Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

October 22, 2009

Memo To Libertarians: Unite Or Die

by Doug Mataconis

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Over at United Liberty, Crystal Gross argues that Libertarians (and libertarians) need to back off from their doctrinaire attitudes:

[M]y day-to-day experience with card-carrying members of the Libertarian Party indicates a considerably different perspective on the libertarian philosophy: “Live and let live … or else.”

Why would members of a “Party Of Principle” with the aforementioned philosophy exclude other people from their little club because they disagree on a few matters? Why is a platform more important than a fresh idea? Why is youthful intellectual curiosity discouraged among a group of people who profess to want YOU to THINK?

The more “radical” Libertarians — the biggest L’s among us — play a major role in the advancement of the Party in the future. Unfortunately, the readiness and enthusiasm with which they attack their own people distracts them from constructive efforts which only they are capable of carrying out. Like attacking politicians and bringing about actual change.

(…)

It’s high-time Radical Libertarians backed off. Otherwise, you’re going to have a lot of room in that tent.

Of course, as some of us know all too well, purging of the insufficiently orthodox is something that’s as common to libertarians as the sun coming up in the morning.

But, Crystal has a point here.

Considering that libertarians are such an extreme political minority, it seems incredibly stupid to kick people out of the movement for being insufficiently orthodox on, say, the Non-Aggression pledge, when there are so many other battles where we could unite with others — including, in some cases, Republicans and Democrats — who agree with us on specific issues.

It’s largely the reason that the Libertarian Party, nearly 40 years after it’s founding is a non-entity in American politics, and why the most effective libertarian organizations are groups like The Cato Institute who see the value in reaching out beyond the relatively small echo chamber of libertarian debating societies.

There’s room for the radicals and the moderates in the fight for liberty, and if we don’t unite we’re destined to lose

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  • http://www.claysamerica.com Clay Barham

    Keep in mind, the first Libertarian Party in America was the 19th century Democrats who followed Jefferson, contrasted to 20th century Democrats who follow Rousseau to Marx, as cited in a new book THE CHANGING FACE OF DEMOCRATS on Amazon and http://www.claysamerica.com

  • http://ericsundwall.com Eric Sundwall

    This is pure bunk from both authors. Our active memberships dwindle because of the ‘success’ attitude by anyone who doesn’t feel that third party politics has a purpose. Those that do stick around are generally courteous and respectful of each other.

    I got a note today indicating that the NY CFL has 9 thousand members. That’s nine times the size of the LPNY enrolled voters . . . yet they fiddle around the edges like every other pandering pluralistic interest. They dare not form their own party for fear of inevitable failure. Give the LP due credit for hanging in there after all these years.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Doug,

    I agree with you that there’s room for impurity and there’s room for working with fellow travelers.

    But Crystal brought up Bill Maher as an example of that. I applaud Bill Maher for being such a strong advocate of drug-legalization and for speaking out about his own pothead inclinations. I’d be happy to work with him on issues upon which we agree. But I can say that and still suggest that he’s not anything approaching a libertarian. As I mentioned in the comments over at United Liberty, Bill Maher is a libertine big-government democrat, who wants to keep the government out of our living rooms and bedrooms but is far too willing to let them into our wallets.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.blogspot.com Eric Dondero

    Outside of Pro-Choice on abortion, there’s virtually nothing that we Libertarians agree with Democrats on. They are the enemy. And to even suggest that we “work with them,” on any manner, shape or form is ludicrous.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Eric,

    As usual, you’re wrong.

    Libertarians can also seek common cause with Democrats on issues such as repealing the most egregious portions of the PATRIOT Act, restricting the use of warrantless wiretaps, gay marriage, and more than a few others.

  • southernjames

    It seems to me, from the point of view of an admittedly ignorant outsider looking in, that Libertarians are between a rock and a hard place.

    You appear to favor extremely liberal positions, socially. Problem is, your allies in that cause are the Statists. Whose views on other issues, such as economic matters, are diametrically opposed to yours.

    And who loath with a passion, those on the right, who they consider to not just be “wrong,” but actually “evil.”

    But on other issues which you also presumably hold dear, such as a belief in the ideal of a smaller and less expensive government (which can then translate to lower taxes and more individual autonomy), decentralized powers – to states and localities, 2nd Amendment rights, etc….your allies who share THOSE beliefs also often tend to have socially conservative outlooks which you find offensive, and are also on the “right.”

    So…there’s the challenge it appears.

  • Persnickety Curmudgeon

    agreed southernjames… Libertarians are frustrated with the knowledge that their generally Liberal social values will never win out at the ballot box as most Americans are traditional conservative/liberal if not Conservative….but are equally (thankfully) unwilling to go along with the Obama led Statist Liberal/Radicals un republican superconstitutonal imposition of them by force and fiat….

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    James:

    I think in many ways we Libertarians are our own worst enemies. Radical Libertarians seem to be content with being a debating society rather than a force for political change. There was actually a plank in the 2004 platform which stated that private individuals should have the right to possess WMD! Another plank argued that children should be legally allowed to be prostitutes.

    Personally, I think the 2008 platform is far more reasonable and is more appealing to the general public without compromising the foundational principles concerning the rights of life, liberty, and property. Before we take the step of allowing Jim Bob to own a nuclear weapon or having orphan Annie turning tricks, maybe we make more incremental changes along the way that are both reasonable and realistic?

    Personally, I would like to see more Libertarian minded individuals and groups build coalitions with Democrats and Republicans on an issue-by-issue basis. There are areas of agreement from both sides (the problem is, Libertarians don’t want to have to decide which liberties must be sacrificed be they economic or social). Because the Democrats happen to be in power right now, it makes sense to me that we should be working with them on such items of importance such as criminal justice reform, medical marijuana, and banning the death penalty (though I am sure there is disagreement among Libertarians on the death penalty as well). We can also hold them accountable for their actions regarding the USA PATRIOT Act and other civil rights issues that were (supposedly) so important when Bush was in office now that they have are in power and have the ability to make changes in these areas.

    When the Republicans return to power, we should concentrate on the issues that they are right about such as the 2nd Amendment, healthcare, and taxes.

    This isn’t to say that we Libertarians should stop advocating our principles depending on which party is in power but to focus our energies more effectively to make America a freer country. If we wait around for a Libertarian president and/or a “Ron Paul Congress” we won’t accomplish much of anything.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    BTW, there are very few individuals in this world that I hate or consider evil whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or vegetarian.

    This does not mean, however; that I don’t get angry when someone tries to trample on my liberties or anyone else’s.

  • Persnickety Curmudgeon

    Stephen…the problem with issue by issue coalitions is that that is what we have been doing and perenially moves the country Leftward.

    The Radical Left Statist keep to his long term strategy and uses “issues” of the day as tactical stepping stones.

    It also weakens the Right because Conservatives are notorious for thinking that winning a battle means the war is over. Solve an “issue” and watch them demobilize.

    The Libs constantly play off Independents,Libertarians and Conservatives off against one another to gain majorities for THEIR agenda.The only real solution is for everyone to agree to oppose everything except a rollback of th nanny state….not a bad idea actually.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.blogspot.com Eric Dondero

    Mataconis, you’re wrong.

    Libertarians are split on issues such as gay marriage and the Patriot Act. There’s no “official libertarian” stance on either one of those issues. It’s split down the middle 50/50, and a good libertarian argument could be made on both issues, on both sides.

    Warrantless wiretaps is an arcane non-issue that nobody cares about save a couple techie nerds. And wasn’t it the Clinton Administration that went after that fat Maryland woman for wiretapping Monica Lewinsky? Clinton, in case yo forgot is a Democrat.

    Like I said, outside of Pro-Choice on abortion, there’s virtualy nothing we agree with Democrats on.

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