“All those libertarians seem to care about is pot”

16. March 2009

Lately I’ve come across an interesting pattern of remarks by conservatives relating some past encounter they’ve had with Libertarian Party activists. The complaint runs along the lines of “all they seem to care about is pot,” or “all they seem to care about is legalizing drugs.”

Which strikes me as a bit odd because I’ve never been to a public gathering of libertarians where marijuana or drugs has been the principal focus of interest, to the exclusion of all else. Yes, libertarians are opposed to drug prohibition. Some libertarians also happen to be recreational users but most whom I’ve met are not (unless you count caffeine and alcohol).

But the libertarian argument against drug prohibition is not, “I like to use drugs and don’t want to go to jail for it.” That’s hardly different from saying “I like to rob banks and don’t want to go to jail for it,” or “I like to molest children and don’t want to go to jail for it.” It’s a ridiculous argument.

There are four principal libertarian arguments against drug prohibition: 1) Moral argument 1: It violates an individual’s right to control his body, provided he is not harming someone else. 2) Moral argument 2: Prohibiting possession or sale of a substance is a violation of private property rights. 3) Practical argument 1: Prohibition raises the prices of the prohibited substances which creates a windfall for violent criminals willing to risk jail, or willing to kill to avoid jail, and leads users to commit burglaries and robberies to finance their habits. 4) Practical argument 2: Prohibition of peaceful activities leads to corruption of law enforcement and a breakdown of legal protections against violations of privacy (4th Amendment) due process (via civil asset forfeiture and no-knock warrants) and gun rights (black-market-related violence leads to public demand for more gun control).

Conservatives will dismiss these arguments in favor of one they think trumps everything: government has an obligation or duty to uphold public health and morals, therefore it has a duty to prohibit the use of intoxicating or mind-altering substances because these things are unhealthy and immoral. (Immoral because they induce irresponsible behavior.) So as to prevent a general social collapse.

My point here is not to debate the topic of whether prohibition is good policy, but to examine this frequent reaction conservatives seem to have when dealing with libertarians. So far, I haven’t had the direct experience of sitting in on one of these meetings which are later characterized as “just about drugs,” but I have a theory about this I wanted to share.

What I think goes on is, when conservatives meet with libertarians, they tend to spend very little time discussing the things they agree on — free market is good, gun prohibition is bad — and focus on things they disagree on. And the biggest areas of disagreement tend to be drug prohibition, and foreign policy.

However, most libertarians, especially the sort of neophytes who tend to populate the Libertarian Party, are not strong on foreign policy. What I mean by that is, they tend not to be particularly well-informed, and either can’t hold their own in a protracted discussion on the matter, or in some cases tend to agree with conservatives that the United States should dominate the world and spread “freedom” everywhere.

So that leaves drug (and sometimes other vice) prohibition, where the background information is relatively simple to learn and the arguments easy to master. And so the conservatives and libertarians go round and round on the topic, each side usually arguing past the other, usually because they are each proceeding from different premises.

And the conservatives come away remembering the encounter as being mostly an argument about drugs. And both camps are frustrated because conservatives can’t understand why libertarians think prohibition is so awful, and libertarians can’t understand why conservatives don’t apply the same principles to personal vices as they apply to running a business.

Is there a way to work around this gap in cognition? I wish I knew. If libertarians strongly desire to work with conservatives on some matter of mutual interest, it may behoove them to focus on areas of agreement, and if the matter of drugs come up, state their position simply and clearly but avoid getting drawn into lengthy debates which are unlikely to be resolved. Agree to disagree and move on.

And remember that even if an ad-hoc alliance with either conservatives or progressives offers some tactical advantages, libertarians are not likely to argue them out of being conservatives or progressives. Like some smart fellow I know says, “You can’t argue someone out of a position he was never argued into.”

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So how come we’re not free yet?

21. December 2008

Last week Lew Rockwell hosted Libertarian Party co-founder David Nolan on his regular podcast, in which the two discussed at length “what has happened to the Libertarian Party.” Or more to the point, why it seems to have gone off the rails, and why has the world gotten more statist despite all the blood, sweat and tears invested in reversing that trend.

Nolan’s remarks have been reverberating around the libertarian blogosphere and via mailing lists in the days since, and were passed on by long-time LP activist Richard Boddie. One responder opined that it was unfair to blame the LP for this failure, but the fault lies instead with a “failure of people to want freedom.” Which to me sort of begs the question.

I began what was to be a two-paragraph response which quickly telescoped into a full-blown essay, which took me a few hours to get down, and with that sort of time investment, I figured I might as well post it to my blog as well. Herewith, with some minor edits for style:

In much the same way as declaring property is owned by everybody, really makes that property owned by nobody, spreading the blame for failure around to everybody is pretty much the same as blaming nobody.

But rather than assign blame for our current situation either to particular libertarians, or to libertarians generally, it might be more constructive to examine the strategies and strategic philosophies that were pursued, and consider whether or not they were helpful.

It might also be useful to compare the success or failure of the libertarian movement with that of another popular movement which developed at the roughly same time — environmentalism.

When the Libertarian Party was formed in 1971, its founders had no plans for actually electing people to office. The LP was intended to be an educational vehicle for promoting libertarian ideas during electoral campaigns, when, it is assumed, more people are more interested in political discussions.

It was assumed that as LP candidates explained our philosophy in public fora and media, a much larger portion of the public would embrace it and then candidates for the major parties would begin adopting our positions, moving us incrementally towards greater liberty.

In the half-decade following that founding, the movement quickly coalesced around the Party, with only a few anti-electoral hold-outs such as Samuel Edward Konkin III, Carl Watner, and Wendy McElroy. Murray Rothbard was originally skeptical but came around by the ’76 election cycle. The Party thus became the primary organizational engine of the movement, and its Platform Committees became the movement mullahs who defined the parameters of what “libertarianism” means.

In contrast, environmentalists did not form a political party at this early stage. They formed study groups to develop and popularize their ideas, and membership-based advocacy groups which began to lobby Congress and state legislatures. They also established relationships with opinion-makers in the news media and academia, as well as media celebrities. They wrote books and began to script movies.

Various disparate strains of “environmentalism” quickly developed, ranging from a “don’t soil your own bed” pragmatic view through a crypto-marxoid, anti-capitalist stance all the way to a “humans are a cancer” attitude. Disagreements were vehement, but each camp was able form its own organizational base, from which the different blocs could either forge ad hoc alliances or do their own thing, which was mostly public outreach and education.

To be fair, the LP was never the only libertarian game in town. We had Society for Individual Liberty, we had FEE, we had The Institute for Humane Studies, we had Reason Magazine. But the LP was so much larger than any of these it became the public face of the movement.

Libertarians also had their factional splits, largely between the radical anarchists and the limited-statists, who quickly adopted the sobriquet “minarchist.” But rather than form separate organizational bases, they remained together under the Party rubric and in 1975 formed “The Dallas Accord” in which the slightly more-numerous minarchists agreed not to purge the anarchists and the anarchists agreed not to advocate abolishing the state in Party political campaigns.

So the inwardly-anarchist, outwardly-minarchist LP continued to grow and attract various people to its limited-statist message. The anarchists told one another not to worry, once we bring people in we’ll “educate” them in the sublime wonders of pure libertarianism and transform them into proper anarchists, or at least, radicalized minarchists.

But already by the close of the 1970s another transformation was taking place, unforeseen. Whereas the founders saw the LP as an educational vehicle, the new recruits viewed the Party as they do any other political party — as a vehicle for electing candidates to office who would then implement desired policy changes. Furthermore, less and less ideological “education” was going on at LP meetings and conventions, and a great deal more focus was on the nuts and bolts of election campaigns, from ballot-access and finance laws to “how to appeal to Miss Grundy.”

The 1980 Presidential campaign, fueled by Koch money, almost quintupled the 1976 vote total, and the Party seemed to be on the track to success. Through the early 1980s, so many of us were high on the prospect of real electoral triumph. As a Texas LP activist in those days I remember predicting to media in 1983 that we’d be winning Congressional races in the next decade and maybe even the White House in 2000.

Then 1984 happened.

The LP nominated California attorney and well-established Party activist David Bergland, who ran a campaign hitting on the same themes as his predecessor, but polled barely more than a quarter of the 1980 vote. Disappointment was blunted somewhat by a smattering of local electoral successes — to small-town city councils, rural county-commissions, suburban water-management districts, and such-like. The LP managed to elect Andre Marrou to the Alaska state assembly in 1985. Marrou lost his re-election bid in 1987 but became the LP’s VP running-mate to its first Republican crossover Presidential nominee, Ron Paul, in 1988.

Paul’s vote total almost doubled Bergland’s but it became clear by that point that the Party had fallen far off the path of “liberty in our time.” Some long-time activists and donors began dropping out (or as in my case, going on “sabbatical” to focus on developing a career far removed from politics). And in our place, a new breed of activist took our place — people less interested in the grand vision of pure liberty and more inspired by the forms and functions of governance.

And as for the hope that mainstream party candidates would adopt libertarian positions? Well, there was Ron Paul’s election to Congress in 1976, a fairly spectacular victory in itself. But one that has not been replicated elsewhere. Ronald Reagan ran on vaguely libertarian themes and was elected President in 1980, even claiming in a Reason Magazine interview that “the heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” But once in the White House, aside from reducing some taxes and de-regulating oil prices, Reagan’s mantra became “politics is the art of the possible” and the only possibility was business-as-usual.

The enviros, meanwhile, continued their poly-centric activities. By not running candidates for office, they avoided the cycle of heightened expectations followed by brutal disappointment which has enervated so many Libertarians. And perhaps also, has discouraged prospective recruits from joining the LP bandwagon.

By the mid-1990s, environmentalism as a general idea had achieved virtual mainstream status. Homeowners cheerfully joined the recycling movement, either hauling newspapers, cans and boxes to neighborhood centers, or dividing their refuse into various color-coded curbside bins. Anti-animal cruelty laws were strengthened and the SPCA practically became a branch of state and county governments.

When the first American Green Party formed in 1996, it seemed more like an afterthought, and has since functioned more as a dumping ground for disaffected socialist ex-Democrats than the movement’s driving force.

At the same time, LP activists seemed to be splitting their energies evenly between interminable ballot access campaigns, and squabbling amongst themselves over the direction of the Party. “Pragmatists” squared off against “purists” in endless arguments at party meetings, on platform committees, and on the rapidly-expanding Internet.

And at the National level, the LP National Committee clearly ceased being a neutral facilitator for party activists and by 1996 (or perhaps earlier) had become a faction of its own, enabling the nomination of its preferred Presidential candidates. When the Arizona LP split in 2000 over the issue of government campaign financing, the NatCom interceded in favor of the “pragmatists” who wanted tax subsidies, and the long-time “purists” suddenly found themselves politically homeless.

These and other problems began driving away an increasing number of “purist” activists (myself included), and the party became ever more focused on governance and ever less on philosophical principle.

Several score, local activists manage to win election to local offices in each cycle, in smallish constituencies where party affiliation means a great deal less than the personality of the candidates. Some office-holders flame out in 2 to 4 years. Others manage to hang in there year after year, serving as in-house gadflies, annoying local power brokers, sometimes holding down taxes or stopping regulatory excesses here and there. But like Ron Paul in Congress, they can do little besides stand athwart a growing tide of enslavement.

In the bigger picture, and on the larger scene, the libertarian movement seemingly may as well have never existed. The police state is metastasizing. The failure of Republican-led monetarism and faux “deregulation” is being laid at the feet of libertarian “laissez-faire.” Because Libertarians were too busy with internecine quarrels, and perhaps also too seduced by the power Republicans wielded, to effectively call out the Republicans on their phony rhetoric, when it might have done some good.

And the LP National Committee, as David Nolan has observed, has fallen prey to a tendency all institutions have, in which the original mission of the organization becomes subordinate to the continued thriving of that institution for its own sake. In 2000 and 2004, their institutional self-interest led them to ensure the nomination of Harry Browne, an investment advisor with fairly extensive funding connections. In 2008, that same interest led them to support the second Republican crossover candidate, the near-beer-”libertarian” Bob Barr, who promised to raise a campaign war-chest of at least $20 million.

Meanwhile, environmentalism has become the new civic religion, without a single significant electoral victory by the Green Party, but instead through a far greater victory over the hearts and minds of Americans.

Because, what most libertarians have failed to grasp is, to paraphrase Reagan: Politics is the problem, not the solution.

The Libertarian Party seemed like a good idea at the time. Electioneering is a game that anyone could join in, and offers the entertainment value of horse-races which stir the blood and stimulate fund-raising. But _as a strategy_ it clearly has done nothing, or almost nothing, towards achieving a libertarian society. It hasn’t even halted the advance of statism. Possibly, it has slowed it up just a little bit, enough so that as we grow old and die off we can shrug and pass the mess on to our children and grandchildren.

But that wasn’t what I signed on for back in 1978, and I don’t think it’s what the rest of us hoped for either.

A political party, clearly in retrospect, is not an educational organization. A party is for mobilizing existing support for a set of policy positions and social values, and electing people to office who will implement policies in support of those values. This has been the position of the “pragmatists,” and on this point they are correct. But without sufficient popular support for those policies and values, a political party must fail.

Our strategic failure, as a movement, is that we have put the cart before the horse. At the early stages and also in the present stage, before we can make any real headway we need to persuade enough of our neighbors as to the virtue of our beliefs, that they will join us in resisting statism. It need not be a majority, but it has to be a great deal more than the one or two percent who consistently vote for LP candidates.

And to achieve that we need to work in other areas. We can support the growing number of academic organizations like IHS and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which promote free-market scholarly studies. We can support educational-outreach groups like the Future of Freedom Foundation, which presents seminars to the public and op-ed articles to newspapers. We can support journalists, pundits and bloggers like Alan Bock or Vin Suprynowicz or Brad Spangler or Tom Knapp or Wendy McElroy (still purist after all these years), or pop-philosophers like Stefan Molyneaux. We can support libertarians working in popular culture (here, I only know of a handful of novelists, and maybe five cartoonists besides myself — we desperately need more musicians and film makers).

Finally, we need a membership-based organization, one that stays clear of electoral politics but promotes the ideals of liberty in a way that can include all the rest of us without special scholarly or fine-arts skills, bringing the ideals of liberty into every neighborhood. Advocates for Self-Government has done work in this direction, but seems to have limited vision. Maybe we need three or four organizations like it, partly to provide suitable homes for the different factions and partly to provide an energizing competitive environment.

And once we get that critical mass of popular libertarianism, then just maybe it will be time for a new Libertarian Party. Or better yet, maybe it won’t be necessary after all.

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Well, now I know I’m famous

4. November 2008

Spike, the Midewest’s rising webcomics star, has included a cameo of Yours Truly in her strip. Actually I’m one of five or six web cartoonists who volunteered to appear in this Bowrey-type scene. See if you can figure out which one is me.

In her blog she lists me and her other volunteer victims, although for some reason she links me name to this woefully-under-updated blog, when I’d rather people were going to look at Odysseus The Rebel or Escape From Terra. Well, can’t have everything, and I do appreciate the thought.

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Have you voted yet?

2. November 2008

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Cutting and running

1. October 2008

A friend of mine is thinking of migrating to Uruguay. I read a few articles about it and I can sort of see the attraction. Stable government by South American standards, almost as far away as you can get from the U.S. and still be in this hemisphere, and the people are mostly of European descent, which is good if you’re a white United Statesean wanting to blend in and be inconspicuous.

I gotta admit, between the weird goings on with the U.S. banking system and the de-facto repeal of the Posse Commitatus Act, I’ve been entertaining thoughts of expatriation myself. Don’t know where I’d go that would be safer, though. Uncle Sam has a long fucking reach. And I would absolutely have to have access to broad-band Internet.

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Happy Jewish New Year

1. October 2008

I’m not Jewish, but I’m thinking of making a New Year’s resolution and Hebrew Year 5769 has come along at a convenient time.

My resolution is to quit posting so much to WhiteChapel and post more here instead. Let’s see if I can actually do this.

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25. September 2008

I’m expanding my comics efforts to include scripting as well as drawing. Today, Big Head Press is launching our latest feature, ESCAPE FROM TERRA. This is a 5-days-weekly, sci-fi adventure web-comic co-written by Sandy Sandfort and myself, with art by LEE OAKS! (That’s how he wants to have his name styled, all caps with an exclamation point.)

Our promotion keys off of two principal characters, Guy Caillard and Fiorella Stellina, two intrepid agents of the United World Revenue Service, in the late 21st Century. The promotional copy is a bit tongue-in-cheek, written from the perspective of the characters, who see their duty in bringing the wild miners of the Asteroid Belt to heel and collecting a “fair share” of their wealth for humanity.

Of course, anyone who knows me, or Sandy Sandfort, can guess what’s really going on here. EFT will describe a thriving and robust market anarchist culture developing on Ceres and elsewhere in the belt. The initial story arcs do indeed relate the struggle of this new culture to maintain its independence from the iron fist of Terra’s unified government, but later we’ll delve into some other happenings at the leading edge of human civilization in that time period.

This project has its roots in a prose short story, “World Ceres,” which Sandy wrote as an entry in a contest honoring Robert A. Heinlein’s fiction. He sent it to us and we thought the universe he described has great potential to be the backdrop for a continuing series. Sandy has no experience with the comics medium so we agreed to team up. He continues writing prose short stories, which I take and massage a bit, sometimes adding new elements and trimming away others (always in consultation with Sandy), and establishing frequent story beats suitable for a daily strip.

We then pass the script to LEE, a Fort Collins cartoonist to whom I was introduced by the legendary Mike Baron. LEE is also working with Mike on the fantasy web-comic BLACK ICE, which is running on the ComicMix site. It’s also worth a look. LEE took over that comic starting with Issue 8 from the original artist Nick Runge when Nick left that project for a better-paying gig elsewhere.

Kategorie anarchy, Big Head Press, comics, Webcomics | 1 Kommentar »

This will hurt your brain

14. September 2008


Unless you’re a radical libertarian, in which case it’s a knee-slapper.

(No, I didn’t create this graphic, I just found it on the Intarwub)

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Chinese cop-killer becomes internet hero

28. August 2008

I don’t want to make a habit of link-blogging but here is something that came to me via Brad Spangler that I want to share.

Yang Jia, a 28-year-old unemployed man from Beijing, appeared in court in Shanghai charged with an alleged attack against the police on July 1, the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr Yang is said to have thrown molotov cocktails into a police station in Zhabei, a northern suburb of the city, before entering the building and attacking a group of unarmed officers with a knife. He was arrested at the scene.

However, instead of condemnation, he has received widespread approval from Chinese internet users, or netizens, for his apparent act of defiance.

You can read the rest of this story here.

Kategorie anarchy, Free speech, Posts | 3 Kommentare »

New album by David Byrne and Brian Eno

25. August 2008

Kicks ass.

If you want to go to their website, click here.

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