Regarding Libertarian Strategy: A Reply to Ross Kenyon

Although I find Kenyon’s analysis of the radical socialists interesting, ultimately I disagree with his categorization of libertarianism’s 3 options:

  • Libertarians can allow themselves to be absorbed into the Republican Party and work to expand the Liberty caucus.
  • Libertarians can abandon the Republican Party to work exclusively through the Libertarian Party.
  • Libertarians can jettison electoral politics altogether and refuse to be governed by majoritarianism and statism.

The first one will happen to the Tea Party movement. The second one is not workable, as the author admits.  Nothing can be done about either.  As for the truly radical approach, we are not violent revolutionaries and are never going to be.

What’s missing from that article is something fundamental — people get the government they deserve.  We need to make this country deserve better.  If a choir chants “we” in chorus, it is still the individuals speaking.  Unless libertarians actively change individuals, society will not budge.

Whether or not the Tea Party people win or lose a few national elections is, by itself, irrelevant.  Policies that the public doesn’t support won’t go anywhere, and policies they do will.  Political activists, no matter how dedicated, can’t cram unwanted ideologies down the public’s throat.

The Tea Party will probably manage to send a handful of delegates off to DC. Unfortunately, those delegates won’t be able to get much accomplished without the support of significant political machinery. The two national parties are loose coalitions; a few extra butts in DC don’t change much.  To alter the political landscape, you have to change the make-up of the coalition itself.

Which brings us back around to that article.  In truth, we have only one option. Whether or not you believe the political process is the way to get our ideas implemented, outreach is the only way anything is ever going to happen.

To those who want political action:  No matter how much you support the Tea Party and its candidates, politics is, at the end of the day, still about boots on the ground.  Without a concerted effort to bring individuals around to our point of view, all the political activism is for naught.  Until libertarians can consistently swing a close primary or major election, no one will care.  If libertarians aren’t the people politicians need to go to for money, they aren’t going to listen.  If libertarians aren’t the local office holders and party functionaries politicians need help from to make that big national run, they aren’t going to give our faction the time of day.  All the wonders of the internet and modern technology won’t change that — organizations like governments and political parties are designed to be robust. Until you start changing the key pieces, the machine isn’t going to run any differently.

To those who don’t care for politics:  No matter how much you would rather take direct action — you too need to focus on outreach.  No amount of trouble-making or activism will produce change.  Until the public supports your ideology, all of your civil disobedience and propaganda is in vain.

Thus, at the end of the day, outreach is the only course of action. In contrast to the picture presented by Kenyon’s article, there is not and should not be a split between those who want “action” and those who want “politics” — neither “action” nor “politics” will work unless we have already won the battle of ideas.

No matter what your goal, the road is the same — you can’t change the government without first changing the people.  Having our ideas reach critical mass must be the first step in any plan.

Kenyon is right to say that libertarians should be careful not to repeat the mistakes made by past movements, but a strategic split between radicals and compromisers is not one of them — at this point any infighting only weakens the movement. Instead, the mistake we should be worrying about is moving too quickly. Ideas shape revolutions.  If we want a libertarian revolution, we need to promote libertarian ideas.  Nothing short of that will succeed.  If we try to force our ideas upon a country that does not want them and is not ready for them, things will get much worse before they get better.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • >Unless libertarians actively change individuals, society will not budge.
    >Without a concerted effort to bring individuals around to our point of view
    >Having our ideas reach critical mass must be the first step in any plan.

    I’m very interested in doing this. I actively spend my time in this area.

    > As for the truly radical approach, we are not violent revolutionaries and are never going to be.

    Being radical isn’t about blowing things up and killing people. Nowhere in my article do I advocate that as the radical path.

    > but a strategic split between radicals and compromisers is not one of them

    A split already is occurring. There are very radical libertarians like the Free State Project who are trying to do outreach both in traditional ways and civil disobedience. They aren’t necessarily going to work full-time on marginally libertarian campaigns, and neither would I. I only have one life here, and I don’t want to look back and look at the school voucher system I helped to create. I want to end the state. Many of the libertarians I know have become increasingly radicalized and are less and less interested in traditional methods of changing the state. This is a good thing, and I hope it continues. Then we won’t end up like the progressives and populists of the past.

    > If we want a libertarian revolution, we need to promote libertarian ideas. Nothing short of that will succeed.

    If we aren’t talking about the logical conclusion of liberty, we lose all of the moral arguments. Being radical is about being uncompromising, not about hurting people or being outrageous. In this way, I feel you may have mischaracterized my essay.

    I feel like your response missed some big points of mine. Almost all of what I do is advocacy. I’m interested in changing ideas

    • Ross,

      I generally liked your article, and if we had more time to discuss this issue, we’d probably find much that we could agree on.

      I didn’t touch on your other important points because I had one specific disagreement. There are not multiple strategic options. No matter where you stand on how to go about ending the state, at the end of the day, you can’t change the government without first changing the people.

      I think the absorption of progressives and populists was not the cause of failure but rather a symptom. Ideas matter, and our ideas won’t be actualized unless we can spread them to enough of the right people.

      Of course, outreach can be done in many ways. Too many libertarians are quick to dismiss approaches other than their own. But, that’s where the strategy discussion should be taking place — which methods are most effective, which methods will reach people we haven’t yet gotten to, which methods are apt to backfire, etc.

  • ReRegarding Libertarian Strategy

    “A split already is occurring” –

    It hit me when the tea party was being associated with the libertarian party, “is this an attack on libertarians?” The split was there already, now the tea party drives the wedge further between “Radial” Libertarians and “Normal ones.” We must discuss as a unified group what path to take. What is the best mathematical representation of a libertarian going to do in this situation? Then we all must understand that math and follow in the footsteps of the great libertarian founders. I don’t expect people to fully understand libertarians/ the libertarian position as I do. I do expect them to see that there is a position a single stance that conforms mathematically to a standard stance and to follow that with the support of there votes whether they fully understand the math or not.
    There has been speculation as to which direction to take, this shows a breakdown of what defines a libertarian and exemplifies the split in the libertarian party that has perhaps kept us out of the political forum throughout the entire past history of our movement within the American system. Unfortunately I look at libertarianism as the only truly American system, I am biased into seeing the majority parties as pseudo-powers, that have kept the placeholders of the true political movements, until we can get our acts straightened out.
    The choice of a path is not ours to make, whether to propagate the movement or become radicalized is not our choice to make as individuals. The math has been done. Smarter people then I have decided (predetermined if I may) what the only course of action is. What we are looking at here (with complete denial) is the self destruction of the true libertarian movement and the absorption of our philosophies’ into the mainstream.
    To me this is unacceptable. As much as we want to be mainstream, center, or move flexibly around in the foreign environment of what we now call our government, it wasn’t meant to happen. It’s not in the cards. It has been read by the oracles and foreseen by the philosophers not to happen. Look into the past have we ever had a truly libertarian representative? Maybe Ron Paul is the answer. Part of this situation is his son associating with the tea party that is provoking this feeling that we are being assimilated into the main parties.
    A. We need to actively participate in the now, what is happening within the environment currently and do we all agree with those definitions? Don’t quibble about what we should do, we know that already or stop calling yourselves libertarians.
    B. We need to actively review the past, do we all agree this is what happened? Yes or no make a decision and stick with it like a true libertarian.
    C. Participate in the future. We don’t have all the answers but with faith we can understand that the math behind libertarianism is accurate. We do need to work out what to do as individuals; most of the work has been already done for us. As individuals decide am I willing to make the sacrifices to become a true libertarian? I find that most people are jumping on this bandwagon and really have no concept of the intricacies of governance, the importance of leadership and the ability (or inability) of people to work together within the group dynamic. Please if you do not have implicit faith in our movement stop calling yourselves libertarian, go call yourself a tea party or a socialist or a republican. If you do, however, then PROCLAIM LOUDLY AND OFTEN THAT I AM A LIBERTARIAN! It’s simple, no more no less. If you see someone who isn’t following the guidelines and is still calling themselves a libertarian, now you know the truth.

  • “We get the government we deserve” – or, I would say, the government which we believe is needed. The older I get, the less interested I am in politics, and the more in building the bottom-up institutions and relationships and ideas which will supplant the State. I prefer to focus on several concrete ideas:

    Issue one: take responsibility for education; don’t expect the State to educate you or your children, nor to pay for it, nor to control the content or time and manner of education. Home schooling, unschooling, and private education are means toward the end of educational independence.

    Issue two: self defense. Learn to defend yourself and the people you care about. When seconds count, don’t be dialing 9-1-1 and praying; do it yourself.

    Issue three: build your own financial safety net.

    Issue four: don’t do it alone. Network with others.

    When those things are done, you have no need for the State. You and your children will be better educated, safer, and more secure than before. So will your neighbors.

    This may seem to be a slow approach, but can anything be slower than the process of electing one smooth-talking politician after another, only to say “Darn! Another liar broke all his promises! Back to the candidate selection process again!”