Phil Sage asks a question
I thought I'd already answered many times before: Why can't we all just get along. (Here's one of my more recent answers, disagreeing with The Whigette
on her proposition that ideas don't matter.) The first and most obvious question is, "What's with the 'we,' white man?"
Phil's questioning ensues from his observing with "bemusement & frustration ... the almost complete self destruction of ACT over the last 12-18 months." Phil thinks all those "travelling in the same direction" -- whom he decribes variously as "Libertarian Travellers" and "travellers in the direction of Freedom with Responsibility" -- should stop their infighting, and work together in the same covert way as the Marxists, Trotskyites and fellow travellers have been in order to get their own noxious ideas into parliament.
As one of those named by Phil as an "infighter" happy to "stand on the sidlines sniping" I thought I should answer the question again, and correct a few misconceptions. (And as Phil called me both "brilliant" and "insightful" I'll do so very, very gently.) My own position has always been that any
move in the direction of freedom that has no associated new
compulsion is a good thing. A Very Good Thing
. Anyone travelling in that direction is just fine with me, just as long as they get on with it. However, rather than standing on the sidelines sniping, I've always considered myself to be one of the chaps who erects the goal posts, marks out the field, and keeps persuading the players to move the ball as rapidly as possible towards the correct end of the field - the one with 'More Freedom!' painted on the hoardings.
To mix metaphors, if Phil and others are really serious about fighting the good fight with like-minded others in order to get your ideas into parliament -- if that really and truly is your aim -- then the most important thing in your combat unit is not footsoldiers, of which there is an abundance, but Intellectual Ammunition and plenty of it; a Quartermaster to keep it in order; and a good understanding of the bullets your soldiers are actually firing. In short, you need to know what ideas you're aiming to get into parliament, and why they matter.
Confusion on this is endemic. For instance,
that idea of moving in the right direction; that position of More Freedom with No New Compulsion
-- who could possibly object to that? But what exactly does "the right direction" mean? What does "compulsion
" look like, and why is it wrong? And what exactly does 'freedom' mean anyway, and why does it matter? (Here, at least, is what I mean by 'freedom
.') If we can't even agree on the words we use, then why assume we're even heading in the sme direction? And if everyone simply chooses their own path, then whatever expedition we decide to mount in whatever company we decide on is not going to get very far before some travellers are distracted by the delights of easy compulsion and bright lights of the baubles of office.
No, if you want to get your ideas into parliament by working with fellow travellers, you at least have to some basic agreement on the direction in which you're travelling, and on what your fellow travellers mean by their most basic notions. If we can't even agree on the meaning of words such as 'freedom,' we're not going to travel very far together.
And why assume that your fellow travellers appear only on your putative side of the aisle? If more freedom with no new compulsion is your rallying cry, then Labour's
Civil Union Bill and legalisation of prostitution are both Good Things, as is the Greens' now unfortunately muted call
decriminalising marjuana. And on Phil's side of the aisle we can point to National's introduction of the RMA, NCEA, BIA and the whole hand-wringing, cheque-writing, holy-rolling Waitangi Gravy Train as Bad Things -- Very, Very Bad Things (not to mention some of the Very Bad Things wearing National's colours in the House
). And speaking of good things from odd places, how about that 1984-1990 Labour Government, eh? (Such a shame about all the new compulsion, such as the increased tax take and Douglas's fortunately canned proposal to put the whole country on welfare via his Government-funded Minimum Family Income (GMFI) scheme.)
If getting your ideas into parliament is your standard, then be prepared to celebrate whenever and wherever they appear. And be equally prepared too to point out the backsliding and the compulsion. If a politician thinks they can get away with the easy road of more compulsion, then be assured they always will.
But there's another problem. One other significant problem with getting the ideas of freedom into parliament is that the very people Phil describes as my fellow travellers freely confess that ideas per se
bore them rigid -- as this thread confirms only too sadly
. "I just don't fucking get libertarian philosophy. And I don't care that I don't get it," says one particular wet hen who Phil presumably thinks should be a bedfellow. These are allies, Phil? In getting ideas into parliament? Are you sure?
Phil wonders why I "stand so firmly on points of principle," and why I don't just join in with the compromisers. Coming back full circle, one answer to that is contained in his own introduction: look at how well compromise has worked for ACT. Ironically, it is "the almost complete self destruction of ACT" that kicked off Phil's musings, but he fails to see the connection between ACT's self-destruction and its penchant for compromise, and as a contrast National's recent rise and its belated rediscovery of principle -- however partial and mealy-mouthed that rediscovery has been. Given Phil's stated disppointment at the self-destruction of the party of compromise, it would be odd if he were now to advocate ACT's past pursuit of compromise and me-too-ism as the solution for his Fellow Travellers.
In the end, it is not compromise and vacillation that moves the world, it's ideas and principles -- the trick then is to have your
principles being the ones at work. (See for example Vaclav Havel's espousal of this point
.) As Victor Hugo once observed, you can stop an army of soldiers but you can never stop an army of ideas; the only way to fight ideas is with better ones. It's about ideas, stupid!
As Ayn Rand points out so often, defending your ideas badly is worse than not defending them at all. Allowing in silence the ideas you value "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools" is hardly calculated to see your ideas victorious, and nor is seeing it happen likely to enamour you to the various twisters. If you do know right from wrong and freedom from coercion, then why would you continue to advocate for even a little coercion -- for just a few people beign roughed up -- instead of shouting from the rooftops for freedom ? Is there any doubt that if all 'fellow travellers' really did that they'd make a voice loud enough to be heard, and powerfully enough to 'make a difference'?
If politics is truly the art of the possible, then the more shouting about freedom you do outside
parliament, then the easier it is for the political ballast inside
the House to move in that direction -- in fact, you're making it politically expedient to do so.
So on the subject of laying down and being walked all over I'm with Margaret Thatcher, who famously told a Tory conference eager to force a U-turn on her then-bold policy of privatisation and deregulation, "U
turn if you want to, the Lady is not
for turning." If that's
being a Lady, then I'm all for many more of them.
And if you're still
not sure what a libertarian is for, then hearken to this: What's a libertarian for?Linked Articles: ACT, The Whig, Loudon, Falloon, Bhatnagar, Not PC & infighting among Libertarian fellow travellers - Phil SageIn Answer to The Whigette on 'Definition of a Libertarian' - PCFrom intervention to freedom, in several easy steps - Not PCCue Card Libertarianism - ForceCue Card Libertarianism - FreedomWhat's a libertarian for? - PC