I’ll try to make this post concise and self-sufficient, but there’s quite a lot of background material. Ideally, you’ll be able to read just this and have a good idea of the thing. If it interests you and you have the time, I encourage you to delve through the background links.
Here’s the background, roughly in chronological order:
- Billy Beck becomes the first to note that the new journal The New Libertarian and its NeoLibertarian Network ("NLN") are doomed to failure. In a nutshell, both the NLN and the new journal are about achieving libertarian-flavored, incremental political changes through pragmatism and compromise, as distinguished from uncompromising stands on individualist and libertarian principles (which also doesn’t change anything).
- Meanwhile, at QandO Blog, where the NLN is housed, a list of words is published that libertarians shouldn’t use for fear of scaring off the audience (read comments too).
- A few days pass, and Billy lights it up again; this time, mentioning his old Internet friend of 15 years, Bruce McQuain, part of both the NLN and the new journal.
- Bruce answers his old friend Billy, the gist of it being that if you want anything to change, you’ve got to get in the game, and according to Bruce, that means political action and pragmatic compromise. If you read this entry, then you must read the comments too. That’s where the meat is.
- Since Billy was asked not to leave comments at Bruce’s entry, he put up his own entry. If you read any of the background, this is an important post. If you’re a voter who participates in the political process, see if you can answer Billy’s questions. Dare ya.
- Dale Franks does what I think is a good job of clarifying what they mean by "pragmatism," which, to myself and most libertarians I know, means: the sacrifice of principles on the altar of expedient results. Again, you’ll need to read the comments where a lot of the meat is.
- Since Billy wouldn’t think of not respecting Bruce’s request not to comment, He posts a series of entries on the topic in general and in response to some of the posted comments (here, here, here, here, and here). Also, Martin McPhillips weighs in.
So, that’s the state of it as it is right now. If you’ve read the above background along with the comments to those entries with comments, then you’ve already picked up a lot of what I have to say on the matter.
To restate it, here, I think that this NLN, The New Libertarian, and all that’s wrapped up in it will go over pretty much like a lead balloon. But I also wish them well. They stand to be able to do some good by introducing people to reason and individualism, and they stand to do no harm whatsoever. I don’t and never have bought the puritanical notion that compromisers do any harm to non-compromisers. Libertarians hold zero political power. Compromise or non-compromise: it’s all about the same to those who do hold the power.
I also think it’s good to engage in such exercises, if for nothing else, to instruct yet another generation of libertarians that political participation for libertarians is a stark contradiction in terms. In the most basic terms I can put it, the whole fundamental and very first thing about libertarian political philosophy is the principle that nothing (except perhaps for God in the case of believers) comes before or supersedes the rights of the individual. Yet, each time you go to the polls to vote, you are affirming the counter-principle that the will of the majority precedes and supersedes the rights of any particular individual. The Constitution, you say? Then you’re saying that The Constitution supersedes the rights of the individual, so you’re still contradicting libertarian political philosophy.
This is an irreconcilable contradiction, folks. It’s as fundamentally irreconcilable as anything can be irreconcilable. This balance sheet is never going to balance, no matter what. And this is why all truly libertarian political action must necessarily fail. It’s built upon a contradiction. To the extent anyone can be successful is only the extent to which they compromise their principles. I’ve read a lot of dancing around this–that compromise is not about compromise of principles, but about desires, timetables, quantities and such.
But if I hold the principle that it’s wrong to rob others, then what am I doing if I look the other way even though I desire the robber to quit? What does it say if I accept the robbery for a little while longer, provided he agrees to stop later? What does it mean if I agree that he simply takes less? I’ll tell you what it means: it means that I prefer that myself and others not be robbed. But I certainly don’t hold any principle about it. That’s why there’s a distinction to be made between preferences and principles. It’s easy to prefer.
And on top of that, democracies don’t ever, ever vote themselves smaller governments. It’s not in their nature. You can try to make the voters libertarians, but then you’ll soon have the dilemma that if they’re really libertarians, they’re very unlikely to compromise their stated principles by going to the polls to vote. You’ve got an honest-to-God Catch-22 on your hands, there–and that’s even assuming you could indoctrinate a lot of libertarians, which you likely can’t.
But as I said, I don’t mind any of this. None of it matters–though it’s important to try to keep the ideas and ideals alive–and that’s why guys like Billy Beck deserve our encouragement. He knows he’s not going to change anything, and I know it. He knows the NLN isn’t going to change anything, and I know it.
However, if I am optimistic about the future, then it’s only because I know and understand what a great potential is bound up in the human being. The truth is that I believe a bright future awaits humanity, but I have no earthly idea how they will achieve it. I’m only quite confident that conventional philosophy will have little to do with it, if anything, and that political action will have absolutely nothing to do with it.
When it happens, it will be like Edison shining a light on the world. It’ll be like Henry Ford putting a car in every garage. It will be like Bill Gates making individuals massively productive through computer software. It will be like Albert Einstein providing not only a way to solve problems that could never be solved previously, but a way to find and solve new problems no one previously knew existed.
Collectivism is here to stay until such point as it simply goes away–like slavery suddenly went away. Like one day man couldn’t fly, and the next day he could.
In the meantime, there’s only three things libertarians can do with any hope of having any effect:
Never sanction any political action, except emergencies that clearly prevent greater and graver harm (necessary war).
Support, praise, and applaud any and all acts of civil disobedience based on libertarian or individualist principles.
Civil disobedience is the only known peaceful way to potentially collapse collectivism. It would probably require less than a million people–provided all were steadfast.
If not that, then we’re just going to have to wait for the right discovery to come along–and hope that it comes along in our lifetimes.
In the meantime, do everything you can to make your life worth the living, in spite of everything else.
Update: Greg Swann ads relevancies.