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Are Libertarians Looking for Results or Self-Congratulation?
There’s a big difference between trying to win people over and merely trying to feel good about ourselves.
By Sheldon Richman
January 25, 2015
When I was researching my recent article on Nathaniel Branden, who died last month, I came across an audio file of a talk Branden gave at the 1979 Libertarian Party national convention in Los Angeles. I was at the convention, but I don’t remember attending the talk. I might have been busy with other things; on the other hand, I find it hard to believe that I had anything more important to do during that hour.
At any rate, the talk, “What Happens When the Libertarian Movement Begins to Succeed?,” is remarkable in more than one respect. For one thing, Branden was commenting on all the attention libertarianism was getting—in 1979! At that time, the media were covering the libertarian movement more than ever, although that isn’t saying much. Ed Clark, a libertarian who was listed on the ballot as an independent, had run quite a successful campaign for governor of California the year before, by libertarian standards, winning 377,960 votes, 5.46 percent of the total.
The party in California had also gotten publicity earlier that year for supporting ballot Proposition 13, a cap on the state’s property tax, and for opposing Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative, which would have denied jobs in the government’s schools to gay people. The LP’s position prevailed in both cases. Because of things like this, the Los Angeles Times sent a reporter to the convention, and other prominent newspapers and magazines later published stories. The 2,000-plus conventioneers were filled with excitement.
So Branden was justified in thinking that something good was happening. It wasn’t the first time some of us felt that way. In 1971, the year before the first LP presidential ticket, John Hospers and Tonie Nathan, got an electoral vote, the New York Times Magazine published a five-thousand-word article by two libertarian college seniors: Stan Lehr and Louis Rossetto Jr., later a co-founder of Wired magazine. The article was titled “The New Right Credo—Libertarianism” (I gag on the title too), and it discussed the political and economic ideas of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, and others.