Blogs > Liberty and Power > Betrayal in Portland

Jul 7, 2006 5:52 pm

Betrayal in Portland

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

Meeting in Portland over (ironically enough) Independence Day weekend, the Libertarian Party convention ended up gutting the LP Platform, removing nearly all of the more radical planks (including the antiwar one). The new watered-down platform hasn’t been made available online yet, but preliminary details, and some reactions, are available here, here, here, and here.

The outfit behind this move calls itself the Libertarian Reform Caucus. Their theory is a simple one: most voters are not libertarians, so if the Libertarian Party wants to win elections, it must stop being libertarian.

That’s not quite how the Caucus words it, of course. Instead they accuse the Platform of “sacrificing practicality and political appeal in favor of philosophical consistency”; and they call instead for a Platform that sets out “a realistic vision for the next few years, as opposed to an idealistic vision of a libertarian future.”

To this sort of thing I can make no better reply than Hayek’s in his 1949 essay The Intellectuals and Socialism:

We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems neither a mere defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism ... which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote. ... Free trade and freedom of opportunity are ideals which still may arouse the imaginations of large numbers, but a mere “reasonable freedom of trade” or a mere “relaxation of controls” is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire any enthusiasm. The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote. Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.
Or in Garrison’s words: “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.” (See also Rothbard here and Anthony Gregory here.)

Well, does it matter? If I regarded having a libertarian political party as the essential core of libertarian strategy, I would regard the Portland debacle as a major disaster. If instead I agreed with the Konkinites and Voluntaryists that political parties have no place in libertarian strategy, I would shrug my shoulders and say “what do you expect? good riddance.” But (for reasons I explain toward the end of my recent anarchism lecture) I’m actually somewhere in between: I think libertarian strategy should focus primarily on education and building alternative institutions, but I think a political party has a significant albeit secondary role to play in the process. (I guess that makes me a “Moderate Agorist” – a rara avis indeed?) So from my point of view, the reformist takeover of the LP Convention, while it isn’t the end of the world, is still an evil worth fighting.

The success of the reformists isn’t inevitable. They did a lot of hard work to push their victory through. We who prefer a consistent defense of liberty need to do a lot of hard work to roll that victory back.

The strategic question is, should reformism be fought from within the Party – or from without, by starting a new and more consistent party? At this point it’s probably too soon to say. Accordingly, I favour exploring both strategies in parallel. Specifically, I currently support and recommend both the Grassroots Libertarian Caucus and the Boston Tea Party. (About the latter see here.)

As always, Fight the Power.

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More Comments:

Bill Woolsey - 7/11/2006

It is paradoxical that Long provides a long quotation from Hayek, when the traditional LP platform is designed to make it clear that Hayekians aren't welcome in the LP. Rather than developing a document that provides a consensus position that all libertarians (and classical liberals, if you prefer) would find an improvement relative to the status quo, it instead codified Rothbard's line. It was a place where the Rothbardians could win a victory of the neo-objectivists (their only real competitors within the LP in the early days) as well as the Hayekians.

Anyway, the reform position is that the LP should give voice to the 15% to 20% of Americans who want more personal and economic liberty. These are people unhappy with conservatives and liberals.

The proposals of such a party would be reforms that reduce the size and scope of government in all areas.

More personal freedom, more economic freedom, less foreign intervention.

Because the Republicans propose empire and enforcement of traditional morals, and the Democrats propose expanded government spending and regulation, there is no party that proposes what the reformers want the LP to propose.

As for ideologues, the reformers want all sorts of libertarians to be part of the LP--Hayekians as well as Rothbardians. "Friedmanites" (or whatever one would call someone who more or less agrees with the positions Milton Friedman has promoted.)

The reformers don't beleive the LP platform should be an arena where pseudo-politics is used to replace the market-place of ideas, in some kind of effort for ideological victory.

Let the market place of ideas be the arena for ideological debate. Let the LP platform and positions be positions aimed at appealing to those who generally want more personal and economic freedom.

Anthony Gregory - 7/10/2006

Thanks for the link. Funny enough, I wrote that piece without any knowledge of what had happened in Portland.

Aster Francesca - 7/9/2006

I did attend the convention, and the ironic thing in my view is that the organisation which gutted the platform, the Libertarian Reform Caucus, is mostly composed of authentic, passionate, well-intentioned people whom I must highly respect. Not only that, but their favoured strategy for the Libertarian movement is also my own... to seek and alliance with the economically moderate left, socially liberated left which is currently deprived of any political voice. The problem is that I am convinced that those in a position to take over a moderated LP are precisely the slimy right-wing psuedo-libertarian Party heirarchy. The fact that the platform changes clearly reflect a rightward slant is more evidence of this.

The LRCers won because they were organised, passionate, and above all *honest* spokesman for a plausible position which will have terrible results. The presence of one oddball fundamentalist Christian on their ranks (not typical of the whole group) is a sign of of what will really happen.

Otherwise, I will merely note that in an LP which does not on principle respect *all* human rights, it will become progressively more dangerous for those of us who refuse unjust laws to present ourselves authentically at future party events. There are those in the Party (such as my state chair, a lying, cowardly, bigoted, backstabbing traitor by the name of Aaron Starr) who would be glad of this.

Jason T. Kuznicki - 7/8/2006

Why can't we have a LP that would be very, very good -- but maybe only on the most serious issues? Pick the Iraq war, the war on drugs, and the massive growth of federal entitlements, and call for an immediate abolishment of each. Leave things at that, for now.

For the moment at least, I could take or leave private roads, the rights of children with regard to their parents, and much of the other stuff in the former LP platform. I agree in principle that private roads would be better -- no question. But there are some fights more worth fighting.

This is not to say that I am a gradualist in everything -- but I do think that concentrating on the very worst abuses, and opposing those with all possible force, will do the most good.

Sheldon Richman - 7/8/2006

The party has come a long way since I was vice chairman 1981-83. I dropped out back then, and I'm glad I wasn't there to witness what just happened.

Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 7/7/2006

I always had the impresion the libertarian party was mainly constituted by right wingers who, as they say, "like to smoke pot". This seems to confirm that impresion. Maybe it will be time for true libertarians to create an alternative party instead of fighting for this one...don't you think?

David T. Beito - 7/7/2006

I have not been a member of the LP for many years but have voted Libertarian in every election.

It makes no sense to describe thsi "reform," at least with regard to the war, as practical or pragmatic. What sense does it make abandon or downplay opposition to the Iraq war at a time when most Americans have turned against the war?

The people responsible for this change are either ignorant of this fact or, more likely, they using "pragmatism" as pretext to advance a narrow pro-war ideology that only a minority of Americans now believe.

With Roderick, I hope that the LP can be redeemed, perhaps by running a strong antiwar candidate.