Friday, 8 September 2006

Dumbing down the Libertarian Party

Always a mongrel composition of odd-bods, the US Libertarian Party has now succumbed to strategists, spin doctors and the unprincipled wielders of spread sheets and white boards who have moved to dumb down the party's only remaining virtue: its slate of principled policies. Lew Rockwell, who is himself rather prone to odd moment of oddball-ism, has some very good things to say about this very bad development:
For those who haven't heard, the large, pedagogically useful, principled, and detailed Libertarian Platform — the best thing about the party — has been relegated to the wayback machine and is now replaced with a new one that is tiny, vague, rhetorically slippery, accommodating, friendlier to the state, and non-threatening to mainstream opinion.

Why? The small band that orchestrated this coup confesses: they want the LP to gain power.

They've admired the way the Republicans and Democrats have done it, and now they want to do it too. Gone is the posture of opposition, the radicalism, the edge, the braininess.

The debate has been framed as one between dogmatists and pragmatists. What's remarkable here is how the pragmatists are willing to concede just about every criticism made by the principled LPers of old. They admit that they have watered down the entire program. They admit to being pure pragmatists. They admit that they like certain aspects of the state, and were unhappy with the consistency and comprehensive radicalism of the old platform.

Carl Milsted — who seems to have played the major role in this — puts it this way. The LP has waffled between two separate functions. It tries to be "a radical protest organization (a PETA for liberty)" and also a "political party to get freedom lovers elected to office," so he thinks the former role ought to be abandoned in order to achieve the latter.

But you know what? The LP was not founded to get people elected to office. It was founded to oppose the regime and educate the public, and use elections as the vehicle to do so. [...]

Milsted is right that the idea of a principled political party is incongruous. So what conclusion does he come to? Let's get rid of principle and stick to politics. It's like saying there is a fly in my soup, so let's get rid of the soup and eat the fly!
As an example of the dumbing down, consider these two statements on property rights; the first is from the old platform:
We oppose all violations of the right to private property, liberty of contract, and freedom of trade, especially those done in the name of national security.
Sound, clear and principled. And now from the new platform:
The right to property and its physical resources, which is the fundamental cornerstone of a free and prosperous society, has been severely compromised by government at all levels.
Uugh! The former clear statement of principle has been dumbed-down to bland feel-ggod mush. The mush-merchants who've taken over say that much-peddling will lead to vote-getting which will lead to ... well, they're not sure what since the point now is only to get their feet under the political table. To what end? Blank out. No idea. The goal now is just and only to get their feet under the table. More likely however, by peddling such mush they will fail to achieve either goal: they'll neither educate nor achieve any tangible 'power,' and even if they did, what would gaining 'power' achieve if they've lost any ability to educate?

The equation of principle is quite beyond the 'pragmatic' peddlers of mush. (I'm pretty sure I've said this before somewhere. More than once.) In politics, pragmatism is not practical. Principle is.

Perhaps the US Libertarian Party activists should have looked to what happened to the Costa Rican libertarians in their last election (about which both I and Jacqueline Mackey Paisley Passey blogged, as did hardore Costa Rican libertarian Jorge). Here's Jorge and and Jackie summarising the results of the new softcore Movimento Libertario (ML):

"Does abandoning principle “work”?

"To answer this question lets look at how the “radical” hard core ML performed four years ago. In 2002 the ML received 1.7% of the vote for President and 9.34% of the vote for the Asamblea, electing six Diputados (congressmen). To do this they spend a bit more than US$ 200,000 in privately raised funds, explicitly rejecting government funds as immoral.

"This time around, they spent roughly US$ 1,900,000 and accepted state funds. For President, Guevara received 8.4% of the vote (86.9% counted). For Diputado, the ML has received 9.08%. It seems that they have elected six, but one has a razor thin margin, which may just disappear when all the votes are counted. So far 83.4% have been processed."

So let's see... after spending 10 times as much, with 4 more years of experience and organizing time, in the end the new "pragmatic" Movimiento Libertario achieved... exactly what the old "radical" Movimiento Libertario had achieved in the previous election. Except instead of electing 5 real libertarians to the legislature they've elected 5 or 6 "mostly" libertarians.

So much for pragmatism achieveing anything. From a principled party with 5 hardcore elected deputies giving them a well-used platform to educate and enlighten people about the ideas and roots of liberty, they've now lost all their principled members, and lost also any opportunity to educate anyone, even themselves -- they've become just another dumbed-down bunch of sharks in shiny suits with no reason for being in power other than just being in power.

I trust local Libertarianz will absorb Rockwell's lesson, one they've heard so often from me: "The LP was not founded to get people elected to office. It was founded to oppose the regime and educate the public, and use elections as the vehicle to do so." Exactly right.

LINKS: The Party of vacuous rhetoric - Lew Rockwell, Mises Institute
A spoonful of principle helps revolution fire - Peter Cresswell, 'Free Radical,' 1998

National Platform of the [US] Libertarian Party - May 2004, courtesy of the 'Wayback Machine' National Platform of the [US] Libertarian Party - June 2006, US Libertarian Party website Liberty lost her principles down in Costa Rica - 'Not PC' (Peter Cresswell)
Movimiento Libertaria loses principles, gets spanked - Jacqueline Mackey Paisley Passey
...and they didn't even get the votes - 'Sunni & the Conspirators'
Putting the 'P' word into politics - Peter Cresswell, speech to Tauranga Regional Libertarianz conference, 2002

RELATED: Politics-US, Politics-World, Libertarianism, Libz, Property Rights, Politics-ACT

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