Sunday, July 16, 2006

More thoughts on the Libertarian Reform Caucus

Okay, I've had some time to look at the Libertarian Reform Caucus page a bit more thoroughly, and I have some thoughts on it.

I think the underlying problem is that the reformers are mistaken as to what a libertarian political party is useful for at this particular point in history. The LRC places its political hopes in the idea of getting libertarian candidates elected in the near future. To quote from the FAQ:

Our premise is that many voters could support more incremental steps to roll back the State. We’re for smaller government -- across the board -- and feel very comfortable that that is a principled approach. More importantly, we believe that voters are ready for such an approach…now!

I'd like to share their optimism, but I don't buy this. I don't think any serious libertarian reform is going to be happening in that time frame, no matter what we do. My experience is that people talk about supporting freedom in the abstract, but quickly change their tune when concrete examples come up. The culture is too statist for any serious reform, and in that sort of climate the Libertarian Party is not going to be winning pluralities unless it ceases to be libertarian.

That doesn't, however, mean that all is lost, or that there is no useful work to be done for liberty. What we need more than anything else is education- letting people know we're out there, letting them know that an alternative exists. When the state screws things up, we'll be there to say, "I told you so. Here's something better." Having a Libertarian Party can be useful to this political education, because by putting up candidates and advertising them, it helps remind people that this alternative exists. Weakening the message weakens our ability to do that- change the Party to appeal to the majority of the American public circa 2006, and it ceases to be an alternative to the statist worldview. We will be offering only a slight modification of the status quo, not a serious change. That is not going to grab people's attention.

Case in point: the Iraq War. The new platform contains no strong stance against our involvement in Iraq and our attempts at "nation building," and thus misses an ideal "I told you so" opportunity that will exist as the public turns more and more against the war. This is an especially big loss, because my experience has been that the war issue has been especially powerful among young people. This is a golden opportunity to show them that left-wing statists like the Greens aren't the only principled enemies of war, and it's being squandered.

Another serious problem is that moderating the libertarian message will make it easier for non-libertarians to apply the label to themselves, thereby diluting the word and bringing real libertarians into disrepute. Imagine if every conservative statist and government-connected business interest starts calling himself "libertarian," because the word has been diluted to mean anyone who supports a few reductions in government here or there. Consider the damage already done by conservatives who dishonestly use libertarian rhetoric, and multiply that many times over. All the ills of the statist mixed economy would be laid at the feet of "libertarianism," and it will be all the harder for real libertarians to get the public to listen. We've already lost the word "liberal" to the statists; I don't want to lose "libertarian" as well.

I don't doubt the admirable intentions of the LRC. But I think their desire to grab a few quick tactical victories will lead to strategic defeat.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A healthy criticism. Thanks for the thoughts.