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Brian Holtz responds to Ilya Somin

Posted at
Libertarian Intelligence
in response to Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy:

First, he assumes that the resources of libertarian activists are fungible, and that there are no opportunity costs to erasing the choice labeled “Libertarian” from the ballots of more than 100 million voters. In fact, most Libertarian candidates self-finance their campaigns, and few of them would be willing to divert much of that money (to say nothing of their time) to the libertarian organizations (like Mercatus and IHS) that help support libertarian academics like Somin. While it is indeed hard to measure the educational impact of the LP’s efforts on the electorate, there is no doubt that the LP has attracted many more people to the freedom movement than it currently retains as dues-payers. Electoral politics is a very cost-effective way to put the Libertarian label in front of a lot of people who otherwise would never hear of it. Only in the last decade has the Web made the Libertarian label a deep portal into the freedom movement, rather than just a curious name associated with an 800 number. And only in the last six months has this portal led to a party that doesn’t demand personal secession and immediate non-enforcement of all tax laws.

Second, Somin assumes that the purpose of the LP must be to win elective office or to educate the public. In fact, the purpose of the LP should be to unite all the voters who seek both more personal liberty and more economic liberty behind the choices available to them that will most move public policy in a libertarian direction. Even if you don’t believe this effort will move policy much, it still should be useful to publicly measure how much electoral demand exists for more liberty. LP candidates for federal and state legislature regularly poll 3% to 6% here in California. Such a bloc of votes could be very influential in close elections, and there might be more such elections now that Prop 11 (redistricting reform) just passed. Even a little leverage can go a long way. Richard Winger reminds us that the Prohibition Party candidate for president earned only 1.19% in 1916, but he caused the Republicans to lose (by tipping California) and thus persuaded congressional Republicans to pass the 18th amendment in 1917. In ten Senate and gubernatorial races from 1998 to 2006, the LP candidate’s vote was more than the margin of victory. In each case the Democrat won, but that’s nothing to lose sleep over. The Republican Party must either become a force for limiting government, or be punished. The freedom movement should not put all its eggs in the basket of internally reforming the two parties that are in the grip of the Nanny State Matrix:

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  1. George Dance George Dance November 27, 2008

    T.M. Sipos: The term “objective fact” is redundant. All facts are objective.

    I disagree. At least I think I do. That depends on whether it’s a fact that I disagree. Since I think I really do disagree, I think there is such a fact. Yet there’s certainly nothing “objective” about whether I disagree with something or not. That’s purely subjective: I disagree iff I think I do.

  2. Eric Sundwall Eric Sundwall November 25, 2008

    I don’t like the movie. I’m indifferent to your video.


  3. BrianHoltz BrianHoltz November 25, 2008

    So it’s “pissing on” you to note that you ended your 20-year piss on me only six months ago? 🙂 By “you” I mean anybody who might feel defensive/sentimental about the personal secession language that got taken out. I know you personally don’t consider the platform to be as crucial to the LP as many radicals and reformers do. That you would nevertheless react as you did should give you a tiny inkling as to how the radical platform made principled non-radicals feel for decades.

    My article made no claims about the merits of taking out personal secession. All I said was that in May 2008 the LP adopted an approach that it hadn’t tried in its multi-decade history, and that six months later is too early for Somin to say we know enough to call the LP a failure. The new approach is no silver bullet, but it’s a big reason why I won’t be giving up on the LP any time soon.

    Private nukes is a mere implication, but personal secession was in there plain as day: “We support the right of political entities, private groups and individuals to renounce their affiliation with any government, and to be exempt from the obligations imposed by those governments”. In my attempts to defend the party from outside critics, I’m very glad that my full-disclosure honesty doesn’t require me to mention this any more.

    I put a non-trivial amount of work into The Nanny State Matrix video as a non-factional LP outreach effort aimed at the BreakTheMatrix crowd and other wider audiences, and have gotten compliments on it (and my other such outreach videos) from more people than just Paulie. When you (and only you) dismiss it as “garbage”, that’s supposed to be an example of our personal truce holding up? 🙂 Geeeesh, indeed. We can play this however you want. I’m just following your lead. I don’t mind a little friendly hardball. I even have my own cup.

  4. Eric Sundwall Eric Sundwall November 25, 2008

    Um . . . my point was that I in fact agreed that Brian’s response to what’s his name made sense.

    He did not need to submit the platform item in order to make a cogent response.

    It seems like baiting to me when he does. The real or perceived platform bugaboo about personal secession is analogous to Robert Capozzi’s personal nuke hang up. By airing it thus, it expresses a continued need to reaffirm the efficacy of an underlying premise and strategy of a particular faction.

    In my attempts to defend the party from outside critics, I try not to bring internal family matters into the fray. If you want big tent, stop pissing on allies.

    Does this mean the truce is over ? Gads, I thought it a compliment with a little dig.

    Just because I think Keanu Reeves should have quit acting after Bill & Ted’s doesn’t qualify me as an anti-nerd bashing cro-magnum. Geeeeeesh.

  5. BrianHoltz BrianHoltz November 25, 2008

    Yes, (a). The indirectness was an attempt to elicit directness from critics of my mention of the platform. No such luck.

    No, I don’t think LP membership or vote totals respond in any direct way to changes in the LP Platform. Such changes percolate through opinion leaders and take many years to have an impact. The membership peak c. 2000 was mostly due to Project Archimedes. However, the Platform was undergoing certain amount of moderation during the 1990s, e.g. in the area of distinguishing children from adults.

  6. JimDavidson JimDavidson November 25, 2008

    I don’t think I was attracted to the liberty movement by the LP. Rather, I think it was from reading L. Neil Smith’s writings, as well as Heinlein, Niven, and Brin. However, I did find myself actively involved in some LP stuff in Texas starting around 1993. And Brian is correct, at least about me. I don’t pay dues to the national LP any longer. And have no plans to do so.

    Brian writes very well. I can generally follow his reasoning. He usually makes use of direct sentence structure. I like it when he does.

    Here, in #4 above, he does not. He writes, “…the objective fact that the LP for 20 years had a comprehensive platform that advocated personal secession and immediate non-enforcement of all tax laws, and that it has had one without them for only six months. I wouldn’t agree with a claim that this objective fact has no relevance for judging whether the LP experiment is worth continuing.”

    Twisted around the impeller blades.

    I think it goes without saying for those who know me, but I like saying it, that I like the ideals of personal secession and rejection of taxes that were included in the LP platform when I first encountered it. I think those were good ideas, and did a good deal to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    If Brian “…wouldn’t agree with a claim that this objective fact has no relevance for judging whether the LP experiment is worth continuing” then perhaps he

    (a) would agree with a claim that this fact has relevance for judging the LP experiment worthy of continuance, or

    (b) explain what he meant.

    To the best of my recollection, at the height of membership numbers (to use an arbitrary measure, probably not objective, and certainly not the only relevant means of establishing whether the group is successful) the LP platform contained the personal secession and anti-tax language.

    Since the membership is down substantially from the 2000 number, but up substantially today compared to six months ago, what is the evaluation that Brian is going for here? If I’m right in thinking he says it is relevant, then is he saying that because there have been a few more members join since six months ago, the removal of these items is an affirmation of the need to continue the LP experiment?

    Or is he saying that because these are out of the platform, and membership is down since 2000, the LP experiment has run its course and may now be turned off?

    Or is what he says about the LP being worth continuing not related to the membership numbers? Which is fine by me. An increasing membership is nice, but it is not the only measure of success.

    Personally, I think the LP is worth having around. I think the LP has done a great deal to use the interest generated by electoral politics to get information out to many millions of people over the years who would not otherwise have given a golly gosh darn.

    The LP has organised in many states and counties. There are clearly, for me and many others, problems with the national group, how it is run, and by whom. This does not mean that all the people in the LP are wrong about anything. But some of them are, about quite a bit.

    In many cases, their ideas held no water, but they used them like a dam.

  7. BrianHoltz BrianHoltz November 25, 2008

    LOL. I type fast, but I cut and paste even faster. In yucks per second, dispatching such insubstantive quibbles is competitive with the funniest stuff my DVR can find for me. 🙂

    OK, three of my self-appointed Furies are present and accounted for. I think I know which one will be next…

  8. Thomas M. Sipos Thomas M. Sipos November 25, 2008

    I quibbled, partially because I knew you’d expend far greater effort to try and prove me wrong.

    I delight in that my quibble can metastasize into Brian’s timesink, 🙂

  9. BrianHoltz BrianHoltz November 25, 2008

    At I define “fact” as “a synthetic proposition that is demonstrably true”, and I define “subjectivity” as “dependency on a point of view or perspective that is inherently private”. So to me a subjective fact is one whose demonstration depends on somebody’s inherently private point of view or perspective.

    It’s a subjective fact that the author of this sentence thinks it’s amusing that Mr. Sipos chose to quibble about my use of the phrase “objective fact”. 🙂

  10. rdupuy rdupuy November 24, 2008

    “The Republican Party must either become a force for limiting government, or be punished”

    Well a few decades ago, the LP was formed out of disappointment in the Republican party.

    But at this point, I’m no less disappointed in the Republican party than the Democratic Party.

    We are no closer to turning the Republicans into a positive force, than Democrats. I would look for opportunities wherever they arise.

  11. Trent Hill Trent Hill November 24, 2008


  12. Trent Hill Trent Hill November 24, 2008

    The strictest definition of “fact” is –“a piece of information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred”

    This leaves open the possibility that this information could be objectively or subjectively based.

  13. Thomas M. Sipos Thomas M. Sipos November 24, 2008

    Brian Holtz: “My crime apparently was to point out the objective fact that … I wouldn’t agree with a claim that this objective fact has …”

    The term “objective fact” is redundant. All facts are objective.

  14. BrianHoltz BrianHoltz November 24, 2008

    My crime apparently was to point out the objective fact that the LP for 20 years had a comprehensive platform that advocated personal secession and immediate non-enforcement of all tax laws, and that it has had one without them for only six months. I wouldn’t agree with a claim that this objective fact has no relevance for judging whether the LP experiment is worth continuing.

    Paulie, you have to read if you want to know why Eric the all-star jock is committed to disdain the “silly” nerd classic that ranks right behind Citizen Kane on the IMDB all-time list. Of course, when a cool hemp activist like Steve Kubby riffs on that film (as he did on IPR 4 days ago), he gets a pass. 🙂

    Ah, a second one of my personal furies buzzes in to gratuitously and ironically vouch yet again that I do nothing positive for liberty. Fortunately, I keep my anti-furies spray handy at

  15. MarcMontoni MarcMontoni November 24, 2008

    Unfortunately ‘gratuitous’ is the only kind of anything you will get from some quarters. Fortunately they are only “quarters” and they can be ignored; and you can go on working for liberty in a positive fashion.

  16. paulie cannoli paulie cannoli Post author | November 24, 2008

    I like the Matrix video (not garbage at all, IMO).

    But the platform sideswipe is the one thing this otherwise excellent response could have done without.

  17. Eric Sundwall Eric Sundwall November 24, 2008

    I was with Holtzy on this one until the gratuitous backhand about the platform ‘victory’ and of course, the Matrix garbage.

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