The Great Experiment Revisited:
Can the Libertarian Party create a visual demonstration of how liberty will work for Americans?
Is it possible for the Libertarian Party to change the form and content of the political dialogue so that we demonstrate to middle America how real institutions founded on individualist principles can work?
Can we become a political movement that creates tangible examples that show freedom to be the most benevolent choice?
Can the Libertarian Party become the instrument for political transformation that will eliminate government as we know it today, allowing us to consider just how much government is necessary? Yes. But first the LP must transform itself.
In this article we will examine the cultural dynamics of freedom movements; the cognitive faculties used by individuals to make choices, the meaning of freedom and equality, and suggest an agenda of changes for the Libertarian Party to adopt that would create a coalition, drawing from both right and left, to carry out the Freedom Agenda.
Every large endeavor necessitates a vision statement. We already have ours. It is over two hundred years old and inscribed on hemp paper. We will first examine how it came into existence.
The Origin of America’s Vision Statement
America is the great experiment. The purpose of the Libertarian Party has always been to continue the work begun by our Founders. Our Founders knew that they did not have all of the answers. We might view them as heroic figures grounded in certainties, but they were not. They were real people, heir to human weaknesses. They worried. They doubted. They struggled with each point in a cultural atmosphere fraught with problems of monumental proportions. Slavery divided them along with culturally based values that made even their understanding of what freedom is a complex of questions and misunderstandings.
The representative Republic they adopted as their model was the most radical form of government then imagined by the mind of Man. They accepted the imperfections of which they were aware and moved on to address other issues, leaving for future generations further consideration of what the best institutional forms might be to accomplish individual liberty.
It was an astonishing accomplishment, unprecedented in world history. Instead of continuing the use of already existing practices and forms they adopted new ways of handling human institutions for the governance of human action.
This accomplishment is even more astonishing when we remember that they did so without the tools of understanding created by humankind in the past 200 years.
They did not understand economics as a discipline with mathematically based principles. Adam Smith first published Wealth of Nations in 1776. They did not understand that human action itself laid on a base of biological reality. Science had not revealed to them the enormity of what they did not know about the origins of their species, their religious institutions, the nature of the world around them and the dynamics of human value exchange. Their view of biology had been originated in the misty past and still accepted the view that babies were the product of men; tiny hommoculi that embedded themselves in the womb of woman. This was the justification for denying women any rights over their own children. Ours is not the first generation to be confronted by the distortative effects of fraudulent science.
Fish do not question water. They did not question the culture that both drew them together and divided them.
Slavery was an issue that they would leave on the table. Women’s rights remained a cultural deviation, invisible to their political dialogue.
Their lack of understanding was enormous. Their accomplishment was therefore the greater.
These variations in understanding essential aspects of individual rights resulted in the Civil War and linger with us today. Now we have created other tools for understanding the content of the world; its laws of genetics, physics and mathematics. The nature of reality daily grows more visible through disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and interdisciplinary studies such as that which has grown out of the interface of law and economics, law and biology.
The Founders were people uneasy with the force and threat represented by centralized government. They had only a limited number of examples of institutions for governance. These were drawn from the past. They did not choose a representative republic and the democratic process without strong reservations. They did not anoint it as a form of government. They decided to try it out. Human forms and institutions serve us. We do not serve them.
Their successors made the mistake of accepting the Constitution and its forms as the final word, to be modified but not substantially changed. It became instead of a working document for the accomplishment of individual freedom holy writ handed down from minds wiser and more informed. This was a mistake founded in the respect accorded our Founders, but it was a mistake, nonetheless.
Time has also revealed to us the problems inherent in the institutions of governance that they could never imagine. The power and intrusiveness of government as it is today would have been stranger to them than our nation’s space program.
The shape of our institutions today and the habits of mind those institutions express, are becoming the shape of the future. What those institutions say right now is not good for freedom. We therefore need to change our institutions so that they are freedom based and assume the efficacy of individualist answers. When that happens we will be on the road to demonstrating to Americans, and therefore the world, that freedom is the best, the only choice for creating a compassionate, and inclusive future.
We need to understand where we came from, how the vision of individualism got off track so that we can formulate a strategy that will put us where we need to be.
Where we have been means we have to examine the philosophical background against which the Revolution was fought.
Is there a single vision for the meaning of the words liberty and equality now, 200 years after that war ended? What did liberty and equality mean to colonial Americans?
The original American colonists were, Puritan, Quaker, Chesapeake (the second and third sons of English aristocracy) and Scots-Irish. Others were present, including Huguenots, Catholics, Irish, German and some of everything imaginable, but these are the four major groupings at the time the war began. It was their distinct understandings of liberty that forged our original vision for freedom and equality.
Both Puritans and Quakers approached the question of liberty from a spiritual viewpoint. The individual, man and woman, was spiritually distinct, acting through freewill. This understanding acted to modify their cultural practices. Quaker women were free to preach and occupy leadership roles in the Quaker world. Puritan women owned and controlled property. Voting in many parts of New England was property based and not limited by gender.
Their migration to the New World was motivated by spiritual needs.
Their model for liberty resided inside the individual person. The Revolution was the political expression for their spiritual beliefs.
The Chesapeakes and Scots-Irish had different models derived from their very different cultural histories. These immigrants wanted to establish for themselves a life style that would shortly come under fire in England.
The second and third sons of English aristocracy transplanted the estate system from England. It was familiar, desirable, and comfortable. It was highly hierarchial in practice requiring the labor of many subordinate individuals to make it profitable. In England, these workers had been serfs. In the Old Dominion and later throughout the Old South, these laborers would be black slaves.
For these barons of the New World, liberty was a franchise limited to a few land owners who were born to their positions. The idea of freedom trickled in with a diverse population of emigrants who forged the cooperative practices that allowed them to coexist while remaining distinct and separate. The colonies were a mixing place for people and ideas that allowed them to experiment with variations on already existing institutional models for governance and so changed their perceptions of individual autonomy. Thus the need to accommodate the continuing influx of emigrants provided the motivation to innovate. Ideas regarding the nature of human liberty and equality provided cognitive models for change.
The Scots-Irish themselves were an intensely tribal people who had withstood generations of border warfare against the English. The rights of the individual were subsumed and subordinated to the need of the clan. Their folk ways and their practices reflected this. The generations after their settlement transmuted their understanding of liberty and equality.
The concepts freedom and equality were changing. The Old Dominion was to give birth to a variety of understandings on this question. These transmuted ideals shared a new vision of freedom.
All of these traditions for freedom and equality came together in the Declaration of Independence, providing the vision statement that remains alive with us today. The underlying differences remain with us, unseen, but active. These differences are one of the causes for the freedom movement’s failure to arrive at a consensus on means and direction.
America’s Vision Statement
“We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
This is the vision statement for the American Revolution that was already in process when it was inscribed on paper. The body meeting held very different understandings for equality and liberty. The writer of those words, Thomas Jefferson, had derived his vision of liberty from his own broad reading and from introspection and dialogue among his peers.
This vision is the common understanding among Americans, including Libertarians, today. It is an idea that bridges the past, present and future. It remains the article of faith and point of direction for an ever growing humanity. When projected into the future the differences of source and weight blend and merge. Concepts such as freedom and equality then take on a clarity that is impossible when we look at them through the everyday political dialogue.
The Declaration of Independence assumed that governments are human inventions. It asserted the absolute right to alter them, acknowledging that they are malleable, and making it clear they are the tools for creating outcomes that enforce a vision of human equality and freedom. They placed no limit on this right to edit the cultural institutions they put in place or those that preceded them.
Governments possessed no rights. They were institutional tools for the protection of human values.
If all of human kind are actually created equal it has to mean that equality is not connected to the individual’s intelligence, attractiveness, abilities, age, race or gender. This is not a statement of biological reality. It is not a statement of present day institutional practice. It is a principle of cultural intention; a defining, but intuitive, assertion. It spoke to the nature of each individual before the existence of human institutions, something about which the Founders knew very little. Their basis for understanding the forces of creation and human evolution came from religiously founded mythologies. These are also the foundations of philosophy, science and all human institutions today.
This vision statement is still both valid and unattaineable. That is what the Libertarian Movement needs to change.
Immediately following the Revolution an interesting cultural sorting took place. Individuals and families pulled up stakes and moved. Some slaver-holders in the North moved to the South. But the far greatest movement was from the Southern states to those whose cultural practices expressed the more individualist values of the Puritan/Quaker spiritual model. People voted with their feet to abandon the culture that supported the practice of slavery.
The consequences for this would not become evident for decades. The logical consequences of the very different meanings held in the words, ‘liberty and equality,’ would make the conflict we know as the Civil War inevitable. That the Civil War also became the instrument of Federalism means that the content of the dialogue had shifted from an understanding of liberty to a debate over which form of state oppression best protected the privileges of the few.
Three cultural strategies fatal to freedom joined forces. The first of these was the shift in American thought that made the experiment with a form of government more central to their national identity than the ideals that it was supposed to protect. The second was the alliance of government with special interests that gained weight and force beginning with the Civil War. These haunt us today. But it is the third factor that provides the justification for the present form of government and arms them with the moral high ground.
The Failure of Liberty
The Temperance Movement, which was originally intended to limit itself to voluntary abstinence, moved to a legislatively oriented goal though the action of a majority of women. This first War on Drugs failed, of course. Most women are not ideological and simply look for answers that might work. When those answers are founded on collectivist principles the impact on the culture, and liberty, can be very, very bad.
Women dominated political groups have a strong history of accomplishing their political goals despite the irrationality of those goals. Therefore, it is unsafe to not address their concerns. Far from being unimportant they touch on the most visceral questions of liberty and equality and should always have been addressed first. Here, opportunity meets discretion and good sense.
Women dedicated to establishing rights for women in marriage, the right to vote, the right to own property and raise the children born of their own bodies were confounded in their attempts for decades. The Declaration of Sentiments, written at the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 mirroring the Declaration of Independence, was firmly founded on individualist principles. By the time their struggle reached its fifth decade the original proponents were dying and being replaced by women who accepted help from the only people willing to work with them. Most of these people were collectivists of one kind or another.
If women had been conceded the right to vote, own property, marry by contract without having their rights limited, monitored and controlled by government; been able to sue for abuse and other violations of their autonomy there would have been no Temperance Movement. There would have been no drug war today, most likely.
When the institutions and culture of a society disallows force, coercion and fraud there are no victims to use as a justification for legislative depredations on the rights of individuals. The continuing plight of women and children was and remains the moral high ground on which the State founds its invasions of individual rights.
Fix that and we create at one time a coalition between right and left and a demonstration of how individualist principles work. Further failures to act will leave us trying to hold back a wall of water with a copy of your favorite libertarian book.
Welfare, entitlements, and other regulatory interventions distort free markets. They exist today because of the failure to apply individualist principles to the problems that confront individuals.
The authors of these policies were wrong about how to create social justice. They were right about the need. Collectivism does not work. But those who applied the answers were doing their best. It is not their fault they failed. It is ours.
When we ignored the proper concerns for social justice expressed by compassionate and informed activists we allowed the foundations to be laid for the State as it is today. Any answer that works must answer all of the previous questions.
Liberty has a logic and a lineage. Liberty itself is a cultural strategy that has changed the world. If it is not achieved using one set of practices it will move over to another. Individualism, expressed by our Founders had the first shot. Now the collectivists have failed and we are again up to bat. What can freedom accomplish now while the bases are filled?
The Lineage of Liberty
Let us consider for a moment some other movements that were successful in changing the world for freedom.
It will probably surprise you to know that early Christianity was, in fact, a freedom movement for the most disadvantaged. Women. In the classical pagan world women were considered chattel. Owned, sold into early marriage, forced to abort unwanted pregnancies, kill their infants, resold if their husbands died, not allowed to speak in their own defense or raise a hand to keep their children from a similar fate. They owned nothing, being property themselves. No manumission was possible short of the grave. In early Christian communities it was different. A woman chose her husband and when she would marry. She was free to keep her children; she was a respected member of the church community, contributing time and money in her own name. How did this change that world? Look around you. In the 300 years that this was true of Christianity the sect grew from an original estimate of 3,000 to a majority of the population. Other factors contributed. Such as nursing the sick, family and pagan neighbors, through the frequent plagues that afflicted cities, but the increase is steady, lead by the majority of women in the Christian sects. A steady 40% a decade until Christianity was the dominant religion of the Western World. You can view Christianity as a religion and disregard its effects. Or you can view it as a philosophical and cultural pattern of behaviors that worked. Benevolence worked. Freedom worked. The world changed. When I began studying the cultural content of freedom movements I did not expect to find Christianity among them. But it was. So was Islam, it its early years. Again, lead by increased freedom for women, it became a major cultural force along with becoming a major religion. But we do not need to end our inquiry with religions. We can look as the origins of America itself. Early Puritans and Quakers, despite reports to the contrary, were bastions of comparative female freedom. That is not to say that they were what we would view today as egalitarian in a gender sense, only that they gave women a greater share of freedom than the cultural and religious offerings otherwise available to them. Women, the least free, chose, and the world changed. The American Revolution, Transcendentalist Movement, the Abolitionist Movement, the Suffragist Movement. Each of these reflect the same underlying dynamics. Women worked, most often without
credit, and the world changed.
The reason that New England, the source and strength of the American Revolution, was able to field the incredible 10,000 men marching towards Concord on April 19th lay in the fact that wives, mother, sisters and daughters both urged them to act and continued to provide the capital to make it possible.
Making Freedom Visible
Freedom is a cherished human value. Individuals move towards conditions of freedom whenever and wherever they can. We know that people die every day trying to enjoy the freedom offered by America. They weight the dangers of sneaking across borders and they put their lives at risk. They would not send in a donation to the LP, even if they knew it existed. The political dialogue that takes place so visibly to us, isn’t even background noise to most people around the world. People listen attentively to what you do. Speak loudly and clearly with your actions. Libertarians need to ask themselves, who is our constituency? Who most needs the benefits of freedom? Women are the best constituency. They most need freedom. But that is only one reason that Libertarians should take up their issues of freedom. Libertarianism needs women more that women need us. Women bring to their political and social activism values and abilities that enable and ensure their success – even when they are dead wrong. When those who understood failed to protect and defend the rights of those most at risk the battle for liberty was lost to all of us. Libertarians want to believe that we are the defenders of individual freedom. That is a claim ignored and disparaged by the left, who have held the moral high ground in this country for three generations. The civil rights movement, the anti-war movement of the Vietnam Era, challenging the state for the handicapped and for women; the left has engaged the establishment and changed law and custom.
What are the cultural practices and institutions that would allow for an optimal expression of human equality and freedom? Before we take up the question of what to do we need to consider where we want to go.. We must also consider the nature of political dialogue and the process by which the majority of Americans adopt new practices and customs.
How can we effectively communicate to our fellow Americans the forms of governance that will best perform the functions now carried out by government on all levels?
We must fight the perceptions that the Federal government is a sacrosanct entity that properly exists for its own purposes. This is the heritage of the failure of the Civil War along with the long-term working alliances forged between government on all levels and business. The common perception today is that government is the only institutional means for governance,.
We have all of the means we can imagine at our disposal. There are a lot of things that we have irrefutably established do not work. The past thirty years have both educated us and enlarged the tools at our disposal There have also been success stories. Privatization is one of these. Both of the original libertarian think tanks, Cato and Reason, used models for privatization to produce policy that is now being adopted into mainstream usage. Privatization has worked because it provides a means to demonstrate that it works. The consumer, in this case the governmental entity, can see that their costs drop or the service provided is more satisfactory by other criteria.
Markets work. Where market mechanisms can be introduced the unwieldy governmental management models can be changed. The first successes were small and regional. Now there is an entire industry that is founded on making money to provide privatization studies and services. A simple perusal of the internet reveals many sources and applications for this growing industry.
But privatizing services, thus reintroducing elementary economic principles back into the institutional fabric of government, fails to go to the main issue.
The issue is still freedom and equality. The question libertarians must answer is this. Is the Libertarian Party presenting a viable vision with a better alternative to the American people? If we are marketing a political product, who is our market?
The median Libertarian is a computer engineer, in his late 30’s or 40’s. He is unmarried, doing well in his professional life, and reads science fiction. He is an ideologue, making him one of a very small minority of the general population. His issues are getting government out of his life, making drugs, especially marijuana, legal, and lowering or eliminating taxes and regulations.
This is reflected by the content of the National Libertarian Party web site. If this is the audience the Libertarian Party will never win elections. But that is the least of the problems.
Calling the Question
We now approach the crux of the question. In the market of political action the Libertarian Party uses the forms and structure of a political party in attempting to change policy through persuasion. It is trying to reach a limited population of people who are very familiar with an ongoing political dialogue. But Libertarians have, presumably, very different goals than do any other political party. Libertarians are committed to an agenda that ends the role of government in almost all parts of our lives. There is no reason to limit ourselves to the present forms for introducing political and cultural changes for freedom. In fact, doing so limits both the scope and impact of what we are saying.
If we want to dispense with the State we must convince our fellow Americans that the State is unnecessary for their welfare and safety. As long as people of good character and intelligence believe that only government can ensure their safety and protect them they will continue to support the continuation of government and all of its agencies.
This is an unpalatable truth for ideologues, which includes most Libertarians. As such, we integrate ideas, translating those into what the future could be if the State ceased to exist. We are willing to work to make that happen because we see, vaguely in many cases, how the functions presently in the hands of government would be carried out.
Our fellow Americans do not share this viewpoint. They are not ideologues. They accept change cautiously. They are culturally conservative because that approach has a proven track record over time. It is not perfect but they believe it to be perfectible and better than their other options. They are unwilling to accept the risks inherent in adopting unproven Libertarian policies. Many years of political activity have demonstrated that the objections to our ideas most often take this form.
All people understand visual, real life demonstrations of better approaches to any problem. Better computer strategies run through the Internet like wildfire. The changes wrought by the automobile and telephone remain historic evidence that emulation of successful and useful technologies can take place rapidly, replacing whole industries and remaking the economy. But this only happens when the advantages are clear. Individuals see better choices and change follows.
Politics is only one of the venues through which Libertarians can work. Even though the Libertarian Party is the instrument that does not mean that we must conform to the expectations for political parties. We can adopt what ever forms best suit our purposes.
The point is creating demonstrations that our philosophy provides policies that work. Shifting the ground gives us the advantage of also being able to function outside the expectations for political activism. Political action exists within the larger market formed by the intersection of choice and all human action. There are markets with potential audiences that are much larger than any we can contact though political action and dialogue.
We are not just selling political solutions. We are selling freedom. That means we are selling cognitive tools that help people make better choices. We are used to the function of such philosophical tool sets as Objectivism and the works of Rose Wilder Lane. But these do not work in the general market, no matter how we might wish that they did. They are too involved and too intellectually oriented. But there is a market for helping people make better choices. Such shows as Oprah Winfrey demonstrate that every day. The power of this kind of television is in the fact that the audience can see and judge right from wrong. Right choices are validated to the whoops and applause of the audience. Wrong choices are booed. Most people want the approval of their peers.
Television is a very human institution. All human institutions are subject to the same market forces. The means for demonstrating better choices vary with circumstance; the principles remain the same. That is what we need to keep in mind. Inherent in Libertarianism is a tool set for making a better world by enforcing appropriate choices in our personal lives.
Television is one venue. Rethinking the limitations we have imposed on ourselves reveals a diversity of markets that enable outreach to a far larger audience of listeners looking for answers.
Benevolent Individualism: All Politics is People and Personal
I run a non-profit foundation and as part of what I do I confronted this question. I realized I needed to identify a formulation to enable individuals to identify appropriate choices for themselves and to recognize when their own rights had been violated. I understood that since we live in a community of people who practice a variety of religious traditions, including no religion, it could not conflict with any major theological tradition, including atheism. Also, it had to be very short, in fact, it had to fit on a business card.
The answer was what I call Benevolent Individualism. These are its tenets.
1.Using violence, coercion , or fraud to get your way is wrong. 2.The more powerful party has a moral duty to ensure that the transaction/trade/relationship is fair to both. (The Bill Gates Principle)
Along with the political revolution we must call a moral revolution. The two are one in the continuum of human action. The political dialogue takes place in circles that are far removed from the day to day lives of people. We can reach them where they live if we use our principles applied to the problems of injustice that confront them and engage their attention in their own lives.
The market for self-help, relationships, and romance is far larger than the one for political solutions. It is fertile ground for solutions that enable freedom. All freedom is personal. By ignoring this huge market for human choice and action Libertarians have limited the their options and marginalized their relevance.
Becoming a full service provider for freedom means we must provide answers to all the questions involving choice and liberty. We need to have standards for personal behavior within the LP that can inspire respect and a desire to emulate by non-libertarians.
Libertarians can make honorable behavior an issue, in terms that engage the minds of non-political Americans. They can open up a front where there are no other political parties to compete. We can demonstrate that freedom is not license and that we do not endorse, excuse or tolerate bad behavior. We can create examples to show how the world should work. That alone would differentiate us from any other political party now in existence.
The issue of character has been central to the ongoing political dialogue. Character is the way Americans express their perception of the ethical imperatives exemplified in the life acts of an individual.
No human institution is immune from the action of human choice. If we had been optimizing freedom as a benevolent option for human choice we would not be producing former LP members faster than we can spend money.
We are not limited to the forms presently in use. We can think smarter. We can change our political forms to suit our very different goal, reflecting the idea that we can and should grow freedom from within the LP. In this way, we can simultaneously make local groups more effective, duplicating success, and grow the infrastructure necessary to replacing the State.
Freedom is being able to live your life free of the violence, coercion and frauds that are endemic and tolerated in most of the world. This is what women want. They are not wrong, just misguided. This brings us to the next issue.
We know that the world is moving away from hierarchies and towards a
network model for human action. This reflects in every aspect of our lives, especially in leading edge technologies, such as the Internet. This is an affirmation that individual choice is for freedom. We should also remember that while we need to work through the form of a political party our goal is to make political parties irrelevant. Political action is not, for us, a self perpetuating end. It is only a means to the establishment of human freedom. The emancipation of the human spirit is our ultimate goal; not occupying the White House.
Institutions for Freedom: The Acorn Principle
If we want to grow an oak tree we cannot start out with a palm. The other parties are palm trees, dedicated to top down forms of government. If we continue on our present path we will be arguing with a half grown palm tree called the Libertarian Party. Actually, the arguments have already started.
We need to visualize ways of demonstrating that institutions of consensus can replace the functions of government. We can best begin with those institutions we directly control. The first of these is the Libertarian Party in all of its incarnations.
In the 200 years since the Constitutional Convention met to hammer out the framework for their institutions of law and political action we have learned a lot. We know that local is better. We know that keeping a clear relationship between authority and responsibility with clear lines for liability are essential to positive system feedback. Local groups and even state parties within the LP have experimented with various changes in their bylaws and practices that have created excellent models for political action that bring activity back to the most local level. What seemed to be the insoluble problems of internecine warfare have been answered.. We have all come to believe in-fighting is a natural part of the Libertarian culture. It is not. Libertarians can work together effectively and without rancor or undue recourse to classical political maneuvering. What has been done in one place can happen again elsewhere. Decentralizing focuses our attention on creating a clear presence for freedom that speaks to ordinary Americans; the kind of people who are simply looking for a better way of handling the problems that confront them. It is the best and first school for freedom.
The Maryland Bylaws and other alternatives
To accomplish this we need to encourage local groups to adopt the techniques
used by Maryland. Since the adoption of their new bylaws Maryland has managed to elect two Libertarians to office and to lead a coalition that succeeded in reforming the state's ballot access laws. These are just two of the accomplishments of a group that was previously wrought with conflict.
Dean Ahmad, their former Chairman and the co-author of the bylaw changes
encapsulates the extensive rewrite into three major areas.
The first was to rewrite the certification of agreement with the non-aggression principle required for voting membership. Their version now reads: :Nor person or group has the right to initiate force or fraud against any other person or group to seek to attain their values." Individuals who wish to be voting members of the party now must reject the use of aggression and fraud in achieving all of his or her values, not just the "political and social goals" as per the national certification. Other changes were included, but making the pledge inclusive of all actions is central to the focus. In Maryland proxies were allowed before the changes were introduced and continue to be allowed.
In broadening the pledge to include personal and professional choices as well as political action the Maryland Pledge brings into sharp relief the need individuals have for a schematic for ethical action. Do right, and you are a Libertarian. Do wrong and you are not. No other political movement sets such a high standard for personal behavior. The only possible consequence for not living up to the Pledge is exclusion from
the LP and the condemnation of peers. Social exclusion has always been a powerful force for maintaining appropriate behavior in individuals so this is not the empty threat it might appear.
The second change was to move to proportional election of the central committee, both at a county and state level. Other offices, such as a state or county chairman, are elected from this body. The effect of this is to end factionalism. While differences still exist among members of the party and while some groups occasionally vote as blocks for slates, the guarantee of proportional representation that any such incipient faction will receive a proportional share of representation and no more has completely stopped the internal feuding. Constructive competition has replaced destructive factionalism. There is an ongoing concern that the actual counting of ballots is too complicated, but this has not been a practical problem since more often than not, no ballot counting at all is required. The mathematical certainty that all groups will be fairly represented in the
executive committee has combined with the aversion to ballot counting to result in a cordial, informal sorting process under which excess nominees to the executive committee voluntary withdraw before the election. The slate is then approved by a 3/5ths vote. In any case a computer program has been developed to count the votes in those cases where an actual contest remains.
The third change was to decentralize all decisions to the lowest level practical. This effectively put control of specific projects directly into the hands of those performing the work, linking responsibility with performance. By removing any appearance of power and authority beyond the minimum required high office in the part has been made less attractive for the power-hungry, who no longer pursue it. The effective decentralization of power forged a new technology for using political action that is on the model that we envision for the institutions that in a Libertarian future
should replace government.
There is one additional important element to the decentralization of power
in the Maryland Libertarian Party. Any action of the Executive Committee may be overturned by the Central Committee. Thus, the Executive Committee only executes such actions as it believes will be endorsed by the full central committee. Since the all potential factions of any size are represented on the executive committee, the committee is able to anticipates which, if any, issues might be controversial and to take them to the central committee directly.
Other functioning alternatives
When groups are small enough they do not need any formal structure. The Invisible Hand can clap. San Diego is perhaps the best example of how a small group of individuals can grow their local party while entirely ignoring the existence of State and National Party structures. Also while saving the taxpayers in San Diego billions of dollars (I am not exaggerating) and causing the media to be respectful, at least most of the time.
Under the size of a county there is probably no need for a formal Party organization. If activists take up specific goals or projects their structure should reflect these principles but will be dictated by their own good sense.
Larger organizations need structure to be able to deal with the ongoing need to pretend we are a political party on the same footing as Democrats and Republicans et al. We aren’t. Any Libertarian worth his or her salt wants to eliminate the State as we know it.
The effect of the Maryland Bylaw change was to focus attention on the most local level. As a result, efficacious political activity began. Other areas and groups have used other forms. What works to introduce the above values is good.
Where I find more examples of beneficial changes that enable activism I cite them. If I don’t know about yours, I hope you will tell me.
The second element is helping individuals and groups become more effective by adapting the Maryland Bylaws and by making successful models for action available through a web site.
Bylaws and practices that demonstrate the application of our principles can be encouraged in a variety of ways.
Since its change to a decentralist model it has move a long ways towards becoming an effective political organization that promotes functional models for the demonstration of how freedom works.
It is a good model, but it is only one of many.
Foundation Building for a Real Unparty
An effective political organization. In this case we can better state the goal as an effective unpolitical organization. Libertarianism is the Unparty. That has already been true, to a great extent. The most successful Libertarian campaigns have been the product of individuals who just made it happen. Using their natural charisma and the support that charisma could generate, riding issues that positioned them favorably in the minds of voters.
This is how it has to be. If you start with an acorn you cannot expect to end up with a palm tree. If you start out with a conventional political structure you will end up having built a replacement to either the Republican or Democrat party. Either outcome, even if individuals registered Libertarian were in the majority, would be failure.
It is the forms of government that we need to change. We need to grow forms that cannot be transformed into instruments of oppression.
This brings us to a consideration of the most local forms of political activism in which Libertarians engage. Libertarians run for office, partisan and non-partisan. As a precursor to this successful candidates involve themselves in their communities in ways that provide them with strong, affirmative support networks among non-libertarians. They become the answer by translating the principles of libertarianism into local institutions and applicable policy.
American culture today provides a wealth of potentials that remain underutilized. Individualism is at its most elemental volunteerism. At the community level we need to help people identify and implement the means for solving their problems, be that creating private land trusts for those interested in conserving their heritage or funding shelters for abused women using awards from litigation.
Private foundations representing billions of dollars spend an enormous amount of time looking for projects to fund. Libertarians need to be aware that these resources exist.
Libertarians run for office to use the forms of election as forums for speaking out on issues. The three kinds of campaign have been described as passive, getting the name on the ballot; minimal; doing the things that can be done free or at little cost; active; trying to make a respectable showing on a small budget.
Libertarians have had massive experience with unwinnable campaigns. Hundreds of Libertarians have thrown themselves into races full of hope and enthusiasm. They have not failed. By placing the word Libertarian on the ballot they raised public awareness. This has both created opportunities and moved Libertarians into the arena of political reality.
To this we can now add the campaigns of electable candidates. Such candidates as Ilana Freedman in Massachusetts are proving that becoming an electable candidate is also the way to create the visible examples that are necessary to the acceptance of libertarianism. This kind of candidate and campaign answers the immediate objections to libertarianism by providing the missing steps in the program. Candidates like Ilana are part of their communities and run from within a network of support that is not mostly Libertarians.
The Fool’um Campaign
Libertarians have tried to run as full a slate as possible to show that they have a broad base of support and to enable them to use unexpected opportunities. Sometimes the leading candidate will be indicted or die. We like to believe that in such circumstances the increased visibility along with other factors could propel the candidate into office. While this may happen it is important to recognize that accidental election is not an affirmation of our philosophy. It could be good, but it could also be very bad.
To this minimalist approach we must now add the libertarian campaign that claims a chance to win.
In this last case there are several factors that should be kept in mind. These are: The size of the voting constituency, the name recognition of the candidate with that constituency and the financial resources that the candidate can commit before announcing. A candidate who can win will be running in a race where the opponent is beatable. This is claimed to be the case often. It is true once in a blue moon.
Truth in Advertising
:Libertarians have been elected as Libertarians to office in tiny states such as Alaska and New Hampshire. Not to denigrate this accomplishment it must be remembered that in New Hampshire a candidate can run and be elected for a couple of thousand dollars if he or she has some local recognition. The number of constituents, voters who will determine the race, can be just 3,000 people. If they all vote.
Using the opportunities available to us
The failures of the Left have provided multiple opportunities for creating working coalitions inside already existing community groups. Social predators of all kinds along with bureaucrats and special interest groups use the state to ensure their behavior will continue to pay off.
When the functions of government are demonstrated to be better accomplished in the hands of private individuals we will have won. We will have disassembled the State from the inside out. To do so we must create community based institutions to answer both their present needs and to better serve the community in such areas of concern as social justice. We don’t actually have to invent very much. America is filled with institutions marginalized by the intrusion of government into the community. It is filled with people who want to make things better.
San Diego has provided models for action in litigation. San Diego taxpayers are billions of dollars richer because of law suits filed and won by activists who are libertarians. Litigating for liberty is a fertile avenue, as we know from some of the work done by the Institute for Justice. Other possibilities also exist. Kingswood near Houston used freedom rhetoric and reality to fight annexation by the encroaching city.
So, how does this relate to the need for growing local activism? To demonstrate that we do not need government we need to enable local Libertarians to work from within their communities. We need to find examples where Libertarians have been successful and help other individuals and groups get started on their own. This is a different model for activism. It is flatter. Instead of a hierarchy it is a networking point, providing information and enabling people to connect. It trains, constantly adding more information and ideas and making them available. It provides little else, encouraging individuals and groups to do their own fundraising from within their own communities.
Teaching them to fish builds immediately and directly towards a future of local governance. Local groups need to look to their communities for support.
We are not without resources. Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and San Diego, among others, have provided us with the examples and organizational technologies we need to get started. Taking it on the road and offering training to Libertarians is a beginning. We also need a web site and articles about successful efforts. CATO, Reason, Heartland, and other sources are ready and available.
Then we need to put serious thought into the form we will adopt for the Patty at a National level. We need to call a constitutional convention.
What is the appropriate function of the National Party and Office?
We need to maintain the formal structure of a political party while we organize first at a local level. Many of our supporters first contact us through the LP or its state affiliates. We do not want this to change.
Basically the NLP performs three functions. It maintains a mailing list, publishes a newsletter, and puts on the National Convention. The presidential campaign is separate. It has to be.
The LP National performs one function well, another marginally, and a third with varying success.
The first is to maintain an informational service that makes lists available. Their model is to use the list as a fundraising resource. A better use is to make it available free to candidates and at a slight markup to others but make it clear that use of the list does not imply endorsement of any activity for which it is used. The second is to publish a newsletter. Presently, the national newsletter functions as an in house organ for the National Office. It should instead encourage the dissemination of success stories and help people connect in useful ways. The third function is to put on the national convention. This should be run to enable members to optimize their local projects. Instead it is used to promote the projects of the National Office and its employees and contractors. This must change.
We have a lot to do. We have a lot to work with.
. We can reach out to groups by operating effectively in their local areas, offering instead of more and more governmental hash, clear solutions that reduce instances of violence, coercions and fraud in their day to day lives, thus making them freer and allowing them to learn the benefits of freedom by participating in local projects.
Women’s issues offer us a clear field on which to work. The failure of the State to provide justice to women who are victims of violence, domestic and by strangers, is an issue of freedom. If you cannot be safe in your own home you are not free. Women, who have been abused know this in their bones. They know the shackles of fear. They are constrained and yearn for a freedom they do not even believe possible.
Almost every community in American today has a shelter that must remain hidden to protect women and their children from the violence perpetrated against them. We treat domestic violence as if it were a natural disaster. For this and other problems, the left and the women’s movement have provided nothing but sympathy. But at least they are on record. They do care.
. Domestic violence, sexually predatory behavior against individuals, no-fault marriage law, and the assumption by the State of the right to determine how and by whom children will be raised. Each of these is a question of individual freedom. Each of these provides the opportunity for a visible demonstration of what human liberty and justice can mean.
In some places Libertarian have already taken up proactive community involvement on this kind of issue. In Arizona Phoenix Libertarians headed by Ernest Hancock awakened voters to the hazard faced by women driving from Tucson to Phoenix who had to stop to use the rest room. Theses women were not allowed to take guns with them legally and numbers were raped. Ernie and his fellow Libertarians changed this. The media – and women – know what Libertarians think because they provided a visible demonstration that they cared. Now this same group will be working to place guns in the hands of women the moment that they get a restraining order. Again, this is an effective demonstration of Libertarian philosophy.
Do Americans believe that the vision of the Declaration is accomplished fact? No, they do not. Most Americans, and a majority of women, recognize that it is still a vision. Issues of social justice are the problems that most trouble them. Their solutions to the problems do not help. They are not ideologues and we cannot expect them to act as if they understood the benefits of individualism until these are demonstrated to them in tangible ways.
If the State, in all of its forms, has a morally defensible purpose that purpose is to protect and affirm the right of the individual to exercise autonomy over his or her own existence. Therefore all crimes against individuals should receive political visibility. Solutions to each problem should be supported by principled, well argued policy reforms. These should be enacted at the most local level possible. Libertarians do not exist in a cultural vacuum. We are also fish who are unaware of the water in which we swim.
The interlocking ethnic traditions and practices that make up the common culture of America today subsume a broad variety of viewpoints on almost every conceivable issue. This diversity repeats itself within the Libertarian Party and even more broadly within the freedom movement, that amorphous collation of individuals and organizations each working towards a freer world in different ways.
Freedom is being able to live your life free of the violence, coercion and frauds that are endemic and tolerated in most of the world.
We need to transform the Libertarian Party into the political tool it can and must be by rethinking its form and decentralizing to focus action on the most local level.
We need to reassume the moral high ground by reaching out to those most in need of freedom, women at risk, children, and others who exist in shackles of violence, coercion and fraud. We need to do it now.
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