Walter Block: Barr/Root not ‘real libertarians’; LP ‘taken over by conservatives’

Austrian economist and LRC contributor, Dr. Walter Block, has posted a nearly 4,000-word account of his experiences at the 2008 Libertarian Party convention.

I had heard, beforehand, that the LP was on the verge of being taken over by conservatives, and nothing in my experience of that convention was incompatible with that surmise.

Dr. Block says Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root fall short of true libertarianism based on two litmus tests: foreign policy and drug legalization.

At the convention, neither [Barr nor Root] would clearly and unambiguously commit themselves to the libertarian position on either of these two questions. Both avoided a clear commitment to pulling U.S. troops, all of them, out of the some 730 military bases now located in roughly 130 different countries around the globe. They evaded questions attempting to elicit clear positions on these two issues. On the drug question they both hid behinds states’ rights: it is not a federal issue; they are running not for state but federal office; therefore, let the states decide. In any case, they would only commit themselves to medical marijuana, not its recreational use, and legalization of anything stronger would certainly be anathema to them. On foreign policy, they would only make “major” troop withdrawals, not total and complete ones.

Of Mary Ruwart, Block says:

She was magnificent. I can think of no better way to say this than that Murray Rothbard would have been proud of her. She was the leader of the radical (non Barr-Root) caucus. Her every spoken word was a credit to our movement. My favorite statement of hers was when she nominated Steve Kubby for the party’s vice presidency, saying something to the effect that we should have at least one libertarian on the ticket, someone who favors legalization of all drugs, not just marijuana for medicinal use.

Dr. Block also had kind words for Christine Smith:

The highlight of her contribution from my perspective was when she made an impassioned plea to the assembly to the effect that Congressman Barr was not a libertarian; his views on foreign policy, drugs, and several other issues were entirely incompatible with libertarian principle. It was difficult for me to hear her, though, so loud were the boos and hisses from the conservative delegates. Well, I suppose, if you can’t refute an argument, the conservative tactic is to make it impossible for the speaker to be heard.

Dr. Block poses the idea of starting a new libertarian party — the Real Libertarian Party — because the purpose of the LP, according to him, has always been education. Although he’s hopeful that Bob Barr will pick up libertarian principles — either “through osmosis by interacting with libertarians, by reading some libertarian literature, or perhaps by patterning his campaign after Ron Paul’s” — he’s skeptical.

Of the opinion shared by many that at least one Republican congressman, Dr. Ron Paul, is more libertarian than the LP’s presidential ticket, Dr. Block says:

Poor Murray Rothbard must be spinning in his grave.

Read the entire article here.

25 thoughts on “Walter Block: Barr/Root not ‘real libertarians’; LP ‘taken over by conservatives’

  1. Andy Craig

    And Ron Paul took some openly unlibertarian positions on immigration and separation of church and state.

    I won’t defend Root, but if Paul was 90% libertarian, Barr is 80%. Both fall well within any reasonable “big tent” vision of a broad libertarian political alliance.

    If your purpose is “education”- a dogmatic minor political party is a really poor choice for going about it.

  2. Andy Craig

    And I say that as someone who sits on the fence between minarchism and anarcho-capitalism.

  3. G.E. Post author

    I don’t think Ron Paul’s position on “separation of church and state” is in any way unlibertarian. There are two flaws with Ron Paul, in my opinion: 1) His unconstitutional, but arguably libertarian, support for DOMA and the national partial-birth abortion ban (the latter of which he admits is unconstitutional), and 2) His unlibertarian but constitutional immigration policy.

    As for a political part being a bad vehicle for education, here is what Dr. Block says:

    But if education is the goal, why create, of all things, a political party? Why not just start a school, for goodness sakes? For two major reasons.

    First, the overwhelming majority of people are simply not interested in political issues for most of the year. Instead, they are concerned with earning a living, taking care of their children, and with their golf, tennis or garden clubs, with pizza, beer and bowling, with professional sports, movies, television, American Idol and, of course, sex. It is only once every four (or two) years that their focus turns in this direction to even the slightest degree. Then, they will at least pay attention to politics, and the LP was designed to address this educational opportunity.

    By and large the Libertarian Party has acquitted itself pretty well in this regard. Although at the top of the ticket we have garnered only somewhat less than 1% of the vote, we have attracted more publicity than otherwise would have accrued to us via lower-level successes such as with wins for small town mayors and city councils, and by being the balance of power in close elections between the two major parties in congressional and governorship races. We are still confused with libertinism, but not, I think, with libraries, Liberace, Liberia or libertoonianism.

    As for more narrowly construed education, there are already think tanks such as the Mises Institute, and others, many others, that publish libertarian writings and focus on encouraging young scholars to obtain their PhD degrees, so as to be able to venture into the often unwelcoming (to libertarians) academic world.

    The second case for a Libertarian Party is that it is practically costless in terms of manpower. What else could be done with the large number of highly educated and motivated libertarians who are either unable or unwilling to join a free market think tank or become a university professor or journalist, the “secondhand dealers in ideas” of Hayek? Think of all the doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, computer programmers and, yes, plumbers, carpenters, waiters, artists and cab drivers who can only promote libertarianism as amateurs; that is, they are not paid, as part of their profession, to engage in the promotion of our ideology. What are they to do? Yes, they can and should donate some of their money to libertarian think tanks, and those very few universities that actually promote liberty on net balance. However, in addition to finances, these people also have energy that, without the vehicle of a libertarian party, would have no outlet. Well, I suppose they could write letters to the editor, and place flyers on windshield wipers, but an LP is surely a better vehicle to utilize their talents than that.

  4. Tim in Ohio

    Is Paul’s immigration stance really THAT unlibertarian?

    Slightly so maybe – it does have a condition.

    From what I remember hearing he has stated that he would support open borders once the welfare state was abolished? Seems his major problem is that some immigrants only help expand the welfare system.

    Of course I could be wrong.

  5. Andy Craig

    He also ran a commercial saying he wanted to stop giving student visas to people from “terrorist countries”.

  6. G.E. Post author

    Tim – True enough. But if opening the borders puts too much of a strain on the welfare state, then that’s a good thing! By Paul’s logic, closing the borders would help preserve the welfare state, and we don’t want that!

    Andy – I’m skeptical if Paul himself approved or knew of that particular ad. There were a lot of things in his materials that did not match his own vision and his own words.

  7. MattSwartz

    If RP is 90% libertarian and BB is 80% libertarian (and I would tend to place the percentages closer to 95 and 70), then the real issue is what is the “floor” percentage, below which a candidate cannot fall and still get on an LP ticket? Furthermore, do you offer the highest, most visible position in the party to someone who is admittedly near that floor?

    I’ve heard Glenn Beck call himself a libertarian, and Dennis Miller, too. I question whether it’s safe to even write that. Will it give the ‘big tent’ crowd ideas for 2012?

  8. Andy Craig

    Like I said- any one who falls within the libertarian quadrant of the Nolan Chart. Barr clearly does. I doubt Miller does, and I have no doubt that Beck doesn’t.

    “Andy – I’m skeptical if Paul himself approved or knew of that particular ad.”

    Oh, please. It was probably their biggest production-value ad of the whole campaign. They ran it in NH right before the primaries. There’s a limit to how much you can shove off onto his incompetent management style. And again, I say that as someone who did/does support him.

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  10. Casey Bowman

    I’m curious if Walter Block will push for the platform of the “Real Libertarian Party” to include the peculiar form of slavery he advocates?

    (see Journal of Libertarian Studies, Spring 2003)

  11. Steve LaBianca

    Andy Craig // May 31, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    I won’t defend Root, but if Paul was 90% libertarian, Barr is 80%. Both fall well within any reasonable “big tent” vision of a broad libertarian political alliance.

    Wow, there are still “libertarians” deluding themselves that Ron Paul and Bob Barr are very close. Hogwash! I’ve address this before, I guess as a “public” service, I’ll do it again:

    Barr-supports ending the federal ban on medical marijuana.
    Paul-supports ending the federal war on drugs, AND even though he realizes that stastes could continue such a “war”, Paul gives the libertarian principled opposition to such laws.

    Barr-won’t commit to a non-interventionist foreign policy, only troop reductions, AND supports, or at least hasn’t publicly changed his views on intervention in South America.
    Paul-Unequivocally supports a non-interventionist foreign policy.

    Barr-Supports ending the income tax and replacing it with a VAT or national sales or “Fair-Tax”. Thus, with replacement federal taxes, can not be truly committed to deep, federal spending cuts.
    Paul-Unequivocally supports ending the Income tax and is not a supporter of replacement taxes. Has said that if brought to a vote, would vote for the “Fair tax”, only because he believes it would marginally end federal taxation tyranny, i.e. be a slight amount better . . . BUT only if an income tax was banned.

    Barr-talks of opposition to the the Federal Reserve system, but is so sorely lacking in economic knowledge that he cannot speak authoritatively on the subject of fiat money and central banking.
    Paul-Unequivocally opposed to central banking and fiat money. Has called for competing currencies/elimination of legal tender laws which would effectively put fiat money and central banking in the trashbin in the United States.

    Barr-As far as I know, has no known position on health freedom, the FDA, etc, though could vaguely be said to be for it as “libertarians believe in maximizing liberty”.
    Paul-Sponsored Health Freedom Act . . . nuff said.

    Paul-over the years has unequivocally over the years elaborated on the concept of individual rights, and government coercion as contrary to them.
    Barr-Is still a holdover from his CIA and prosecutor days and has strong beliefs in the “rightness” of government in involvement in personal lives and keeping “law and order”

    In short, I give Ron Paul a very high 80+ percent (87 to 89) libertarian, and Barr somewhere between 45 and 60%. I can’t be more specific on Barr because he is so vague on so many things.

  12. Steve LaBianca

    Oh I forgot,

    Barr-supports ending certain “provisions” of the USA Patriot Act, not eliminating it;
    Paul-would end the entire USA Patriot Act
    (Plus, Paul voted against it and Barr voted for it in congress!)

  13. G.E. Post author

    You’re wasting your time, Steve. There’s no convincing or reasoning with these people. But you already knew that, I’m sure.

  14. Steve LaBianca

    Aw heck G.E. I’m just hoping that there will be others to say “ditto” to me, and others to continue to stick their feet in their mouths, saying Barr is libertarian. I love it when Barr supporters look foolish with their blindness.

  15. VTV

    The Barr supporters I met reminded me of brainwashed people from sci-fi movies. There was nothing you could tell them, or SHOW them that the did, or that the people he helped put into office with his PAC did that they would flinch on.

  16. G.E. Post author

    VTV – But they were just 26% of the delegates. Even combined with the WARmongers, they lacked a majority. It was the supporters of Gravel and Phillies who sold the LP down the river.

  17. VTV

    G.E. my recollection was that it was Root’s endorsement of Bob Barr that got him the nomination. Phillies only had 30 delegates whom I truly doubt voted for Barr. The Gravel delegates then divided up as they saw fit, and we only had about a solid 70-80 in all of the voting sessions.

  18. G.E. Post author

    Your recollection is false.

    Barr/Root combined had less than 50% of the delegates on the first ballot.

    Facts are stubborn things.

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  21. Gene Berkman

    At the 1969 convention of Young Americans for Freedom, I was at the same table as Walter Block when Commander Bucher of The Pueblo spoke.

    When Bucher mentioned being tortured by a North Korean, and called a “U.S. Imperialist Dog” Walter Block applauded – the North Korean.

    Since that time, I have never seen a reason to look to Walter Block for guidance on what Libertarianism means.

  22. spinnikerca

    Ron Paul’s views on immigration have to do with the forced subsidies such as for education inherent in illegal immigration, not legal immigration, as well as the belief that a country, like an individual, can defend rights to come onto its property. I see nothing unlibertarian about that, however, I’m not so stuck on the ‘label’ libertarian. I avoid it for myself because it seems to encourage other people to tell me what I ‘have to believe’ something which, in itself, I would have considered fairly unlibertarian.

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