Thursday, May 05, 2005

Reclaiming our radicalism, part 2

Carl Milsted, a Libertarian Party stalwart, has posted a note on this blog in response to my entry of last week, “Reclaiming our radicalism.” He makes a few comments that I feel are worth addressing. Writes Carl:

“I hate the state enough to do something about it. I don’t mean fuming about the state, pretending to fight the state, making a good show of it, etc. I mean doing something that has a reasonable chance of having an effect.

“Purism, Suddenism, Anarchism etc. do not mix with the American political system.”

Nor should they, Carl. For more than three decades, I’ve watched the Libertarian Party ineffectively exercise its “reasonable chance of having an effect” through the electoral process. The LP fails because it contains within it a fatal flaw — a disconnect between its alleged “ends” (a free society) and the means it uses trying to get there. Politics is not the means to achieving liberty. You can’t create a free society by electing politicians to abolish politics, appointing bureaucrats to abolish bureaucracy, and governing to abolish government.

But then, Mr. Milsted continues:

“Extreme libertarianism is too unpopular to win at the polls, and it is too unpopular to gather a revolutionary army. Terrorism is your only viable option.

“I prefer electoral politics to violence and intimidation. And I prefer winning to losing. This is why I have rejected the Rothbard strategy and launched”

I urge readers here to visit Carl’s site to see just what’s wrong with his strategy. Likewise, it underscores a core problem with today’s libertarian movement: most LPers, Neolibertarians, and other compromisers have no sense of the history of their own movement. They are woefully unfamiliar with the works of our philosophical forebears, whether Molinari, or Mises, or La Boetie, or Rothbard. So Carl falls back on parroting George W.: “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists.”


I suggest Carl start reading up on just why electoral politics is not only a dead-end for freedom lovers, it runs contrary to libertarian principles. Here are some places to start:

“Party Dialogue” by George H. Smith

“Abstain From Beans” by Robert LeFevre

“How to Vote for Liberty” by Joseph Sobran

“The Anti-Electorate Manifesto” by (blush) Wally Conger


At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Carl Milsted said...

Let's see, libertarians should not vote...This means only non-libertarians should vote. This is a guarantee that government will become progressively less libertarian! Are you an authoritarian in disguise?

Or are you a Hegelian libertarian? Do you think the best path to liberty is to let the state grow so big that it eventually collapses?

Cuba has a wonderful tropical climate and a nearly collapsed big state! Good place to be a Hegelian libertarian!

You claim I don't know the history of the movement. I was a Rothbardian for years, starting in 1981. However, I am a scientist, not a philosopher. I test a hypothesis, and if it fails, I reject it. I gave the Rothbard approach a decade long test, and it failed miserably.

As for "libertarian principles", may I recommend to you
Excuses for Liberty. Far too long the libertarian movement has tried to build upon unproveable axioms. It's time to wake up and perceive reality. It may be painful at first, but it's worth it.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Kirsten said...

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.

Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, "But what shall I do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything, resign your office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished.

-Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

1. No one should vote, Carl, especially libertarians.

2. There ain't no such thing as "libertarian government." The term is self-contradicting.

3. Hmm. What's Cuba got to do with this discussion? Is this what you call, uh, a "straw man"?

4. You say the Rothbard approach "failed miserably" after your "decade long test." What exactly was your "test"? In what ways has the LP's gradual electoral approach succeeded in the past 30 years? Have you detected more or less freedom in the US?

5. Thanks for recommending your essay on "pragmatic libertarianism." Again, after 30 years of such pragmatism (i.e., LP electoral politics), do we have more or less freedom in the US?

6. De-radicalizing the LP platform for the masses may help win a few elections, but taking our eyes off the goal will never win us freedom.

7. I noticed that you write a regular online column for called "The Incrementalator." Boy, that says it all. Maybe I should rename this blog "The Button-Pushing Abolitionist."

At 3:03 PM, Blogger freeman said...

That "Hegelian libertarian" remark is most definitely a strawman. Rejecting the use of political means, which depend upon coercion, and deciding not to give a gang of criminals legitimacy by filling out a ballot does not mean that one must wish for the state to grow to the point where it bursts or collapses. It's not just the institution of government that is so destructive of liberty, it's the use of political means, whether in a dictatorship or a democracy, that is such a destructive force.

Didn't someone once say that if voting could make a difference it would be illegal? Wally has the right idea in that no one should vote. Just say no!

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous John DeWitt said...

At some point, a thinking person has to dispense with the rhetoric and look at the facts. Can you reform politics by becoming a politician? Can you reform thieves by joining their gang?

For centuries now, good people in this country have voted for politicians who promise more laws for more freedom. Oddly enough, we get less freedom every time.

So at what point is it okay to say, "Screw it, this game is rigged. I'm not going to play anymore?" To the LP candidates, of course that point will never come. They want to join all the "contract with America" Republicans who were going to reform the system back in '94.

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Travis Miller said...

If a person maintains that the voluntaryist philosophy of creating true freedom is the only morally valid means of opposing government and that person lives in a Western country in a manner that is common to Western civilization then that person is a hypocrite. Unless you are able to maintain an existence where all of your interactions with other persons are voluntary or that you in some indirect way apply political pressures to those in far off places then you are a hypocrite. While living in an industrialized nation, merely drawing breath has an effect of abridging the natural rights of people on the other side of the world

The computer you view this posting with required petroleum based products for its manufacture. At least one of the people who had something to do with the production of that computer whether directly or indirectly paid taxes to the US government. That government used those tax dollars to oppress you and others all over the world in a number of ways. Even though you did not participate in the political process of that government, you supported it in a way that was even more insidious. You helped to finance it. If you support it financially what need does the government have for your vote? Eventually government becomes so tyrannical that it doesn’t even bother to obfuscate the fact that it not taking your resources for some great societal good but only to maintain its own supremacy over that society.

What is more corrupting than the power that comes with superior resources? Without money would government be able to maintain its monopoly on violence? With the money that the government is able to collect, due to its monopoly on violence, those who are less courageous will give in to the great criminal gang. The current government or the one that replaces it is able to maintain its power in perpetuity because those who are unwilling to resist out of fear will continue to finance government’s control over them.

Mr. Milsted’s argument is that human nature will not allow for such a thing as the voluntaryist ideal. Government can only be hindered in its constant quest for supremacy. Not one government in human history has not eventually been overthrown or destroyed in some manner. Most often this has been done violently. If humanity has not functioned without government in some form for at least 5000 years then what makes any rational person believe that this will change?

Humans are chaotic creatures like the nature of the universe itself. To suggest that human beings will ever be willing to just let others go about their business unmolested or without trying to take advantage of one another is simply without any empirical basis in fact or reality. What Mr. Milsted suggests is that government is not going to go away just because we ignore it or neglect it. I believe that while voluntaryism may have superior moral implications to Mr. Milsted’s ideas, it is not worth considering because it will most certainly fail.

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Kirsten said...

Waters's fundamental error is to confuse accepting a situation none of your making, with actively making that situation worse. In short, there is nothing wrong with a libertarian living in a rent-controlled apartment, and therefore paying a rent below the market. Nozick (or myself) is not responsible for the rent-control law; he or we have to live within the matrix of such laws. So there is nothing wrong with him living in a rent-controlled apartment, just as there is nothing wrong with him walking on government streets, flying from government airports, eating price-supported bread, etc. None of this is of Nozick's (or our) making. It would be therefore foolish and martyrish for us to renounce such apartments if available, to refuse to eat any food grown under government regulation, to refuse to use the Post Office, etc. Our responsibility is to agitate and work to remove this statist situation; apart from that, that is all we can rationally do. I live in a rent-controlled apartment, but I have also written and agitated for many years against the rent-control system, and urged its repeal. That is not hypocrisy or betrayal, but simply rationality and good sense.

Nozick's moral error [let's call it "sin" to provoke the Waters of this world] was to go much further than simply living under rent control. His immoral action was to pursue the landlord actively, to go to the State to agitate, time and again, to get the State to force his rent even lower. It seems to me that there is a world of difference between these actions. One is living your life within a State-created matrix, while trying to work against the system; the other is actively using the State to benefit yourself and screw your fellow man, which means initiating and abetting aggression and theft.

-Murray Rothbard, Living in a State-Run World

At 2:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best way for the LP to help the freedom movement, is to stand ready to act in the same manner Sinn Fein does in Ireland.

At 4:00 AM, Anonymous Travis Miller said...

Just becaause a person did not create a system they are not excused if they support it in any way. This is especially so if they still claim moral superiority over other method of resistance to that system. Even though they are not the creater or maintainer of the system they do participate in it. One cannot claim that a philosophical principle of non participation works and then participate in the mechanisms of government that are the most important. 25% of every dollar we spend here in America has a hidden tax on it. Think about that. Even if you are an income tax resister you are still feeding the beast.

There is a fellow named Jeff Knaebel who lives in India. He is an ex-pat American who lives in voluntary poverty and doesn't support our way of life at all. He went there because he believes in the exact thing that the voluntaryist say they believe in but actually has enough spine to do what he says. I suppose if enough people were willing to go the Jeff Knaebel route then the voluntaryist method would work. I don't expect to see too many people going Ghandi anytime soon though.

At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


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