Libertarian Peacenik: ‘Can Libertarians Be “A Little Bit Pregnant”?’

Thomas Sipos at Libertarian Peacenik:

The Libertarian Party’s “Vote Getter” faction (for lack of a better term) has long advised that the LP “is a political party” and so we must be wary of “scaring voters” with “purist rhetoric.”

Consider Wayne Allyn Root, who says that the LP should steer clear of non-economic issues. Root joins other Reform types who say that foreign affairs and war and national security are “divisive” issues, to be avoided if the LP wants to “get votes.”

At the same time, most Vote Getters (some of whom are Radicals) join with other Libertarians in deriding Republicans for being “unprincipled” and betraying their promise of smaller government.

The LP Vote Getters want it both ways. They want the LP to dilute its issues so as not to “scare voters,” while at the same time claiming to be “principled,” unlike the Republicans.

The LP Vote Getters want the LP to compromise (for votes) while remaining principled (unlike the GOP). They want a Libertarian Party that’s only “a little bit pregnant,” unlike the GOP, which is “very pregnant.”

No, I’m not deriding incrementalism. I support incrementalism. Incrementalism means moving slowly in X direction, yet still proclaiming that you expect to arrive at X.

Vote Getters want to hide X Goal from voters, either fooling voters about the LP’s end goals — or perhaps not even wanting to arrive at X.

That’s right. Some Vote Getters are “low tax Imperialists” at heart. They support war and empire, but use “it’ll lose votes and donations” as an excuse not to support those issues.

19 thoughts on “Libertarian Peacenik: ‘Can Libertarians Be “A Little Bit Pregnant”?’

  1. Thane Eichenauer

    I think that Sipsos’ analysis of Root/Vote Getters is off. I’ve watched plenty of Root’s presentations and from what I took away from them is that he says sell the issues that the particular audience is receptive to. This does have the weakness of seeming to be essentially Republican Plus on overlap issues. As far as Root goes he says that he will sell Libertarian issues (gay/drugs/anti-war) to audiences that are receptive to them.

  2. Erik G.

    “A thing moderately good is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. ” – Thomas Paine

  3. Darryl W. Perry

    Thane Eichenauer // Jul 22, 2010 at 4:52 pm
    “As far as Root goes he says that he will sell Libertarian issues (gay/drugs/anti-war) to audiences that are receptive to them.”

    That’s part of the reason I think he’s a used car salesman!

  4. Mik Robertson

    I also think this assessment is off. There are different public policy positions that can be promoted which are based on the same principle. There is no need to always promote the public policy position that the vast majority of the electorate does not agree with, and in fact opposes.

    Libertarianism is a process, it is not an end-state.

  5. Aaron Starr

    @4

    If you are speaking of asking John Mackey to join the board of LNCC, he might be a worthy addition.

    I have to wonder if it might be a tough sell to convince him that he can do that without alienating some of his customers.

    Wayne Root certainly knows him, since he interviewed John Mackey on the radio a couple of weeks ago.

  6. Starchild

    Nice piece, Thomas, especially the pregnancy metaphor which is quite apt here. Like pregnancy, moving away from integrity in politics starts out small, but grows more and more significant as time passes, until eventually if unchecked it gives birth to full-blown corruption and abandonment of principles (a la the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties).

    I think your final paragraph could have been a bit clearer, though. The point you were getting at, if I’m not mistaken, is that some in the “Vote Getter” faction (or the “Winning Is Everything” faction, as I’ve dubbed them in light of a particularly unfortunate LP Monday Message which made that embarrassing claim) secretly support “war and empire,” but pretend their reluctance to advocate a strong anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist stance is simply a matter of not wanting to turn off voters.

    While I have issues with the nationalist way in which Libertarians typically champion non-intervention (focusing solely or primarily on the U.S. government’s role in wars, while ignoring or downplaying that of other powers), I strongly agree that so long as most Libertarians believe opposition to extra-national military interventions is the correct interpretation of the Non-Aggression Principle, the party should vigorously uphold this stance.

    Whether the motive for compromise and concealment is a secret sympathy with the Neo-Cons, or a simple desire to win more votes by pandering to conservatives, it’s wrong in either case.

  7. Robert Capozzi

    ts: The LP Vote Getters want it both ways. They want the LP to dilute its issues so as not to “scare voters,” while at the same time claiming to be “principled,” unlike the Republicans.

    me: I guess I’m for getting votes, so I guess I’ll cop to Sipos’s “Vote Getter” label. I thank him for the “pregnancy” analogy, since I don’t see politics as anything like a biological function. I’m checking that premise of Sipos’s, and I’d need to understand it before adopting his POV.

    Near as I can tell, Sipos has some L construct in mind that anyone who calls him or herself L must both abide by and advocate. He pivots then to say he’s OK with incrementalism.

    Fair?

    Unfortunately, I’ve yet to hear anyone who is in the abolitionist L camp itemize:
    1) what the construct is
    2) why it’s the “correct” construct
    3) what the rules are for what incremental points of advocacy are that are acceptable, and why.

    I’d certainly prefer the LP to be the peace party, the war averse party. Not only do I find that “principled,” I find it popular. In a complex world, whether that means opposing the Iraq War (as I do) or closing the embassy in Accra, Ghana (I’m open to it, although it seems worthy of tabling for the time being), I suggest some tolerance.

    The idea of liberty is too strong and attractive for deviations to get in the way of progress!

  8. Mik Robertson

    Should the LP not support a bill to legalize medical marijuana because it does not deregulate marijuana entirely? Would a candidate who did not campaign for the legalization and uncontrolled use of heroin and methamphetamine be distorting the goals of the LP?

    I think the answers are clearly no, and to suggest otherwise is to completely distort the main goal of the LP, which is to maximize individual liberty and minimize the role of the state. Anyone who claims to know what a society would look like if such a condition were to be achieved is being misleading.

    While I agree that non-intervention is the way to go in foreign policy, the arguments I have heard for intervention in the LP are not based on intervention for control, but for self-defense, which is itself a principle the LP should uphold.

    Suggesting that not taking the most extreme public policy position that can be derived from a principle is somehow watering down that principle or distorting a goal of the LP is simply wrong. It is a tactic used to divide those who have different opinions and interpretations and goad all into the same little box of thinking.

    I cannot think of a less libertarian thing to do.

  9. Thomas M. Sipos

    Robert: “The idea of liberty is too strong and attractive for deviations to get in the way of progress!”

    This sounds like a talking point meant to impress other Libertarians. But these vague words only work so long as you don’t get specific. When you do, differences in interpretation emerge.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think “liberty” — as most libertarians define is — is attractive to most Americans.

    Most Americans want to be free to do whatever they want. However, they also…

    (1) Want their freedoms subsidized by their neighbors. They want guaranteed education, health care, enjoyable and lucrative career opportunities, affordable housing, etc.

    They’ll scream for freedom — until they need a government bailout. Look at the people working on Wall Street, or those who live in disaster prone areas, or those who’s home values fell. Even Tea Partiers are screaming “Don’t touch my Medicare!”

    (2) American don’t want freedom for others. They trust themselves with freedom, but want drug laws, business regulations, personal behavior regulations, and gun control for their next door neighbor. They want their neighbors watched by Homeland Security (“If they have nothing to hide…”), and foreign nations under U.S. military domination.

    Sure, they differ as to which restrictions they want on their neighbors (or immigrants, or foreigners), but most Americans want to abolish some freedoms (usually a freedom they themselves are uninterested in).

    Sorry, Robert, but while words like “liberty” and “freedom” make many Americans feel all goose-pimply and patriotic, they reject the LP because they don’t find liberty all that attractive.

    I don’t believe the LP can ever attain majority status while retaining its principles. This is frustrating to those who’d “like to see a little liberty in my own lifetime,” but it is so.

    Even so, because the LP is not really a political party (regardless of what some document on file with the secretary of state says), this shouldn’t matter. The LP is a statement of principles, that is all.

    This is why, if the LP dilutes its principles, it ends up being nothing.

  10. Thomas M. Sipos

    Mik: “Should the LP not support a bill to legalize medical marijuana because it does not deregulate marijuana entirely?”

    I’m not complaining about Libertarians who support a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

    I’m not complaining about Libertarians who want to withdraw from Iraq.

    Those two examples are incrementalism.

    I do complain about “Libertarians” who say “Iraq is the wrong war. Iran is the right war.”

    It’s not incrementalism if we support a troop withdrawal from Iraq, while also supporting a new war on Iran, or whoever.

  11. AroundtheblockAFT

    Mr. Sipos’#10 is, unfortunately, largely true.
    Most Americans have never had the libertarian interpretation of liberty explained to them in such a way as they adopt our thinking. This may be due to an inadequacy in the marketing of, what we believe, is a transcedent ideal. Or, maybe they see the value of our brand of liberty but think they can and should game the system so they gain the unearned benefits of bossing others around.

    Absent successful education first, the LP will never succeed as a political party except to the extent it can be the balance of power in a few races where its more popular ideas can begin to be co-opted by one of the other parties.

  12. Erik G.

    I love how the ‘reform’/’vote getter’ group always tries to paint the ‘radicals’ as if they’re passing around some purity test. This is laughable at best. Why do I think this? Because I don’t run around with some ‘purity test,’ and yet most the ‘radicals’ I know are quite comfortable with me calling myself a libertarian.

    You can certainly be a person of principle while at the same time being an incrementalist. I think it more or less comes down to a few basic things, really:
    1.) Don’t engage in military interventionism
    2.) Do not increase the tax burden, and at least vow to decrease it to some degree or another
    3.) Do not further erode others’ civil liberties, and at least vow in some way to expand/defend them

    Beyond that, I think there’s probably room for a ‘big tent’ approach. For example, I’m not a fan of people who favor the death penalty, but I’d never want someone kicked out of the party because they do, and I doubt there are many others who’d nitpick such an issue. Likewise on any other number of issues; some libertarians advocate vouchers, some want the govt. out of education entirely. Not once have I heard something like that be the grounds for ‘excommunication’ or whatever, though.

  13. Robert Capozzi

    ts: I don’t believe the LP can ever attain majority status while retaining its principles. This is frustrating to those who’d “like to see a little liberty in my own lifetime,” but it is so.

    me: Hmm, could be. This L believes I can retain MY principles and I can imagine achieving a lot of liberty — a lot less coercion — in my lifetime.

    ts: Even so, because the LP is not really a political party (regardless of what some document on file with the secretary of state says), this shouldn’t matter. The LP is a statement of principles, that is all.

    me: Hmm, $100 for a website, and call it a day?

    ts: This is why, if the LP dilutes its principles, it ends up being nothing.

    me: Or rather than “diluting” principles, I’ve re-examined them and found old-school Randian/Rothbardian wanting, insufficient and porous. Many Ls are coming to that conclusion, if not in theory, then in practice.

    Oh, what to do….

  14. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob C,

    You write:

    “Unfortunately, I’ve yet to hear anyone who is in the abolitionist L camp itemize:
    1) what the construct is
    2) why it’s the ‘correct’ construct
    3) what the rules are for what incremental points of advocacy are that are acceptable, and why.”

    While I can’t speak for abolitionist Ls in general, I suspect most of them would agree with me that they recognize no obligation to provide the content of this “construct” you’ve dreamed it up.

    Your hallucination, your problem, dude.
    You hallucinated it,

  15. Robert Capozzi

    tk, thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    Near as I can tell (and recall), the construct is the NAP or NIOF. While it sounds nice, I — and non-adherents to that dogma — don’t know what it means.

    Abolition of the State, come what may? Abolition of the State tomorrow, come what may? Advocating eventual abolition of the State by proposing rapid steps to do so, because such rhetoric is “exciting”?

    Sipos seems to have a problem with my vagueness. The difference is that we TAAALists ARE by definition vague, since the world is a vague and evolving place.

    My challenge to abolitionists is that while they tend to position themselves are “principled” and concrete in what they advocate, when I test just how concrete the NAP and its apparent applications are, the response I often get is hand-waving “but of course there need to be ‘transition plans’, and, no, we really don’t have any.” What the NAPsters are doing is to idealistically assert the principle with the hope that others see the light, seems to this hombre.

    “Never underestimate the power of denial. ”
    -Wes Bently, character in AMERICAN BEAUTY

  16. Thomas M. Sipos

    Robert: “Sipos seems to have a problem with my vagueness. The difference is that we TAAALists ARE by definition vague, since the world is a vague and evolving place.”

    That’s not a “difference,” but rather, a separate issue.

    Vagueness is a problem. The world is vague. Both may be true.

    My specific problem with your vague call for “liberty” is that if everyone advocates “liberty,” the term becomes meaningless.

    Bush loved to talk of “freedom.” And yes, the Nazis and the Bolsheviks also spoke glowingly of “freedom.” But clearly, their conception of freedom, much less their application of the term, is not the libertarian’s application.

    Clearly, one mush specify what one means by freedom and liberty.

    A 1000 Americans might all agree that “freedom is good.” But unless they’re on the same page on the specifics, their agreement is illusory. They don’t agree. Indeed, once they leave the room, they’ll pull in opposite directions.

    I suppose some Libertarians want to bask in the illusion that we’re all on the same page. Vagueness is feel-good. Specifics are “divisive.”

    So let’s all be vague, so we can pretend that we agree with each other! (Hell, it’s not like we’ll every win any political power, so it’s not like our illusory unity will ever be shattered.)

    Robert: “My challenge to abolitionists is that while they tend to position themselves are “principled” and concrete in what they advocate,”

    You talking to me? You talking to me?

    I’m no abolitionist, as I’ve repeatedly said. I’m a minarchist. I have no problem with public streets, traffic regulations, speeding tickets, red light cameras, and many other stuff.

    I’ll even allow for reasonable taxes (especially sales taxes for general revenue, or gas taxes to specifically fund the roads).

    I think red light cameras, and laws against texting while driving, are issues on which libertarians of good faith can disagree.

    Slaughtering women and children and civilians in imperialist foreign wars are not an issue on which libertarians of good faith can disagree.

    My “big tent” admits no-tax libertarians and low-tax libertarians. It admits private street libertarians, and public street libertarians.

    But my tent is not so big as to admit imperialist war-mongers.

  17. Erik G.

    Mr. Sipos @17,

    Well said. We may not share the same views, but at least we share the same tent.

  18. Robert Capozzi

    ts, much to address, for you bring up some important points…

    ts: Vagueness is a problem. The world is vague. Both may be true.

    me: Hmm, good luck with that approach. If the world’s vague and I want to participate on the world’s stage, then I say when in Rome, do as the Romans do…at least in form. In content, in politics, it’s my practice to advocate undoing coercion, and letting our birthright — liberty — shine through.

    ts: My specific problem with your vague call for “liberty” is that if everyone advocates “liberty,” the term becomes meaningless. Bush loved to talk of “freedom.”

    me: I assure you the term is NOT meaningless for me. I found Bush’s invoking the terms freedom and liberty false, since he advocated many things that were more coercive than what he inherited.

    ts: Clearly, one mush specify what one means by freedom and liberty.

    me: Help us understand why this is your opinion, and what you mean by this. Many Ls — possibly most Ls in the LP — might agree with this, but I challenge it if it means that in a political context one must specify what the endpoint of one’s advocacy entails. I’d ask the question: Why? Why not advocate near-term changes in direction by undoing important and pronouncedly dysfunctional government coercion?

    ts: A 1000 Americans might all agree that “freedom is good.”

    me: Excellent! We can work with this!

    ts: I suppose some Libertarians want to bask in the illusion that we’re all on the same page. Vagueness is feel-good. Specifics are “divisive.”

    me: See my quote from AMERICAN BEAUTY above about “denial.” Adults recognize that not everyone is always going to agree. I’d strongly suggest that what is coercive and what should be undone is not always obvious based on Randian/Rothbardian “principle.” My counsel is: Deal with it.

    ts: I’m no abolitionist, as I’ve repeatedly said. I’m a minarchist. I have no problem with public streets, traffic regulations, speeding tickets, red light cameras, and many other stuff. I’ll even allow for reasonable taxes….

    me: Thanks for triggering a breakthrough for me. I’ve been using the longer term “absolutist, abolitionist anarchist.” But it seems there are a lot of Ls who are absolutist, abolitionist minarchists, too. From what I’ve seen of your posting, you may be one. Co-Founder Nolan may be another. (This point requires further contemplation.)

    ts: Slaughtering women and children and civilians in imperialist foreign wars are not an issue on which libertarians of good faith can disagree.

    me: Hmm, consider elaborating on what you mean by “good faith” in this statement, as it’s structured in such a way that a lot of assumptions are hidden. It does sound divisive to me. But, more importantly, it begs many questions. In my case, I’m a dovish L, but I find old-school Rothbardian “strict noninterventionist” theory wanting and insufficient. 9/11 illustrated the limitations of nonintervention, since (Trutherism aside) it was planned and executed by a network, not another State. I actually don’t know any out-and-out imperialists generally, or Ls specifically.

    If this theme of yours is that we should purge Ls whom you deem to be “imperialists,” I can’t say I agree. I do agree that the LP should stand for peace and war aversion.

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