Signal Intelligence About The LP

Loading Table of Contents...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why Multiple Freedom Parties Is Dumb

Tom Knapp and George Phillies and Carl Milsted are very smart guys, but offering multiple parties/candidates to the voters in our quadrant of Nolan space is dumb for multiple reasons:
  • Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells voters that libertarianism is too incoherent to be worth understanding.
  • Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells voters that the freedom movement is too poorly organized to be worth supporting.
  • Having multiple liberty-oriented choices vastly increases the cognitive/investigative burden imposed on a voter asked to cast her single vote for liberty.
  • Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells politicians that pro-freedom voters are far from being a coherent caucus whose votes can be earned (e.g. by the party not running an opposing candidate).
  • Getting liberty-oriented candidates on the ballot requires a threshold amount of signatures/fees.
  • Getting a liberty-oriented party ballot-qualified requires a threshold amount of voter registration and/or votes in statewide races.
  • American elections generally do not allow fusion voting.
  • American elections do not allow approval voting, but instead uses plurality voting.
  • Duverger’s Law suggests the natural tactical response of voters to plurality voting is to gather into two parties straddling the political center along its major axis, or into one party for each natural cluster of voters in the political space.

A party should focus on the exercises of franchise whose effectiveness is magnified when the franchisees act in concert rather than through competing organizations. There’s no interesting limit to how many liberty-oriented parties we could indulge in creating. With over 20 free variables in libertarian theory, that’s over a million potential parties even if you assume only two possible values to each variable.  If two liberty-oriented parties are better than one, why aren’t 20 better than 2?  Why shouldn’t every intra-party caucus be its own party?

There are at least two possible exceptions to this analysis.  The first would be when the dominant freedom party has become immune to repair through caucus efforts and needs to be destroyed and replaced.   I for one am nowhere near ready to make war on the LP, and I’ll gladly defend the LP from those who make war on it.  Whatever the faults of the LP and its current nominee — faults I’ve never been shy about naming — they aren’t serious enough to stop telling the average voter she should always take the single choice called “Libertarian” whenever it’s available.  Democracy is an incredibly blunt instrument, and we can’t delude ourselves that the ballot box is a place for making subtle philosophical distinctions.  Remember, if every voter had as much political passion as we Libertarian activists, the streets would run red with blood — and plenty of it would be ours.

The second exception would be a zero-government abolitionist anarchist party.  I don’t mind working with anarchists wise enough to realize it’s harder to overthrow a big State than a small State — as long as they don’t insist the party endorse their abolitionist rhetoric (and thus help the State resist the party’s efforts to shrink it!).  However, having a separate anarchist party would be useful in clarifying that the LP has no official plans to abolish the state, and would siphon off radicals who fret too much about the LP’s lessarchist tent getting bloated with people lacking sufficient hatred of the state.


George J. Dance said...

Great analysis, and I'd agree with much of it. However, it looks to me like most of your readers, myself included, would see the Libertarian Party / Boston Tea Party covered by your two exceptions.

"The first would be when the dominant freedom party has become immune to repair through caucus efforts and needs to be destroyed and replaced."

As Independent Political Report editorialized today, "Many members of the BTP think this is the case with the “dominant freedom party” — the LP."

"The second exception would be a zero-government abolitionist anarchist party."

Many LP members think that is the case for the BTP; so on the whole we'd be happy to see them leave, for the same reason you state: "having a separate anarchist party would be useful in clarifying that the LP has no official plans to abolish the state, and would siphon off radicals who fret too much about the LP’s lessarchist tent getting bloated with people lacking sufficient hatred of the state."

Starchild said...

One glaring (but easily-corrected) oversight here is that you failed to stipulate that multiple freedom parties are dumb *only within the same political jurisdiction*.

This oversight is reflective of the nationalism endemic in U.S. politics (and I think that of many other parts of the world as well), even among libertarians who have strong reason to discourage nationalistic thinking and linguistic patterns.

Starchild said...

Another more fundamental flaw with this essay is the assumption that anarchism is somehow harmful to the Libertarian Party.

On the contrary, anarchist impulses are vital in keeping the Libertarian Party strongly libertarian, so that it does not become corrupted by electoral politics and the temptations of money/power as the Democrats and Republicans have.

It is astonishing to me that intelligent Libertarians like Brian Holtz don't take the threat of this happening more seriously, because past experience indicates they should.

The general assumption among this faction of the party seems to be that if we just focus on winning elections, and watering down our platform/rhetoric enough to successfully do that, libertarian ideology will take care of itself and the party will remain largely as it has been in terms of its members beliefs and long-term goals, with only its message and the positions taken by its candidates being less radical.

That is an incredibly dangerous assumption. If those who make it ever truly and finally win the battle for the heart and soul of the Libertarian Party and impose their anti-anarchism agenda, it will signal the end of the party as an effective vehicle for freedom.

Furthermore, a more radical pro-freedom party would almost certainly emerge. The LP was not sick enough for the Boston Tea Party to successfully take root, but if it ever does go significantly further down the Barr/Root path, you can be sure that a radical party will appear, and drain off the most passionate and dedicated grassroots activists from the LP.

Brian Holtz said...

Yes, political parties are tied to political jurisdictions. Not stating the obvious is not an oversight.

I've never said anarchism per se is harmful to the LP. What I've said is that it would be harmful to the LP for it to be officially anarchist. Anarchists have conceded this ever since the Dallas Accord.

I don't know whether minarcholibertarians and anarcholibertarians would see more progress toward their goals if they divided into separate parties. It would depend on which sort of anarchists left.

I've never said that winning elections should be the LP's focus, and thus my program of platform reform has never been in service of that dubious goal. On the contrary, I've put a spotlight on how LP radicals so often soft-pedal their radicalism when they are running for office:

The LP should unite all the voters who seek both more personal liberty and more economic liberty behind the choices available to them (or their representatives) that will most move public policy in a libertarian direction.