THE SOCIAL ISSUES
The libertarian movement might be considered primarily "idea oriented," since the philosophy of individualism, human rights, and economic freedom is extensively developed in the areas of epistemology, moral philosophy, economic theory, etc. The correctness of the ideas is well documented as providing the optimal level of material well-being and political freedom for those societies in history that have been fortunate enough to adopt the libertarian philosophy of government.
A cant phrase we have all heard is that ideas rule the world. Yet, looking at the world today one must doubt it. Attitudes rule the world. An attitude is sort of an emotionally overladen, half-baked idea. On the basis of attitudes, most people invariably decide whether or not they like somebody, whether they agree with them, and whether they would be willing to work with them toward a common political goal.
It is no accident that conservatives tend to share attitudes in favor of free enterprise and against big government with the libertarians, and to share attitudes with the communists against personal freedom and in favor of social repression. Conservatives find their political motivation in the defense of community norms and traditional values. In this country, a few libertarian values are "traditional," as luck would have it. In Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, of course, conservatives and communists differ only in their "enemies lists," not in their programs. Deviation from the permitted norm is a police matter.
In Pocatello, Idaho, a few months ago libertarian activist Larry Fullmer achieved more public exposure and positive results for the libertarian cause in five minutes than some economic educationalists have achieved in 40 years. It seems that a coalition of downtown merchants and church groups were unhappy with a pornographic bookshop and theater which had opened in the conservative, small town (pop. 45,000). The group organized a round-the-clock picket line hopefully to force the shop to go broke by embarrassing potential customers, inhibiting them from entering. The picket line was meant to generate the publicity to back up lobbying efforts in behalf of a law against the sale of smut.
On the day the picket began, Larry decided during his coffee break to make a sign and stage a counter-picket. When he arrived at the scene with his sign, all of the reporters and cameras proceeded to give him equal time. He explained the libertarian philosophy and the radio stations broadcast the interview every hour for the rest of the day; the television stations ran the interview twice that evening and a station in Texas picked up the story. The newspapers gave the story front page billing, and the A.P. carried the news (this writer saw it in the Chicago Tribune).
As a result of the newspaper story and a letter to the editor he was invited to participate in a public forum on the issue of pornography. Over 200 people attended the forum, including the media. According to him, he had never given a public speech before but he did his homework and was able to present the libertarian philosophy for 30 minutes and then answer questions from the audience for 30 minutes more. The puritan speakers were visibly at a disadvantage. One member of the audience publicly announced that his mind had been changed and that he no longer would support the efforts to outlaw the bookshop. The following day the media carried an extensive account of the libertarian arguments.
Fullmer has become a public figure in Pocatello, having appeared as the featured guest on interview programs. He has been invited to appear again in the future, and dates have been scheduled. In addition, through his contacts with the media he has generated interest in Roger MacBride, who is scheduled to appear on the important TV and radio programs and will be interviewed by the press when in town.
He writes: "I fell into all of the above quite by accident. I wanted something new to do on my coffee break that first day. My focus of libertarian activity in the past has been on economic issues (we've had two successful tax protests here) and I had never really considered the civil liberties issues. I would like to encourage other libertarians to actively seek the kinds of situations which I fell into. I think that even in the Mormon community of Pocatello those who disagreed with the [puritans] were in the large majority, but they needed a spokesman. This time the spokesman was a libertarian and I'm sure they will remember that."
LIBERTARIANS FOR GAY RIGHTS
The MacBride for President Committee, 1516 P Street, NW Washington, DC 20005, has published Ralph Raico's booklet on gay rights. This is the first of several longer position papers which the campaign intends to print and distribute. According to John Vernon, the booklet has received very favorable comment in the press. The initial supply he received was exhausted almost immediately. Those who may not have seen the booklet should make a point of writing the MacBride for President Committee (send 50 cents) for a copy. The case which Raico presents in favor of personal freedom for gay people is one of the most persuasive pieces of libertarian literature in print. The arguments for individual liberty and against government regulation of social affairs are very powerful when put in the context of the right of stigmatized individuals to live in peace. The examples of the treatment of gays in the Communist countries are cogent and moving contrasts between the system of values which libertarians stand for and the brutal, disgusting system of life which Marxism represents. Raico is, in addition, an excellent stylist. His position paper for the Libertarian Party on civil liberties is also highly recommended.
In passing, we should mention that John Vernon also edits the newsletter of the Libertarians for Gay Rights, 1206 NW. 40th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73118. The Raico booklet as well as additional information on activities on this front can be obtained from L.G.R. directly. In New York last September, Roy Childs joked that Vernon as candidate for Vice President on L.P. ticket might guarantee the Party 10 percent of the vote, since that proportion of the population is estimated to be gay. At this point, the L.P. is the only political group which is not itself gay to adopt such a position unhypocritically. Although such a stand may alienate the majority of voters, it has already begun to impress some intellectuals and significant figures in the news media.
The campaign for President, of course, is an exercise in communication and building support for libertarian ideas and values. An important technique which all such campaigns engage in is to publicize the names of significant people in various professions who are willing to declare their support. Ralph Raico is in charge of developing the Scholars and Arts & Letters Committee for MacBride/Bergland. At present, the committee includes Robert Nozick, John Hospers, Thomas Szasz, Murray Rothbard, Sam Peltzman, Karl Brunner, et al. Any academic or writer is invited to contact Raico at 7 Inwood Place, Buffalo, NY 14222 for more information about the Committee. Incidentally, Thomas Szasz and Robert Nozick are also candidates for the Electoral College for MacBride and Bergland in their respective states.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Frontlines".