Gene Berkman on the role of the Vietnam War in the formation of the Libertarian Party

From comments on a previous post:

Going back a couple of years, the Vietnam War was the major factor in causing the creation of the Libertarian Caucus in Young Americans for Freedom at the 1969 National Convention. Legalizing marijuana was the other important issue we had with the YAF conservatives.

I was working for SIL when Dave Nolan started the Committee to Organize a Libertarian Party, in protest over Nixon’s imposition of Wage & Price Controls. In his initial draft platform for the LP, Nolan called for withdrawal from Vietnam.

Unfortunately, Myrna Culbreath denounced the idea of surrending in Vietnam, and urged more bombing. She basically filibustered until the delegates deleted any reference to Vietnam in the platform. She then dropped out of the LP altogether.

During the 1972 campaign, John Hospers would occasionally mention the LP’s opposition to the war, but it was not until the 1973 convention that a firm commitment to non-interventionist foreign policy made it into the platform.

Dana Rohrabacher was anti-war, and went with me to several anti-war protests. He even went to the big antiwar protest in San Francisco in October 1969.

Of course he was draft-age at the time.

28 thoughts on “Gene Berkman on the role of the Vietnam War in the formation of the Libertarian Party

  1. JimDavidson

    SIL was, I think, Society for Individual Liberty. Later ISIL, I think. As in

    There was also a student group about this time which Jarret Wollstein was involved in starting.

  2. Michael H. Wilson

    LJ @2. I doubt that. Funny thing is the ACLU has grown significantly since then. In real estate it is location, location,location. In politics its position, position, position. How we present our ideas to the public is the issue. A lot of people in the LP who have never worn a uniform and never will were more than willing to have others do it for them.


  3. Libertarian Joseph

    The LP hasn’t the advertising budget that ACLU has. Also they are two different types of organizations. If ACLU were a political party, I doubt that it would be very effective.

  4. JimDavidson

    @2, I’m sorry, LJ, to be able to directly contradict your position. But, the facts are that the LP started going severely downhill before 1996. There was a corrupt practice in the 1996 nominating process which benefited one of the candidates before he gained the nomination. There was widespread evidence of corruption from at least the time the LP moved to the Watergate.

    I really do wish it weren’t so. It would be nice to simply be able to blame the jingoistic fervor of the post-attack reaction for the failure of the LP to be effective. However, the facts are against you on this one.

    The LP needs a good dose of sunshine. I am not, however, optimistic that the Sunshine Caucus (and, yes, George Donnelly, I use the term just to piss you off) is going to be adequate to the task. As well, the LP needs rather more than sunshine at this point.

  5. Libertarian Joseph

    Jim, I thought Harry Browne grew the LP during his 1996 and 2000 campaigns? I read that many left the LP after 9/11 when many libertarians began supporting the war in a party that has always opposed war.

  6. Libertarian Joseph

    The LP needs the passion that socialist activists have

    big donors

    competent leaders and an LP national that aids and assists state parties in strategic projects

    just looks like a circular firing squad right now

    Maybe an alliance with CATO? Some other libertarian organizations.

    Maybe we should “go red” and pretend to be leftwing socialists fighting for the proletariat? I mean, we truly are… the poor suffer most under socialism, while the opposite is true in a free market. So why not just adopt their lingo and perfect our message to sound more ulitarian while remaining libertarian and individualistic?

  7. G.E.

    I mean, we truly are… the poor suffer most under socialism, while the opposite is true in a free market. So why not just adopt their lingo and perfect our message to sound more ulitarian while remaining libertarian and individualistic?

    This is known as Principled Populism.

    CATO? There’s one thing that CATO and Mises agree on: the LP is a joke.

  8. paulie cannoli Post author

    I like Knapp but do not agree with his criticisms against Paul, Rockwell, etc.

    I think their attempt, especially in the late 80s/early 90s, to build bridges and alliances with the (Pat Buchanan/David Duke/VDARE/left over George Wallace presidential runs wing of the) right was bad strategy, bad theory, and produced some very embarrassing material, as well as creating and exacerbating certain trends of thought in libertarianism which make it more difficult for us to expand our demographic base as well as reach people on the left/libertarian border.

    On the other hand, they have done other things which do reach out along the left/libertarian border, such as

    At times, they have crossed the line from pointing out the problems with Lincoln to actually glorify the confederacy to some extent.

    I don’t want to get into a detailed argument about this; Rockwell and Ron Paul have done, and continue to do a lot of good, and I think Tom Knapp discounts it too much – and does so on purpose, since he considers the other stuff I alluded to to be so bad that it cancels out the good.

    The best theory is actually growing tangentially out of the Rockwellites – Roderick Long, Charles W. Johnson et al. – the Molinari Institute is piggybacking of the Mises Institute, and is nowhere close to as far along yet in terms of being developed.

  9. G.E.

    Rockwell admits that aligning with the paleocons didn’t work out.

    I think an alliance with the racist right may be morally acceptable, but it should not have resulted in any emulation of them. I say the former because the Left, which had been anti-state in the 60s (so Rothbard worked with them), became so thoroughly pro-state that there was not much left to align with there. The hard right of which you speak was the only anti-government game in town in the early 80s. If the militia movement, etc., could have been part of a coalition to overthrow the state, then the differences between it and libertarianism could have been hacked out afterwards.

  10. JimDavidson

    @6 No, I don’t think that’s true, at all. The results you are thinking of were almost entirely Project Archimedes, direct mail recruiting, which tended to last about one billing period. The retention rate on the direct mail recruits was very very low. And, there is some evidence that numbers were being fudged or faked to generate higher payments to one of the corrupt scumbags at LP HQ.

  11. JimDavidson

    @6 There were never any libertarians who supported war. There were some people who had previously pretended to be libertarians, or who claimed to be libertarians, who supported war after 11-Sep-01. But, I dispute their credentials. War is the health of the state.

  12. JimDavidson

    @13 As secession movements go, the Confederacy is widely regarded, around the world, as the exemplar. You can buy Confederate battle flags in any European country with any least sort of secession movement. Many of the separatist groups in the Balkans flew the battle flag or the more common naval jack before they had their own flags.

    There was a great deal about the Confederacy worth noting. Long before any USA president’s cabinet held such diversity of religions, the Confederate cabinet had Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, a Roman Catholic. and a Jew.

    The argument that the war was “about slavery” falls flat when one considers that no slave was ever imported on a ship flying a Confederate flag of any sort. The CSA Navy supported the interdiction of slave traders, as part of the CSA’s efforts to gain recognition in Europe. An even flatter when one considers things Ulysses Grant said about carrying his sword to the South if he thought the war were about ending slavery.

    Like every state, the Confederacy was bad. It had bad taxes. It imposed military draft. It ended habeas corpus. It had a terrible inflation due to printing press financing. It had endless bad policies.

    Nevertheless, the effort to provide for sovereign self-determination against a tyrant and an invading, occupying military was a valiant one on the individual level. The men and women who resisted tyranny should be praised, and understood. Instead, they are reviled and treated shabbily by revisionist (socialist) historians.

  13. Michael Seebeck

    The immediate reaction I had to the news that the hijackers of 9/11 were here on expired visas (not commenting on the truth of the reports, just that they were made), was that the open borders plank was going to become a huge problem for the LP. That one tends to divide libertarians, and there are decent libertarian arguments on both sides, but I know the post-9/11 popular sentiment about borders changed significantly to the right-statist view, away from open borders, and that certainly didn’t help the LP any. I don’t think it was *the* cause of the LP decline, but it didn’t do the LP any favors, either.

  14. JimDavidson

    Also, those who don’t expect to see the end of contemporary tyranny without more warfare on this continent would do well to study some of the battles and tactics used on both sides in that war. There are precious few examples of battles on this continent since then, and they are each worth examining.

    I found the details on the Columbia riots in “Up Against the Ivy Wall” and an online history of the Athens, Tennessee (?) battle by returning WW2 vets to be of considerable interest. A prudent student of such things would pay careful heed to the battle tactics of Nathan Forrest.

  15. JimDavidson

    @18 The number of immigration bureau violations that were involved in the hijackings was prodigious. I think there were even visas granted after the hijackings, though that may be apocryphal. It is much like the claims of “perfectly safe airport security” that cropped up the following weeks. Four planes were stolen by men who were arguably in the country illegally. This doesn’t justify any more or new rules for airline security nor border control – the existing rules failed miserably.

    The best argument I saw for a libertarian approach to airline safety was a cartoon by Scott Bieser depicting how a group of ruffians with box cutters would have been treated by passengers armed with handguns.

  16. paulie cannoli Post author

    Jim – re: 17;

    Yes, I’m aware of that. But the downside of the confederacy is not mentioned much on That was just an example of a number of bad trends in “paleolibertarian” thinking. Contrived anti-immigration arguments are another such example.

    Which brings me to Michael’s point (#18).

    Certainly, the conservative Anglo community to which the LP has been by and large restricting its appeal became more virulently anti-migrant in recent years. And there is no shortage of black-brown tension (nothing new there – people at the bottom of the socioeconomic pile have always been pitted against each other for the benefit of those at the top), nor any shortage of immigrants who want to pull up the ladder after themselves.

    On the other hand, the LP has long represented many causes that do not have majority support, but do have strong and otherwise largely unrepresented constituencies, such as ending drug prohibition.

    Supporting migration freedom is one such cause, and it has brought millions of people out in the streets to demonstrate during this decade. How many other causes can we say that about?
    Yes, many of those marches were organized by socialists and communists, but so were many antiwar marches, and that hardly means the LP should be pro-war.

    We should have been at the peace rallies and the migrants rights demonstrations, visibly promoting the LP as supporting these causes – as well as at hemp rallies, gay pride parades, and other mass events where people who agree with us on those particular issues gather. Although many of them don’t agree with us on other issues, if they saw us there, they might at least consider our views on those more seriously.

    And to the extent that it could have made our party more diverse, it would have made us look better, whether to people showing up to meetings for the first time, journalists, or C-SPAN viewers. It would have added credence to our arguments, for example, when we argue against social programs or affirmative action quotas – not so easy to wrongly dismiss our motivation for our position as racism.

    I’m not saying it is too late to do this – but we missed a golden opportunity with the Bush administration.

    The people most likely to change their party, or pick one for the first time, are under 30 or recent immigrants. The LP dunderheadedly instead appeals to the demographic which is in every way least likely to change parties, and least likely to become activists. And keeps going back to the same well.

    Perceptions matter, and to whatever extent confederate arguments are correct (and they are only partially correct), they only reinforce the popular perception of the LP as a conservative and/or racist party. That’s a losing strategy, particularly when millions are taking to the streets to protest against the war and for migrants rights, and the plurality cluster on OPHs at colleges is left-center-libertarian – which also happens to be a common position among artists, filmmakers, musicians, creative people of all types, educators, and many other groups the LP should want to attract.

  17. Libertarian Joseph


    Really? I read some comments on hotair. Things like “I was an LP member..but 9/11. I felt we had to go after the terrorists at that point.” Yeah, they do come across as ignorant, but is it true to many others? I’ve read other comments like that. I just think they’re damn fools or just plain fakers to buy into that garbage.

  18. kiddleddee

    Jim @17: “Like every state, the Confederacy was bad. It had bad taxes. It imposed military draft. It ended habeas corpus. It had a terrible inflation due to printing press financing. It had endless bad policies.”

    Yeah, and don’t forget to mention the whole chattel slavery thing!

    And again: “The men and women who resisted tyranny should be praised, and understood.”

    My civil war era ancestors resisted both the union and the confederates whenever the jackbooted thugs came and tried to take away their menfolk and steal their food and live stocks. The men would go with the slave traders (military “recruiters”) and then would desert when they were far enough away from the farm that the “recruiters” wouldn’t come back for them – taking as much food and as many horses as they could get away with. This apparently happened 2 or 3 times with units in both the blue and the grey costumes.

  19. paulie cannoli Post author

    By the way, many of the unsavory characters mentioned in the pink flamingo piece and the SPLC article to which it links were, unfortunately, being published on LR.C (at least as of a few years ago), and many of their second-hand ideas were frequently used by regular writers there.

    At the same time, much of the best stuff was coming out of LR.C and friends at the very same time, on foreign policy and economic issues. It’s a conundrum.

  20. Jan B. Tucker

    Hey Gene–how’s my favorite Libertarian doing? Although you’ve probably suspected this since our Peace & Freedom Party days in the 70’s, my DNA results show that on my father’s side, I’m GENETICALLY related to Joseph Stalin. His grandson was tested and we’re Haplogroup G (very rare), and our “subclades” are G2a (Stalin) and G2c (mine). Now I understand why my familial Stalinist instincts are to want to send people to special camps…..(LOL)

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