Tom Knapp: ‘Confessions of an Increasingly Skeptical Libertarian Partyarch’

Posted by Tom Knapp at c4ss.org. In addition to writing for IPR and numerous other places, Knapp is: Chair, St. Louis County (Missouri) Libertarian Central Committee; Appointed Libertarian federal officeholder (Selective Service System); Five-time Missouri Libertarian candidate for Congress, state legislature and local office. The views expressed are his own, not IPR’s.


“The [Libertarian Party],” wrote Samuel Edward Konkin III in a footnote to the third edition of The New Libertarian Manifesto, “continues to co-opt idealistic young radicals, suck out their enthusiasm, disillusion them, and either drive them into pessimistic apathy or deliver them — radicalised and re-energised by their disappointment — to the welcoming arms of agorism.”

As the party prepares for its biennial national convention, to be held in St. Louis over Memorial Day weekend, that assessment strikes me as more accurate than ever.

For some years, I’ve maintained an uncomfortable posture — one foot in the agorist camp, one in the mudhole of electoral politics.

If Konkin’s always been right, then the last 14 years of work I’ve done in the political arena has been a waste of time and a distraction from more important work at best. At worst, it’s actually had a net negative effect insofar as continued libertarian participation in old-style politics tends to stunt the formation of the institutions necessary to the coming revolution’s success.

If Konkin’s always been wrong, then it’s possible that I haven’t wasted my time or efforts. Perhaps a political party can be instrumental in creating the conditions necessary to the birth of a free society. If nothing else, as I’ve held in the past, perhaps the Libertarian Party serves a useful purpose as a “birth canal” through which as yet un-radicalized libertarians travel from the womb of the body politic to the brave new world of a larger, radical freedom movement.

My suspicion — or perhaps it’s just a self-serving attempt to validate my own past actions — is that Konkin was always at least partly right, but only partly right, and that he’s becoming more right as events unfold: That is, the Libertarian Party is useful to some degree, but becoming less and less useful as it more and more firmly ensconces itself in the existing system.

I know that the LP assisted me in becoming more, not less, radical.

I entered the party as a Marine veteran, firmly convinced of the prudence of a “moderate interventionist” (a la Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick”) foreign policy; as a former drug warrior who favored legalizing marijuana but urged a “soft touch” versus the drug war; as a father who found the party’s (now long-deleted) “children’s rights” plank naive and embarrassing.

Within a few years I found myself marching against the US interventions in the Balkans and the Middle East; protesting the drug war in its entirety as an abomination and an imposition on the rights of all; and horrified by the state’s abuse of sexual legislation to persecute innocents of all ages.

As a matter of fact, within a few years I discovered that I had become a committed anarchist … at the same time that the Libertarian Party seemed to be hell-bent on transforming itself into a “center right” organization focused on attracting fiscal conservatives who favored a lighter touch of the Nanny State’s paddle to the body politic’s posterior.

It is not the purpose of this column to endorse candidates, bylaws and platform changes and such at this upcoming national convention. I don’t think, however, that I’m overreaching by noting that the candidates and proposals on the conventions agenda represent three distinct approaches.

One faction of the party proposes to complete the transformation of the LP into its new “center right” configuration. They’re fielding officer and national committee candidates who are committed to that course to one degree or another, and they are well-represented on the bylaws and platform committees.

Another faction of the party is internally focused not on ideology or externally on niche marketing, but on internal “good governance” matters. That faction has fielded a committed candidate slate, and tends toward “voice of reason” bylaws and “big tent” platform proposals.

The third faction is the party’s (mostly very demoralized) radical core. While it would be erroneous to write off the other two factions as “newbies,” the radical faction does have a more “Old Guard” composition. The radicals can reasonably expect to elect or re-elect a few national committee members, and are counting on the candidate for chair most of them favor to at least put up a damn good fight … but frankly it doesn’t look like a genuine “turnaround of the party” is in the cards this year.

And, equally frankly, I think this year may be the radicals’ last chance to salvage the party’s redeeming qualities and keep it even marginally useful as an instrument for the advancement of freedom. Full conversion to the “center right” would make the LP objectively an enemy of liberty.

Wish us luck.

26 thoughts on “Tom Knapp: ‘Confessions of an Increasingly Skeptical Libertarian Partyarch’

  1. Rorschach

    These three groups, in my mind, represent three types of Libertarians, and to say that one or the other should have sole control of the LNC is simply setting the stage for more drama, pointless internal political maneuvering, squabbling, bickering, and purges – remember Angela Keaton and Lee Wrights. While Jim Davidson would skip with glee at the opportunity to run off and start yet another waste-of-space political party “in protest”, I don’t think I can name another Libertarian who sees any good coming of such a scenario – at least so long as they consider the possibility that their faction might not be the one leading the purges.

    I believe the best solution in this case, like so many others, lies in a compromise. An LNC comprised of representatives from each of these factions, ideally without any one in majority, would be forced to lead the Party on a responsible, moderate path or find itself deadlocked to the point of being utterly harmless. I would also implore all of the individuals running for the myriad offices to remember: We, the delegates, did not elect you to like eachother. We elected you to run the Party.

    I will not endorse here any slate, ticket, or alliance. I will instead recommend a cherry picking approach to the candidates. Consider at all times who is best qualified for the position and/or best represents the interests of their region, delegation, or constituents. Just because candidates present themselves as a group does not mean we are under any obligation to honor that association – better, I say, to break up these groups, force them to abandon whatever agendas and designs they have in order to force them to their appointed task – the responsible, ethical, and efficient administration of the Libertarian Party.

  2. Brian Holtz

    hell-bent on transforming itself into a ?center right? organization focused on attracting fiscal conservatives who favored a lighter touch of the Nanny State?s paddle to the body politic?s posterior

    Strawman much? And just who is “center right” supposed to be quoting?

    If this is about the prospect of a Chair Root reaching out to Tea Party conservatives, then read this and explain how that positioning counts as “center right”.

    this year may be the radicals? last chance to salvage the party?s redeeming qualities and keep it even marginally useful as an instrument for the advancement of freedom

    I thought the last chance was in 2006 when you formed the Boston Tea Party, or in 2008 when you added your vote to the total of the “economic democracy” Green party via its nominee Cynthia McKinney. It sounds like the LP has nine lives.

    I suspect Rorscach would like Chuck Moulton’s Bylaw proposal for using Single Transferrable Vote to elect LNC at-large reps. I like that idea too.

  3. Robert Capozzi

    tk:…continued libertarian participation in old-style politics tends to stunt the formation of the institutions necessary to the coming revolution’s success.

    me: The crowd cried out for more. Tell us about the coming revolution.

  4. Trent Hill

    Rorschach presents probably the most reasonable analysis: Disregard associations and slates–vote for the most qualified. I think Redpath and Gray should both find their ways onto the LNC.

  5. Thomas L. Knapp

    Brian,

    You write:

    “I thought the last chance was in”

    It’s always possible that I’m incorrect, but I don’t think I’ve ever utilized “last chance” rhetoric vis a vis the LP before.

    When I founded the Boston Tea Party, I was very explicit in stating that its purpose was to serve as an alternative until, and in the hope that, the LP got turned in the right direction, and that hopefully it might help make that turn by coming back into the LP as an internal caucus (a course I proposed, but was outvoted on, at the BTP’s first national convention). I personally remained in the party, and encouraged others to do likewise.

    Privately, I communicated to some whom I trusted that my main reason for forming the BTP was that someone was going to offer dissatisfied post-Portland LPers an alternative, and that I did so because I wanted that alternative to be one that they’d be more likely to come back from.

    In 2008, I publicly supported the LP’s presidential ticket until I could no longer stomach doing so, then continued to do party work on that ticket’s behalf at the local level, and to support LP candidates in my state, and to run as an LP candidate myself, and to encourage the BTP to endorse a number of LP candidates for public office nationwide.

    Here’s probably the most “last chancy” I got in my rhetoric that year:

    The Libertarian Party could survive a Barr nomination. There are reasonable arguments that it would even benefit from one. That it could survive a complete takeover of its infrastructure by an outside political bloc is much less certain.

    Your pattern detection algorithm requires calibration, sir. Just as I don’t predict a second great depression every other month, I don’t predict the final corruption of the LP every other year.

  6. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob,

    You write:

    “Tell us about the coming revolution.”

    When am I ever not telling you about the coming revolution?

    At this particular moment, I’m less interested in the coming revolution than I am in the LP’s continually expressed predilection toward adopting a calendar on which 9 Thermidor Year II falls the week before the Fête de la Fédération.

  7. Thomas L. Knapp

    Brian,

    You write:

    “And just who is ‘center right’ supposed to be quoting?”

    It wasn’t intended to be specifically quoting anyone … but now that you ask:

    America is a “center right” country. Republicans have dominated American politics at all levels for so long because they have been the closest party to “center right.” What I have come to realize of late is that the Republican Party has lost the right to that claim. Today, the true definition of “center right” is Libertarian.

    That’s Wayne Allyn Root, in “My Libertarian Awakening.”

    Some in the LP dislike Wayne for his polished speaking style, center-right approach to the issues and salesmanship. Others like him for those very reasons. … Gravel is a contender for the Libertarian Party Presidential nomination, especially if Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root divide the center-right and pragmatic vote during second, third or maybe even fourth rounds of voting in Denver.

    That’s Mike Ferguson, in his “Observations on the [2008] Heartland Libertarian Conference.”

    My recollection is that Ferguson supported Root early on, then switched to Barr upon his entry in the nomination race, and served as one of Barr’s nominating speakers at the 2008 national convention. He was later one of Barr’s key campaign aides (a job for which he was well-qualified). He returned to the Republican Party last year.

  8. Amen, amen, amen ????????? .......... Lake

    think of the MILLIONS of folks with a Liberty bent whom have departed after bouncing off of the internal partisan craziness, running fast and far, hands in the air, yelling ‘Unclean, unclean’!

    Been there done that (AND the ubiquitous obsession with donations)!

    As for the Knappster, living in my former neighborhood, and unable or unwilling to work with me or Citizens For A Better Veterans Home: I have never heard any one say that he is or was brilliant …. BUT may be just a little slow on the up take ??????????

  9. NewFederalist

    Tom- I joined the LP in 1974. Ed Crane signed my first membership card. I left in 1985 because I saw the party was not going to succeed. Re-read Harry Browne’s “How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World”. Enjoy life and forgive others. Forgive and live well. That is the greatest gift libertarianism ever gave me.

  10. Robert Milnes

    Tom is right about just about everything except PLAS. Root & the rightists will continue to deliver libertarian wherewithall to the GOP directly or indirectly. THIS INCLUDES The Pauls. I’ve come to understand the LP & libertarian community these p0st several years after several years politicing with the leftists, particularly the leftist anarchists. I assure you all the LP is PREDOMINATED with rightists. They are a dampener to revolutionary impulses. They should be put in their place-membership only, until they complete their radicalization. I did join the LRC but came to understand Milsted had created a frankenstein. It mostly justified the presence of rightists of various types.
    Radicals-seize this opportunity presented by the convention & TAKEOVER THE PARTY. Then GO LEFT & coordinate with progressives. Their vote put Obama in the White House. They can put the LP there instead.
    All radicals & anarchists-GO TO THE CONVENTION. TAKEOVER THE LP.

  11. Rorschach

    “Rorschach presents probably the most reasonable analysis”

    And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour – Rev. 8:1

  12. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob M.,

    The party’s internal left (i.e. the radicals) probably just doesn’t have the horsepower to turn things around by itself. In order to prevent an irreversible “center right” transformation, we’re going to have to make common cause with the party’s internal center.

    Of course, that doesn’t always turn out well, either.

    In keeping with my analysis of the LP as tending toward Thermidor before it’s even put on a revolution yet, I’ll cite the example of a similar conflict in a party that had in fact made its revolution: The Communist Party of the Soviet Union circa 1928.

    As of 1928, Trotsky’s “Workers Opposition” constituted the party’s left.

    Perversely, the party’s right was the faction led by Bukharin, who at one time had been the party’s most accomplished ultra-left theoretician.

    The Trotskyist left was tired of the New Economic Policy and other concessions to capitalism, and wanted faster movement toward complete socialization of the economy, including collectivization of the farms.

    The Bukharinist right maintained that socialism was not yet developed enough to sustain itself and that the concessions had to continue — in particular, lightening up on the kulaks (the upper class of the farm peasantry — small-to-medium land owners who might even use hired labor to cultivate some of their holdings), who were key to creating any agricultural abundance.

    Bukharin wanted an alliance with the left versus the center — Stalin.

    Trotsky’s watch word was that alliance of the left with the center versus the right might be appropriate, but never an alliance of the right and left versus the center.

    So, Trotsky vacillated.

    Within a year or so, Stalin had deposed Bukharin from the Politburo and as editor of Pravda, and within ten years he was executed in the Kirov purges.

    Also within a year, Trotsky was in exile; he died with an ice ax in his skull 12 years later.

    So, let us hope that George Phillies is no Stalin, because THIS left-libertarian isn’t going to ally with the right versus the center, either. Then again, neither will he vacillate.

  13. Brian Holtz

    Am I the only one who is amused by the way that certain anarcholibertarians (Rothbard, Raimondo, Knapp) have a penchant for borrowing infighting lessons from the Soviet Communist Party?

    I’m trying hard to find it creepy. I really am. But so far it’s just funny.

  14. Tom Blanton

    Holtz @ #3:

    If this is about the prospect of a Chair Root reaching out to Tea Party conservatives, then read this and explain how that positioning counts as ?center right?.

    If one clicks on “this”, a page comes up from IPR where Root writes:

    So here is how I score a 100/100 on the quiz, using only quotes from my book (Conscience of a Libertarian) and my website (RootForAmerica.com). And if anybody worries that a Nolan-chart quiz doesn?t address foreign policy, check out my W.A.R. and Peace blog entry from April 2008!

    First, Root scores himself at 10 on the various questions when it is obvious from his justifications that a 10 score on some of these questions is simply not justified by his responses and positions.

    He addresses his foreign policy credibility by linking to his “W.A.R. and Peace” blog entry. If one clicks on that, one will find this gem by Root:

    It’s time to admit that the Iraq war, as well as the supposed post war planning? was a disaster. It is time to admit that while there is a “war on terror,” the war in Iraq had (and has) little do with it. It’s time to admit the war in Iraq has distracted us from the real “war on terror” we are waging against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    Maybe it was way past time for Root to make these admissions, but he still can’t bring himself to admit what he calls the “real war on terror we are waging in Afghanistan” is also a mistake.

    The fact is that Root just doesn’t get it. He continues to use the rhetoric of a conservative, he continues to call himself a Reagan libertarian, and he takes very moderate stands on some libertarian issues but gives himself a 10 on the “Holtz” test.

    Root simply is not a 100/100 libertarian, regardless of what he (or Holtz) claims. They must think libertarians are stupid to buy this bunk. I’m not even sure of what the point in claiming that he is a 100/100 hardcore libertarian while at the same time claiming that it is his moderate libertarianism that sells with conservative independents.

    Root and his supporters want to present him as all things to all people and it only makes them appear to be either stupid or lying. Or both.

  15. Brian Holtz

    You can always count on Blanton to argue against a strawman instead of against what his opponents actually say.

    Scoring 100/100 on my test doesn’t make you a “hardcore” libertarian. It makes you a “consistent” libertarian.

    My challenge @3 was: then read this and explain how that positioning counts as ?center right?.

    Still waiting for that explanation.

  16. Tom Blanton

    Scoring 100/100 on my test doesn’t make you a “hardcore” libertarian. It makes you a “consistent” libertarian.

    This is simply not true. Scoring 75/100 may make one an inconsistent libertarian and scoring 20/20 may make one consistently unlibertarian.

    My problem, as you already know, is that for each question posed, I don’t believe he would score a 10. I don’t believe his total score would be 100/100. It would be more like 75/75, perhaps. I believe that someone, even of limited intellect, could easily game “your” test, Holtz.

    My question to you is why do you persist in claiming that there is no obvious rightward lean to Root? He even acknowledges this as part of his so-called strategy. Certainly you don’t buy your own spin on this, Holtz.

    My challenge @3 was: then read this and explain how that positioning counts as “center right”.

    I don’t believe that “positioning” counts as anything but a poorly execute self-serving attempt to misrepresent himself as a 100/100 libertarian when he isn’t.

    His prolific commentary demonstrates over and over that his brand of libertarianism (Reagan libertarianism) is a hodge podge of conservative and libertarian-lite rhetoric combined with the GOP/talk radio/tea party talking points du jour. This is precisely why he has come to be such a divisive figure in the libertarian movement.

    To pretend there is no justification for this perception is disingenuous at best.

  17. Tom Blanton

    You can always count on Blanton to argue against a strawman

    Yep, and you are that strawman, Holtz – self-identified as my “opponent”. But, you’re the only one playing a game, the only one keeping score, and the only one who thinks you’re fooling anybody.

  18. Thomas L. Knapp

    Brian,

    You write:

    “Am I the only one who is amused by the way that certain anarcholibertarians (Rothbard, Raimondo, Knapp) have a penchant for borrowing infighting lessons from the Soviet Communist Party?”

    The Communist Party was an ideological party.

    The Libertarian Party was founded as an ideological party, and still retains a good deal of that tendency.

    The Communist Party was a revolutionary party.

    To the extent that the LP has remained an ideological party, it has also been at the very least a revolutionary party in embryo.

    It is for those reasons that comparisons between the LP and the CPSU are more relevant in some respects than comparisons between the LP and the GOP or the LP and the Democratic Party.

  19. Brian Holtz

    Blanton, I’ve repeatedly criticized Root for “rightward-tilted outreach”. I’ve repeatedly criticized his “Ron-Paul-like rhetoric that libertarianism should rescue conservativism instead of replace it”. I’ve never said Root should be scored at 100/100 on my test. I’ve said repeatedly that he scores at least 85/95.

    You (like most of Root’s critics) fail to distinguish between 1) where Root’s policy positions place him in Nolan space, and 2) where Root thinks is the most fertile ground for converts to libertarianism.

  20. Tom Blanton

    You (like most of Root’s critics) fail to distinguish between 1) where Root’s policy positions place him in Nolan space, and 2) where Root thinks is the most fertile ground for converts to libertarianism.

    Holtz, it’s not a failure to distinguish, it’s a failure to care about what goes on in his mind and what space on a chart he occupies. I disagree with him on where the low hanging fruit is located, but most of all I object to him creating the impression that his bullshit rhetoric represents libertarianism. It’s really that simple.

    The reason for that is something that apparently eludes you, Holtz.

    Simply put, you can’t expect society to embrace libertarian ideas if you don’t expose them to those ideas. It matters not if the reason Root fails to present libertarian ideas is because he doesn’t understand them, doesn’t know them, doesn’t agree with them, or thinks others won’t agree with them.

    If Root recruits thousands of LP members by convincing disgruntled conservatives that libertarianism is actually Reagan conservatism, this is a problem for libertarianism. It may be a great thing for Reagan conservatism, but for libertarianism, not so much. This is really not so complicated.

  21. Brian Holtz

    Ya gotta love all the free advice from somebody who’s quit more freedom-oriented parties than most Americans have joined, but I spotted a typo in the latest dose.

    Simply put, you can’t expect society to embrace anarchist ideas if you don’t expose them to those ideas.

    There, fixed that for you.

  22. Thomas L. Knapp

    “You (like most of Root’s critics) fail to distinguish between 1) where Root’s policy positions place him in Nolan space, and 2) where Root thinks is the most fertile ground for converts to libertarianism.”

    That may be true. But if it’s true of Mr. Blanton and of Root’s critics, it is at least equally true of Root himself.

    In The Conscience of a Libertarian, Root uses the term “center right” to describe the American political plurality/majority.

    He uses that descriptor no fewer than four times.

    Each and every time he uses that descriptor, he follows it up not with an attempt to “convert [the center right] to libertarianism,” but with an attempt to persuade the center right that he and the LP represent their existing beliefs incarnate.

    Yes, you can produce quotes and even whole pieces from Root that make him look “not center right.” Why should that be surprising? He generally does his best to sound like whatever audience he thinks he’s speaking to.

    What is Root’s actual “location in Nolan Space?” Hell if I know. His apparent “location in Nolan Space” seems to be a variable which correlates closely with the composition of his chosen audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *