Saturday, June 9, 2012

Comment rescue (since I am a "less principled" Libertarian

Two comments by Carol Moore on a recent post are worth elevating (along with a couple of snippets from her blog) to a post all its own.

The problem is that every time it is not made clear that the existing government program is something created by and for a special interest that screws everyone else, deprives us of liberty and even allows the govt to persecute those it doesn't like, someone is going to get pissed off if that someone is very aware of how they are getting screwed. And then three other people will start to wonder when something overly statist will be said about some program where they feel they are getting screwed. So it's not just about ideology, it's about people getting screwed by government in their daily lives and want a CHAMPION against that sort of thing. At this point only Marijuana smokers who don't mind taxes and regulations can feel 100% that way about Johnson. Others remain wary he's on the verge of saying or doing something that will have us tearing out our hair.
We've got who we've got. But he's enough of a Politician to know that if sufficient numbers of the base/core grassroots activists and contributors are not happy with him, he may have more trouble getting signatures and raising money. Not to mention those embarrassing articles about "how come he's not as hard core as Ron Paul" or the LP platform on this or that issue. If no one complained the last six months he might not even be hard core enough for you to support :-) 
And from Carol's blog, a snippet that shows just how she divides the Libertarian movement in her thinking:
The Libertarian Party national leadership (the Libertarian National Committee) tends to swing back and forth between certain longtime pragmatic "partyarchs" with delusions of grandeur committed to winning at all costs and an ever revolving crew representing the large majority of more principled libertarians who want to get the message out - but don't intend to sell out. The latter tend not to show at the biannual national conventions quite as often as the former. (Photo grabbed from tv of Presidential Nominee Gary Johnson on the convention floor.)
This time a particularly power mad set of "libertarian" conservatives (mostly Israel supporters) - popularly known as the "cabal" - were royally trounced from the national committee that they assumed they easily would take over for a 5th year running. 
This captures--albeit in something less than objective terms--the split between what I would call dogmatist and pragmatic Libertarians, and in particular how they see electoral politics.

Dogmatists are generally whole-hog, theoretical Libertarians, who care passionately about the economic distinctions between Hayek and Mises an Friedman, and who view any deviation from the Libertarian Party platform as necessarily excluding one from the using the identifier for the rest of his or her life.  (They also don't like Israel.)  They view presidential nominations as a way to educate the masses rather than a mechanism for pursuing real political change, and they point--with some justified pride, by the way--to the fact that Libertarians have been responsible for much of the movement of the discourse about marijuana legalization in this country.  They take an extremely long view:  they can see the perfect Libertarian society way up there and will settle for nothing less.  They're just not real sure how to get there, even though they have completely ruled out political compromise as a mechanism for advancing the cause.

Today, folks like Lee Wrights and Les Antman represent the dogmatist position with wit, grace, and erudition, and if I believed that's what the Libertarian Party should be doing--as a political party--I would have been a huge Lew Wrights supporter.  Short of Dr. Mary Ruwart, I can't think of anyone who could make a better popular, even populist, theoretical argument for the philosophy.

But I'm not a dogmatist--I'm a pragmatist.  I'm certainly not a fan of Wayne Root, who I have diffculty fitting into any definition of Libertarian, and I thought Bob Barr was so much of a disaster that I publicly refused to support him.

What we've got now, however, is a pragmatic Libertarian candidate who is the first candidate that the LP has ever run who is actually qualified to be President of the United States.  I don't agree with him about everything, but I agree with him about so much, and--even better--he's actually got a record of governing that I can examine in order to see if he will do what he says he would do.

The grand steamroller of people that Carol finds in the first paragraph being more and more upset about government screwing them over have been either cowed, or educated, or lulled into not worrying about it so much because of all the government goodies they still get.

As for the idea that running a pragmatist with experience might make it difficult to raise money--the campaign actually is raising money, and building an organization across the entire country, and pursuing ballot access at the same time.  Did you miss that?

As for using Ron Paul as the hardcore gold-standard (pun intended) for what qualifies as Libertarian, I guess somebody ought to go back and re-read Liberty Defined.

Ron Paul is a Paulist, first, last, and always.

Here's my final note:  I think Gary Johnson is right that we are only six years or so away from becoming Greece.  And while Europe can survive without Greece, an American collapse has so many implications that I don't want to go there for myself or my children.

So I figure we've got--at best--two presidential elections to get it right.

Yep, Gary's the longest of long shots.

And that's the position we're in right now.


Less Antman said...

Gee, Steve, Lee Wrights is working hard to get ballot access for Johnson/Gray in all 50 states, and I've already made a direct financial contribution to Johnson's campaign. And Gary Johnson will confirm that my first words to him when I met him earlier this year were, "Welcome Home." Are you really comfortable labeling us as dogmatic?

You and I do have a disagreement on the most practical way for an LP presidential candidate to advance the cause of liberty, but I don't believe it is because you are a pragmatist and I am not. We are both principled and pragmatic libertarians who disagree on strategy and tactics.

[I do appreciate the kind and accurate words about my undeniable wit, grace, and erudition, but you forgot to mention my modesty. Watch it next time.]

Steven H. Newton said...


Part of the problem is that there really is not a good working term for the fundamental difference in position between the two primary "flavors" of Libertarianism that are not so loaded as to be prejudicial. It's like the fact that when you refer to people inside this country without benefit of papers as either "illegals" or "undocumented" you have already telegraphed a position and attacked your opponent.

I was reacting specifically to several comment Carol has made here, and to her shot about "more principled" Libertarians (which obviously did not include people like me, from context).

So while I am fine with being considered a "pragmatist" (as long as I can argue that Wayne Root belongs in the far far right of that camp known as "opportunistic pragmatist"), I have groped for years to come up with an acceptable term of use for the general position held by folks like you and Lee Wrights whom I genuinely respect even when I am in disagreement.

I don't like "purist" or "radical" because I don't think either captures the distinction without firing a shot at the other side. (If you are "pure" then I must be "impure" or otherwise compromised.)

I'm not really satisfied with "dogmatic" either.

So you tell me: what terms could be used for this split that are as nonjudgmental as possible?

And--ah shit, ooops--I did forget your modesty, which you wear like a pale yellow flower that never calls attention to itself. . . .

Nevermind, as Emily Littella used to say.

Less Antman said...

I'm not objecting to your choice of terms, but to your decision to classify me and Lee in the dogmatic camp. ;)

What I think you are properly stressing is the need for collegiality among libertarians, for an awareness that you, me, Carol, and Gary are on the same side of a very important battle, and that differences in strategy and tactics are not differences in principle, nor should they be viewed as mutually exclusive (Why can't some candidates focus on education AND others on getting elected? Why can't we inspire people with the vision of a completely free society AND propose and support politically viable steps in a libertarian direction?)

For that reason, I'd prefer NOT to figure out how to divide Libertarians into two flavors, but to figure out how to stop dividing Libertarians altogether.

Steven H. Newton said...

Point taken.

I will think about this seriously over the weekend, Les.