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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Restore74 With a Denver Accord

The original Libertarian Party Statement of Principles was adopted unanimously at the original 1972 LP convention in Denver. It said "the sole function of government is the protection of the rights of each individual" and "government has only one legitimate function, the protection of individual rights". To safeguard the LP from ideological drift, the SoP was protected in the original LP Constitution (now called the Bylaws) by requiring a 7/8 vote to change it. However, the rule provided a one-time exception, allowing a 2/3 vote to change the SoP at the 1974 convention.

At the 1974 convention in Dallas, anarchists agreed that the LP would not explicitly call for abolition of the state as long as the originally minarchist Platform/SoP no longer said that “protection of individual rights” is a “legitimate function of government” in a libertarian society. However, the Dallas Accord evolved into an effective veto power for anarchists over any Platform statement that didn't uphold anarchist abolitionist principles. By contrast, minarchists had no equivalent veto power over the subsequent accretion of abolitionist Platform statements that conflicted with their own small-government principles. What the Dallas Accord became was a deal in which anarchists get to veto all Platform content they disagree with, while minarchists get to veto only the one statement that the empty shell of the state will be discarded once we're done hollowing it out. The Dallas Accord was struck when the LP had a 2500-word platform, but in the subsequent decades it bloated into a 14,000-word monument to zero-government abolitionism.

That is not big-tent. The Reform Caucus is trying to restore the symmetry of the Dallas Accord, so that the Platform is as respectful of small-government minarchist principles as it is of zero-government anarchist principles. We seek a Platform that includes all and only the principles that unite the major schools of libertarianism. Such a Platform will necessarily be shorter than the bloated abolitionist manifesto that the Portland delegates revolted against.

The Platform Committee has thus proposed a short platform text, which is coincidentally nearly identical in length to the 1972 Platform. 99% of its text is recycled from previous platforms (and about 2/3 of it was in the 2004 Platform), while the 1% that is new is not about any "legitimate function" of government. And yet, defenders of this unity platform are accused of "petty bickering" for daring to politely ask that the Platform not contradict their small-government minarchist principles -- while somehow it's not "petty bickering" for radicals to insist that the Platform restore the most extreme details of their zero-government abolitionist principles.

I first called this a "Denver Accord" on April 29, and gave detailed examples of issues on which good Libertarians disagree how to apply the principle of opposition to force initiation. (For a comprehensive list, see Free Variables in Libertarian Theory). The Platform Committee is not seeking to impose on anarchists a non-anarchist answer to a single one of these issues. We're simply trying to get back to the general core principles that unite all of us who have boarded the Freedom Train. PlatCom's proposed recycled 2008 Platform does not include any novel language about the role or legitimacy of government. Instead, it softens the 13 most explicitly abolitionist positions of the old 2004 platform, and leaves statements of Libertarian principle that are consistent both with incremental reform and an anarchist destination. If we adopt this platform, our most radical candidates will still be free to campaign for zero-government abolitionism. Similarly, small-government libertarians will be equally free to campaign for a limited constitutional Ron-Paul-style government, without having the Platform used as a bludgeon against their "deviations".

It's time for a Denver Accord that restores the symmetry of the Dallas Accord adopted when the Platform was short and sweet. Support the Platform Committee's all-principles unity Platform, and let's end the Platform purity wars this week, in this city.

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