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Observations on the Libertarian Convention.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 27, 2004

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I will not be present in Atlanta this weekend for the Libertarian Party National Convention. It’s too bad, in a way. As a newcomer to the LP, I went to the 2002 Indianapolis convention and had a great time - I probably got ten hours of sleep total over four nights. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who shared my views. But party activism just isn’t up my alley, and after the initial excitement, that became increasingly clear to me.

And frankly, I think it should be up to the dedicated activists to decide who should be National Chair and the Presidential nominee. They’re the ones who give plenty of time, money, and emotion to the LP. Since they’re the ones who will be campaigning hard for the Presidential nominee, they should be the ones to decide who he will be.

And I probably will vote for the guy, unless I change my mind about voting from now until the November general elections. Some libertarians prefer not to vote at all, thinking that any kind of voting is an unacceptable sell-out with The State that suggests the right to coerce others. As of today, I have another view. No matter what we do, we are always making compromises with The State anyway - that’s a given. So I think we should make compromises with the State to liberty’s advantage. Voting for Libertarians is one such way. Not only is it a vote for eliminating many laws, programs, and taxes, it also sends a message to the Two-Party Establishment. The more people vote Libertarian today, the more Democrats and Republicans will adopt libertarian measures in the hope of winning libertarian votes. We can’t have complete "liberty in our lifetime," but we can build a movement toward greater freedom, which consists largely of reducing the size of government to the benefit of all.

To be honest, I don’t really want the Libertarian Party to ever get into power. Not that I’m afraid of it. Yes, I would love to have an influential libertarian voting bloc in Congress and in the State legislatures. But my fear is, if the Libertarian Party becomes successful, it will be because the LP sold out some core principles in order to achieve power. If that happens, then the very word "libertarian" can be manipulated and destroyed by Statists, going the way of "federalist" and "liberal."

The Libertarian Party should stick to its principles, to its platform, because libertarian beliefs are pretty much fixed. The Party shouldn’t abandon or apologize for its platform, and all revisions should be minor for the purposes of clarity and changing times. Will this ever win the LP an election? Probably not, but that’s not really the point, is it? The platform itself reflects H.L. Mencken’s ideal, a government that "barely escapes being no government at all."

What purpose does this serve? What’s the point of a political party, if not power? Something better: political change. If the platform is diluted, or if our nominee stands for non-libertarian principles, then the LP is not really seeking change, but rather a name for itself in order to make an impact during the election. And that is the path of selling out, and ultimately the demise of libertarianism as a viable political movement. The LP must never move in the direction of Statism.

The libertarian political movement must always reflect the libertarian political philosophy. The political change we seek is not the wonderful things that would happen if the Libertarian Party won power by any means necessary, but rather change that sees the major parties, and the nation and culture as a whole, move in a libertarian direction. The LP shouldn’t win power by becoming more and more like the major parties, the LP’s purpose should be to encourage the major parties to become more and more like the LP.

I should make distinction here between "selling out" and "compromise." To compromise is to work tirelessly but end up accepting half a loaf, in the hopes of getting the rest later. It is both frustrating and honorable: progress is made, but not wholly toward our liking. To sell out, however, means to become a whore in order to get the half a loaf - you lose a lot more than you gain. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between compromising and selling out. Knowing we can’t get everything at once, some libertarians will accept things that other libertarians, who would compromise on other things, won’t accept. It’s an unfortunate mess. The only "ideal" libertarian candidate, to a libertarian, is himself.

So, far be it from me to tell dedicated LP delegates to the National Convention who they ought to select as Presidential nominee and National Chair, or even to tell them what their vision for the Party should be. I write here, instead, to encourage all of them to follow their conscience and convictions.

Asking only to remember these things:

1. The reason you are here is that you believe in the libertarian political philosophy, not because you believe in the Libertarian Party. The Party is the means, and just one means, to libertarian ends.

2. We want political change, not political power.

3. The truth sets us free. We must always speak libertarian truth, and not dress it up with cliches, pretty phrases, or less-than-honest statements to make us more acceptable to the Establishment’s academic, political, and media wings. Janis Joplin famously sang Kris Kristofferson’s lyric: "Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose." The Libertarian Party is like that, and, being powerless, it is free to speak truth to power.

4. Libertarianism will always be a minority movement - the struggle for liberty always is. It’s not that people blindly follow authority, or will freely give up liberty for security, or have any strong political convictions whatsoever. The reality is, most people just want to stay out of trouble and do the most convenient thing - and who’s to blame them?. On top of this, remember that the average IQ is 100. When the people vote at all, it is often out of self-interest for immediate gains. I’m not condeming or judging such people; this is the world as it is. People will habituate themselves to the conditions and beliefs pounded into them at an early age; they are resistant to change. And the Libertarian Party can not and will not win their votes, because libertarians require less prejudice and less traditional belief, but demand more thought. The Libertarian Party’s opportunity is at the margins - disgusted people who think. The struggle for liberty, now fought worldwide by what is called the libertarian movement, is usually and ultimately fought by intellectuals, and not by the people. The people will become libertarian only to the degree that libertarian intellectuals capture and transform our established social institutions. Obviously, this will take a long time. This or that vote total for this or that election won’t mean much. The contest is, therefore, really about the future of libertarianism. And this means:

5. In these important races for National Chair and for the Presidential Nomination, the best thing to do is vote your conscience, to vote for the people who best advance the principles of libertarianism as you understand them and believe in them. If you are a whore, a sell-out, a coward, or an office-seeker, you wouldn’t be a delegate to the Libertarian National Convention, would you? You became a libertarian because of your conscience and convictions. Now is not the time for deviation, now is not the time to betray your conscience for the sake of a party. Vote for Party officers and the Presidential nominee who would best advance your own brand of libertarianism. Discard anyone whom you believe is a sell-out or otherwise terribly misguided. Support those whose "compromises" and/or "transitional policies" make you cringe the least. To do this, you are already compromising, because no other candidate would do exactly what you would do. But compromising doesn’t mean selling out, and this leads to:

6. You won’t always get what you want. Other libertarians disagree with you as to what the most important issues are, and who the best candidate is. Ultimately, it all comes down to a vote. And that’s all the more reason to stick to your guns and to your conscience. Don’t vote for the guy who might make the best impact for the Party, always vote for the guy whose version of libertarianism most agrees with yours. If it comes to a second ballot, and your favorite has been eliminated, vote for the remaining candidate who agrees with you most. Keep on going until the thing is settled.

All I’m saying is, Libertarian activists have earned the right to select their Presidential nominee and other officers. I don’t have the right. Non-voting libertarians don’t have the right. But Libertarian Party activists do what they do out of a love for liberty. I just want to warn them, for all of their years of frustration and non-progress, that it is still true: that liberty, truth, and justice demand sticking to your convictions, and not selling out.

It’s always about libertarianism, not about a Party. Select those candidates and party officers who best advance libertarianism as you understand it. And in any case, never sell out your conscience or convictions. Remember that the Libertarian Party is the Party of Principle.

If all Libertarians at the Atlanta convention remember that, then the Party will be fine. Stick to liberty, stick to principle, and we will win in the end.

Ah, who am I kidding? The LP is nuts if it doesn’t nominate Aaron Russo (www.russoforpresident.com/).

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