history proves anything, it is that Communist states cannot refrain from initiating force against individuals simply because they cannot bear comparison with other even slightly freer societies. They must erect walls, encourage terrorism in other countries, inhibit out‐migration, and repress their own peoples to continue to exist. Many LP delegates at New York seemed to lump the United States into the same category with the USSR and China, ignoring the hierarchy of evil in today’s world. There are many things we want to change about the U.S., but freedom here could deteriorate at the present rate for decades before reaching the sickening level of repression existing today in collectivist states. Only at the UN (and the LP convention in New York) are these realities blanked out.
Is the Libertarian Party a serious political movement presenting rational alternatives to the collectivist totalitarianism that the future surely holds if the trend is not changed? In 1973 I had no doubt of that; in 1975 I am afraid that the LP has virtually voided its claim to honest consideration by serious people of good will. Many of the people at the convention were no longer interested in presenting alternatives in a principled but persuasive manner. The rhetoric was reminiscent of the intellectual snobbery of the New Left in the late 1960s. As it finds its way into the official objectives and ideals of the LP, I think we will find ourselves speaking to an ever‐smaller group of Americans whose views of reality are at best distorted and at worst pathological. We cannot secure our rights by advocating positions acceptable only in the fringe represented by the Manson Family and the SLA.
Where do we go from here? It is my hope that the future will bring attempts to open minds, rather than to close them, while advocating the sound libertarian principles espoused by the 1972 LP platform without regard to either Left or Right.
Invaders from the State By Samuel Edward Konkin III
Samuel Edward Konkin III is creator and editor of New Libertarian Weekly. He has been an active member of four political parties—including the LP—in Canada and the United States.
The Libertarian Party is the vehicle of an invasion from the State into the ranks of the libertarian movement. Its defenders, true to the State’s need for mysticism and contradiction, cry the LP is the practical strategy for obtaining the free society; failing that, it is another tactic, to be tried and tested with other tactics; failing that, it is an educational tool, to lure converts as a step to hardcore counter‐economic activism.
The LP is None of the Above. It is a vicious instrument of the State. For libertarians, it is immoral, impractical, uneconomic, strategically unsound, and praxeologically debilitating.
The foundation of statism is deliberate mysticism, calculated to gain the acquiescence of the oppressed or “the sanction of the victim.” In order; to obtain this “authority,” or legitimization of immoral actions, it creates meaningless forms to bedazzle the masses—big juju! Such was the divine rule of kings, such was nationalism, such were the emperors and czars restoring the dead glory of Rome. Such, too, is the game of democracy. The rule is to withhold violence but jockey for the use of acceptable, legitimized violence. Those who disputed over the reins of power were called, in Hanoverian England, parties to the dispute.
A political party, then, is a collective whose overriding purpose and reason for being is to seize control of the State for plunder and coercion for its cause. (Restraint of short‐term plunder—liberalism—is one possibility.) All claims to the contrary are buncombe and cant.
A “Libertarian Party” is a pure contradiction—if libertarian means anticoercion and thus anti‐State. Those who openly join it proclaim their allegiance to a “secret gang of murderers and thieves”—dropping the secrecy. And so proclaim themselves immoral.
Most North Americans have an inarticulate understanding that politics is a nauseating power grab. Five out of every eight eligible rejected their vote in 1974, preferring not to soil themselves in the game. These people respond positively to an image of libertarianism as a vehicle to a Society Without Politics, and they get confused by and hostile to urgings to register and vote for a position that believes in neither registration nor voting.
Moreover, many voters are browbeaten and intimidated into voting by State‐enforced propaganda laying unwarranted guilt trips on the reluctant voter. The same pleas as justify conscription are heard: “Duty! Honor! Country! Save Democracy!” An attack upon this cant relieves such people and causes them to look favorably on the movement not requiring such petty self‐sacrifice.
The LP turns away the vast majority hungering for a consistent libertarian position. It is thus an exceedingly potent, practical weapon—for the State!
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted by libertarians who donate time and treasure to the bloated coffers of the LP. Not even Nelson Rockefeller could afford the lavish $6.50 per vote squandered by the Tuccille for Governor Campaign of New York’s Free Libertarian Party in 1974. And Rockefeller hires his campaign workers.
As a shining example of market efficiency, the Libertarian Party is a great argument for bureaucracy.
The last stand of LP defenders is to claim that at least politicians can use the party as a stepping stone outward. But in fact, the LP obtains such people only as they see the party approaching power. The professional Machiavellians do not care to whom their allegiance is due, only who can pay off.
Nearly all the ranks of the LP are made up of idealists unaware of alternative activist opportunities, and the vast majority of new converts would not vote if the LP did not snow them into it. The turnover is large (nearly 50 percent a year in New York, for example) and most of the ex‐members “Browne‐Out,” rejecting politics and often more fruitful forms of activism.
Thus the LP either remystifies the statist process or neutralizes the State’s opponents. Again, a most winning strategy—for the State.
Recent researches reviewed in Laissez Faire Review, Libertarian Forum, and Libertarian Review have pointed out the psychological necessity of conditioning submissive responses to authority as a prerequisite to power holding sway. The LP teaches the “libertarian” to submit his will to the collective and execute decisions he opposes for the “will of the majority” and the “good of the party.” Parliamentary procedure teaches him frustration, wheel‐spinning, and abandonment of market‐organization. Backroom deals, backstabbing, and power blocs teach him survival—in a State. None of the party activities are calculated to reward initiative, individualism, or risk for profit. And the LP needs a monopoly, for if it is to win—the overriding necessity—it cannot tolerate a split. Thus is collectivism reborn.
And thus, when all is summed, would the State remain triumphant should the party thrive. Already the LP discards its idealists for the Machiavellian hacks in its leadership, in preparation for its role. The Libertarian Party stands five‐fold condemned as an invader from the State, a Trojan Horse, a Saruman, a Judas.
Until we free ourselves, we cannot preach the freeing of others without rightfully gaining their mocking laughter.
The Libertarian Party must go—now!
The Libertarian Party: A Cause for Hope By Edward H. Crane III
Edward H. Crane III is National Chairman of the Libertarian Party. He was first elected national chairman in 1974 and was reelected at the LP national convention last summer.
In June of 1972 approximately 90 individuals from thirteen states gathered in Denver, Colorado, for the founding convention of the Libertarian Party. I was privileged to be one of those in attendance at that meeting as well as at the three subsequent national LP conventions in Cleveland, Dallas, and New York. During its four years of existence I have observed first hand the emergence of the Libertarian Party from the obscurity of living room bull sessions into a full‐fledged political movement that, I believe, stands poised to reverse the 200‐year trend toward statism in America.
The nature of the evolution of the Libertarian Party has surprised me and, I suspect, most libertarians who were aware of that initial meeting in Denver. To begin with, I’m sure few of us anticipated that the LP would by 1976 be organized in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, possessing an excellent chance of becoming the third most popular political party in the nation in the presidential election of this year. Perhaps more surprising to many is the fact that the LP has achieved this success without compromising its principles one iota. We have, in fact, become more “hardcore” in espousing the libertarian philosophy as the years have passed.
But the libertarian movement is a wonderfully diverse phenomenon and it was not unexpected that from its formation to the present the Libertarian Party would have its detractors within as well as outside the movement. In my view, the percentage of libertarians who disapprove of or criticize the LP has steadily declined as the party has continued to grow. Increasingly, the criticism comes from liberals and conservatives who are gradually awakening to the realization that we pose a real threat to their precarious status quo. Our concern here, however, is with two members of the movement who (to demonstrate how really diverse we are) choose to criticize the LP from widely divergent points of view.
I shall speak first to Mr. Konkin’s subtle disparagements. In a way, I regret that Mr. Konkin makes so many clearly irresponsible statements, because I strongly believe that the nonvoter, antipolitics element of the multi‐faceted libertarian movement is important.
We who are working within the LP recognize that the battle for freedom in our time is a battle of ideas. We also recognize that most Americans rarely concern themselves with abstract ideas, with what might even remotely be termed philosophy except during political campaigns. As the state continues its ominous growth it would be absurd for us to ignore what is far and away the most effective means to publicize libertarianism. It would be even more absurd for us to turn down opportunity (when it arrives in the not too distant future) to assume political office and begin dismantling government from within.
And in the sphere of publicizing the libertarian philosophy the LP has been more successful than any libertarian organization in modern history. Mr. Konkin blinds himself to the fact that millions of people have been exposed to libertarianism because of the LP. Each of the thousands of inquiries we receive at national headquarters due to our television, radio, and newspaper coverage is responded to with, in addition to party information, an extensive reading list of a wide range of libertarian authors. Although they continue to grow in number at a rate slower than that of LP members, I’m sure the ranks of the nonvoters and “Browne‐Outs” have increased in greater numbers due to the dissemination of this literature than they ever have from the efforts of Mr. Konkin and his ilk.
Mr. Konkin is further confused about the difference between a governmental unit and a voluntary association such as the Libertarian Party. He seems to prefer an atomistic society where everyone can grow their very own counter‐economy beans to one in which individuals associate to accomplish goals through a division of labor. The LP coerces no one and accomplishes much precisely because we have pooled our limited resources in order to fight the state.
The naivete expressed in the implied opinion that the tens of thousands of dollars spent by the LP (to gain literally millions of dollars of publicity for the cause of liberty) could have been better spent financing counter‐economic businesses is self evident. Lastly, Mr. Konkin’s accusation that members of the LP are “immoral” for using the political process to roll back the state is analogous to condemning a surgeon for using a scalpel to remove a tumor.
Of more concern to me are the comments of Mr. Toole, whom I respect and who has done an outstanding job of organizing the Libertarian Party in Florida. I remember that at the first LP convention in Denver anarchists and limited government advocates were so suspicious of each other the first couple of days that they not only hardly spoke to one another, they even sat in different sections of the convention floor. By the end of the convention, however, there had developed a genuine if somewhat grudging spirit of cooperation between the two factions. It was at the 1974 convention in Dallas, when platform debate carried on into the early morning hours, that an implicit understanding between the limited government and anarchists camps was clearly developed.
That understanding, in recognition of the rich heritage libertarianism draws on from both schools of thought, was that the LP platform would not contain planks that were explicitly unacceptable to either side. As a result of this attitude, the 1974 platform was a marked improvement over the 1972 version and, in my view, the 1976 platform is considerably superior to either of the previous two.
Space does not allow me to discuss in detail the virtues of the new LP platform, and I recommend that interested persons send 25 cents to national headquarters to receive a copy and make their own judgments. I will comment briefly, however on some of Mr. Toole’s objections. As a limited‐government libertarian, I find nothing in the 1976 platform inconsistent with my point of view. Mr. Toole’s point about unionism is quite simply in error; the platform recognizes the right of an employer to refuse to bargain collectively, and it calls for the repeal of the National Labor Relations Act. Ditto for his comments on the property rights plank. Nowhere in that plank is there any mention of giving land back to Indians, although to do so in government‐run “reservations” would certainly not be unlibertarian.
Mr. Toole’s comments concerning the Middle East are not consistent with the noninterventionism inherent in libertarian foreign policy. Quite aside from the legitimacy of Israel’s existence in the Middle East (a proposition that is certainly debatable) the point is that it is not government’s function to take a “moral stance” with regard to the “best interests of mankind.” The last time the U.S. government did that 50,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam.
As a last point, I would further argue that the FBI is nothing more nor less than a national police force. The United States needs a national police force like Germany needed the Gestapo. And if the time it took to apprehend Patty Hearst is any indication, then we’d be far better off contracting with private firms to solve kidnappings than dealing with the late Mr. Hoover’s bureaucracy.
The Libertarian Party has, in fact, been a surprising, delightful, and smashing success in its brief history. It has become the rallying point through which the divergent elements of the libertarian movement can effectively direct their efforts to create a truly free society. I urge all LR readers who have not yet done so to join us during this 200th anniversary of the first libertarian revolution.