LP Again

2002-07-19

I've received several replies to my recent comments on the Libertarian Party. WalterInDenver (whose permalinks are broken, else I'd link to the specific post) urges me not to give up on the LP so easily (I also received an email from Ari Armstrong of the outstanding Colorado Freedom Report).

To address Walter's point, I've actually given the LP quite a chance. In the mid-1990s, I was strongly involved in the New Jersey LP. Around the same time, I wrote probably the first essay encouraging Randians to support and get involved in the libertarian movement and the LP in particular. However, after several years of devoting a lot of time to the LP, I became disenchanted -- with party standardbearer Harry Browne and his calls for "Freedom Now!" (which struck me as a perfect encapsulation of Rand's observation that libertarians are "hippies of the right"), with poor organization and communication, with endless competition to show each other which party member was more radical and uncompromising, with a corrupt party headquarters in the District of Columbia, and with a seeming inability to learn from experience. At this point the one word I associate with the LP is "feckless". I don't like to say that because I really wish there were a party I could support, but it's true.

Part of the conclusion I've come to regarding American politics is that the two-party system is deeply engrained in the American psyche. The barriers to entry into the political system (e.g., ballot requirements) are nasty and likely unconstitutional, but they're here to stay. There's no way the two big parties will ever let smaller parties into the national debates. The "first-past-the-post" elections in the U.S. militate against success by third parties. Basically, the deck is stacked unless one of the big parties stumbles really badly (as the Whigs did in the 1850s) and another party forms to replace the dying party. Given the fact that libertarian ideas just don't seem to resonate with the vast majority of Americans, I doubt that electoral success is likely for the LP.

So what's the answer? Naturally there is value in educating people about the importance of freedom as well as in scholarly research within history, political philosophy, sociology, and the like, but the payoff is necessarily long-term. The most successful freedom-oriented organization I've found (and just about the only one I support) is the Institute for Justice, which fights encroachments on freedom in the courts based on application of the Constititution to modern problems (they take a targeted approach to the issues and have really helped to change the climate of opinion about economic freedom, school choice, and several other topics). It's also important, I think, to exercise one's rights; for example, the more people exercise their Second Amendment rights, the less likely it is that politicians will press for gun control (and this has already happened, with the Democrats having dropped the issue). So activities that encourage independence and the exercise of individual rights can change the political climate -- these might include encouraging or engaging in entrepreneurship, private investment, publishing (do you think millions of bloggers would stand for internet censorship?), firearms ownership (sorry to shock non-American readers!), homeschooling, buying hemp products, reading banned books, and so on. Ad hoc movements to pass targeted ballot initiatives and referenda can advance a pro-freedom agenda more quickly than waiting for the LP to gain a legislative majority in 2036 or whatever. And for those with strong stomachs who feel they simply must pursue elective office, the best approach (I think) is to run as an independent or even within one of the two major parties, so that one can at least get elected and try to change the system from within. So I think there is much that one can do to advance human freedom, and those strategies are on the whole much more successful than attempting to build a third party.

Or so it seems to me right now -- I've been known to change my mind about political matters quite a bit in the past. :)


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal