D. Frank Robinson: The Libertarian Party Statement of Principles

287580_259035037447740_2771323_oEditorial note: This is a post originally found on the Libertarian Party History Facebook Page and edited with permission by the author for use in a newsletter, Party blog, or similar medium. The original post can be found here (request to join page for approval).

When I came to David Nolan and the Libertarian Party (LP), I was a disgusted Republican under the influence of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and I had become suspicious and then disgusted by Nixon.

At the Denver LP Convention in 1972, I was puzzled by various controversies surrounding the attempts to agree on a platform manifesto. I had observed in my days in Republican Party platform battles that the controversies were usually about who had the most personal influence rather than what meaning an outsider would take from the official dogma in a platform. Partisans of personality seldom cared what the final documents stated anyway. Who won and who lost was all that mattered in setting the pecking order. All political parties are personality cults who create ideological murkiness with blatant contradictions. I did not like that.

This made me determined to devise a barricade to personality cults using the LP for their tugs of war to dismantle it. So I, with Ed Carlson of New Mexico, devised embedding an “article of faith”—Statement of Principles—that could not be altered without a super-majority. I was aware this was not “good form” in parliamentary practice. Organization unity and longevity “by hook or crook” is “good form” else an organization might split into seceding factions and wither away. Nevertheless, I took the contrary view that factionalization and hair-splitting acrimony also sprang from ambiguity and transient charismatics in an organization. Just look at US Constitutional history.

Shrewd manipulators could use these tactics to concentrate power in a clique like a Tammany Hall crowd. So, Ed and I persuaded David and the Founding Convention Delegates to plant a rhetorical stake in the ground with a tether—The Statement of Principles—a terse one-page document, declaring to all coming after us, “This is the anchor and the lifeline. Do not tread too far from it (or you may perish). If you stay close, you may eventually prosper for your efforts.”

In the succeeding years, I have seen LP Platforms evolve and morph and dance and sing, but the rhetorical force of gravity in the SoP has kept the centrifugal personality cults at bay. They haven’t made the LP into a Republican Lite, nor has the LP flown apart yet. The credit for this, in my view, belongs to all those delegates over the years who have looked all the new platform phraseologies and then compared them to the SoP. You just can’t fool those folks with a flim and flam and a damn and a jam and “He’s our man!” The SoP gives just the delegates a little more incentive think a bit more carefully.

A modicum of clarity makes it tough to fool seven-eights of convention of libertarians again and again and again. Scrap a platform and start over? Sure. Stand pat on the last one? Sure. Take the whole tribe on the warpath? If one-eighth of the powwow says no, that is the end of fortune and glory.

If you have reached this line, thank you for you patience. Continue on your own.

D. Frank Robinson is the former Chair of the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma.

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About Caryn Ann Harlos

Caryn Ann Harlos is a paralegal residing in Castle Rock, Colorado and presently serving as the Region 1 Representative on the Libertarian National Committee and is a candidate for LNC Secretary at the 2018 Libertarian Party Convention. Articles posted should NOT be considered the opinions of the LNC nor always those of Caryn Ann Harlos personally. Caryn Ann's goal is to provide information on items of interest and (sometimes) controversy about the Libertarian Party and minor parties in general not to necessarily endorse the contents.

26 thoughts on “D. Frank Robinson: The Libertarian Party Statement of Principles

  1. Robert Capozzi

    fr: All political parties are personality cults who create ideological murkiness with blatant contradictions. I did not like that.

    me: Do others see the obvious irony here?!

    fr: This made me determined to devise a barricade to personality cults using the LP for their tugs of war to dismantle it. So I, with Ed Carlson of New Mexico, devised embedding an “article of faith”—Statement of Principles—that could not be altered without a super-majority. I was aware this was not “good form” in parliamentary practice.

    me: IOW, the founders were the first and only “personality cult” who could articulate the foundational principles. Future personality cults could not. Got it. Check.

    I do appreciate the honesty here, recognizing that what was done was not in good form!

    FR: “This is the anchor and the lifeline. Do not tread too far from it (or you may perish). If you stay close, you may eventually prosper for your efforts.”

    me: Spaketh the Lord(s)! 😉 I wonder if that personality cult all wore white, flowing robes, too? 😉

    I take it that — based on results — that the Prodigal Son(s) has/have still strayed far from Home, walking through barren deserts with dwindling numbers. Come Home, Come Home, My Sons, where all is forgiven, and the Cornucopia, Glad Tidings, and Fatted Calves await Thee in the Bosom of Non-Aggression Purity.

    😉

  2. Marc Montoni

    So sayeth the man who would apparently buy a piece of land with covenants on it protecting it from certain uses or developments, and then going back on his agreement as soon as the seller has left the closing attorney’s office.

  3. Hush

    The platform is fairly high quality, but it hasn’t stopped the LP from falling under external control. This is because the external controllers(cui bono?) just need to be savvy enough to realize that:

    1) Corralling all the “principled libertarians” into a strategically inept organization actually benefits them
    2) Nothing about being a “principled libertarian” implies that such libertarians will have a strategic bone in their bodies. (Or “a strategic idea in their skulls,” if you’re overly-literal, as many libertarians are.) …And it doesn’t just take one strategic idea, one has to actually map reality very closely, in order to survive the self-contradictory “aggregate views” of the collective electorate. Learning political technology is a separate skill from learning political theory and philosophy.
    3) If a person is a danger to the establishment, the establishment simply encourages his worst ideas, from within his own party. This was the fate of Matt Beauchamp who wasted a significant number of FBI man-hours in Illinois in 2002.

    That said, great work, Frank! Too bad others weren’t smart enough to do their part! Start over with makin’ pants!

    BTW: Please blogroll Country of Cretins at IPR. I don’t answer this email though, so just take that as advice, not permission.

  4. Starchild

    If this history is correct, the Libertarian Party and the freedom movement of which it is a part owe D. Frank Robinson, Ed Carlson, and the delegates who listened to them a debt of gratitude.

    Without the Platform’s Statement of Principles which articulates the libertarian philosophy in inspirational, uncompromising language, there’s little doubt that we would be much worse off today.

  5. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    Starchild,

    I feel precisely the same way. This move likely saved the Party. Generally speaking (though obviously not every time) anyone who is overtly hostile to the SoP or the super-majority requirement is overtly hostile to fundamental libertarianism, wanting to remake in their own image of moderation which is the sure road to ideological irrelevancy. It speaks to us through the years and it is a burr under the saddle of those who would gut the LP to install something else—be it more “left” or more “right”—and both attempts have been made and continue to be made. It also is a limiter to those who would seek to purge the party of its radicals (and gasp! anarchists!) And I am grateful for that burr and barrier. Mess with the platforms or trash them entirely ala Portland 2006 (… Oregon AGAIN!) …. you can only mess so far, and the SoP remains as the one thing that has been constant for forty years. Those Libertarians who had the vision to do this are heroes.

  6. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    From a recent comment on the original post at Libertarian Party History:

    “We need to have the SoP on a 20 x 5 foot banner and hung at the front of any and all convention halls the LP may use.”

  7. Robert Capozzi

    cah: This move likely saved the Party.

    me: Guess it depends on what “saved” means for you and to you. The numbers I see suggest little to no progress, and in some cases, shrinkage.

    cah: Generally speaking (though obviously not every time) anyone who is overtly hostile to the SoP or the super-majority requirement is overtly hostile to fundamental libertarianism, wanting to remake in their own image of moderation which is the sure road to ideological irrelevancy.

    me: In my case, “hostile” is definitely the wrong word. “False” is closer, or “dysfunctional” and at times “unnecessarily and counterproductively histrionic.”

    The 7/8ths seems profoundly arrogant to me, and this article supports that perception for me.

    Relevance or lack thereof is again a subjective thing. I see no evidence that large numbers of people are interested in, or actively engaging in, any sort of challenge of the omnipotent state. I can understand that if you personally are doing so, expunging such a phrase *would* make that act a step on the road toward irrelevancy.

  8. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    In a discussion with Robinson today, this factoid was mentioned, and I wanted to preserve it here as our history is pretty important:

    ==The Statement of Principles itself was written primarily by Dr. John Hospers with Mark Frazier. Ed Carlson and i came up with the idea of entrenching it in the LP rules and Bylaws.==

  9. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    Robinson has audio reels of this convention…. hopefully to be released next year.

  10. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    From another thread, and I want to preserve this memory:

    Gene Berkman
    March 22, 2016 at 19:14
    I attended the founding convention of The Libertarian Party in Denver, Colorado, at the Radisson Hotel in June of 1972, so I can give some historical background.

    Dr John Hospers wrote the Statement of Principles, which was modified with a few changes of wording in committee – I was on the committee that approved the Statement of Principles. Dr Hospers came up with the phrase “We the members of The Libertarian Party challenge the Cult of the Omnipotent State and defend the rights of the individual.” Dr Hospers was a limited government libertarian, influenced by Objectivism; he was never an anarchist.

    The term “Omnipotent State” is derived from a book by Ludwig von Mises titled “Omnipotent Government:the Rise of the Total State and Total War.” The first book in English written by Dr von Mises, “Omnipotent Government” is an analysis of the rise of National Socialism in Germany – the Third Reich was without doubt an “omnipotent state” as was Stalin’s Russia.

    The one weakness of the term is that practically speaking, most of our opponents – from George W Bush to Bernie Sanders, don’t believe in an omnipotent state – just a very powerful state, strong enough to limit our liberties and take our property.

    The Libertarian Movement existed prior to The Libertarian Party. It is commonly dated from the Young Americans for Freedom convention in 1969. The main intellectual currents were Objectivism of Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics of Ludwig von Mises. The Non-Aggression Principle was considered the fundamental basis of libertarianism – the rejection of the initiation of force. To reject the non-aggression principle means the acceptance of the initiation of force in some circumstances.

    The 89 people who attended the convention in Denver were not duped into accepting the language about the Omnipotent State or the Non-Aggression Principle – they went to Denver already committed to the NAP and to opposing omnipotent government.

    The Pledge itself had a purpose that was clear at the time – expressed to me by Dave Nolan although it was already clear. In 1972 many libertarians did not believe in political action or voting – a few on principle, based on obscure arguments by Robert Lefevre, but most libertarians just did not believe that political action could be effective in limiting government power. The point of the Pledge was two-fold – to convince libertarians that The Libertarian Party had a protection against people coming in and adopting a platform that would support statism, and a hope that the pledge would work to keep out people who would want to change the party from libertarian to some form of statist organization.

    Dave Nolan or someone came up with the excuse that the Pledge gives us deniability in case a terrorist is found who had joined the LP. But the real reason was to try to convince libertarians that it would be safe to be involved in a libertarian political organization.

    I personally think the Statement of Principles is more important than the Pledge.

  11. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    https://independentpoliticalreport.com/2009/08/libertarian-party-debate-asymmetry-and-the-dallas-accord/#comment-85052

    Wanted to archive that comment here

    Gene Berkman
    August 2, 2009 at 21:55
    When The Libertarian Party was founded in 1972, everyone accepted the Non-Aggression Principle as the essential element of libertarian philosophy.

    The principle of the Non-Initiation of Force was promoted by Ayn Rand as the fundamental political principle of capitalism. It was likewise at the center of Rothbard’s version of libertarianism.

    The Pledge was written for the purpose of keeping people who advocate the initiation of force from joining the Libertarian Party and leading it away from commonly accepted Libertarian principles.

    It has also been defended as a way to defend the Party if someone claiming association with libertarians were to engage in violent revolutionary activities. But that too is consistence with the Non-Aggression Principle.

    I was at Denver in 1972, and previously had been involved in the YAF Libertarian Caucus and the California Libertarian Alliance, so I can claim knowledge of what was going on when the Pledge was adopted.

  12. Caryn Ann Harlos

    Via D Frank Robinson:

    Perhaps this is good time to recite again how the Libertarian Party came to be ideologically structured as it is.

    When I arrived in Denver in June of 1972 to Chair the Constitution, Bylaws and Rules Committee I had no preconceived plan how to keep our nascent party from going the way all other parties over the previous century into oblivion. I had read the platforms of most of those defunct parties and they all lacked any clear unifying principle beyond vague constitutionalism.

    Once in Committee we began to discuss how this new party could make itself unique and show people we were not just another bunch of youngsters in the make for cushy positions at their expense.

    The New Mexico delegate, Ed Carlson, said we should have a Statement of Principles that set the boundaries of what was permitted to be included in our future platforms. Bam! Of course! The committee agreed, then, because I had seen good intentions go the memory hole at Republican conventions in Oklahoma, I asked how could we keep future LP conventions from undermining our intentions? We might someday be overwhelmed by defecting Republicans or conservative Democrats with good intentions but only a superficial philosophy.

    Since I saw nothing in Robert’s Rules that would prevent it, I suggested we entrench our Statement of Principles (SoP) in the party Bylaws and make the Bylaws rule and the SoP amendable only by a supermajority vote by national convention delegates with a superquorum required. There was spirited discussion but it passed. The rest of the party structuring was largely conventional and routine.

    Then David Nolan, chairing the convention in the next room, asked for a preliminary report on our progress. I wrote up the Bylaws Cmte report and took it out to David. Susan Nolan took the gavel while I showed Dave our handiwork. I don’t recall David objecting to anything except the way we had written the 7/8ths rules. He wanted the next convention to have the authority to amend the SoP because at that moment neither David nor I knew what the text of the SoP would be. It hadn’t been written yet! David said the convention should appoint a special committee to write the SoP. If the convention could not agree by a large majority on the exact wording, then it could bog us down and the whole enterprise could fail and we might have to strip out the SoP rule from the Bylaws.

    David thought we would have a better chance if passing the Bylaws if it were made easier to amend the SoP at the next LP convention. I suggested a 3/4ths supermajority to amend one time only at the next convention. David balked. He wanted a two-thirds majority to be able to amend. I conceded. The Committee conceded and when the Report was adopted the one-shot reconsideration majority vote was for 2/3rds at the next convention NOT the 3/4ths I had proposed.

    In hindsight two years latter at Dallas, it was clear to me that David was the more insightful progenitor of the LP. Because of his insistence on the one-time-only 2/3rds rule we were able to reach the Dallas Accord. I don’t have the recorded vote, but my memory is that the amendments to the SoP did not pass by 3/4ths or greater votes. (I’m a lucky sumbitch David reined me in.)

    Now back to the Statement of Principles text itself. David asked to convention to nominate persons to serve on a special committee to write the SoP required by the Bylaws just adopted. If the convention failed to adopt an SoP, then the convention could reconsider the Rules Committee Report and strip out the rules relating to a SoP. We agreed this possibly contentious SoP issue should not derail the whole convention.

    The convention chose Dr. Hospers and Mark Fraser to write proposed SoPs and the convention would consider both as amended.

    The upshot of that debate was that a few words of Mark’s SoP were incorporated in the Hosper’s text and the convention adopted that text unanimously. That vote fused the Bylaws and the SoP as the doctrinal core of the LP until the bloody Red Sea of statism is parted and the principles of the LP leads all of humanity to the better places. Well, I couldn’t resist that rhetorical flourish.

  13. Caryn Ann Harlos

    More:

    Why does the LP have “Judicial Committee” instead of a Standing Rules Committee?

    The Judicial Committee was my progeny. As I conceived its purpose was not primarily to adjudicate rules and bylaws disputes within the LP national nor bewteen LP national and the affiliate parties.

    Instead, the Judicial Committee would act to preserve the integrity of future platforms in their consistency with the SoP. If at a national convention a platform plank(s) became so contentious that debate was consuming all the time available for all other business, then the convention could direct the pro and con advocates to appeal to the Judicial Committee who would listen to both sides and report to the convention their opinion of the plank(s) consistency with the SoP. Meanwhile, Regular Order would prevail without shutting down the controversy. The convention could call for the JC to report whenever a majority deemed their report needed. If the JC punted (deadlocked), then the debate would resume on the floor under normal rules. If the JC reported a plank consistent with the SoP, then regular rules remained in order. If the JC, deemed a plank inconsistent with the SoP, then the plank was out of order, but the convention could still overrule the JC by a supermajority vote and adopt the plank.

    All other adjudication duties added on the the JC since 1972 are subordinate to its original purpose should a priority conflict ever arise.

    That’s my opinion for what others may think its worth.

  14. robert capozzi

    Dfr: I had read the platforms of most of those defunct parties and they all lacked any clear unifying principle beyond vague constitutionalism.

    Me: This may well be true for some of them. It appears the Communist Party of the USA still exists. It has — near as I can tell — a “clear unifying principle,” one that doesn’t work for me. If the point is that “strong” principles rally small cadres of true believers to maintain a fringe party for many, many decades, that seems true enough.

    However, it seems to me to be a very shallow analysis. Not repeating failure doesn’t necessarily lead to success, as the CP and LP demonstrate. Not clinging to a “principle” doesn’t mean that the principle is Truth; it may only mean that a small number of people will adopt that principle for many decades. It surely doesn’t mean that that principle is consequential and that that principle would not be advanced if a fringe political party did not exist as a political party.

    Dfr: Once in Committee we began to discuss how this new party could make itself unique and show people we were not just another bunch of youngsters in the make for cushy positions at their expense.

    Me: I am convinced! I do wonder who the “another bunch of youngsters” refers to. Are there people on the lookout for these sorts of bunches of political youngsters? I’m just not sure what concern DFR wishes to address here. Love to hear more…

    Dfr: We might someday be overwhelmed by defecting Republicans or conservative Democrats with good intentions but only a superficial philosophy.

    Me: Calling BS. NAPsterism is quite “superficial” as well as simplistic. It seems what DFR really means to say is that future defectors to the LP might not be NAPsters. They may well individually have quite sophisticated philosophies, although they probably would not share their philosophies in the lock-step way that NAPsterists do. (I note that even NAPsters sometimes disagree about the application of NAPsterism, which should illustrate that “a unifying principle” ain’t all that unifying.

    Dfr: That vote fused the Bylaws and the SoP as the doctrinal core of the LP until the bloody Red Sea of statism is parted and the principles of the LP leads all of humanity to the better places. Well, I couldn’t resist that rhetorical flourish.

    Me: We’re still waiting….!

  15. Caryn Ann Harlos

    Another comment from D. Frank Robinson on Facebook:

    At the founding, our intention was that the Statement of Principles (SoP) should state Libertarian principles in language most people could understand and know that those principles will not be diluted by transient passions over singular issues.

    The Platform was intended to be transient for three primary reasons. First, rulers are devious and spread chaos in ways no one completely anticipates. Second, future Libertarians may find ingenious ways to unmask the deviousness of future rulers and the platform can state those arguments and positions which candidates can elaborate and use to win elections. Furthermore, we wanted to challenge our opponents to defend violent aggression as a humane way to pursue life, liberty and individual happiness. This final point far too many Libertarian Party candidates are reticent to raise by asking opponents: how many and which people they intend to kill and rob to achieve their ends?

    I had observed from an examination of American political party platforms since 1840s that over time they became more vague and implicitly statist. That was why we wanted a succinct Statement of Principles that would be very difficult to dilute into pro-statism. It was an experiment that no political party had ever attempted before.

    The SoP is the star around which any number of satellite issue platform planks can revolve, collide or be flung away.

    Furthermore, the LP Bylaws admonish members that platform planks shall *not* be logically inconsistent with the SoP and a procedure was established to have any convention of delegates think and debate the inconsistency of any platform statement with the principles stated in the SoP.

    The whole founding concept for the LP was to encourage, in every way we could think of at the time, a political party with intellectual rigor.

  16. Andy Craig

    It’s certainly interesting and worthwhile to hear from & have recorded the perspective of the party’s founders and first convention delegates. But….

    Was it really the SoP that had that effect (keeping the party tied to libertarianism), or was it simply the fact of having the word “Libertarian” in the party’s name? Personally, I’ve heard the objection “that’s not [ideologically] libertarian!” much more often than “That violates the SoP!” — of course the two overlap heavily, and are intended to be identical. But I’m not convinced that the SoP has contributed much beyond whatever commitment people have (or don’t have) to the meaning of the term “libertarian.” It’s a word that still carries definite ideological meaning, as opposed to the labels “republican” or “democrat,” which even at their start were deliberately generic and are now totally meaningless as ideological terms.

    For better and for worse, I think the name “Libertarian Party” actually ties the party to its ideological footing more permanently than anything else, and that the SoP adds little if anything to that. Nobody, pretty much by definition, joins the LP unless they believe themselves an ideological libertarian of some sort. The party is inextricably tied to a broader ideological movement; and that’s the base that actually keeps the ideological continuity. Without that, the party would have either withered away, and/or been just as susceptible to being overtaken by personalities as other minor parties that lack such a base. Likewise with the Green Party, by the way– “green” being a term with fairly clear and well-known ideological implications, that they stuck to even when it took them to a break with their most prominent personality and the candidate around whom their party was in large part founded (Nader).

    Libertarian Party members tend to be much more dedicated to the idea of libertarianism, however they personally define that, than to the SoP per se. Which is quite right— nobody is going to be convinced by an argument from the SoP if they’re objecting to something they see as fundamentally *unlibertarian* (whether they’re correct about that or not). The SoP is not the central focus of the party around which everything (or even just the platform) orbits– in fact the topic comes up rather infrequently. Instead, that role is filled by libertarianism itself and the libertarian movement, and debates over what those two things are or aren’t.

  17. Caryn Annn Harlos

    I just saw the last comment:

    ==The SoP is not the central focus of the party around which everything (or even just the platform) orbits==

    The Bylaws disagree, and it is the Bylaws that govern a voluntary organization. I noticed this because I am getting together my notes for my presentations at conventions to which I have been invited to speak .

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