Signal Intelligence About The LP

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Cult of the Omnimalevolent State

Less, I don't agree at all that any of the candidates in Denver could have "threatened our existence" -- not the ex-Republicans, not the universal-healthcare candidate, not the no-legislation-against-pubescent-prostitution candidate, not even Christine Smith.  The lesson I learned from 2008 is inertia -- candidates and Libertarian delegates and Libertarian voters and non-Libertarian voters and the media are not easy to deflect from their default path.  Consider:
  • Despite the best efforts of the Radical and Reform caucuses, the vast majority of delegates in Denver didn't know and didn't care about the inter-caucus disagreements.
  • The delegates in Denver were extremely skeptical of reformer attempts to change an SoP that they did not perceive to be broken.
  • The delegates in Denver were extremely skeptical of radical attempts to fix a PlatCom report that they did not perceive to be broken.
  • Despite all the passion around the Barr/Root nomination, the vast majority of the LP closed ranks behind the ticket chosen by the Denver delegates. (I confess that some radicals worked harder for the ticket than I did.)
  • None of the worst radical predictions about the behavior of the ticket -- endorsing an opposing candidate, giving up on the LP -- came true. (However, they came true about Ron Paul, the darling of so many radicals.)
  • None of the worst radical predictions about media reaction to the ticket came true -- Root's career was treated respectfully, and the un-libertarian parts of Barr's legislative record occupied only a small fraction of his media coverage.  (Alas, he deflected much of what legislative-record questioning he got with appeals to federalism, which most radicals can forgive only if your name is spelled R-o-n P-a-u-l.)
  • The LP ticket received only a little more than its standard vote share, despite an order of magnitude more national TV coverage than in 2004.
  • The CP ticket received only a little more than its standard vote share, despite an endorsement from a personality-cult leader who this year commanded a million votes and 30 million dollars.
All of the above tell me that is harder than I thought to change the behavior of delegates, voters, and journalists -- and I already knew it was very damn hard.  I think you're fundamentally wrong in saying that the delegates voted against preserving the LP brand.  Rather, I think they were so confident in the durability of the LP's brand and ideology that they didn't think a conservative-leaning ticket was any long-term risk to it.  I tend to agree with them.  I share your concern about branding not because I see an existential risk to the LP, but rather because I see an opportunity cost in not making our brand sharply and equally distinct from Left and Right.

What you seem to be saying is that we can't preserve the LP brand if we ever nominate a former Democrat or Republican politician, or ever try to say that we agree with the good parts of the liberal or conservative agendas.  I strongly disagree. I suspect your analysis is colored by your belief as an anarchist that the LP has no hope of moving public policy in a libertarian direction by persuading people to vote differently -- as opposed to persuading people that government is always immoral and always inexpedient.  As long as you insist that the latter is the core of the LP's mission and brand, then the LP is going to be distracted by infighting -- at least until you induce us non-anarchists to give up on the LP.

I would recommend a different strategy to the LP's anarchists.  You shouldn't be trying to get the LP to preach anarchism or its functional equivalents, such as personal secession and abolition of everything that might look like taxation (e.g default fines on pollution aggression).  Instead, you should use the LP to 1) give anarchist candidates a chance to preach anarchism through the electoral process, and 2) promote policies that when adopted will make it easier for people to see that anarchism might work.  For (2), I'm thinking of things like radical decentralism (to allow competition among experiments in decreased government), and any policy (like vouchers) that increases market competition in what used to be a government monopoly.

I see school vouchers as a litmus test about whether an anarchist is A) serious about creating conditions in which more people can perceive the workability of anarchism, or B) only interested in political posturing as a consumption good -- a way to exhibit ideological purity and self-righteousness.  None of our Libertarian activism is rational if it isn't in part a consumption good, but I think it becomes purely a consumption good if there is no plan or hope to move public policy in a libertarian direction other than by one new anarchist at a time.  That's not a political party, that's a cult -- the cult of the omnimalevolent state.


Anonymous said...

The heart of the issue here is that so-called "limited government libertarians" aren't really libertarians at all, in the strictest sense. If you're a libertarian - if, that is, you accept ZAP - you're an anarchist. There is and can be no libertarian rationale for the State. "Limited government libertarians" are really classical liberals with whom libertarians have forged an alliance, because of the many points of agreement between our two positions.

For purposes of practical politics, I'm willing to set all that aside and regard "limited government libertarians" as libertarians, but only as long as they fight to achieve a State no larger than the sort of "night watchman" State Ayn Rand claimed to favor.

I'd therefore join "limited government libertarians" in supporting tax credits for school tuition, but I do not favor vouchers. Unlike tax credits, vouchers open the door for an expanded State, one that dictates to private schools as well as to public schools.


Brian Holtz said...

Jeff, the heart of the issue is that you fail to distinguish between 1) opposing aggression and 2) merely abstaining from all possibility of it. There is a geolibertarian rationale for existence of the State, but you apparently haven't heard of it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the Libertarian Party can, in fact, become successful as, well, a party. The problem isn't within the Libertarian organization itself - it's broader than that. To make the LP successful, you have to change the target of your efforts: