Posted at Bob Barr’s personal website:
RELEVANT LIBERTARIANISM AND WHY ATLAS WEEPS FOR AMERICA
Fellow Libertarians, it is an honor to stand before you today, in 2010, as I did two years ago in accepting the Libertarian Party nomination for President of the United States. In these past two years, many of the consequences which we predicted in 2008 would befall America in the absence of Libertarian Party leadership, have in fact occurred. America’s national debt has ballooned to record and dangerous levels; government spending has risen to levels for which the term “irresponsible” fails to adequately convey the magnitude thereof; our civil liberties, supposed to be guaranteed against government encroachment in our Bill of Rights, continue to be diminished; property rights, understood by us as a fundamental underpinning of a free society, today remain naked in the face of government power; and the sanctity of the right to contract enjoys even less currency today than it did in 2008.
Is it therefore any wonder that Atlas – that Atlas after who Ayn Rand titled her seminal work in 1957 – is weakened today even more than in 2008? But we as Libertarians know that Atlas’ weakened condition is the result not of two years’ of incessant pounding against the foundations of freedom and free enterprise; or of twenty. It is the result of a process that began almost as soon as our country – which held such promise at its inception – was conceived; the process of turning from our nation’s founding premises and towards those of societies from which we emerged as the antithesis.
But those early days were glorious indeed.
America’s founding caused Atlas to stand proud and resolute. Our Declaration of Independence woke Atlas from his centuries-long slumber during which mankind was ruled under conditions of servitude, class structure and constrained economic systems. Freedom and liberty were enshrined in our Constitution when it was ratified in 1788; and Atlas beamed even more proudly in 1791 when, with the ratification of our Bill of Rights, individual liberties were strengthened and government powers expressly limited.
Shortly thereafter, Atlas’ load started to grow heavier as government power – born alternatively of legislative and executive branch greed, and judicial acquiescence — began to chip away at liberty’s foundation on which Atlas stood. The Alien and Sedition Acts, though later overturned, illustrated within America’s first decade how strong yet still were the forces of government power against which George Washington led our forces.
The privileges or immunities clause in the 14th Amendment – intended to protect fundamental rights such as the right to keep and bear arms, belonging to all free men – was artificially and dramatically weakened by an intellectually vapid Supreme Court in 1873’s Slaughterhouse Cases decision. (And there remain to this day justices in that body who pay hollow allegiance to that liberty-debilitating decision.)
Atlas suffered knee-buckling body blows in the infamous efforts to undermine the Great Writ of habeas corpus in the Civil War era (mimicked again even today, in the post-911 world). His ability to be productive was severely diminished with the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913. Atlas watched with astonishment the disgraceful “Palmer Raids” in the WWI period, and the forced internment of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. His guns were confiscated in New Orleans following the natural disaster that was Hurricane Katrina in 2005; rendering him utterly defenseless and completely dependent on the government for protection of his life and property.
Each time economic rights and powers are taken from the American people, whether by the “Square Deal,” “New Deal,” or the “Great Society,” Atlas’ knees bend a little bit more. Every program that sucks vitality from free enterprise, and which steals from the American people the fruits of their labor, causes the ground to shift beneath Atlas, making it harder still for him to stand and bear the weight of free men on his shoulders.
How many more decisions like Kelo v. City of New London can Atlas sustain; can we sustain? How many more pieces of federal legislation that decimate our civil liberties and our fundamental right to privacy can we withstand; can Atlas withstand? Atlas has witnessed with us the occasional small victory – the Heller 2nd Amendment Supreme Court decision in 2008, and Citizens United earlier this year that struck down some of the unconstitutional impediments to political expression that have grown up as cancers surrounding the political process. But these are nowhere near sufficient to nurture Atlas sufficiently to make up for the sapping of his strength, occasioned by decades of growing government power orchestrated by our country’s two monopoly parties.
Will Atlas shrug and walk away? Will America’s promise fade to nothingness? Is Atlas weeping? And if he weeps, why does he weep?
I believe Atlas weeps instead of shrugging, because he still cares; he still hopes; he still sees promise in the America of our founding.
But he also may weep because he knows we in the Libertarian Party have failed to consistently offer to the American people the righteous, vigorous, principled and positive alternative to the stale, two-party system that has become America’s political status quo. Atlas knows that the Libertarian Party has more – much more – to offer the people of this country than the current closed system dominated by the Republican and Democratic Parties, with their cadres of superficially charismatic leaders able to mouth sound bites but little else.
Atlas may weep because we have let him down by allowing ourselves to chase false priorities, and to dissipate the energy of our convictions on esoteric exercises of little or no relevance to the real political world.
If Atlas does so mourn, then let us as Libertarians this year become once again Atlas’ champion.
After all, it is the Libertarian Party alone among organized politics that shares the concern for and commitment to freedom that keeps Atlas from shrugging. It is the Libertarian Party alone among America’s political parties that possesses the understanding of liberty and freedom that launched this country as the engine of economic capitalism and technological innovation; which became in short order the lodestar to guide much of the world.
It is the Libertarian Party, alone within America’s political system, that understands why — with the surge of liberalism and statism in the 1930s and which accelerated in the 1960s — Atlas nearly shrugged and walked away; which would have crippled human progress perhaps permanently.
But we – as Atlas – also know that the human spirit of reason, resourcefulness, and productivity, is not dead; that it is alive even if somnambulant among the vast majority of our countrymen.
Yes, the challenge is great; even daunting. The federal government now eagerly seeks to gobble up huge segments of our economy, our businesses and other institutions – health care one day, the auto industry the next, and the financial services sector for dessert. The two monopoly political parties offer no or feeble resistance.
It would be easy for Atlas to shrug; just as it would be easy for us as Libertarian Party members, to shrug and walk away to debate among ourselves and to grouse about how bad things are.
But we as America’s Political Party do not look for the easy way; nor does Atlas. He weeps for America and for liberty’s loss because he knows our nation’s heritage and potential are being squandered, wasted and dissipated; and also because he understands it can be salvaged.
So also must we undertake those things and take those steps to brace up Atlas; to fan liberty’s light, not with empty rhetoric and internal squabbling, but by fashioning a message of true and relevant liberty. That is, liberty based on the fundamental libertarian philosophy of maximized individual freedom and minimized government power; but which at the same moment is relevant to the broad range of voters across the country — voters who are tired and deeply mistrustful of the status quo political and governmental systems in America, and who are growing more so.
Relevant Libertarianism means articulating a message using words comprehensible to others who may not be steeped in our movement’s work. What is Relevant Libertarianism?
These messages, which already resonate in the hearts of the vast majority of Americans, must be articulated by us through a short, clear and precise platform and agenda that is unequivocal in its enunciation of real-life political freedom. The message must be brought to individuals, businesses and communities across the country by candidates who are articulate and who can and will relate to real-life voters and businesspeople.
The vehicle for bringing that message must be a political party that behaves like a political party – a party that develops and maintains a functioning and responsive organizational structure; a party that works consistently to fund its endeavors; and a party that fields candidates capable of and oriented toward accomplishing real political goals in the real world.
We must develop a platform that does not require readers to employ a dictionary or a thesaurus in order to comprehend its message and its relevance to them.
Words are a bridge between the party and the voters. Words in a Platform or a Statement of Principles actually do impact how people view us; using words that are unnecessarily opaque, even unintelligible to the voters, not only obscure our message, but turn potential voters, supporters and even candidates, away. It is not an abrogation of our allegiance to our philosophy or goals, to craft a Platform, a Statement of Principles, and other documents for public consumption, that speak in plain English and convey relevance to today’s voters and candidates. Simply put, proceeding thusly aids in accomplishing political goals in the real world — which, after all, should be the goal of any political party.
This is critically important today because American voters are ready for a message of Relevant Libertarianism; they have always been ready for such a message. It is not just our heritage as libertarians, it is America’s heritage. However, the American electorate will not flock to our party for this reason alone. The barricades to freedom erected and manned by the two monopoly parties are tall, wide and formidable. Words alone; internal debates alone will not breach these barriers.
But words coupled with a strong organization, well-funded and focused on real-life issues, fighting battles well-chosen and not scatter-shot, will begin to overcome decades of freedom-stifling laws and regulations standing between citizens and political liberty.
These tools, if they are well and consistently executed over the long haul, will serve to renourish and reinvigorate Atlas; giving him hope once again that America’s promise, once bright but now dramatically dimmed, will again radiate vigorously. If we do our job as America’s Libertarian Party – as America’s Political Party – Atlas will no longer weep; he will no longer contemplate shrugging off the productive world.
Our work will be his hope – America’s hope – for a real rebirth of Liberty in the real world. This is our challenge; this is America’s challenge. If we fail, America fails; and the world will be a far colder, darker place for generations to come. We cannot allow that to happen. Let us commit here, in two thousand and ten — in the year of America’s independence the two-hundred and thirty-fourth – that the Libertarian Party will at long last meet its true potential and destiny in the real world; for real, living Freedom. Atlas waits. America waits. Let us not let them down.